Leave it to The CW's Supernatural to start an episode seemingly about time-travel only to flip it around and have it be a combination of genre-bending goodies. And that's all well and good, but really, I just want to use this time to appeal to the show's writers and producer to keep Charlie (Felicia Day) around for season nine. I wouldn't be so presumptuous to ask that she be made a regular (Day is pretty busy!), but she needs to flit in and out more often, just another hunter/helper the boys call upon or call upon the boys from time to time. From her excitement at going out in the field, to her sharp shooting, to her embracing the art of deception (and the movie montage that came with it), she more than proved herself an asset; she even got Dean (Jensen Ackles) to open up about Sam (Jared Padalecki), Cass, and the trials!
Now, when the boys met up with Charlie again in "Pac-Man Fever," it was mid-week, and she "just happened" to be in Kansas on what she claimed was a comic book convention, trolling for collectibles. Dean didn't question her, seemingly just happy to have his wing-woman back for a short time, but Sam was a bit more skeptical. Admittedly as was I. Kansas, huh? As in the birthplace of the Winchesters and where they lost their mother? Already knowing from the episode promos that Charlie had been spending her time away from the boys researching monsters and the boys (inadvertently through the Carver Edlund novels), my antennae were up, assuming she was trying to know as much about them and their life as possible, to get as close to them as possible. Charlie thus far has been a hit with the fans because of her relatability and general bad-assery, but for the first time the show seemed to be putting her directly into the fans' shoes. The fans, too, want to know as much about the boys and their life as possible, to get as close to them as possible. But the last time the show dabbled in portraying fans, albeit it much more overtly, it didn't end so well. I would have been worried for this episode, too, if I hadn't talked to Day before it aired to be assured the story was "beautiful" and something of which she was proud to be a part.
Anyway, Sam wasn't doing so well after completing the second trial. He slept for over a day straight; his hair was a mess; he couldn't catch a beer bottle or hit a stationary target; he could barely stand up. He was down for the count. Well, he should have been, but it's Sam, and he didn't want to miss out on the fun. Luckily Dean didn't lose his sense of humor about things, despite undoubtedly worrying to death about his baby bro on the inside, because he had Charlie back, and she brought along a case.
People were turning up dead in town, their middle sections bloated and exploding. The coroner's office was run by the thing killing them, so they burned the bodies quickly-- too quickly for the boys to take a look at them, causing them to resort to John's journal and some other books on lore. I love the throwback to simpler times and all by mentioning their father, but I find it really hard to believe he could have anything in his journal that they haven't already covered and therefore know like the backs of their hands or the inside of the Impala. Yet, despite Charlie being the Queen of Technology, second even to Sam, this time John's trusty journal won out, and it turned out that it was a djinn causing trouble in town. Yes, the boys had faced and fought a djinn before, but this wasn't straight ole repetition but a new and improved version-- one where they impersonate their victims and leave their insides like jelly. I wish the show took the time to comment on the possibility that supernatural beings were evolving in order to avoid being killed off, but unfortunately that wasn't actually the point of this episode.
These djinn led their victims into a false reality, too, but since it was Charlie who got "touched" by the seemingly too by-the-book morgue director, the world was one of out of a video game.
But let me back up for a second because as fun and games as the video game portion of things was (Dean in a uniform will do it for me every time), the true takeaway was Charlie's backstory. A combination of her mysterious disappearance (when the djinn got her) and her generally squirrelly behavior before led Sam and Dean to dig a little more, and they found some secret aliases, as well as her mother-- who had been hit by a drunk driver when Charlie was just a kid and being kept alive by machines in the hospital ever since. Charlie's hacking skills were put to good use, finding ways to pay for her mother's care and even sneaking in to see her occasionally, but that's no way to live. Charlie was lonely, hence the obsession with the boys. She wasn't in Kansas researching them at all; that just happened to be where her mother's hospital was. She had more in common with the Winchesters than we could have realized because she technically lost her mother young, too-- only she was holding on so tight to the fact that her mother wasn't technically dead, the djinn (and any other supernatural creature that wanted to come after her, really) could use it against her.
So when the djinn made her the next victim, she should have been just as willing to stay in that false world as Dean had been way back in "What is and What Never Should Be" (Seriously, that is one of my favorite episodes of this series ever, and I relish any opportunity to reference it). But this djinn didn't send people to happy places but instead nightmares, so computer-crazed Charlie ended up in a videogame she reprogrammed and released and got arrested for...when she was twelve. Her desire to get out of there at all costs, despite her ass-kicking get-up, should have once again provided a chance for an altered narrative, rather than just a repetition. But in addition to killing vampires and saving patients, she had to face her mother in the game as one very special patient, and she wasn't truly ready to let go or accept that her mother was gone.
It's a fascinating character study-- whether about Charlie or anyone, really-- to see that most who are excessively interested in pop culture, media, games, or any kind of escapist fantasy world are that way because of a troubled childhood. Hence the desire for escapism, really. But in throwing one's self into something so specific, the focus is shifted from internal healing and maturing, and the person oftens ends up in a state of arrested development. We've seen this with the Winchesters, and now it explained Charlie's behavior (even down to the way she speaks), too. You want, more than anyone, for those kinds of characters to be okay, but they are often the ones that are most destined to live on the outskirts, as loners, because it's so rare to find someone so like-minded. Charlie has found the Winchesters now, and all I wanted was for Dean or Sam or both of them to tell her to stay-- especially after they realized all she had been through. But apparently I'm destined to live on the outskirts, too, because I didn't get my way.
Calling on yet another new fave, Dean had to drink dream root to go into Charlie's subconscious to try to wake her from the djinn, leaving Sam to deal with the second djinn he didn't even know was a thing. And when he did, he found Sam as another patient within the game, combining their nightmares and creating an extra stumbling block. Charlie and Dean's greatest fears were losing the only loved one they had left, and the djinn was feeding off of that. But Dean walked into this voluntarily and with a sense of objectivity. He knew everything in the world was fake, and better still, he had survived a djinn attack like this before. His advice to Charlie to just "stop playing" and "let go of the fear" was really what Charlie needed in the real world. The game was just a flashy cover designed to have a dozen distractions to keep the mind occupied from where the real fear lay so the djinn had time to "turn the insides to mush." Watching Dean force Charlie to come to terms with losing her mother was poignant and emotional but a bit rushed, especially because the editing of the episode had Sam stab the second djinn before he even started talking to her about facing her real fear. So the djinn was already dying and/or dead, and they were about to wake up at any minute, they just didn't know it-- but the writers did and had to speed through the "message." I wish there could have been a bit more justice done because Day's performance was strong, and her character's guilt so greatly parallelled Dean's it took their relationship from surface level awesome to something much stronger and deeper.
Sometimes it's the little moments that mean the most in this show, though, like all the nerdy references that just automatically come with Charlie-- from novelty shirts to relating to teenage boys over a game and their newfound "childhood trauma." But in this case, what really hit me was how the djinn told Charlie it fed on fear and then seemed to be so energized watching Sam cower against a fence as she was coming for him. Sam has been a lot of things because of the trial-- unsteady on his feet, bleeding, exhausted, all things I've discussed before-- but afraid wasn't one I thought I'd ever see. It worries me for the future of the trials. It's not that I think he won't be able to complete them, but I worry what what will happen to him when he does. At first I thought he'd be physically weaker and possibly unable to hunt, benching him more permanently to work from a home base while Dean went out solo, but you can rehab weak bones and muscles; can you do the same for courage? Most people would be sent screaming to the loony bin after seeing what Sam and Dean do on a daily basis, but Sam and Dean have always been ridiculously strong in handling it. Charlie said that if anyone could get through the trials it was Sam, but who's to say anyone can get through them? Physically surviving is one thing, but being stripped of what made you you is something else entirely.