Going into this episode, I knew I would love it. From the outset it had too many great elements not to be good: humour, references to the Carver Edlund book series, Felicia Day's Charlie - one of my favourite recurring characters to date, and some emotional reveals as well. And yet what this episode brought was so much more than I could've ever expected.
MoTW - Hybrid Djinn
Let's get this out of the way from the jump. This episode was really more about people that the creepies. The djinn storyline was quietly in the background, more or less, and an opportunity to bring Charlie to the boys while dealing with Sam's increasing illness and Charlie's personal issues - which were also a vehicle for Dean to confront his concerns about Sam.
I will say that I didn't think the djinn was the best conceived monster storyline we've come across - personally it seemed obvious who was involved in the murders the moment the coroner started hassling Dean and Charlie for the paperwork, and so nastily. This isn't to say it was sloppily done, just simple. Overall, my favourite inception of the djinn remains What Is And What Should Never Be - higher creep factor, more heartbreak overall. But, I digress.
Charlie Bradbury: Woman of Letters
Emotionally there is just so much to talk about it's hard to know where to begin. Charlie's journey in this episode starts from the character we've come to know and love and what the audience, as well as Sam and Dean learn is that Charlie is actually role playing in its truest form. Charlie as Sam and Dean know her is an identity born of four elements: fear of the past Charlie seeks to escape, the guilty burden she carries, the great loss she suffered early on and the undeniably loving and close she had with her mother that has influenced her personality so strongly through everything. Really, is it any wonder that Charlie and Dean are as compatible and similar as they are? The way Charlie carries the death of her mother and the early influences of things her mother did such as reading The Hobbit that have so indelibly impacted her; I couldn't help but think of things like Dean's love of pie, for example, which we saw in Dark Side of the Moon was an early Mary-related thing.
The relationship between Charlie and Dean so well done every time they are on screen together and in this episode is made that much sweeter because Dean well and truly appreciates her struggle with letting go of her mother and the guilt that she has run from her entire life. It was absolutely heartbreaking when Charlie was pleading that she just wanted to be able to tell her mom how sorry she was one more time and Dean says he knows. There aren't platitudes about it not being her fault, that she shouldn't feel guilty, or any of these things. True though these notions may be, a child is not responsible for an accident like this, hearing that won't assuage the guilt - certainly not guilt that Charlie has carried this long. Dean understands that logical thought won't break through to Charlie in this situation, because they are the same type of people in this respect and he holds his own guilt and responsibility for those around him in exactly that way.
In many ways there is a poetic irony in having Charlie say goodbye to her mother with Dean there in a djinn induced fever dream, much like Dean said goodbye to his own djinn-fueled fantasy family and Mary all those years ago. When Dean wakes up and turns to Charlie, apologizing - saying he â€œhad toâ€ and then she cries while hugging him - remembering Dean's own heartbreaking djinn trip makes this an even more powerful event. This whole exchange is brilliantly done: Sam's concern for Dean, Charlie's devastation, Sam watching confused but sad for her as she breaks down. It's a beautifully shot moment.
Finally, I loved the goodbye between Charlie and Dean. When she told him she loved him, he says he knows and cupped her head as they hugged, I nearly swooned for the cuteness of the moment. Charlie is without a doubt the perfect younger sister to Sam and Dean.
Nothing You Can't Do Together
Let's touch for one moment on the Supernatural book series too. Yes, these brought an excellent opportunity for humour. Sam's determined statement that they needed to find and burn every copy of the books, only to be informed they'd gone viral while Dean quietly stewed over the unending haunting that those damn books brought - great. More importantly, the books provided a great way for Charlie to get back story on the boys (as well as hunter info) without exposition galore - and as a result, put her in the unique and ideal position of cheering squad for Sam and Dean. Charlie is reads the books and is able to add this information to her personal relationships with the boys to give not one but repeated motivations to both brothers that they will succeed in these trials. And why? Because the Winchesters always do. Her simple faith in them is refreshing, cheerful and exactly what they need to hear at this point. There is nothing the Winchester Brothers can't do together. Exactly right. Charlie's final words to Sam could not have come at a better moment for him - he is tired, sick and bone weary and prophetless, yet here is this LARPer completely confident that he is an ass-kicking dude who will win regardless. Nice.
Sam and the Sickness
Sam is sick, no doubt about it. He is unsteady on his feet, struggles with concentration without headaches, requires lots of sleep, lacks coordination and his ninja-Bourne skills are a tad rusty at this point. His car theft skills appear to be in top-notch shape though, so no worries there. If this is the state of Sam after trial two, what does this mean for number three? Castiel remarked long ago that he cannot heal the damage being done to Sam - my question is: will Sam require healing? I mean to say I thought that, assuming all goes swimmingly and trial number three hums along smooth as silk and the hell gates slam shut, will he be sicker or will he be healthy again? Also, when Sam gets worse after trial three - what the hell could that possibly look like? Actually having his spine removed like Kevin read? Yikes. I guess Old Testament God set up these trials.
I really enjoyed Sam's journey this episode. Jared did a great job of showing not only the illness, and the struggle, but Sam's determination to keep going despite it. On that matter I was a bit divided. While I admired his courage for â€œplaying through the painâ€ and appreciated Sam's desire to back his brother up, he also presents a liability to some extent if a situation becomes violent. Granted here it didn't go that way and Sam held his own. But in a worse situation, not against a baby-djinn or if Sam is weakened still - he's a risk because unlike in normal cases where Dean knows Sam is a capable fighter he knows Sam is weak, vulnerable and more than likely to be hurt - ergo Sam becomes a distraction here. There isn't much left of the season and Dean seemed resolved to bring Sam and search for Kevin at the end so perhaps this is a non-issue. But it did give me concerns throughout the episode. On that note, I appreciate that Sam was not portrayed as in any way being physically inept, regardless of the progression of the illness: he capably investigated the scene, got in and out of the morgue with Dean without the djinn mommy being aware and ultimately did save Charlie and Dean from baby djinn. Maybe his shooting skills aren't top notch and his strength is waning, but I appreciate that there is a progression being shown, rather than one day regular Sam, next episode practically dead Sam. This type of thoughtfulness is why Supernatural is so good even eight years later.
Dream Fever â€œGotta Let Go, Right?â€
Charlie's dream played out much differently than I expected - much more emotional and as a result it was well done. Requiring that Charlie let go of her mom as the endgame, but also having Sam as one of the patients was an interesting twist and certainly a strong hint at things to come. As I mentioned above, Charlie's reveals to Dean and her pleas about wanting to talk to her mom just once more we're absolutely devastating here. It was an unexpected choice for Supernatural to go the non-supernatural route with no ghost or spirit of the deceased mother coming back one more time to say goodbye, and actually I am glad the show didn't go there - it made everything with Charlie that much more affecting.
The closing shot of this episode was uncharacteristically neither the boys nor something ominously foreshadowing for the future. Instead, we have Charlie reading to her mother from The Hobbit one final time after the nurses and doctors have disabled the life support machines. It was sad, sweet and poignant.
This season, in particular the later half, have been rich with brotherly moments and relationship development. The last few episodes especially have seen a renewed level of closeness between the boys that is reminiscent of the very early days of the show. This episode really drove that home: though there is the obvious worry from Dean he doesn't smother Sam. In my opinion it showed great growth and restraint to give Sam a shooting test to qualify to come out instead of simply handcuffing, drugging or locking Sam up somewhere (or all three) as he may have done in the old days and I honestly expected him to do at certain points throughout the episode. For Sam's point he even partially listened to Dean and took it easy to some extent, but more to the point wasn't as angry or insulted by the suggestions that he take a back seat this time around as he may have been previously. Finally, at the end he even started to apologize for not listening to Dean and Dean cuts him off with a hug (sigh) and then agrees they need to go find Kevin - together.
If this doesn't demonstrate the individual maturity and the new levels of respect and close understanding in this relationship, well, I don't know what does. Great exchanges all around. And one fabulous hug.
This is not usually a section I include in my reviews, put there were a number of random moments in this episode I felt I had to mention somewhere because they were just so fun:
*Dean calling out Sam's hair and asking for five minutes with some clippers*
*Charlie and Dean's shopping montageâ€¦.then shut down by Dean*
*Charlie and Sam beating Dean to the morgue*
*Charlie mentions the books the Sam and Dean*
*Sam punches Deanâ€¦.twice*
Pac-Man Fever was a great emotionally heavy, monster-lite episode thick with foreshadowing and great broments to boot. We have some nice set up going forward to hunt for Kevin next week, but also left the door open clearly for Charlie to return to the Batcave anytime, yes please. Additionally we learned that there is an awesome shooting range somewhere in bunker and that it is protected such that calls can be made and received but not traced. Interesting given that cell phones and wifi weren't exactly standard back when the bunker was created, but I'll take it.
Roots seemed to be such a strong thread throughout this episode with many references going back to the early years of Supernatural and of course Charlie forced to confront her own tragic history. The undeniable theme of togetherness was there as well, Charlie herself stating that the Winchesters are strongest together and by the end Dean was keeping Sam with him, 100% despite his shakiness. The clearest thing of all, however, was the motif of sacrifice, goodbye and letting go that rang loud and true and at this point we are left to play the game of wonder, wait and see what this will mean in the coming weeks.
The MOW story was background true, but familiar and comfortable territory and worked well. I felt this was so much more than a filler. It had depth as well as humor.
I hope Charlie returns, she makes a good ally and she makes the boys smile.
I totally agree with your review and have watched this episode more times than I will admit to.
It's not that SPN hasn't had guest characters as part of the affecting storylines before (ex. Madison in Heart *sob!*), I just think it was done in a different way this time around because until this point Charlie has been more comic relief/fun and games than anything else and a light-hearted element. Also, her journey, though it had symbolism that relates to the boys, regarding her mom ultimately had nothing to do with Sam and Dean and was entirely her own. So, all in all, the episode did a really good job of making the audience connect deeply with Charlie's struggle and feeling her pain considering she is not a character we've previously known at this level, like Bobby for example.
Thanks for reading!