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Supernatural 8.20 "Pac-Man Fever" Review: There And Back Again

     This week’s episode of Supernatural, “Pac-Man Fever,” was written by Robbie Thompson and directed by Bob Singer – a formidable team – with the added bonus of a return of Felicia Day as Charlie Bradbury. Thompson has written all three of the episodes featuring Charlie, and I sincerely hope that this is a match we keep seeing. Charlie is one of the best written female characters the show has had. The episode had some great one liners and pop culture references, but also had a strong emotional core.  
     The episode doesn’t revolve around the larger mytharc of the Trials, but it does deal with the toll the Trials are having on both Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles). Sam is obviously getting weaker, and he’s refusing to let Dean help him. In fact, Sam continues to deny that his ability to hunt may be dangerously impeded. By the end of the episode, Dean has vowed that while he’s never going to “let go” of Sam, he is going to let him fight. And I’m sure viewers were all pleased by Dean’s heartfelt hug of Sam at the end of the episode.
    We learn that the Bunker has its own gun range, which Dean uses as a testing ground for both Sam and Charlie. It’s hilarious when Sam misses the target and when Charlie tags off two nice headshots. Obviously, Dean hasn’t played enough video games to realize that they are a great place to hone your mad shooting skills!
    Charlie has been immersing herself in the hunting life, but hasn’t really done any “field” work. It’s unclear why she suddenly flagged this case other than being in the area. I did find this was a bit of a stretch in the plot. I also thought it odd that someone wouldn’t have made a decision about taking Mrs Middleton off life support if she had no family – and as far as the hospital was concerned, she had no family. Yet, Charlie is able to turn up at the end and sign papers to have her mother taken off life support. Just a few points that niggled at me this episode.
    Overall, having Dean take Charlie under his wing was just what each character needed. Charlie is wistful when she remarks it must be nice to have a brother to watch your back. She avidly wants to soak up all the “broments” that she can. It’s clear by the end that Dean very much considers her the little sister that they never had. Unlike most of the others they’ve encountered who wanted into the hunting life, they don’t really actively discourage Charlie from continuing to hunt. It’s not really clear, however, whether she intends to keep hunting.
    There were lots of humorous moments in the episode. Charlie’s fashion montage set to “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves was great, and also a nice tribute to the first episode Charlie appeared in, season seven's "The Girl With the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo," in which she dances to the same song in the elevator. Dean’s faces as she shows off her various outfits were hilarious. Personally, I thought Charlie looked pretty darn hot in that black and white dress! She also looked great in the costume in the video game. Once again, the wardrobe department on Supernatural has outdone itself.
    The episode actually continues this season’s tradition of looking back to previous seasons and episodes, creating a real sense of authentic continuity. Charlie has somehow stumbled upon the Carver Edlund books that we first learn about in season four’s episode “Monster at the End of the Book.” We have a new kind of Djinn, but there’s references to Dean having been sent to his “happy place” in season two’s episode “What Is And What Shall Never Be.” They also try the antidote to Djinn poisoning that Samuel Campbell taught them about in season six’s “Exile on Main Street.” When they discover that Charlie still won’t wake up, Dean enters her dream world via the African Dream Root, which they learned about in season three’s “Dream A Little Dream of Me.” Sam having to punch Dean twice, due to his weakness from the Trials, is quite hilarious. Perhaps best of all, however, is when they are looking for information on the monster, the answers come from what appears to be John’s Journal – not the Internet and not the massive library of the Men of Letters. A hunter's journal is still state of the art when hunting monsters.
    Charlie’s backstory, however, is brand new. We learn that she blames herself for her parents’ accident because she was at a sleepover and got scared and the accident happened when they were on their way to “save” her. She can’t let go of her mother because she wants to apologize, she wants to talk to her one last time. Dean, of course, can completely relate to these feelings as he felt exactly the same way about John’s death in season two. He’s able to help her face her fear and prepare to let her mother go.
    This kind of Djinn likes to feed off of people who are afraid. She describes their blood as being more bitter. This is an interesting parallel to what the Leviathan tells Sam in “Slash Fiction” in season seven. The Leviathan using Dean’s face tells Sam that he likes to eat people whose blood is bitter too. Interestingly, the Djinn tells Charlie that she smelt fear on Dean too. Dean’s fear isn’t of the Djinn, however. Dean’s greatest fear, as it’s always been, is losing Sam and that’s why Sam is a patient in the video game too: that’s Dean’s nightmare.
    Dean visits Charlie’s mother in the hospital. I thought it interesting that Dean calls her “Mrs Middleton.” Obviously, that’s her name, but it felt very much like he was a teenager addressing a friend’s parent – there was a weight of respect there. Almost as if he senses Charlie’s desire to make peace with her mother, he tells her she’s “got one hell of a daughter” and he promises to find Charlie. That scene reminded me very much of both Dean’s plight in season two’s “In My Time of Dying” and season three’s “Bedtime Stories” about the coma patient. In both instances the person attached to the body was still hovering around. Perhaps, Dean realized that Charlie’s mother would be tethered in some way to her body and therefore able to hear him.
    Dean’s mentoring of Charlie and his taking her under his wing seems complete in the dream sequence and the final scene when he calls her ‘kiddo’. As soon as she wakes up, Charlie looks to Dean for comfort and reassurance. Charlie may have found the big brothers she was looking for. It's a great moment when Dean plays Han Solo to Charlie’s Princess Leia and responds to her “I love you” with “I know.” The nod to the line from The Empire Strikes Back is a nice nod to both of their love for all things nerdy and pop culture, but also echoes Charlie’s saying the same thing in her last episode “LARP and the Real Girl” and her Princess Leia tattoo. And Dean has often been compared to Han Solo in the past.
    The final scene is Charlie saying goodbye to her mother by reading The Hobbit to her one last time. It’s the book that Charlie’s mother read her to sleep with when she was little, and Charlie attributes it to making her love the things in her life that she does. While most of the references to Tolkien in Supernatural have been to The Lord of the Rings, there is a definite connection to Hobbits with the brothers. For one thing, how many people have noticed that the door to the Men of Letters Bunker looks like the door to a Hobbit hole? It was just a few episodes ago that Sam called Dean on quoting The Lord of the Rings to him when Dean said that even if he couldn’t carry the burden, he could carry Sam – very clearly setting Sam up as Frodo and himself as Sam Gamgee. The opening lines of The Hobbit that Charlie reads could describe the Bunker. A Hobbit hole means comfort, and the Bunker has certainly become a place where the brothers can seek comfort. It’s a home for Dean which is something John tells Sam he wishes he could give Dean in the first season. It’s the one thing Dean has always wanted. In many ways Dean and Sam are like the Hobbits in the books. They may seem insignificant against the likes of Angels and Demons, just as the Hobbits do when compared to Elves and Wizards, yet in the end, the Hobbits are the ones who must save the world.
    Both Day and Ackles deserve special praise for the performance they deliver in this episode. Both have to travel the full range of emotion from the comedic moments, such as in the fashion montage, to fear to grief. We’ve come to almost expect such performance from Ackles. It was nice to see him get to explore that big brother side more with Charlie. Charlie, after all, welcomed having Dean’s help while Sam is usually busy pushing him away and asserting his own ability to take care of himself – the difference of always having the luxury of having a big brother – something Charlie missed. I suspect that Day’s performance may have been more of a revelation for people, but make no mistake, this woman can act! We’ve come to expect her comic timing – the scene with her asking the coroner for fashion advice was priceless. But the emotional scenes both with Dean in the dream and the final scene with her mother were very powerful. It’s often easier to pull off that kind of scene if you have a generous actor to play against, but the final scene is all Day.
    What did you think of the episode? I liked it, and I can’t wait to see Charlie again. Are you eager to see her back? I’m also happy to see the brothers united to face the last trial, but I have to wonder if Sam is going to keep fighting Dean’s help. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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