After last week’s grim entry, Supernatural comes back this week with a lighthearted stand-alone romp through the land of LARP—Live Action Role Play to the uninitiated. “LARP and the Real Girl,” by Robbie Thompson, is a delight, from the guest star to the costumes to the handling of sexuality. The episode doesn’t fix the issues plaguing this season, and in fact the few times the story connects to the ongoing Sam and Dean dynamics are the weakest points, but it reminds us how smart and funny Supernatural can be.
Felicia Day reprises her role as Charlie the computer genius, only this time she’s taken refuge from her new identity and humdrum IT life in the land of Moondoor, a LARP game played in a local park every weekend. Charlie, or The Queen, as she is known in Moondoor, is having a blast reigning over the various factions and flirting with comely maidens, until a couple of odd murders bring Sam and Dean onto the scene. Hilarity ensues as Dean dons medieval garb and is transformed into the Queen’s handmaiden so the two of them can snoop for clues.
Jensen Ackles and Felicia Day are a hoot together, with Day pulling off great chemistry with Ackles and at the same time keeping Charlie’s sexual interest firmly and openly on women. Dean expands the big brother vibe first glimpsed in last season’s “The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo” (also by Thompson), and the two characters bond over their shared interest in girls and taste in porn. Thompson gives depth to their interactions when Dean tells Charlie she’s as much of a hero in the real world as she is in Moondoor, something Charlie remembers when she has to find her courage to rescue her fairy damsel in distress.
Thompson has a deft hand with all the sexual politics. He treats Charlie’s interest in girls the same way a heterosexual story line would have been handled—there’s no highlighting the episode as “Very Special” because Charlie is gay nor does “LARP and the Real Girl” shy away from girl on girl kisses. I also loved the way gender is fluid in Moondoor. No one blinks an eye when Charlie dubs Dean her handmaiden. The construction of identity by societal rules is brought to the surface, rather than lurking just out of sight, which is one of the attractions of LARPing.
The world of LARPing in general is both mined for laughs and treated respectfully, which is no mean balancing act. It helps that all the guest actors are great fun to watch, from the Sheriff who wryly says, “These kids today with their texting and murder,” to the adorable Orc prisoner trying to hide some information from Dean. Dean’s willingness to enter into the fun keeps the lighthearted tone and all of this together makes “LARP and the Real Girl” one of the more successful offbeat episodes in recent seasons. The final scene with Sam and Dean re-enacting Braveheart is worth the price of admission in itself, not least because Sam is actually enjoying himself.
It is only in the scenes where Thompson connects his story to Sam and Dean’s relationship problems that the episode stumbles—and I don’t lay the blame at Thompson’s door. He’s working with what he’s been given. It is apparently the decision in the writing room that the only wrong decision made in “Citizen Fang” was Dean’s and that his text should be discussed out of context of what was happening at the time.
In the scene where Dean brings Charlie up to date on what’s up between him and Sam, she responds by assigning Dean the blame for Sam leaving Amelia, because he sent the bogus text that brought Sam back into her orbit. And Dean accepts the blame, which is exactly the kind of reaction we’ve seen him try to move past this year. We don’t know if Dean edited out all references to his relationship with Benny, so Charlie has no idea Dean was choosing the least bad of the terrible choices he had at the time. Nor do we know if he told Charlie he told Sam to make his own decision and that Dean would be fine if he had to go it alone.
But we know all this happened, so this scene did not sit well with me. I know Sam made his own poor decisions involving Martin and I know his relationship with Amelia felt more illusory than real and riddled with issues that suggest this relationship would not have lasted even if Sam had chosen it. I dislike the idea that the “repairing” of the brother bond so far has no reciprocity and it looks increasingly unlikely that will change. If we get a scene soon showing Sam’s ownership of his part of the troubles, that will change my feeling. But at this point in the season, I am losing faith we’ll see that.
Most of the fun in “LARP and the Real Girl” comes from Dean and Charlie’s interactions, not Sam and Dean’s. Sam is locked in his grief for his lost relationship, while Dean accepts the blame for it and tries to support Sam. If I was mourning Sam’s relationship along with him or thought Dean was to blame for it not working out, the boys might look like they are working things out between them.
But since I think Don was the only one who came out of the love triangle looking good and that Dean shouldering blame he does not deserve is a big step backward from what he learned in Purgatory, I don’t see much in this episode to indicate growth. I did love that Sam not only unbent enough to have fun at the end, he wanted Dean to have fun, too. But that does not take the place of an honest discussion on what’s driving Sam’s attitude toward Benny.
I’m not at all sure when we step back into the main story line I’ll feel differently than I did at the end of “Torn and Frayed.” In the beginning of the season, Sam asked Dean to consider that his equation of happiness doesn’t need to include Sam. We learned then and since that Sam’s personal happiness equation doesn’t include Dean. Last episode showed us Dean is finally onboard with Sam’s vision—he can accept the idea of going on without Sam. Having now separated what each man needs, there seems little reason to bring them together on any level other than achieving their quest.
The quest this year has not unfolded with any sense of urgency. But even if it had, I’d still be more invested in Sam and Dean’s personal journeys. At this point, we appear to have the boys’ end goals: Sam wants a life like he had with Amelia; Dean will continue to hunt and wants a family that wants him. I’m left hoping Sam hops off his fence and goes and gets Amelia—she’s clearly not committed to Don—and that Dean realizes he can define his own family. Castiel, Benny, Charlie, Garth—all of these characters value Dean in their lives.
I’m still not sure the writers intended to so thoroughly deconstruct Dean and Sam’s shared equation. I’m not sure we’re supposed to be left with two separate happiness equations in its place. If not, I hope the second half of the season can knit the boys back together. But if we’re supposed to be well on the way—we’re not.