I laughed, I cried, I “awwwed.”
I’ll give the Supernatural powers that be this: they sure know how to mess with our minds. The previews for “Pac-Man Fever” were all silly and lighthearted, indicating this was to be a throw-away episode. Instead, we got a nod to several old episodes, a glimpse of the toll the trials are having on Sam, and some genuine heart.
After an alternate-reality teaser where Dean awakens in a Truman-era Army hospital, we turn the clock 24 hours. In the Men of Letters abode, a groggy Sam has a serious case of bed head. It seems the second trial took more out of him than the first; and the makeup department does an excellent job of making Jared Padalecki look worn out. Sam’s so out of it, he doesn’t even attempt to catch a beer Dean throws at him.
Charlie Bradbury drops by since she’s in the area and turns the guys onto a case where dead people are turning up with their insides liquified. Charlie becomes Dean’s FBI partner since Sam can’t hit the broadside of a barn ( i.e., the entire target on the Men of Letters firing range). Dean takes Charlie shopping for FBI clothes. Left behind to rest up, Sam is able to finally hit the barn’s broad side (the margins of the target) and deems it “close enough” to return to the field.
The supernatural hunt isn’t that unusual, and it really isn’t the main focus of the story. After visiting the morgue, only to find the victims’ bodies have already been cremated, the trio discovers the culprit might be a “bastard off-shoot of the Djinn.” You could say this monster is the Djinn’s red-haired stepchild, but nearly every female in this episode has red hair, so that doesn’t narrow it down too much. Heh.
Charlie announces she’ll get some grub, but in fact, returns to her room where we discover she herself has numerous alter-egos. It’s here that she’s captured by the Djinn offshoot, who happens to be the local coroner (and a redhead). Aha! That’s why the victims’ bodies were destroyed so quickly.
Meanwhile, Sam and Dean both think there’s something off about Charlie. Perhaps it’s the fact that she mispronounces “Topeka.” (I grew up Kansas-adjacent.) It doesn’t take long for the Winchesters to find Charlie’s lair, and discover her alter-egos have been sending money to a local hospital for the care of one Gertrude Middleton. Dean visits Gertrude and learns she’s been comatose for many years. Left alone with the patient, Dean tells her “You’ve got one hell of a daughter, Mrs. Middleton.”
The boys are able to track down Charlie’s whereabouts fairly easily. Dean kills the Djinn/coroner, but he and Sam can’t snap Charlie out of her Djinn-induced coma. Fortunately, they just happen to have some African Dream Root on hand, something we haven’t seen since season 3. Dean soon joins Charlie in her 1951 Army hospital dream, which is actually her nightmare. Charlie must save the patients from Army zombies, and by patients, we mean her comatose mother. Comatose Sam also appears to let us know this has become Dean’s nightmare, too.
Back in the real world Sam encounters a second Djinn, the coroner’s son. Sam is able to kill the kid, but not before the 13-ish year-old gives him a solid beat-down.
In dream land, Dean realizes the only way to get out of the nightmare is to let go of the fear, which means Charlie must let go of trying to save her mother. It works.
Charlie shares a heart-felt goodbye to the Winchesters and allows her mother to die.
I love the camaraderie and affection Dean and Sam have towards Charlie, and vice versa. Both call her “your highness” (a nod to “LARP and the Real Girl“) and Sam tells her she can come back anytime to become a Woman of Letters. When Charlie says goodbye to Dean, she tells him “I love you.” To which he replies “I know.” It’s not the same as “I love you, too,” but it’s more poignant (and without the recriminations of fandom bitching about Dean loving someone other than Sam—or Castiel.) But you can tell Dean is filled with love, because he immediately returns to his brother and hugs the daylights out of him.
Personally, I would not complain if Felicia Day became a cast regular. Misha Collins a set to become a regular cast member (again) next year, so why not Felicia? Then again, it’s always a bit more dicey when dealing with women on this show. We are, after all, rather silly and possessive fans.