I rewatched this ep way too many times when it first aired. I say too many because I actually got a bit sick of it by the time I was done. I overdo things sometimes, which is one of the reasons why I decided to do the kind of rewatch where I watch all the eps so I don’t get sick of one favorite episode by watching it too much. I still remember the excitement I felt that day though, as I watched it and discussed it with friends over at supernatural.TV forums.
I’m not quite sure what it was about the ep that I loved so much at that time, but can tell you one thing for sure. The LARP setting of King Arthur/Robin Hood type fantasy is really my kind of thing. I don’t know if I could pretend so thoroughly in real life, and actually participate in such an event, but I love the period, and I’ve always imagined myself and characters in the period with fascination and romanticism, sort of like I’ve felt for the Wild West - just like Dean in fact. THIS is Dean’s world, truly. A world in which he can be “of” the period without really being there, enjoy all the romanticised, fantastic notions without the reality. And Dean dressed up in middle ages costume was and is still one of the special aspects of the ep.
I also really appreciate Sam and Dean doing something fun together. It’s not often we see this, but they really needed it after what they both went through, and the looks Dean gives Sam remind me so much of Season 1!
Another reason why I’ve always liked this ep is that this is where Charlie realizes that she had been hiding in her dreamworld after the shocking and stressful events of Season 7. Dean assures her that she is a hero in real life, and she proves it by getting rid of the villain herself. She also decides that she is going to live in the real world from now on despite the fact that the real world had real monsters she had to face. This is also the reason why I was so disappointed in the next Charlie episode. But I’ll discuss that more when we get there. What I do want to think about more this time around is the parallels between Charlie and Sam in their reasons for hiding in their dreamworlds as well as a general theme of the ep, that dreamworlds are necessary sometimes, as a coping mechanism and relief from the stresses/griefs of real life.
I called this ep light and frivolous in the poll comments, and this was because the plot itself seemed weak and to rely heavily on the “fun” aspects - so that once the initial excitement wore off, the story itself wasn’t as entertaining to watch. But, sometimes frivolity is necessary. All the funny lines put me at ease and made me happy and boy did I need to have some fun too after all the angst and pain of the previous eps - Dean’s pain, Sam’s pain, and the pain of all the fans divided :( It was truly a hard first half of a season.
I sense there is also a hidden theme within this ep that is only seen through this kind of careful (re)watch. An emphasis on the difference between a game and real life, how fantasy can be used as an escape, but also the danger of confusing it with real life. This theme is actually carried over from Hunteri Herorici and we can maybe see some parallels to Sam’s situation in that sense as well.
"China Grove" by The Doobie Brothers (plays in the beginning when Sam and Dean talk in the car)
We start the ep with a LARPing guy getting killed. Most important about this scene, as mentioned above, is him discussing the game with his friend and gaming partner.
MAN (on phone) :How dare you? Lance. Yeah, that's right. I'm talking to Lance, not –
MAN (on phone):Oh, you know, we both cut corners to get close to her, but that wasn't cheating. Dude, it's just a game.
MAN:It's just a game.
So this is actually a rather complicated situation that we can’t understand very well even on rewatch. Lance (to whom the man is talking to on the phone) tells Sam and Dean at the interrogation that he had felt that his friend (the first victim we see) had been cheating and had challenged him to a duel. The villain Gerry later says that the above man and Lance both supposedly used real money (instead of Moondoor currency) to bribe other players and get on the Queen’s Honor Guard. So, ‘cutting corners’ maybe refers to that. Maybe they both bribed the other players, but then this guy had done something more than that. Or maybe Lance was completely innocent of any cheating and ‘cutting corners’ doesn’t refer to that at all.
But the key point is when the man tells Lance and himself (after the phone call is over), ‘it’s just a game.’ In this case he means, ‘don’t get so worked up about what I did - it’s not as serious because it’s just a game.’ This phrase comes up several times in the ep, seemingly stressing the danger and tendency to get it mixed up with real life - taking it too seriously. I don’t agree with the above guy that bribing players with real money (or accepting it!) is ok just because it’s a game - but the way Lance deals with it, by challenging him to a duel within the game, keeps things in check. It would not have escalated further if Gerry hadn’t mixed it all up even further and killed them both for real. On to Sam and Dean in the car. Sam is complaining about Kevin not finding anything in the tablet for closing the gates of hell, and Dean wants to make him feel better so he suggests they go do something for fun - see a movie or something. This scene reminds me so much of them in Season 1.
(Dean looking at Sam with worry)
As they are talking, Garth phones Sam and tells them that there is a case in their area and asks them to go check it out. Sam doesn’t like the idea of Garth tracking their GPS or that they’ve “been Garth-ed.” LOL! Love Sam clearing his throat as he says it and Dean smiling as he listens in to the conversation.
SAM (to Garth):Look, it's bad enough that you're tracking us, but it's even worse when you say we've been "Garthed." Yeah.
SAM (To Dean):Okay, we got to lose the GPS on our phones, because Garth has been tracking us, and other hunters, apparently, to assign cases.
DEAN :Smart. A total Bobby move. What's the deal?
Isn’t that a real improvement over Southern Comfort? It’s almost like their parts are reversed, Sam being annoyed and Dean being impressed with Garth. Maybe Sam is testing the waters with Dean regarding Garth and is not as annoyed as he sounds. And as can be seen from his smile, Dean takes it pretty well. Sam decides that they should check out the case, and that the case (having nothing to do with their main purpose) can “be their fun.” And Dean looks at him with this face… that reminds me of the face he makes when Sam says he’s OK after the nightmare of Jessica, when Sam doesn’t kiss the girl goodbye in Hookman or that lovely scene in the cafe in Dead in the Water.
When they get to the crime scene, Dean again takes the opportunity to send a dig at Sam and let out some of his frustration with Sam not wanting to have any fun:
SHERIFF :FBI? You guys are quick. Haven't even got the body out yet.
DEAN :Well, the FBI is all work…no play. *glares at Sam* (LOL)
Dean goes to search for EMF and Sam talks with the police officer. The Police Officer pokes fun at the LARPer saying stuff like, it’s no wonder he’s single because look at all the toys in his apartment etc. Then he tells Sam about the texts that had been sent between him and a friend:
SHERIFF : "You shall bleed for your crimes against us," followed by the emoticon of a skull. And, uh, this beauty – "I am a mage. I will destroy you." These kids today with their texting and murder.
LOL! Dean’s reaction :D.
Sam and Dean go back to the police station to talk with the suspect, Lance, who is the guy the victim was talking to/texting with on the phone.
LANCE :No, I mean, they were from me, but they weren't from me me.
DEAN:Did you really think that sentence was gonna clear things up?
Love that. And all the speculation by Sam and Dean on whether Lance uses real magic:
LANCE :We were named to the queen's honor guard, in anticipation of the coming Battle of Kingdoms this weekend. I thought he broke protocol, so I called Ed after game hours and accused him of cheating, and then I challenged him to a duel.
SAM :A duel?
LANCE :Wands and swords at dawn.
DEAN :Now, when you say "wands" do you mean magic wands?
LANCE :No. Un-magic wands, Agent. Because what I really want in a duel is an un-magic wand. Yes! Fake wands! It's a game!
This scene is hilarious! Love the sarcasm by Lance. But here again we have the phrase, ‘It’s a game.’ Although his friend accused him of getting the two mixed up, it seems he has his priorities straight. Again, the main point here is that most people who indulge in their various fantasy worlds/escapes are able to respect the boundaries between the two and can tell the difference.
Sam and Dean go out to check the site on the computer and find out that Charlie is the Queen, which makes things easier. Dean is quite interested in the game and gets a bitch face from Sam :D
While they are doing that, Lance, our second LARPer, loses his life to a fairy spell. Again grossness. The police officer thinks it’s a virus.
Sam and Dean notice the tree mark on the guy’s arm which they had also seen in the pictures of the other body. They decide to go talk to Charlie and find out what the mark means and if it has anything to do with the deaths.
They walk into Moondoor and first see an Ork being engaged by our villain, Gerry, who really appears to be a nice, smart guy. He knows right away that Sam and Dean’s badges are fake because he has studied badges, possibly for mashup purposes.
SAM: These aren't fake badges.
GERRY (BOLTAR) :Uh, yeah, they are, and they're...very good, but, um, well, the I.D. number shifted to 10 digits with, uh, two letters mixed in at the end of the year, and, uh, the seal's from last month. Really good work. [He hands SAM’s badge back.] It’s just – it’s a tournament weekend, okay guys, so you got to follow the rules. If there's no rules – chaos.
He throws Sam and Dean off, but it’s all good because everyone is ‘fake’ something here. He tells them how they can get to the Queen. When they go toward her tent, they find Charlie in the middle of a sword match, which she of course wins.
Again we have a 'hat removal' moment just like with Garth :D
Love how Charlie sees Sam and Dean a head taller than the rest, watching her :D
She tells everyone, mid-sentence that she needs some private time and goes into her tent. The boys follow - but Dean has to test the sword and note that it has ‘good balance.’
Again, Sam has to pull Dean away from the game.
Charlie is upset to see the boys because she knows that means she is going to have to deal with monsters again, unless she takes off. She starts packing a bag, complaining about how Sam and Dean ruined her life, but when they tell her that two guys are dead, she stays to tell them what she knows - how everyone gets along very well in real life, but in the game they will be having the Battle of the Kingdoms for the forever crown, and all the factions are enemies.
They go over to the table where all the factions are laid out and there is a cute scene between Dean and Charlie discussing the strategy, to which again Sam has to put a stop to get them back on track :D But then Dean suggests that they will figure out who and why whoever it is is using real magic in the game and that Charlie should leave and let them deal with it so she doesn’t get hurt.
But Sam’s like, but we need her, and Charlie doesn’t like all the arguing on top of her head without having a say in the matter so she stops them.
CHARLIE :Hey, I am right here, and I want to leave.
DEAN :Thank you.
CHARLIE :But the queen...she has to stay. I mean, Sam is right. People are dying. That can't happen on my watch. And you know what? I am tired of running. I like my life here. I'm gonna stay and fight for it.
And it’s like The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo all over again, with Charlie overcoming her fear and deciding to help, and Dean admiring her for it :D
Then Sam gets a phone call on Lance’s toxicology report.
SAM :So, the toxicology report came back on Lance. Nothing. But the medical examiner said his body showed clear signs that he was killed by belladonna.
DEAN and CHARLIE :The porn star?
SAM :The poison.
DEAN and CHARLIE :Oh.
This is also kind of cute, with Sam looking at them both with exasperation :D I like how, while in TGWTDADT, Charlie was shown to be more like Sam, we have her acting a lot like Dean here - with interest in girls and in the LARPing.
Then Sam goes off to the tech tent, and Dean tells Charlie what they’ve been up to while he gets dressed up ‘to walk and talk with the queen’. And we admire his hands...
CHARLIE :You sent Sam a phantom text from his ex? Dick move, sir.
DEAN :Yeah, not my finest hour.
CHARLIE:So he found some normalcy with this chick, and now it's gone... again. Thanks to you.
DEAN :Yeah, well, now he's more committed than ever, so there's that. But, trust me, this life – you can't afford attachments. You just got to... let go.
CHARLIE :Are we still talking about Sam, or did you break up with someone, too?
This is one of the key conversations of the ep not only for what Dean tells Charlie, but how he tells it. He is quite honest with Charlie about the text that sent Sam away and made him angry. He also admits that it was ‘not his finest hour.’
Charlie saying that it’s thanks to him that Sam lost his ‘normalcy with the chick’ is interesting because thanks to him what? Coming back from Purgatory? Giving Sam the ultimatum? Sam had already left Amelia before he knew Dean was back, and he had come to the same conclusion himself before Dean suggested it, so the way she puts it seems strange. But on the other hand, Charlie is just saying what Dean told her so maybe that is how Dean described it - like it was his fault - just like he felt that everything that happened to Sam after Stanford was his fault because he went to get him in the first place. This ep, again, is such a throwback to Season 1, in the next line by Dean too - ‘this life - you can’t afford attachments’ is similar to what he told Sam at the beginning of Skin. (“Look, it sucks, but in a job like this, you can’t get close to people, period.”)
Charlie suggesting Dean sounded like he had ‘broken up’ with someone too, shows not only that she is perceptive, but also that Dean can’t keep his feelings hidden on that regard and it was just as tough for him to let go of his friend/blood brother. (Also interesting that he kept Benny out of the whole explanation about what they were up to, aye? I wonder how Charlie would have reacted to Dean befriending a vampire. Dean must have been worried that Charlie wouldn’t take it very well, the way he kept it from her… just like he kept it from Sam.)
As they go out to ask around about the symbol, they have another talk.
DEAN :You always been into LARPing?
CHARLIE :Nah. For role-play, I prefer a tabletop. D&D, Gamma World, Car Wars. That's why Cthulhu invented multi-sided dice, right? But a buddy of mine was into LARPing. Went for him, stayed for the chicks….It's not just that, though. It's an escape. I mean, here, I'm queen, a hero. Out there in the real world, I'm just hacking out code and chugging coffee all day long.
DEAN :Now, wait a second...If it wasn't for you, we would have never been able to take down Dick Roman. Out there in the real world, you are a hero.
We have talked a lot about escapes this season. Sam escaped to his ‘normal’ life to try to deal with Dean’s ‘death’, Fred escaped into his own head and cartoons in order to deal with his fear of growing old, and Cas also escaped from having to deal with what he had done in Heaven by ‘cutting himself off from Heaven.’
Here we have Charlie suggesting that she is escaping from her (what she feels is a) mundane life as a computer wiz. I guess sitting at a computer all day doesn’t particularly feel very exciting and she needs something more. I also get the sense though that she is escaping from the horrifying realization that monsters really exist. Having a controlled game situation like LARPING is so much easier to deal with than real monsters. She doesn’t say so here, but it’s telling that she tries to run from Sam and Dean and the reality they stand for when she first sees them, and also at the end when she mentions that she is going to stop running from reality - even though that reality includes monsters.
And here is the parallel between Charlie and Sam. As she says above, Charlie doesn’t see herself as a hero in real life even after she helps Sam and Dean get to Dick in Season 7. Maybe she feels that what she did was not sufficient or that she did what she did only because she felt she had no choice and it was the right thing to do. Maybe she feels that a hero shouldn’t be afraid and run off afterwards like she did. In any case she doesn’t feel she is good enough. But in this escape/game, she can be a pretend hero - in a simple, controlled situation without having to deal with the real monsters.
In season 7, Sam helps Dean save the world from Dick despite all that happened with his wall crumbling because he felt he had no choice and that it was the right thing to do. But, seeing Dean and Cas both disappear/die and leaving him all alone, he also can not see himself as a hero anymore. Maybe he felt responsible for Dean and Cas’ death - for not being able to stop it or do more and it is possible that that made him think that he might as well leave the job to other hunters. He escapes into the ‘normal’ life, where he can fix things, care for a dog, and otherwise pretend that he doesn’t have to save the world. He distances himself from the monsters.
It is significant also that Sam has finally realized by this episode that he couldn’t keep running from RL, that it was going to come and bite him sometime or other. In this ep, Charlie comes to the same conclusion at the end.
Let’s go on -
Charlie and Dean go out to find the Shadow King after the orc who Sam and Dean had seen earlier in stocks tells them that the symbol is the Shadow King’s. As they are walking, they meet the villain of the ep, Boltar the Furious(Gerry), whom they had met earlier as well. Dean decides to go with him, and tells Charlie to go back to Sam because it could be unsafe for her. This reinforces Dean’s hesitance to involve Charlie, especially after she told them that she really did not like that they were back in her life and putting her in danger.
(Dean gets named the Queen's Chamber Maid at the spur of the moment :D)
I really love Dean's shots here!
Unfortunately, this also plays right into our villain’s hands. He has sent his fairy to abduct Charlie. Dean left his phone with Charlie to track her, which would have been smart if there were no supernatural forces at play.
Meanwhile, Sam meets Gholandria the Wicked who is very interested in him and what he’s doing and helps him out with the symbol.
Sam now knows that it is the mark of the Shadow King and as he goes looking for Dean and Charlie, Dean comes back with Gerry, having found nothing.
SAM :Nice outfit.
DEAN :You love it.
SAM :Right. Well, while you were, uh, playing dress-up, I found out... [he takes a piece of paper out of his coat pocket] that the mark...
DEAN :Belongs to the Shadow Orcs. [He smiles.]
SAM :Yeah. And they're using fairy magic.
This is hilarious! First because Dean acts like Sam is just pretending to poke fun at Dean and is actually jealous that he gets to dress up - which may be true… :D And secondly, because Sam is proved wrong for assuming that Dean had been wasting his time ‘having his fun’. Hehehe.
They go to look for Charlie and finding that she is gone, off they go again, on Gerry’s suggestion, to lure the Shadow King out by offering the Ork that they had in a hostage exchange. (Dean of course pretends to Sam that it was HIS idea :D)
This time they have better luck and are able to find the Shadow King, but by this time Dean is very worried for Charlie and is fed up with all the game rules and restraints. He takes out his real gun and proceeds to threaten the Shadow King. The Shadow King knows nothing of the Queen. The reason why the Shadow King made the tree his crest was because the sign had appeared on his arm right after he had gotten sick - which means that he also had been cursed by Gerry and his fairy slave.
Shadow King:My name is Max Hilby. I'm an attorney. I have no idea where the queen is, but if you let me go right now, I won't press charges. I promise. Um... Here. Uh, take them. Please.
This is rather embarrassing seeing Dean break the rules in his haste, but it actually does some good. The Ork that came with them for the exchange realizes that this is really RL seriousness and tells them he has seen a tent that was out of place.
SAM : Why are you being so helpful all of a sudden?
MONTY (ORC) :Look, I harbor an epic crush on the queen. Maybe you could put in a good word for me when you find her.
DEAN :I don't think you're her type.
MONTY (ORC) :What? You mean she's not into Orcs?
Hehe! Quite funny.
Meanwhile, we have a talk between the fairy and Charlie - well, first Charlie thinks the fairy is a scary monster because of the costume and boy does she get nervous and talk a lot LOL.
The whole one sided conversation is very embarrassing to me but it is amusing when I read it in the transcripts. A bit long, but amusing.
The key point that the fairy is impressed with is that Charlie just wants to go back to go back to her old life(whatever that is)… which is what the fairy wants for herself too. So they start talking and hit it off.
GILDA :I can't break free from the spell, myself. A hero must take my master's book of magic and destroy it, breaking the spell.
CHARLIE :Gilda, my name is Charlie Bradbury, and I am here to rescue you.
When Sam and Dean come barging into the tent, the fairy and Charlie are having a kiss.
CHARLIE: Dudes, when the tent's a rocking, don't come a knocking!
Gerry comes in behind them, and Gilda tells them that Gerry is the villain/master. Gerry tries to justify what he is doing -
CHARLIE :What is your problem? Why would you hurt people? This is just a game.
GERRY (BOLTAR) : There is no game! There is only Moondoor! I came here to be different, to get away from my crappy life, to be a hero, and guess what.
DEAN :What, you were a loser in the real world, and you're a loser here? Shocker.
GERRY (BOLTAR) :Would a loser track down a real book of spells and compel a fairy to do his bidding?
SAM :It depends. How'd you get it?
GERRY (BOLTAR) :eBay.
SAM :Look. It doesn't have to be like this, Boltar. Just hand over the book of spells. We can work this out.
Again Charlie points out that this is ‘just a game’ and Gerry is taking things too seriously, getting the two worlds mixed up. Then Gerry tells them that he came to Moondoor to get away from his crappy life - just like Charlie - and that he wanted to be a hero. The difference with him here is that he is so immersed in the game that he can’t tell the difference anymore. He uses real magic to gain an advantage in the game and kills people for real to get what he wants. That is definitely not the true definition of a hero, and if using real money to bribe people was against the rules, how much more would really hurting or killing people. His argument is a bit twisted. Also important is the damage that this kind of mistaking an 'escape' for reality can cause. Like in Hunteri Heroici, when mixing up a cartoon world with real world causes real pain and death.
There is a scuffle, where Sam and Dean try to fight Gerry, who has the advantage of having a fairy turn everything they try to use into something else - and it all reminds me of Hunteri Heroici again… and I guess the situation is very similar there. But finally, Charlie realizes that she just has to destroy the book, so she puts her dagger through it -
CHARLIE :Hey, Gerry. I'm the one who saves damsels in distress around here.
(which reminds me of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and the fairy is free.She says thank you to Charlie -
and disappears with Gerry, who has to face a fairy tribunal.
SAM :So what's next for you, Charlie? New town? New identity?
CHARLIE :If the last 24 hours have taught me anything, it's that escaping isn't what it used to be. No more replacement characters for me. I got to face reality from now on. Sadly, reality actually includes monsters, but what are you gonna do? If I can ever be of help to you guys, let me know.
As Charlie walks away, Dean cautiously asks Sam what he thinks they should do next.
DEAN :So, what's, uh... what's next? 'Cause no fun, right?
DEAN: Look, before you say anything, I – I – I get it. No amount of fun is gonna help you get over what you gave up. You just, uh... you need time, right?
SAM :Yeah. Thanks. And you're right. Having fun won't help me.
SAM: It'll help both of us. Shall we?
Man, Sam is a terrible tease for making Dean all disappointed and worried for him here LOL! But what a relief!! and I also love how Sam acknowledges that Dean also gave something special up for this and he recognizes that it's hard for Dean too - just as Charlie figured it out without Dean saying anything. And again some comic relief of Dean with his speech before the battle and Sam telling Charlie that’s the only one he knows LOL We find out that with the help of Sam and Dean, the queen’s forces won the battle and, THE END.
Very cute ending, and with the bloopers, it’s even better :D
An overall happy episode, but with a warning that escapes should never be confused with RL; heros are always heros whether in the Imaginary World or in RL; and finally, it’s okay to escape from RL for a while, to deal with stress and hardship but you can’t stay there forever. You will have to deal with it sometime.