Full disclosure: I love Charlie Bradbury. I know she's one of those characters that you either love or hate, and if you're not a Charlie fan, or a Felicia Day fan, you've probably been bracing yourself for this episode since Felicia Day's casting was announced. It's cool. There are certain other characters I feel that way about. Just not Charlie. So "Pac-Man Fever" was already off to a pretty good start even before it began. It was a bit unfortunate that the episode fell back on some of my least favorite Supernatural habits this late in the season—and after a return from yet another hiatus—but still: Charlie Bradbury, ladies and gentlemen!
Since Kevin went crazy/got kidnapped/whatever, my favorite theory is that at the end of "Taxi Driver," Dean and Sam retreated to the Batcave to regroup and, in Sam's case, to recover from the second trial. Bro wasn't looking so hot, ya'll. Was that a faint? Yeeeeah, that was a faint. Almost. Whatever, we round to the nearest display of physical ailment around here. When Charlie randomly showed up with a case for the brothers, Sam was ready to chug a bottle of Day-Quil and hit the road, but Dean made him prove his hunter-worthiness in the shooting range (THEY HAVE THEIR OWN SHOOTING RANGE, YOU GUYS) and the results were pretty suckass. Sorry, Sammich.
SO, dudes were showing up with their insides liquefied. Charlie thought it sounded like a Winchester thing and she just so happened to be in the area for a comic convention in Topeka (or so she claimed), so it was no big deal to drop by the cave and let the bros know about it... or to, you know, totally tag along and learn the fine art of federal agent thrift store shopping from the master himself, Dean Winchester. In her very first appearance at the end of last season, Charlie appeared to gravitate toward Sam because of their matching Tolkien fanboy/girl squealing and mad hacker skillz, but mommy issues trump all on this show and if there's one thing Dean can't resist, it's picking up stray orphans to bond with.
The case itself was pretty straightforward, especially after the uncooperative coroner crashed the B 'n E party that Sam, Dean, and Charlie were throwing in the morgue. Oh, and all the ooey gooey corpses with the matching blue handprint were conveniently cremated before anyone could get a closer look at them? At the coroner's orders? What does it mean?
But the case wasn't really the point, which is why I'll let yet another case-of-the-week slide when all I really want to do is find Cas and Kevin and the tablets and have Sam do whatever it is Sam needs to do to (theoretically) slam the gates of Hell shut. I mean, you've got a whole lot of 'splainin to do, Supanatural, and only three episodes left to do it. *whispers* This is why we can't have nice things.
For what it was though, "Pac-Man Fever" was a fairly nice installment. I don't think Charlie Bradbury's overwhelmingly sad origin story was a necessity, and a small part of me is slightly disappointed because half the fun and appeal of Charlie, to me, was not knowing who she really was or why she did the things that she did. But I do enjoy a good dose of crippling depression now and then, and dead moms + guilty kids are kind of Supernatural's bread and butter.
However, in Dean's guidance of Charlie, encouraging her to let go of her vegetative mother in order to escape—first from her nightmare headspace and then from the cycle of constant running and identity-switching in her real life—I was getting less Mary Winchester baggage and more Sam baggage.
So much of Dean's angst surrounding Sam and the trials stems from the belief that Sam won't survive, and that saving the world—and Sam—is Dean's responsibility numero uno. It's been Dean's driving force since pretty much the beginning of the series; over the years, we've witnessed that singular mission lead Dean to some pretty dark places, both physically and mentally. So has Sam. So has pretty much everyone the brothers have ever come in contact with. Dean's entire life has revolved around saving strangers and saving Sam, much like Charlie's had kept her circling around her comatose mother, making sure her mom was cared for, and condemning herself for the role she played in putting her mother in such a condition—even though it was completely accidental on her part and she was just a child at the time.
I can't say that Dean would have followed his own advice if he were Charlie and faced the reality of taking his own mother—or brother—off life support (in fact, I doubt he'd be able to do it), but since the revelation about the toll the trials are taking on Sam, he at least seems to be working toward accepting the idea of a life outside the well-worn pattern. Sam sees his shouldering of the burden of the trials as a way to break Dean's own cycle of sacrifice and guilt, something that Dean initially didn't see, then didn't accept, especially once Sam's potential death became more clear. While Dean is by no means okay with the apparent cost of closing the Hell gates, he at least appears to be moving toward understanding the fact that there are things beyond his control and while that's not his fault, he must rise above them in order to live his own life.
The parallels between Dean and Charlie were more pronounced in "Pac-Man Fever" than they've ever been before, with Charlie driving the point directly home with, "Is this my nightmare or yours?" when an unresponsive Sam appeared in their briefly shared dreamworld. Dean knows what decisions led to him becoming the man he is today and he saw that same fate threatening to overtake Charlie as well. He saved Charlie, and along the way, realized that it isn't too late to save himself... and he did it all while wearing a really spiffy uniform and gifting us a surprise bro-hug. No one even died to make it happen. Is that a first? I think it's a first.
What did you think of "Pac-Man Fever"?
– Smart Winchester Sighting: remembering that dream root is a thing, and realizing they could use it to get into Charlie's Djinn-induced nightmare land. Gold star, boys.
– We got confirmation that Sam and Dean are LARPers now and it wasn't just some one-off, case-related thing. I like.
– "Man, I love this place." Me too, Dean. Me too. #SaveTheBatcave
– Agents Ripley and Hicks. Aliens. Awesome.
– "I love you." "I know." Kripke always said that Dean Winchester is Han Solo.
– "Deodorant? A little pee, maybe?" Truth. When I think of what fear smells like, pee is usually one of the first things I come up with.
– Where do you think Kevin is hiding?
– How do you feel about Charlie Bradbury: Woman of Letters?