Episode 820 “Pac Man Fever”
This is another episode done right, courtesy of show creator, Eric Kripke. I didn’t miss the Big Bad for one minute, for one thing. For another, it was an interesting “monster of the week” that only used the monster as a convenient plot device to further the characters of the people involved. Sam and Dean are most of the reason I tune in every week, and this episode absolutely hit all the right notes.
Spoilers follow after the pretty picture.
I do enjoy “24 hours earlier” episodes. In this one, we’re just as confused as Dean is when he wakes up in an Army uniform in what appears to be 1951. The hospital hallway is littered with bodies. Then something casts a menacing shadow, Dean’s eyes widen in fear, and…
“24 Hours Earlier…”
Dean is sitting in their Batcave when Sam stumbles in, clearly having just woken up and looking like a total mess. Dean tosses him a beer, and it just flies past him with a spectacular crash. Those are the small but hilarious moments that keep this show from getting too dark. Love it.
The second trial is taking a real toll on Sam, and that’s what this initial scene is meant to hammer home. Even when he tries to sleep, he’s not sleeping much, and he looks and act like he’s got the flu, complete with red-rimmed eyes and unsteady gun hand.
Enter the whimsical Charlie Bradbury (or whatever name she’s going by this time) played by the equally whimsical Felicia Day. The fish-out-of-water Charlie is much more likeable to me than the queen of the Moondor LARP group (which, apparently, Dean is still very much a part of, which is another level of awesome).
Because Sam is sidelined, Dean takes Charlie out to solve the “monster of the week” mystery. “Lose the novelty t-shirts,” he quips, then takes her shopping for appropriate FBI attire. The ensuing fashion show montage is very fun, complete with pounding pop soundtrack. In another awesome little comedy gold moment, Dean leans forward, grabs Charlie’s phone off a nearby table, and the pop music that had apparently been coming from it the whole time immediately stops. Stuff like that kills me! It’s so simple, but so funny.
Dean and Charlie (as agents Hicks and Ripley, I do love those obviously fake pseudonyms they use every week) are actually stopped at the morgue over paperwork! They don’t have the proper forms, and are told to come back when they do have them. Nothing like a little reality to derail a fake investigation.
Later, in particularly disgusting comedy gold, two teen boys find a bloated body in the woods, and, being teens (and completely ignoring everyone at home yelling at the TVs not to poke the body), they poke the body with a stick.
There’s your blood spatter of the week. Or, as Charlie says, “Covered in childhood trauma.” Great line.
Dean and Charlie show up, and are directed to “your other man” who has already arrived. Sure enough, Sam couldn’t stay away, and says, “I need to be out here. Play through the pain, right?”
“Come on man, don’t quote me to me,” says Dean.
Charlie, in a huge moment of fanservice (yes, Kripke “gets it”), says “You two fight like an old married couple.”
Now we start to get into the emotional meat of the episode. We see Charlie, in a private moment, with multiple names and accounts, transferring money over the internet. It all seems a little dodgy, but before we can learn more, the monster of the week, a djinn, appears and kidnaps her.
Dean looks into what’s going on with the money transfers, and it turns out that Charlie has been donating money to a hospital anonymously to help pay for the care of her mother, who was put into a coma from a car accident that also killed Charlie’s father. Charlie blames herself because she was at a sleepover and got scared and asked her parents to come get her. That’s when the wreck happened. She’s been doing what she can to pay for it ever since, and sometimes sneaks in at night to read to her comatose and completely unresponsive mom.
The Winchesters figure out where Charlie is being held captive by the djinn, and go in to rescue her. They knife the djinn, shoot up Charlie with the djinn poison antidote… but it doesn’t work. They figure out that one of them has to go into Charlie’s dreams to pull her back out. Sam’s too weak, of course, so Dean drinks an African dream root concoction and then has Sam punch him into dreamland.
Back (or forward?) to where we started, with Dean waking up in a very Castle Wolfenstein-like world. Charlie finds him and pulls him to safety while shotgunning vampire Nazis left and right.
“We have to save the patients,” she explains, pulling him into the infirmary.
Dean pulls back the curtains on two of them to reveal Charlie’s mother and Sam. Charlie explains that this is a recurring nightmare that just gets harder and harder as it goes on, and she’s never been able to win the “game.” Dean realizes that it’s because she can’t let go of her mom in that bed. The secret to winning is to stop playing. Charlie has to let her mom go.
Sure enough, the monsters disappear, her mother’s gone from the bed in the dream, and they wake up.
And the Emmy goes to Felicia Day. This episode was so well acted, especially right at the end when she embraces Dean tearfully, knowing what she has to do.
Before she leaves, Sam says something that I really, really hope gets explored further, and that’s the Men of Letters. He says she should come back and explore their library, like the Woman of Letters that she is. Please, please rebuild this organization, Mr. Kripke! Let them keep their Batcave and form the Men of Letters side-by-side with an organization of hunters! That would be a fascinating process to watch happen, especially now that we have some key people in key positions. Remember the golem? I want to see him in action again!
After Charlie leaves, Dean goes back inside and strides up to Sam and just holds him for a long time, really appreciating what a gift they have in each other. They need each other, and would each have been dead long before now if not for the other.
In the final scene, the one that got me crying, Charlie visits the hospital one last time to fess up to who she is, and to read to her mother. One last time through The Hobbit before it’s over.
This is one of the best episodes I’ve ever seen, partly because it’s not about the Big Bad, it’s about the broken people fighting to keep the darkness from creeping in at the edges because it’s the right thing to do, even at the sacrifice of what they hold dear. Because remember how Sam was in one of those beds in the dream? Dean got out because he let go too.
One trial still remains.