Love, Loss and Why It’s Cool to be a Fangirl: Supernatural 8.20 Pac Man Fever

Pac-Man Fever

If I’d written my reaction to “Pac Man Fever” right after the episode aired, it would have sounded something like this: SQUEEEEEE OMG SQUEEEEE SAMMY! DEAN! CHARLIE! I LOVE YOU ROBBIE THOMPSON! SOBBING FOREVER! ALL THE FEELS! After my third viewing, the emotional impact is still something that deserves all caps, but I think I’m composed enough to command the English language once again. Mostly.

In my defense, starting an episode with Dean Winchester in a uniform with his hair side-parted and looking both badass and freckle-faced simultaneously is guaranteed to steal most of my intellectual ability. I was immediately transported back to the first time I laid eyes on Mr. Ackles, onstage at a Fort Worth production of “A Few Good Men” in 2007. Same hair, same freckles, similar uniform. Exact same reaction. Some things, thankfully, never change.

The episode just got better from there. There was scary (the scenes with the djinn stalking Charlie in her apartment and Sam in the warehouse were suspenseful and terrifying, the camera work and lighting ratcheting up both), there was pretty (what other show makes you stop periodically to ogle the cinematography?), there was special effects magic (those djinn tattoos, not to mention exploding Alien-esque bellies….ewww). There were so many perfect pop culture references, it would take a whole post to list them. There were smart!boys, which always makes me tingle. There were broments and protective!Dean and brotherly hugs (which I’ll get to in a bit, because you know I have lots to say about that…

And there was Charlie – a female character who seems to be embraced by most of the fandom. Part of that acceptance is due to writer Robbie Thompson, who created a unique and appealing character and brought her to life over the course of three episodes. Felicia Day gave credit to Thompson, thanking him for creating “the dream character,” and calling it “a gift every single time I get to play her.” Day doesn’t have a lot of time to act, but drops everything for this because “there’s nobody like Charlie on TV right now.” (TVLine, 4/23). Day recognizes Charlie as a powerful character, “a girl who really holds her own and is proud to be who she is even though it’s out of the box.” This is reflected in her kickass outfit within the dream world – not the stereotypical (and notoriously impractical) get-up that female characters are often shown wearing (and no doubt being hindered by) in fights. Day’s own recognition of this in interviews again reflects fans’ own concerns about the depiction of female fans and gamers. As she put it, the outfit was “iconic without being exploitative.”

Charlie’s acceptance in the SPN world is also influenced by the popularity of the actress who plays her. The character is recognizable to most viewers as a geek and a fangirl, making her likely to be seen as a proxy for fans themselves. Felicia Day’s real life geek cred added to the character’s credibility as a fangirl, without any of the negative connotations that plagued Becky Rosen. One of the issues that fans had with Becky was her sexualized investment in Sam, something that kicked up a lot of internalized shame in fans trying to convince the rest of the world that “we watch for the plot.” Never mind that most of us are also quite happy to watch Sam’s shirtless workouts or even Dean in a single layer Henley. Or at least I am. Charlie is a lesbian, which takes care of accusations of sexualized investment when it comes to the Winchesters. (Of course sexuality is a lot more complicated than that, but that’s a conversation for another day.) And since Charlie is attracted to women, there’s no risk of romantic entanglement with either Winchester. Charlie can profess her love outright and be a “little sister” character in a much more successful way than Jo ever could, since there was always an undercurrent of romantic possibility there.

Felicia Day is the perfect actress to portray a fan — she “gets” fandom, because she is a fan. She understands the importance of community and passion and fantasy among Supernatural fans, because she has it herself with The Guild. Her portrayal of Charlie – and the way the character is written by Thompson – ensures that there’s not a lick of shame to be found there. When Charlie says, “I’m a wee bit obsessive, if by a wee bit you mean completely”, we all get it – and we can own it without apology, because Charlie is not apologizing.

Charlie, like Day, mirrors the discussions that fans have amongst themselves, commenting on the Men of Letters. “Too bad they got wiped out — though that’s what they get for the sexist name.”

Charlie has fangirl qualities that are positive, not condescending to the fangirl audience. She LARPs, she goes to cons, she’s passionate about her “collectibles”. She wears a Lying Cat tee shirt, is tech-savvy and competent (even at shooting things). She has been portrayed as a fan from her first introduction. In this episode, however, Charlie essentially becomes a Supernatural fangirl. She reads all the Carver Edlund books, which means she now knows the Show’s history the same way all of us do.

“I won’t forget the pie,” she assures Dean. Clearly she read the Supernatural books obsessively – err, carefully.

She knows the monsters and myths and lore; she understands the Winchesters – like we do – as heroes. Charlie’s status as fangirl proxy allows her to comment on the Winchesters from inside the Show, speaking for the fans watching from the outside.

“Meta madness,” she says wryly of the Supernatural books. Nudge nudge wink wink.

“I don’t wanna miss the broment,” Charlie complains when the boys are about to have an emotional discussion.

“You fight like an old married couple,” she says fondly after listening to them argue.

In this episode, Charlie’s connection with the Winchesters starts to make sense on a deeper level. They’re all outsiders, living off the grid and outside the law, not fitting in. She’s a girl who’s “outside the box.” She’s alone in the world, and so are Sam and Dean. These aspects of their experience are some of the things that make the Show so powerful for its fans as well. We’ve all felt like outsiders at some point in our lives, so the sense of shared kinship with the Winchesters (and Charlie) is compelling. It brings fans together; it brings Charlie and the Winchester brothers together.

Mother loss is a defining experience for both the Winchesters and Charlie, further bonding them as “siblings,” and providing some of the most emotional moments of the episode. Charlie’s fannishness is a way of identifying with and connecting with her mother, just as the Winchesters’ investment in “the family business” is a way of identifying with both their lost parents.

Loss is a universal human fear, and an inevitable human experience. Perhaps that’s why when it’s depicted in a realistic way, it hits us so hard. I was watching the episode with my own daughter, who was luckily there to hand me the box of tissues when the last scene began. I was literally saying “Oh no no, don’t let her take out The Hobbit,” knowing it would make me lose it, and of course that’s exactly what happened. My daughter and I went through more than a box of tissues watching the episode of Buffy when her mother died, and at least half a box when Jo and Ellen sacrificed themselves – this episode was right up there. I’m a daughter and the mother of a daughter, and all those incredibly strong and primal emotions – love, loss, hanging on and letting go — were evoked by that final scene. Kudos, Robbie Thompson and Felicia Day, for tapping into those universal feelings (and making me cry like a baby).

There were other emotional moments too. Every time Dean told Sam to “go home,” I got a little teary eyed. Not “back to the motel”, not “back to the car”, but “home.” They have a home. Such a simple word, but it carries so much meaning.

The impact of the trials on Sam was heartbreaking to see, and masterfully acted by Padalecki. When Dean tossed the beer to Sam – something he’s done a million times in the past, always counting on Sam’s keen reflexes and how in sync the brothers are – and Sam misses it entirely, I gasped out loud. The look on Dean’s face told me that it hit him just as hard.

“Listening in” on Twitter as the cast and crew watched the episode along with the fans only made the experience more meta. Robbie Thompson tweeted that Jensen’s line “I’m telling you, give me five minutes with some clippers….” wasn’t scripted. Jared live tweeted while he watched, adding little tidbits of behind the scenes information. (In the gun range scene, the casings were hitting him and Jensen, so they had to quickly change the angles of the gun and the camera). His wife Gen took a picture of Jared watching the Show and tweeted it, then confessed to “girl crushing” on Felicia Day, who immediately tweeted back. While the two women expressed their mutual affection, Jared butted in, prompting Day to quip, “we’re having a Lady – ment, Jared!”

The episode was more than emotionally powerful – the story line also progressed. Charlie earns Dean’s respect in this episode, and that means he listens to her. Her biggest fear was losing her mother; Dean’s biggest fear is losing Sam. He’s listening intently when she says her goodbye to Sam.

“If anyone can get through the trials, Sam, it’s you.”

Charlie gives Dean a pointed look as she says this. And Dean makes a decision. He would never give up on Sam; that would be going against every fiber of his being. But he’s been ruled by his own fear of losing Sam again, and that’s interfered with being able to have faith in his brother. Sam can do this, but only with his big brother’s help. The hug Dean gives Sam is his way of communicating his faith to Sam. I’ve got you. We can do this.

Dean says a lot to Sam with his hugs this season. Once again, he grabs Sam and pulls him in, conveying his support and affection and his belief in his brother. As Sam embraces him back and they hold each other tightly, the fond look on Dean’s face says it all. Cheesy as it sounds, one of the messages of this Show is that love conquers everything. The Winchesters have proven it, repeatedly. In the words of Charlie (and every Supernatural fan all over the world), “The Winchesters can do anything if they work together.”

Could anyone doubt it when Dean Winchester looks at you like this??

I've got you. We can do this, Sam credit homeofthenutty
I’ve got you. We can do this, Sam
credit homeofthenutty

After the hug, Dean pauses and holds Sam by the shoulders for a second more, not so eager to step back from the “chick flick moments” as he was in early seasons. And nobody was even near death! As someone on Tumblr said, “BRO FEELS OVERLOAD.”

“You gonna let it go?” Charlie asks when she says goodbye to Dean, meaning his conviction to save his brother no matter what.

“Never,” Dean answers, and Charlie smiles. Because of course, he wouldn’t be Dean if he did – and that’s exactly why we, and Charlie, love him.

“That’s my boys,” Charlie says fondly, and I find myself nodding along with her. Because the way Robbie Thompson writes them? Yes. That’s my boys.

The last line that Charlie reads as she says goodbye to her mother, “…it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.” For Dean and Sam, holed up together in their own underground, round-doorway “hobbit hole”, I hope it means the same.

36 thoughts on “Love, Loss and Why It’s Cool to be a Fangirl: Supernatural 8.20 Pac Man Fever

  • What a wonderful review for an episode with great emotional depth. I suspect it will prove to be a perfect lead-in to the final three episodes, which are bound to be wrenching one way or another. I loved the way the episode played Charlie’s journey toward letting go of her mother in a way that honored the role her mother took in making Charlie who she is. You were not the only one mopping their eyes when she began reading The Hobbit to her mother at the end.

    I agree that Charlie makes an ideal stand-in, and role model, for fandom. The anti-Mary Sue. Strong, competent, unapologetically herself, and vulnerable in a very human, as opposed to purely female, way. I can truly appreciate her influence as someone who spent too many years as a closet fangirl before deciding life is too short not to own who you are and what you love.

    Felicia Day has terrific chemistry with both the boys on screen. I truly hope she will be back in Season 9.

    • Glad I wasn’t the only one reaching for the tissues! And yes, absolutely, Charlie is far from a Mary Sue character, which makes her a wonderful positive representation of ‘fangirl’. I think most of us spent far too many years as closet fangirls before saying enough – that’s the theme of entire book, Fandom at the Crossroads. Yay for all of us celebrating our fangirl selves!

  • You captured the essence of the episode & why I too went through the tissues. In fact, I just had to grab another. I adored that Robbie Thompson gave us a Dean who was open with his emotions to both Charlie & Sam. He really knows how to blend all the elements, action, humor and character into his scripts.

    • He really does – and I’m so grateful! Thanks so much for reading and for commenting 🙂

    • I hope to see her back too, she’s a wonderful addition to the SPN universe. So glad you enjoyed the review – we really appreciate the comment!

  • Loved your review again this week. Especially loved you reference to the Hobbit Hole & the bunker. I hope so too! The guys really needed a “home” of some kind, and this seems to be working for them so far. Also loved you breakdown of Charlie’s character and the whole little sister dynamic with the Winchesters. I love the freshness she brings to the story, without becoming too intrusive in the show. Loved this episode for too many reasons to list!! :))

    • Thanks again for commenting here, it’s much appreciated – it made me melt every time Dean referred to the bunker as “home.” The boys have needed one for….ever? And you’re exactly right about Charlie, she strikes that balance perfectly.

    • LOL, so true. Poor Dean. Even the people who love him just never manage to bring him that pie. Maybe fandom should intervene 🙂

  • Great review. I love the bunker and I know the boys do too. I caught Dean at least twice telling Sam to go ‘home’. It had such a wonderful ring to it. Just that phrase started my descent early on in the episode to kleenex land. By the end I was in full on nose blowing. As a mother of boys(well men) I can’t get enough of the broments. And the word HOME. Just the word itself coming out of Dean’s mouth makes my heart leap for joy that they finally feel like they have one, but yet mourn for all the years they didn’t.

    That last hug, coming without any precipating tragic deaths or magical returns, was one of the most wonderful moments I believe the show has ever had. At least for me. I mean many a time we/I have anticipated the hug of the season opener, or the like. This one just had me leaping out of my chair and shouting when I saw the way Dean was walking towards Sam. I felt it coming, but in such a surprising, unobligatory way. It was pure heaven!

    Okay, I’m done. I need to go find some kleenex.

    • I’m with you, going through far too many tissues. And loving every minute of it 🙂 After all the boys have been through, just the fact that they can call somewhere “home” is emotionally powerful – and then the hug too?? *sobs more*

  • Fantastic review. It’s as if you were watching the episode from inside my head. 🙂 I can’t really add anything, as you said it all perfectly. I’m glad you discussed how watching it “with” the cast and crew added to the experience. I was watching on the West Coast while Jared live tweeted it, and it was the most fun I’ve had watching an episode live.

    Also, I appreciated everything you said about Charlie’s fear of losing her mother and how that helped Dean and Sam identify with Charlie. I just lost my mother 3 weeks ago after a couple years of watching her decline rapidly, so this episode resonated deeply with me in many ways. I wasn’t able to articulate it well, but you did. So, thank you!

    • I’m so sorry for your loss, Rachel. I didn’t put this in the review, but I lost my mother some time ago as well, which made the episode even more emotionally poignant. Robbie Thompson wrote it so perfectly, that it rang true — and that really gave it impact.

      The ‘reciprocal relationship’ with the cast and crew has changed the experience of being a fan in so many ways – I find it constantly fascinating. That’s why I keep having to research and write books about it. lol

  • I loved the thoughts that were so beautifully fleshed out in this review because they touch upon the fact that I believe (I HOPE) that the show is finally finding its footing again in going back to the basics, but also putting in all those little details that don’t have anything to do with the myth arc, but add the kind of depth to Show that a piece of work in a genre like that on a network like the CW was never supposed to have. That’s what drew me to the show in the first place and I so wish that we get it back completely with the last run-up to the finale.

    • I think that’s what drew many of us in and kept us here for all these years. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Show manages to keep its footing through the end of the season and into season 9. Having Robbie on the writing staff will certainly help! *fangirls*

  • this review made me cry just as this episode did great writing in the show and this review we all identify with someone on the show in one way or another ….this show makes you feel emotions you never knew you had thanks for a great piece and an even greater show supernatural forever and always

    • Well said – Supernatural forever and always! Thanks so much for reading and commenting, I’m so glad the review hit home for you.

  • Exactly how I felt about Charlie. I felt respected as a fangirl…..and Scifi enthusiast. 🙂 There are a lot of us out there. Supernatural nailed it with this character, acknowledging, but not making fun of us.

    • Exactly! We wrote a whole book about fan shame (Fandom At The Crossroads) because it’s so prevalent – this character is the antidote, and I’m so proud of SPN for that 🙂

  • Hello! I loved your review (well really all of your reviews but especially this one). I was wondering what you thought about the “I love you” moment between Charlie and Dean. That was my biggest “SQUEE” moment because it is always nice as a Dean girl to see other characters appreciating him for him (especially with his incredibly low sense of self worth). I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of the rest of the season!

    • I loved it too, especially as it cemented their bond as fellow “geeks” with the Star Wars reference, but also expressed very real emotions for both of them. There was so much tenderness in the way Dean kissed her head, a fondness he usually never shows for anyone but Sam – and one that’s clearly returned. Fingers crossed that the rest of the season keeps to this high standard!

  • Well said, re: everything.
    In particular, I love how you counted the ways that Charlie is awesome, because I just love her to pieces, but I can’t articulate why as well as you did. Hopefully, if Mark Pedowitz is still considering finding a SPN character who could hold up a spin-off, someone reminds him of Charlie. I would watch the Charlie show all day.

    I also completely agree that the brother feels in this episode were some of the best we have had in ages- it really felt like the show was BACK.

    • Exactly! This episode, it really felt like the Show as back — and what a wonderful feeling that was 🙂 Fingers crossed that it stays back through the end of this season and right into next, and that TPTB are listening to how we feel about Charlie.

  • I agree with everything that has been said here. There were so many moments that needed tissues I think I lost count. As I live in the UK I am unable to see it at the same time as most of you. I’m sorry I missed all the live tweeting. It sounded as though it made it very special?
    I love the clipper moment and to find out it wasn’t scripted makes it even more humerious. I also wondered if the kiss from Dean to Charlie was scripted it seemed a Jensen moment for some reason. Felt so right though.
    For me this is the best eposide in a very long while as it had everything in the right doses. It does feel as if the show has come HOME again. I felt everything that others have described.
    I always look forward to reading your reviews as you seem to get to the heart of the show and know exactly how I feel about each one.
    I love the boys very much but, love the actors even more. I can relate to them as my son in law is 3 months older than Jensen and my son is 5 months younger than Jared. Could easly be my boys, lol
    Makes me feel proud to watch such a great show as Supernatural as well as such great actors as Jensen and Jared. (love Felicia Day as well)

    • It’s funny, but you’re so right – I often feel *proud* to be a Supernatural fan. And that’s a pretty awesome feeling 🙂 This episode really did feel like the Show had found its footing again, and ‘come home’. Just like the boys. *sniffles again*

  • It’s not many shows that make me laugh out loud (Charlie and Dean shopping) and then have me sobbing uncontrollably by the end. I am such a huge fan of Robbie Thompson; he and Ben Edlund should alternate writing every episode (not possible I know, but I can dream) 🙂

    Charlie’s back story really struck a chord with me because I shared a love of Tolkein with my Dad, who passed away 6 years ago. When I was a child, he read me The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. When I spoke at his funeral, I included a couple of paragraphs from the opening chapter of The Hobbit… so when Charlie took out that book and began reading it to her mother… gosh… I have no words, only WAY more tears than a normal reaction to the scene!

    It’s powerful writing that has you relating to your own experiences. Thanks for another great review.

    • My grandmother read me “The Wind In The Willows,” but it felt much the same. I can’t imagine your emotions at that last scene, with that intense connection to your own experience. You are SO right – it’s great writing that evokes that kind of personal response, that we can all really *relate* to.

      Also, YES – Robbie and Ben should write ALL the episodes!!!!

  • I enjoy all of your reviews. I always learn so much from you, but especially appreicate how you tap into the emotional reaction of fandom. You explain what we are thinking and feeling with such compassion and humor. You outdid yourself with this review, though. It was stunning. Reading your insights gave me the same “warm and happy glow” response as the episode.

    Actually, several of the reviews I have read have been the best writing I have ever seen from that particular reviewer. I actually attribute that to Robbie – I think his outstanding writing put everyone in such a creative, happy space that they themselves were able to produce their best work. What a great testament to the good this show can do.

    • I think you’re exactly right – Robbie’s writing inspires so much emotion in all of us, that it elevates the reviewers’ writing too! I actually felt like I had so much to say that this article was in danger of being about twenty pages long. lol. Gotta say that his tweet to say thanks for the kinds words made me fangirl wildly. Like, alot 🙂 Though it is pretty funny that he just read a review that confesses to “I love you Robbie Thompson”! Oh well. It’s true 🙂

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