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TV Review: Supernatural – “LARP and the Real Girl”

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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 DayJensen 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.

Jensen Ackles and Jared PadaleckiThe 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.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • Kristin

    I have been reading many reviews of this episode and while I understand fans delight in the visuals, all I could think at the end (after I stopped smiling about the last scene, which my god, that was worth the price of admission) was… SIGH. And your review really summarizes why. I am a really really newly acquired SPN fan, so I’ve been lucky enough to watch Seasons 1-7 with the knowledge of what was going to happen, and now that I’m watching Season 8, it’s all getting a bit clinical and dispassionate. I even enjoyed much of Seasons 6-7, although the joy waned as Season 7 ended, basically due to the lack of any joy or hope for the boys, their relationship, or their future. And this season has only made things worse.

    “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.”

    This encapsulates exactly what I feel at this point in the season. I hope that there is some purpose, something driving the sad and hopelessness that seems to pervade and overwhelm everyone on the show. I think there may be some “secret” we will learn, because Jensen Ackles is selling the “trying so hard it’s uncomfortable” vibe too well for it to be an accident in his scenes, which frankly, do not make me giggle or chuckle or smile (much) but again, mostly make me sigh.

    I am uninterested in Naomi, I am concerned that “SuperCas” (as much as I like him) neuters any urgency in the jeopardy the boys are put through, and I am starting to buy that Supernatural can only end “bloody and sad” to quote Dean. At this point, it may seem like a mercy killing.

  • Gerry

    Hi Kristin, great to have you drop in! I love that Supernatural is still drawing in new fans–and isn’t DVD a wonderful way to see a series? I often find the flow I get in the story helps me understand what the writers were going for in a way that’s sometimes hard to see when you are getting the story in dribs and drabs during the season.

    I’m hoping something similar is happening this season. I actually loved season six as it aired, but I think it plays even better the second time through, when you know you are supposed to think something is off about Sam. Perhaps the same thing will happen with Season 8.

    I’m not uninterested in Naomi, but I do think we should get a lot more urgency in that story line. The quest is supposed to driving the momentum of the season and so far, it hasn’t. I really like Cas and feel he is being used well this season (as opposed to last), but I know what you mean about the dangers of “SuperCas.”

    I have a different fear for the end, though. I have never wanted the end to be bloody and sad. We can leave the boys’ story at some point other than death and that’s what I want. I’d like to leave them when their personal arcs come to an end, the ones they’ve been struggling with since the pilot.

    Now I’m even more scared the end of those arcs will be the boys deciding they need other family than each other and heading different ways. That will be such a let down after the first six seasons where the bond drove the show.

    I want to believe in a restored bond–the writers do not have a resistent viewer in me. But any healing has to be reciprocal. I need movement on Sam’s part on his feelings about Benny. I don’t need any more Amelia, as that arc I felt didn’t hang together at all. I’d love more Benny, but not as plot fodder for Sam and Dean’s fights. And not for Dean to have to kill. The boys need a world to live in, a world with texture and people in it.