Mages, orcs, elves, and queens populate Moondoor---but what it really needs is a hero. Supernatural has always dealt with the reluctant hero. Each brother has begrudgingly accepted this mantle at one time or another. Every hunter is really a reluctant hero. There are really only two options: run from it or embrace it. That hero is lurking somewhere inside, waiting for the right moment. The trick is to recognize when that time has come. In "LARP and the Real Girl," we see several characters choose to embrace that moment. We see them go from being reluctant hero to willing hero.
Being a hero doesn't necessarily have to mean fighting off real monsters or saving the world from impending doom. Being a hero can take on the form of making someone else's day, inspiring a child to learn, or by standing up for another. It can be a small gesture, a moment of vulnerability, or recognizing the truth. The grand concept of hero can make it seem daunting, and yet every single one of us can become one in our own way.
The setting is fitting---a medieval style LARP game filled with various magical beings. Each person there is trying to escape from the boring and the mundane. Every participant has sought their inner hero in Moondoor. It is a safe, controlled environment to do so. Because it is a game, no one has to fear that there will be real life repercussions or danger to them. It is a place of pretend, where one can escape from the dullness of life and the hum drum while feeling powerful and strong.
However, they are blinded by its allure, unable to see what is right in front of them---that they can be real heroes, too, if they just choose to be.
Even Charlie falls into this trap as she says, "I mean, here, I'm queen, a hero. Out there in the real world, I'm just hacking out code and chugging coffee all day long."
She doesn't see her own skill set, her potential to change the world as being heroic, and yet Dean replies, "If it wasn't for you, we would have never been able to take down Dick Roman. Out there in the real world, you are a hero."
Charlie had already risen to that occasion, reluctantly joining a fight against a frightening monster: the Leviathans. She had risen above the many stumbling blocks that prevent most from taking the final step from idle standby to hero: the conviction that someone else will do it, inertia, and most of all fear. Despite all of these standing in her way, she had taken on the mantle of reluctant hero and followed through. Now, at Moondoor, Charlie must learn to become the willing hero, too.
Moondoor may be a game, but when it was being threatened, Charlie once again choose to stand. She is hesitant, frightened, and angry that another dangerous monster is threatening her new life, but she knows she can't simply walk away from this either. She says, "But the queen...she has to stay. I mean, Sam is right. People are dying. That can't happen on my watch. And you know what? I am tired of running. I like my life here. I'm gonna stay and fight for it."
This also reflects Sam and Dean's trajectory throughout the series. They too have been reluctant heroes. Sam begrudgingly joins Dean in his search for their father at the beginning of the series. His normal life is destroyed and he must rise to the mantle of hero to avenge it and to save others from experiencing it themselves. Here, again, Sam has lost a normal life, but this time by his own choice. He has walked away from Amelia and returned to the life of a hunter---the life of a reluctant hero.
It is significant because he is all or nothing with either path. He didn't hunt the entire time he was with Amelia. He cannot be in any contact with her while he does. For Sam, he is one or the other. There are no shades of gray for him on this. What Sam must learn here is not that he should be the reluctant hero---he should be the willing hero. He has chosen this. He has walked away from Amelia forever---and most likely from normal forever. What Sam must do is make peace with that and accept the little joys it can and does provide.
Too often we see the hardships for the brothers. They don't save a victim in time. They don't stop the hell-hounds from taking someone to Hell. They lose an important connection in their hunter network to a tragic moment. They are faced with terrible and inescapable destinies that crush and weigh them down. Neither Sam or Dean have a true home or a sense of belonging. They are transient and have to be ready to fight all the time. It is difficult conditions under which they live.
And yet, there are joys to be found. It is in the simple and quiet thank you from a rescued victim. It is found in the quiet moments the brothers share together---be it watching a game or the stars. It is found in the little experiences on their never ending road trip that make the travel worth while. Because they are transient, they are able to see and do more than most get to in a single life time. Sam and Dean get the satisfaction, after they succeed in a case, that they have irrefutably made a difference. The world at large might not be aware of their deeds, but it doesn't have to be. All that really matters is that they know they did it.
Dean, too, has been a reluctant hero. He has struggled with staying in the hunt at times himself. He has wrestled with being the vessel for Michael and the destiny it laid out for him. He has struggled with how hard the life can be---especially after his own stint at normal with Lisa. He looked at the hunt as being a waste for a good period---that in the end there would be nothing to truly show for it. No matter what there would be yet another thing to fight back, a never ending tide of big-bads and monsters out to destroy the normal that he and his brother never get to have.
But the difference for Dean in "LARP and the Real Girl," is that he has already fully embraced his reluctant hero---and bridged the gap to becoming the willing hero. He may be resistant to Sam taking on yet another case so quickly after walking away from Amelia, but he sees the joys, the fun side to their life all around him in Moondoor. He embraces the little things, the little joys that the job can bring.
His return from Purgatory demonstrated that Dean was ready to take action, was ready to fight, and that he truly enjoyed what he does. What he has to do here, for Sam, is show that there is more than fighting, scraping by, and struggling to survive. He needs to convince Sam that the now is all there is, to embrace the perks of being the hero, to savor the experience people like those participating in Moondoor only fantasize about. They may be heroes in the game---but Sam and Dean are the real deal. They have faced real monsters, real villains, waged real battles---and survived.
We see Dean, in his usual boyish fashion, attempt to coax Sam out of his no-nonsense/all business shell. Sam may have decided they'd take this case, that this would be "their fun," but Dean won't let this opportunity pass him up. He sees various ways to show Sam that while they may be on a job, that people's lives are at stake, and that it must be stopped that they can indeed have fun along the way.
Once they realize that Moondoor is the center of the trouble, they look at the website Lance, a potential suspect turned victim recommended. Dean's eyes light up and he says, "It actually looks kind of awesome."
Nonplussed, Sam glares up at his brother, proving that Dean has his job cut out for him.
As they investigate the actual Moondoor grounds, looking for Charlie, Dean takes in the sights with a boyish smile. He is almost giddy, especially when he and Sam talk to Charlie about who might have wanted to hurt Lance and Ed. Distracted easily by her map for the upcoming battle, Dean suggests eagerly, "You know, if you, uh...move your archers back and your broadswordsmen to the west..." It vexes Sam and he glares. Trying to get their attention he cries, "Guys," and throws his arms wide in exasperation. So far Dean's attempts at play have done nothing but annoy his little brother.
To further infiltrate the grounds, Dean has to adorn himself in Moondoor gear so that he can walk with the Queen. He is rather pleased with his appearance, preening before the mirror and assessing the look. Even though he is technically not part of the Moondoor game, Dean has embraced it, allowing himself to indulge in its simple pleasure. It isn't a stretch for him. Hunting has him changing costume and character all the time, but here he can enjoy it, play with it, and not be afraid of being outed in the same way he might in the real world. It is part of the fun he is hoping to show Sam, that sometimes all work and no play is the reason the hunt can feel like a terrible trap.
As they put the pieces together separately, Sam clings to the reluctant hero. He may play a "genre mash-up" with Maria, but to him it is all farce, a means to an end to get information, nothing more. Sam is uncomfortable and awkward in the exchange---especially at the end. He sees the game atmosphere as almost a hindrance, a nuisance preventing them from doing their important job. He didn't give up normal so that he could enjoy the hunt. He gave up normal to do something vital and it is a serious venture to him. There is no real room for jesting, no room for play. And so soon after Amelia, there is no room for indulging in the company of another woman---even if she offers.
Later, when he catches up with Dean to exchange information he mocks, "Nice outfit." Dean, undeterred in his joy, retorts, "You love it."
Sam is nonplussed, certain that Dean was playing and not working, so he continues, "Right. Well, while you were, uh, playing dress-up, I found out...that the mark..." but Dean proves him wrong by finishing, "Belongs to the Shadow Orcs."
Even with all the play, that doesn't mean that Dean can't get down to business. With Charlie missing and in possible serious danger, he has no patience for keeping in character or playing games. He watches Gerry "Boltar" and the Shadow Orcs discuss mundane things such as where to have the Battle of Kingdoms and decides to take matters in his own hands. Despite it being against the game's rules, he draws his gun and commands, "All right. I need real answers. This here is a real gun, see?"
He may embrace the joys and perks being a hero provides, but Dean will do what needs to be done to earn the title, too. The Shadow Orcs crumble, breaking character to tell him about a strange tent not belonging to the Moondoor setup. It is the likely place to find Charlie and both Sam and Dean rush towards it---with Boltar on their heels.
It is in the tent that Charlie and the brother's stories converge. Charlie has been held hostage by a fairy under someone's control. She is, as to be expected, frightened by the turn of events. Certain that she is going to be killed, she pleads with the fairy, "Great. Now the worst period of my life comes to an end. I saw my boss get eaten by a Leviathan, broke my arm, lived life on the run, finally got it all back, and now a dude in a stag-skull mask is gonna kill me. I just want my old life back!"
The fairy reveals herself and tells Charlie of her predicament. She isn't hurting or killing others of her own free will. She is doing it on the command of her master, and would love nothing more than to go home and be free again. It is the moment that Charlie must choose between being the "IT tech girl" or being the "hero" Dean told her she was.
No longer in imminent danger, Charlie transforms from the reluctant hero to the willing hero. She states firmly, "Gilda, my name is Charlie Bradbury, and I am here to rescue you."
To do that, she will need the book Gilda's master holds. Luckily as Sam and Dean charge into the tent, Boltar enters, carrying it on his belt. He is unsurprised by the tent and its occupant. The brothers quickly point their guns on him, knowing now just who the villain they must stop is. It isn't Gilda, the fairy. It's Gerry, or Boltar the Furious, who has stepped out of bounds. They don't hesitate in their duty as heroes. They embrace it here as a single entity, moving in unison.
Even our villain in Moondoor, Gerry "Boltar the Furious" is convinced that his actions are heroic. He shouts, "There is no game! There is only Moondoor! I came here to be different, to get away from my crappy life, to be a hero." He is using a Fairy against her will to make sure that he leads the victorious battle charge for the Queen of Moons. If it looks like he's saving the day, like he's worthy of her affections, he'll become the Forever King of Moondoor, with the beautiful Queen by his side.
It is a twisted view on being heroic, proof that while most heroes are reluctant, those that are trapped by its appeal will fall to the other side---to that being of a villain needing to be stopped before it is too late.
Unfortunately, Boltar forces Gilda to join the fight by turning their guns to feathers and his fake sword to a real one. He is the hero in his own mind, convinced that he will be hailed as such once he removes Sam and Dean and anyone else that stands in his way. He can justify it to himself. "Magic is a part of Moondoor" he tells the brothers. It isn't breaking any rules or wrong. It is a means to an end. He has simply chosen the easy way to achieve hero status---and his ill gotten gains have only corrupted him. He will not be the hero.
Sam, Dean, and Charlie will.
The brothers, engaged with Boltar, fight hard against his real sword. Gilda is forced to use the suit of armor against Sam---as Boltar knows he can't stand to take the two of them on at once. Dean can't grab the book and destroy it himself. He instead must find a way to knock it free, to disarm Boltar and stop him by brute force---all the while not getting sliced by the very real blade. He manages to do so, causing the spell book to slide across the floor.
Charlie takes her chance while Boltar is distracted to stab it with a dagger. She tells him, sealing her fate as willing hero of Moodoor, "Hey, Gerry. I'm the one who saves damsels in distress around here."
She is no longer reluctant. She has completed her transformation into the willing hero, and she makes it final for the real world when she tells the brothers later, "If the last 24 hours have taught me anything, it's that escaping isn't what it used to be. No more replacement characters for me. I got to face reality from now on. Sadly, reality actually includes monsters, but what are you gonna do? If I can ever be of help to you guys, let me know."
Meanwhile, Dean knows they now must move on, find the next hunt, keep Sam's mind occupied so he doesn't wallow on his losses and he asks, "So, what's, uh... what's next? 'Cause no fun, right? Look, before you say anything, I "“ I "“ I get it. No amount of fun is gonna help you get over what you gave up. You just, uh... you need time, right?"
Despite all of Sam's rebuffs to Dean's playful attempts to crack his serious shell, he has a surprise for his brother. He smiles and says, "Yeah. Thanks. And you're right. Having fun won't help me. It'll help both of us. Shall we?"
It sets up an epic moment, allowing for Dean to indulge completely in Moondoor's escape. He is a real hero, but here he gets to play at one, enjoying the spoils in the only way he knows how. He adorns a new outfit, complete with face paint and wig, and takes his place as the commander of the Queen of Moons army. He recites the speech from Braveheart with such enthusiasm and delight that even though Charlie questions it, Sam simply replies with fondness, "It's the only one he knows."
Sam, too, is dressed in a Moondoor outfit. Throughout the whole case he had clung to the guise of the FBI agent. He had stuck to the role of hunter, to the serious hero, albeit begrudgingly. Sam, as always, used hunting as a coping mechanism to run from his emotional pain. It had hurt to leave Amelia and normal behind, and to numb that he was determined to keep himself occupied.
Here, finally, he has embraced the lesson his brother has tried to teach all episode. Enjoy the life. Enjoy what little surprises and joys it can bring. Laugh. Have fun. Embrace the unique experiences it can bring and remember that so many out there dream of doing what they do---they create LARP games to fulfill those fantasies, and the Winchesters get to truly live it.
Most of all, Dean taught Sam that it is good to be the willing hero.
This episode also touched on a personal dream of mine for Supernatural. I've wanted to see the boys in medieval gear---and while it wasn't feasible to send them back in time to do that here, the LARP game was a great choice. Even though it is not an actual Renaissance Festival, the comparison is still valid. Every year, since the age of 4, I have attended the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in Shakopee, Minnesota. It is my favorite place in the entire world, and each August-September, I look forward to the one day I get to visit the Festival. Filled with shops and entertainment galore, it is a one of a kind experience that captures the heart. The largest festival of its kind in the country, the Minnesota Renaissance Festival draws some 280,000 per year.
The 16thcentury comes to life---with a modern twist. There are artisans making handmade wares throughout the Festival, and one can spend the entire day perusing these shops. They're open air, snuggled together in little alcoves looping around and through the dusty (and sometimes muddy) grounds. Soaps, candles, perfumes, furniture, medieval style clothing, metal works, jewelry, and hand made glass are just to name a few---and no matter what one buys they are certain that there will never be another quite exactly like it. It's reminiscent of a time when true skill made the majority of goods---not mass production on machinery.
What the Festival offers that connects to the LARPing element of this episode is the entertainment. It is bawdy, raucous, and everywhere. A lot of the jokes skew towards the 16thcentury and medieval times---with much of the street characters pretending to not know what technology like cameras and cell phones are. But numerous stage ages will incorporate as many relevant and current pop culture references into their acts as possible.
Two acts that are big draws each weekend of the Festival that do just that are Puke and Snot (Yes, you read that right) and the Tortuga Twins (which really should be called triplets as there are three of them). They lace geek culture in quite often, jabbing at Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek, or any other popular science fiction/fantasy they can get their hands on. They know their audience, so they create clever satire, blending it right into the acts. Give them a common phrase as of late, and they'll slip it into the act with ease, such as the overused and over exposed Staples catch-phrase, "That was easy!" The Tortuga Twins used it extensively for a two year period, usually, as you guessed it, sexual innuendo. Not just sexual innuendo---usually gay sexual innuendo. What can I say? They know their audience. Their most popular show is their "Swordfighting and Stupidity" show where they spend most of it waving fencing blades around and making as many sexual jokes about themselves and random, poor souls in the audience as possible. The more laughter, hooting, hollering, and clapping they get, the more risque they get. Puke and Snot, meanwhile, have an entire act titled, "The Magaga Show," where, uh, Snot's magaga (read his private area) is under attack from swords, near misses with furniture, and being made fun of repeatedly. On the surface it sounds a bit junior high in the humor department, in the delivery it is pure wit and charm and hilarity.
To be honest, Sam in the pony tail at the end of the episode made me almost wish he was in pig tails like Scaramouche sports. Picture it in your head, just like the picture here, and you'll see just what I mean. Oh yeah. That'd be hilarious no?
What's also a treat about the Festival is seeing all the other people in costume, not unlike those of Moondoor. Some are rather simple and plain, while others are elaborate and impressive. A good draw is people watching those that dress up"”-either fellow patrons or various characters. The French Court, for instance, has the fanciest outfits, complete with sweeping gowns, fancy hair, bejeweled fingers, extensive makeup, and intricate hairstyles.
The mock battle contained with in is two fold, too. The joust, reenacted daily on the grounds draws talent and danger for the audience. Jeering and cheering is encouraged, and the victor is praised and rewarded. At the end of the night, human chess, usually best seen from a distance to avoid being caught in the fray, is one giant LARP game itself.
If that's not enough, there's a resident Fairy at the Festival. She wanders the grounds each year, and is so popular she is often put in official Festival advertising. I don't think Twig has ever killed anyone, though. She's more whimsy than dark magic"”-and nothing like the nefarious leprechaun of "Clap Your Hands If You Believe."
Considering that Minnesota has been sub zero for the past week, this episode made me forget the cold and feel like it was a hot August day wandering the Festival itself.
What I also loved in this quirky episode was Charlie herself and the subtle shout outs to my all time favorite English Queen, Elizabeth I. She, too, was a redhead. What was funny was how just about every guy in Moondoor was pining for Charlie or trying to win her favor. Gerry, the Shadow Orc, Ed, and Lance were all trying to gain her attention. Of course, Charlie is a lesbian, so no man would ever catch her eye, but that didn't mean she didn't like their attention. Elizabeth, did, too. She never married---for many reasons. Her mother, Anne Boleyn, met the sword on Tower Green when Elizabeth was only 3. Katherine Howard, her step mother, and Henry VIII's 5thwife met the axe. Politically, she knew to marry was the end of her rule as sovereign, as she had watched her sister, Mary I cede more and more power to her husband, Philip of Spain during her rule and refused to make that same mistake. So, instead, Elizabeth chose to remain single and "married to England." She had several key favorites throughout her long tenure as queen, however, enjoying their attention and fawning. Robert Dudley was her primary favorite.
Elizabeth also had to face Philip of Spain against almost insurmountable odds---and won. He was preparing to launch an invasion of England only to be fended off by the English navy. It is this event that Elizabeth gives her most famous speech: The Armada Speech. She didn't have a Sam and Dean to stir her troops up, so she had to do it herself. It worked and Philip never threatened England again.
Tiffany Dupont appears as the damsel in distress Gilda the Fairy. Dupont connects well with Day in their scenes. There is a subtly to her performance here. She may be under Boltar's control, but she is still powerful. We can sense that she has magic and power in Dupont's carriage. She also puts a sadness in her performance, remorseful that she has had to use her magic to harm and to kill. Dupont makes us sympathize with the monster here, a contrast to the mistrust we hold for Gerry, a human using her.
Vincent Gale plays the villain Gerry "Boltar the Furious." He gives the character a haughty manner in his interactions with both Sam and Dean and the other players. Gale makes certain that we know he takes the game a bit too seriously with his frequent mentions of the rules. He also shows that Gerry is ready to burst in his body language and tone of voice. He wants to be recognized and important---and it is his self-importance that makes him treat others in the game with disdain. Once Boltar is revealed to be Gilda the Fairy's master, Gale shows just how angry Gerry really has been. There is a darkness in his performance when he tells the brothers and Charlie of his plans for the Battle of Kingdoms. Gerry has chosen to pervert the fun of the game by using real magic to kill---all for petty reasons.
Felicia Day's second trip to the Supernatural set was better than the first. She fits right into the show's landscape. Day knows how to use the show's genre to her strengths, and how to sell it best to her audience with an open ease. Her knowledge of science fiction/fantasy culture gives her this ability, allowing her to endear herself to the audience. She makes Charlie charismatic while tough and vulnerable all at once. Day has great comedic timing---especially with Ackles. It is a subtle and clever humor that laces through her performance. Day also knows how to give Charlie an edge, reminding us that she is a strong character with great ability and courage. Now that she has reached out to the brothers with an offer to assist In the future we'll see her again.
Jensen Ackles excells at drama and no one would argue that. Here, though, we see him bring the boyish side to Dean. He is playful, eager, and easily delighted. Ackles makes sure we see the little boy under the gruffness that is Dean's exterior through little smiles. He is eager and enthusiastic in his performance. We can see in Ackles that Dean is happy here, enjoying the experience Moondoor offers. He conveys it in body language and voice. Dean grew up rarely getting the chance to play, and every opportunity he has had, Ackles makes sure we see that the elder Winchester will take it with both hands. He is goofy, giddy, and a delight on screen. Ackles knows how to make it playful, fun, fresh, and silly---all the while keeping it subtle. Ackles lays it all on the table for Dean in the final scene, delivering the Braveheart speech. It is bursting full of fun, silliness, and delight. We can see here just how happy Dean is in this moment, all just in tone of voice and in the big smile on his face. It is moving to see Dean cry, but it is just as moving to see Dean have fun, and Ackles delivers here.
Jared Padalecki makes Sam the straight man in this episode, frustrated at every turn by his brother's antics. His reactions to Dean's playfulness adds to the comedy. Padalecki shows us how much Sam is struggling with his choice to hunt---all the while showing that Sam is truly in element doing it. He shows it in his body language and his stern facial expressions. Padalecki keeps Sam in all business mode, nonplussed by all the fantasy play around him. He shows us that Sam is wound tight through his tight shoulders and grimaces. It conveys to the audience that Sam is in need of a release---to have fun and enjoy what he does---and Padalecki makes that clear. Once Sam finally gives in, we see a relaxed expression cross Padalecki's features, complete with the exultant expression as he helps Dean lead the charge for the battle. Hopefully we'll see Sam have more fun in the future.
The Best Lines of the Week:
Sheriff Jake Miller: These kids today with their texting and murder.
Sam: Yeah. Thanks. And you're right. Having fun won't help me. It'll help both of us. Shall we?
Charlie: Dudes. If the tent is rockin', don't come a-knockin'.
Dean: What? Well, there's no laptops in Moondoor. There's no Geneva Convention, either.
Gerry: I prefer the term "interactive literaturist."
This week the boys learned about how to have fun again---and fun was had, huzzah! We've met Grandpa Campbell. Next week we get to meet Grandpa Winchester. Just what does the paternal side of the family know about the "family business?"