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.