LARP and the Real (Fan)Girl – Love for SPN 8.11

This week’s episode of Supernatural, LARP And The Real Girl, was a welcome bit of fun – for both fandom and the Winchester Brothers. And we all really needed it! Robbie Thompson’s script and the real life geeky enthusiasm of guest star Felicia Day made the episode an affectionate love letter instead of an eyerolling send-up of geeks and geek culture.

Dean has been coded a fanboy many times in SPN canon, and no one (least of all Sam) really bought his half-hearted attempts at ‘I’m too cool for this’, with his boyish glee showing through every time he thought Sam wasn’t watching. Ackles excels at those little quirks of grin and oops-you-caught-me expressions, always subtle but there if you know to look for them. Both fans and Sammy definitely know. Dean wanting to have fun and Sam being all business is a dynamic that goes all the way back to Season 1, and it was nice to glimpse it again here, 8 seasons later when the boys have been through so much. That Dean can still look like a little boy – and Sam can still roll his eyes with a mix of exasperation and affection – feels familiar to me as a viewer, reminds me that they’re still the boys I fell for (at least in this episode).

The actual conversation between the brothers has gotten mixed reviews, but it struck me as mostly real. Yes, it’s frustrating that they never share with each other (or outsiders, even sympathetic ones like Charlie), the full story of what really happened. Hence a series of rather one-sided perspectives, each of them taking turns at apologizing instead of having the kind of talk that would let both of them say oh, okay, I get why you did what you did even if I don’t like it. Why, writers, why? Why can’t poor Sam and Dean know what we all know?? Actually that would be pretty handy in real life too, an omniscient narrator who can make sure everyone’s on the same page. Life would be so much easier!

Anyway, back to not-real-life. In this episode, it’s Dean’s turn to apologize and not clue anyone in to the reasons he did what he did or the fact that he is also dealing with loss and heartbreak and a break-up (hey, Show coded it that way, just callin’ it as they see it). This too is a familiar dynamic – Dean is in big brother protective mode, empathizing with Sam’s pain and grief and trying to make it better while not really knowing how. He looked similarly lost about how to help Sam after Jessica’s death, and responded with guilt and shouldering blame that pretty clearly wasn’t on him. That’s what Dean does, and he falls into it easily here.

Sam, to his credit, tries to correct Dean’s misplaced guilt both times – he specifically tells Dean that he doesn’t blame him for Jessica’s death in S1, and in this episode, he starts to move past his anger about the text ruse and let the blame associated with that error in judgment fall away. He doesn’t say it, but as with so much important Winchester communication, he gets the point across anyway. Dean takes unilateral responsibility for Sam’s wellbeing, still seeing it as his job to make Sam feel better – ‘Have fun Sam, it will make you feel better.’ Sam, however, corrects Dean’s one-sided perspective. “No, not just me. It will make us both feel better. Shall we?’

The invitation is to more than the LARPing – it’s Sam’s declaration that he cares as much about Dean’s feelings and wellbeing as Dean does for Sam. It’s a move from unilateral perspective to a joint one, from sympathy to empathy. It’s Sam getting it, and helping Dean to start getting it too. It’s an invitation to mutual – not one-sided – healing.

I can’t help thinking that as the boys careen down the hill together, facepainted and costumed and sword-wielding, they’re reliving hundreds of battles in their childhood. Not against real monsters – that came later – but the pretend ones they slayed together as little boys, when swords were sticks instead of demon-killing knives and Sam and Dean Winchester always saved the day without casualties. The joy on both their faces brought tears to my eyes (yeah, I know, that happens at the end of far too many SPN episodes. What can I say? I have ALL THE FEELS about this Show).

Add to all that the respectful, playful way that Charlie was portrayed and how casually and (mostly) positively gender roles and sexuality were commented on, and I was a pretty happy camper. Now that we’ve had a girl/girl kiss that was acknowledged as the awesome (and hot) thing it was, maybe Show will be gutsy enough to give us a boy/boy kiss that’s not the safe territory of gotta-do-it-to-seal-a-demon-deal or played for raised eyebrows or a straight guy’s discomfort. Somehow that seems to be scarier territory for networks. And let’s allow fanboys to be portrayed as just as cool as fangirls. Enough of this fan = loser stereotype, no matter which gender it’s thrown at!

So Robbie Thompson, all in all, you made me pretty happy.

Then the cast weighed in and made me even happier. Jared tweeted his unabashed love of Ren Faires and his excitement about the episode. Robbie Thompson hopped on Twitter to eagerly await fandom’s reaction to his script. And Felicia Day used her own awesome Geek And Sundry youtube channel to live vlog the episode. And didn’t we see some fuzzy photos of Jensen at a Faire floating around the internet too?

We wrote an entire book about being a fangirl and why we should celebrate that instead of being ashamed – we hope Fandom At The Crossroads was shame-busting for all of you who read it. Watching Felicia Day talk about being a geek was every bit as shame-busting.

“Charlie really is an authentic fangirl without becoming a cliché,” Felicia said as we all watched the episode. “I identify with her as a person just because she loves what she loves, and she isn’t apologetic about it.” Exactly! Being passionate – loving what we love – is one of the joys of being a fan. That the actress portraying the fangirl on Show is a self-proclaimed “Renaissance nerd” who “celebrates the lifestyle” is about as affirming as it gets.

8 thoughts on “LARP and the Real (Fan)Girl – Love for SPN 8.11

  • Thanks for the review… especially the ‘fanboys’ comment! Where are we all? Sometimes I think I am the only one, lonely male SPN geek on the planet!

  • You are correct. There are some dark, out-of-focus (slightly) photos of a large, grungy, hairy bunch of friends/nerds that includes Jensen and Danneel at a RenFair somewhere. The game they appeared to be playing was throwing something (baseball? Jensen?) or what could have been whack-a-mole/ogre/demon. Anyway, someone out there in our wonderful SPNFamily must have them!

  • I know I’m in the minority here — possibly a minority of one — but I didn’t love this episode. Nothing to do with the girl-on-girl action, or Dean’s love of dress up. I LOVE Dean in costume, and he always rocks whatever he’s wearing. I generally don’t have an appreciation of LARPing and Felicia Day doesn’t do much for me, so maybe I was predisposed to not be really into the ep.

    Two things outright bugged me. First, that Dean gave Charlie the “full wiki” of his year, up to and including his fake text. Winchesters are just not that open, especially about events that must still be pretty raw. Sam evidently never even told Amelia he was a hunter, even though he felt that keeping that from Jess is what got her killed. (I know, he thought his hunting days were over — but just because he was through with monsters doesn’t mean they were through with him.) And the ending bothered me. I know that was the best part for a lot of people, but I thought the voiceover at the end was silly, and Sam’s line about it helping them both just felt sitcom-ish. As I’ve told you in e-mail, some of Sam’s dialogue this season just doesn’t ring true to my ears. It’s only a line here and there, maybe three or four in the whole season, but when it happens it really grates on my nerves. I did adore the sheriff, esp. his line about these kids today, with their texting and their murdering. Perfect delivery on that.

    Maybe I just need to watch it again with my silly goggles on. I’m really looking forward to next week, even though I’ll have to watch it streaming on Thursday because of stupid college basketball. The team of the uni that employees me was playing last time this happened and I rooted against them for making me miss my Show. I bitched to the local CWTV affiliate too, and they answered me. Apparently there are more college bball fans than SPN fans. Go figure.

    Tangentially: is the Alpha Vamp ever coming back? He now has a boring role on The Vampire Diaries, and every time I see him on screen I mourn his great character on SPN.

  • I loved this ep.`11 of season 8. Yes, I cried in several different places, not only at the end. I love SPN and she expressed a lot of my feelings. I like SPN because its not a always a scary show..some ppl have a misunderstanding on that. And I love my boys, esp. Jensen. I am so proud and happy for him & Danneel on expecting.

  • “The invitation is to more than the LARPing – it’s Sam’s declaration that he cares as much about Dean’s feelings and wellbeing as Dean does for Sam. It’s a move from unilateral perspective to a joint one, from sympathy to empathy. It’s Sam getting it, and helping Dean to start getting it too. It’s an invitation to mutual – not one-sided – healing.”

    Oh, how I wish your take on this were true! I think you’re overly optimistic, but I’m hoping that it will come true. I think it was a step in the right direction, just like the ending of Torn and Frayed was a step toward the brothers coming together again. I just don’t think they are there yet.

    I did fully see protective big brother Dean here, taking on blame and wanting Sam to be happy again. The little side glances at Sam in the car, Dean watching out for his brother and hoping that he’d open up to him.

    I loved seeing kid Dean, playing dress up and having fun again. That Sam thought to join in at the end because they “both” needed to have some fun, was wonderful. Sam has been pretty morose of late and it needs to stop.

    I love your thoughts that the ending of them running into battle was reminiscent of them as kids, playing like all kids do. That hadn’t occurred to me and it is a lovely image. I did see old Sam there when he told Charlie the Braveheart speech was the only one Dean knew. I want to see more of that Sam, the guy who enjoys his older brother, who feels that closeness to him and shows genuine fondness when he’s around him. I truly want to feel that Sam does put Dean’s feelings and well-being first. This was definitely a start to better times.

    Thanks for reviewing the episode. I always enjoy your thoughts and views.


  • I loved the episode from start to finish. I don’t think the boys are quite “there” yet, but they are well and truly on the way.

    I thought it was great that Dean opened up a little to Charlie – the two of them obviously have a connection,(after all she is the little sister he never wanted) and now that Bobby’s no longer around it would be good for him to have someone to go to. Felicia and Jensen have great chemistry, and I’d love it if Charlie popped up again occasionally.

    Sam suggesting they both needed some fun was a huge step forward, and this gives me confidence that both boys are now willing to move on, together.

  • I loved so much about this episode! Great fun. But I do feel differently about seeing two sided healing.

    I think Dean being assigned blame for Sam’s failed relationship and him accepting that blame shows him reversing all the growth he did as a result of his time in Purgatory in letting go of guilt he doesn’t deserve. Yes, he sent a hurtful text and taking responsibility for the hurtfulness is fine (though the context in which he sent it is relevant–Sam killing Benny or vice versa were not acceptable alternatives). But he was not responsible for Sam’s decision to not meet Amelia–Sam and Amelia collapsed under their own relationship issues, not Dean’s text. Dean shouldering the blame for Sam’s lost life feels toxic to me, not caring.

    I think you can see that creeping toxicity in the way Dean has to hide his grief and guilt about Benny. He can’t share it with Sam, as Sam was instrumental in Dean’s decision to cut Benny loose when he asks for Dean’s help–and we’ve seen nothing from Sam showing he feels he was wrong to give Dean his ultimatum about Benny or that involving Martin to get dirt on Benny was poor judgement.

    That leaves Dean admitting to a degree of jealousy in his feelings about Amelia and telling Sam to make his own decision–whether Dean’s hurt or not, he doesn’t have the right to dictate Sam’s relationships. It leaves Sam not having admitted his feelings about Benny have a lot to do with feeling hurt about Dean’s closeness to the vampire and not having admitted he doesn’t have the right to dictate Dean’s relationships. That doesn’t feel reciprocal to me.

    I also don’t believe Dean doesn’t feel guilty about not being there for Benny, and I don’t see how that is not going to fester, given Benny lost his family due to Sam’s need to get rid of Benny, a need Sam has admitted is not based on whether Benny has killed or not. Without real reciprocity in admitting unwise emotionally driven decisions, I don’t think there’s been real growth between Sam and Dean. I’m glad Sam wanted Dean to have fun, but without a discussion on why Dean is upset, it feels like the stage is set for more buried feelings that will erupt later on.

  • I loved the episode. I hope what you have said is true. I would love for the boys to have sympathy and empathy for each other. I thought I finally saw it at the end of Plucky Penny Whistle’s Magical Menagerie in season 7. When Sam quit talking and enjoyed watching Dean laugh wholeheartedly. How long had it been since Sam had actually seen him laugh like that. He let him and gave him that large colorful slinky. It didn’t last though. I hope this time it will

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