Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 8, Episode 20 of The CW's "Supernatural," titled "Pac-Man Fever."
After the ambitious but creatively uneven "Taxi Driver," it was great to see "Supernatural" back on track with the resonant and surprisingly poignant "Pac-Man Fever," another well-plotted hour from the consistently adept Robbie Thompson.
While this episode was undoubtedly a spotlight for the fabulous Charlie (Felicia Day), "Pac-Man Fever" accomplished what the strongest episodes of any show can do: it granted the audience deeper insight into our protagonists through their interactions with a compelling supporting character. It was an undeniable treat to learn more about Charlie's backstory and why she is the way she is, but her heartfelt interactions with Dean also allowed both of them to let go of some of the fear that's been burdening them, resulting in an episode that struck an ideal balance between humor and emotional heft.
Dean, in true big brother fashion, has been constantly fretting over Sam's mental and physical state as the trials continue to take their toll, but as Sam pointed out, Dean can't take care of both of them all the time -- especially now that Sam is a grown-ass (gigantic) man. While I don't believe that Dean will ever stop wanting or trying to take care of his little brother (since that's what older siblings do), this episode also allowed the elder Winchester to concede that -- sucking at target practice aside -- Sam is a capable hunter even when he's not at his best, and will always manage to save the day, as is the Winchester way.
Despite the friction that their differing opinions and perspectives will likely always cause between the brothers, it truly does seem like Sam and Dean have come to a more accepting and understanding place with each other -- although whether Dean will continue to trust Sam at his word when he insists that he's capable of hunting remains to be seen, especially if his condition deteriorates further in the final three episodes. Right now, it's enough that Dean was faced with the fear of losing his brother and still had the strength to accept that there are some things he can't control.
Sam has spent many seasons desperately wanting Dean to have faith in him and accept that he's capable of standing on his own, and one hopes that the events of "Pac-Man Fever" will help assuage some of the younger Winchester's own insecurities, now that Dean's trying to demonstrate that he truly does believe in his little brother. After everything both Winchesters have been through, between two stints in Hell and a sojourn in Purgatory, they've more than proven that they have the mental and physical capacity to carry on where more normal, sane people would've already given up or gone nuts -- hell, that's why we're watching a TV show about them. And bonus, we got a real, heartfelt hug!
There's nothing to say about Charlie's scenes with Dean and in the hospital as we learned the truth about her mother, except to say that this momma's girl was a tearful mess while watching them, and that those moments of vulnerability from both Felicia Day and Jensen Ackles were beautifully played and truly moving. "Supernatural" has had its share of impactful final scenes, but the simplicity of Charlie reading The Hobbit to her mother one last time was the ideal denouement for the episode, bringing the story back down to the human level to remind us exactly why we fell in love with this series in the first place -- because the bonds of family, whether natural or constructed, are a universal touchstone for us all.
Naturally, thanks to Thompson, there were also plenty of pop-culture shout-outs and comedic moments to balance the show's weightier beats -- from the callback to the classic works of Carver Edlund to Dean and Charlie's Han and Leia "I love you," "I know" farewell, the levity helped keep things flowing. I particularly enjoyed Charlie's attempt at staging her own '80s makeover montage, and Sam and Charlie's differing competence at Dean's target practice test was hilarious. It was also fun to hear Charlie getting the download on Castiel (now there's a meeting I hope Thompson's allowed to write) followed by her Castiel-esque mistake of opening her FBI badge the wrong way. Since "What Is And What Should Never Be" remains one of my favorite episodes, it was nice to see the return of the djinn as the monster of the week, albeit with a new twist.
Given that the trials are clearly taking such an immense toll on Sam, it made perfect narrative sense for Sam to technically be "benched" from the hunt, but I was still impressed that Thompson gave our moose plenty to do, even allowing him to save the day in his weakened state. I do hope we'll be able to see some further interaction between Sam and Charlie in Season 9, since those geeks must have plenty in common, but I entirely understand the writers' decision to table that while Sam isn't at full power, especially since Dean had plenty of overprotective brotherly control issues that needed to be resolved before the final trial.
While it's painful to think that there are only three episodes remaining before another hellish summer hiatus, if the season's remaining three episodes are as strong as "Pac-Man Fever," "Freaks and Geeks" and "Goodbye Stranger" have been, at least we're certain to go out with a bang.
"Supernatural" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.
What did you think of "Pac-Man Fever"? Hit the comments, and check out a preview for next week's episode below!