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Supernatural 8.11 Review: It's a Good Day to Be Alive: "LARP and the Real Girl

            Supernatural episode 8.11, “LARP and The Real Girl” was a terrific standalone episode. It was written by Robbie Thompson and directed by Jeannot Szwarc. I was really excited for this episode because of two things: it was set essentially at a Renaissance Faire and therefore afforded the possibility of leather, but more importantly, it saw the return of Felicia Day as Charlie Bradford. I wasn’t disappointed on either front.
             First, a few words about Charlie – and Felicia Day – before I jump into the episode. Felicia actually live vlogged the episode Wednesday night during the west coast airing of the show. You can find it on the Geek and Sundry YouTube page – just go to Felicia’s videos:HERE. She talks about all things Felicia, not just the show, but she has lots of interesting things to say. Among them she talks about what a great character Charlie is. She’s smart and bold, and she holds her own with the boys and isn’t afraid to embrace her geek-self. And I mean both Felicia and Charlie! Seriously though, Charlie is a welcome and wonderful addition to the Supernatural universe. She joins Sheriff Mills (Kim Rhodes – seriously PTB, when are we seeing her again?!?!) as one of the best female characters on the show. Charlie certainly joins Sheriff Mills as a fan favorite. I can’t help but wonder if for some, it’s simply that neither one has the potential of becoming a love interest for either brother... I hope not, because I think that devalues the merits of these characters- who simply happen to be women.
            In this episode, we see that Charlie has built a new life for herself after helping to defeat Dick Roman. Not only has she built a whole new life – complete with another nice-shout-out-to-science-fiction last name: Heinlein (after Robert A Heinlein, the science fiction writer known as - get this - the DEAN of science fiction writers)– she’s also managed to become their leader. Charlie is smart, sexy (loved her making out with the fairy), and she’s also able to kick some sword ass AND same the damsel in distress! I’m really hoping that they can bring her back again, but I suspect as Day’s career heats up that will become increasingly difficult.
             The episode opens with a great and very gory set up – Day hadn’t seen the episode and was a bit shocked at all the blood and gore! We also learn that it is January 23 – from a shot of the victim’s phone. For those of you paying attention, January 24 is Dean’s birthday. Then we cut to the Impala, and see how the brothers are faring after last week’s episode. Sam (Jared Padalecki) only wants to bury himself in work which is his usual response to loss. It’s what he did in the first season after Jess died and what he did in season two after John died and in season three’s “Mystery Spot” after Dean (Jensen Ackles) died – and again after Dean died at the end of that season. Dean is trying to get Sam to take a night off and see a movie or go to a bar – to have some fun. And this is also what he did in season one after Jess. Of course, it’s possible he was aware of the date too. Regardless, it was a nice change to see Dean actually somewhat light-hearted for a change and enjoying the job.  
            I actually really liked how they treated LARPing in the episode. Dean was obviously totally into it – which makes sense given how little he’s had trouble with the amount of time they spend pretending to be FBI or someone else. It was interesting, given that in season one Sam was the one who wanted to play dress-up – I’m thinking of the overalls in “Shadow” – that he’s not as into the role-playing idea. At least not at first... Regardless, I thought they treated the LARPers with a lot of respect. Yes. The bad guy was a “loser in life, a loser in the game,” but we saw a wide range of people playing the game – from accountants to attorneys. 
             Charlie has been using Moondoor as an escape and as a place to heal after her confrontation with Roman. When it becomes clear she’s in danger, Dean wants to send her away while Sam protests they need her help. Dean reminds Sam that that used to be Sam’s thinking – to protect the innocent at all costs. It’s interesting that they’ve somewhat switched roles here. Dean is obviously still concerned about what Kevin said to him in the letter he left in “What’s Up Tiger Mommy” about being a danger to anyone around him. Sam does have a good point that they do need Charlie’s help – more even than they realize! – and it may even be wiser to keep someone close to protect them. Ultimately, it’s Charlie who decides that she’s done running. She likes her life and she wants to fight for it. Besides, it’s not what a Queen would do!
            Ackles and Day have terrific chemistry in this episode, and there scenes together are priceless. It’s also nice to see Sam’s fond exasperation for his brother take center stage again. I loved Charlie and Dean being distracted by the strategy map. It’s also nice to see Dean in an element where his natural talents shine. When both Charlie and Dean immediately jump to “porn star” from Belladonna, the timing is perfect and hilarious!
            Charlie proves to be an insightful friend when she calls Dean on the text he sent to Sam from Amelia as a “dick-move”, but also senses that Dean has also been through a breakup. Dean does admit, somewhat back-handedly, that it was a dick-move, but he also says Sam is now fully in the game. Dean’s concern was for Sam’s safety. I’m sure that had nothing to do with him sending the text at the time, but it did prove how distracted Sam was by Amelia that he would just leave in the middle of a hunt. Dean’s comment to Charlie that in this life you “can’t afford attachments” – you just gotta let go, is very interesting. It also harkens back to what happened with Cas in Purgatory – you just gotta let go. Is it possible that Dean feels this is his penance? To give up his friend? And it also seems to circle back to the growing concern Dean has about those around him being hurt. 
             Dean canvassing with Charlie is hilarious as she flirts with their suspects. Dean gets to take on Sam’s role and look disgusted and put out. I suspect that he’s simply jealous that Charlie is getting all the hot chicks! Meanwhile, Sam is getting hit on by another LARPer in the tech tent. He turns down her offer though – obviously it’s too soon. This too seems more like “old” Sam. Did everyone catch the shout out to Day’s character in Dragon Age? The game – with her on screen is playing when Sam enters the tent.
            Dean is happy to take credit for Balthar’s idea to find Charlie, but he’s all business when it actually comes to interrogating the Shadow Orcs. I loved the scene when he pulls out his gun and shoots it to show it’s real. Everyone flinches at the noise, except, of course, for Dean and Sam. Sam tries to rein Dean in, and I loved the classic Sam eye-roll when Dean shoots the gun. I also really liked when the King of the Shadow Orcs turned out to be an attorney. Dean is completely unimpressed by him being an attorney and offering not to press charges, so the King resorts to giving Dean his ears – the LARPing way of surrendering! Dean actually seems to appreciate this gesture more!

             It did seem pretty obvious fairly quickly that Balthar was in on it, but there was so much to love about the confrontation. The guns turning into feathers – complete with a chicken squawk! – was a classic. Did everyone catch the gorgeous dagger twirl Day executed before stabbing the book of magic and rescuing everyone?? Not only does she get the girl, she also saves the brothers. Another thumbs up to the Thompson for having Charlie be the one to save the damsels in distress. If I was going to quibble, I was a little disappointed that there was no mention of Dean having been to the fairy realm. When I heard there would be a fairy, I thought there might have been some mention of their previous encounter with them.
            What didn’t disappoint me at all, was how this episode also weaves into the current concerns and threads that have been running through this season. We see most of the LARPers really enjoy what they do, but recognize it’s a game, a way to escape their regular lives – much like the theme of “The Real Ghostbusters” from season five. Balthar is a loser because he doesn’t get this. He also turns to murder when the two victims actually cheat at the game – that seems to be their worst crime. It’s not the game that makes you who you are – Jerry is a loser in both, just as Charlie is a hero in both – as Dean is at great pains to tell her. By the end of the episode, Charlie has regained her self-confidence completely and is ready to re-join the real world. She realizes that escaping isn’t the answer. She even tells them to call her if they ever need her (WRITERS? CARVER? CALL HER!!!). This ties in nicely with what Sam went through. When life became too much and he ran, he ran to an escape from hunting.
             Dean comes as close as I think we will ever get to apologizing to Sam. He admits he understands how much Sam gave up and that Sam needs time. He knows his brother well enough to know that Sam needs time to recover and to forgive him. For his part, Sam meets Dean halfway and accepts the proffered olive branch. Sam also shows he still knows his brother just as well and he knows what Dean needs to heal too. Sam knows they need to re-bond, and he knows that Dean needs him.
            I think the final scene is going to be a classic fan favorite. Dean in that wig, reciting the speech from Braveheart and Sam finally in costume – yeah for leather pants! – and a ponytail. If you still needed proof that the show was not making fun of LARPers (and really? Having Day as Charlie as their Queen? Day IS the Queen of the nerds/geeks!), the voiceover (EP Bob Singer’s voice again) and scroll at the end was a perfect way to end the episode.

            So what was your favorite scene? Is everyone looking forward to meeting another Winchester next week? Please leave a comment! But please be respectful of others’ comments and let’s try not to make it about one brother over the other?

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