Friday, January 25, 2013

Supernatural Season 8, Episode 11: LARP and the Real Girl

 We have a man who has taken a list of every geek stereotype and checked them all off arguing with another man called Lance over a game.  While he sleeps, a black mark in the shape of a tree appears on his arm – and then he’s woken by the sound of horses. Each limb is violently pulled to a different corner of the bed and rope weals appear around his wrists and ankles. Oh this is gonna be messy.  His limbs come off.

Move to Sam and Dean driving with Sam being mopey. Again. Dean tries to comfort him and prop him up and suggest a night off (ugh – you know my usual rant about Sam’s drama constantly needing support while Dean always has to suck it up and deal. In fact, for the hothead he’s so often the peacemaker between these 2). The phone rings before Sam can build up a full head of whine; it’s Garth, he has a tracker in their phones like he has with other Hunters so he can assign cases to them if they’re close. Sam thinks it’s creepy, Dean thinks it’s clever. It’s a case of the guy ripped limb from limb (Sam says in the whiniest way possible).

Time to impersonate federal agents to examine the dead man (Ed)’s apartment, lots of blood, lots of the sheriff snarking over the geeky paraphernalia all around. A neighbour heard the horses but it was obviously dismissed, Sam sees the tree on Ed’s body and they check the angry threats from Ed’s friend Lance. Some of which are rather… melodramatic. And geeky.

They go to question Lance in the police where he’s breaking down in tears and explaining that the texts weren’t from him, personally, but his LARP character Greyfox the Mystic to Ed’s LARP character. And the conflict they had was entirely in game not in real life.

They check out the website of the LARP group to check the man’s story and they discover that the “ruler” of Moondor, the chief is Charlie, their old contact back in season 7 (who was a most awesome character).

Meanwhile in the interrogation room, Lance gains a tree symbol on his arm, coughs up blood then bleeds out messily from his eyes. Damn, you know these murdering monsters never ever consider the poor cleaning staff, do they?

It’s caught on CCTV and Dean notes that they have none of the normal signs – EMF, sulphur, nothing – but Sam spots Lance looking at the mark on his arm.

Since the only other thing the victims have in common is LARPing, they head to the group to go talk to Charlie. Where they hit the instant snag with a LARPers that doesn’t believe they’re FBI agents and believes they’re just LARPing the wrong genre. Having a lot of experience mocking up costumes, he spots their fake badges (now if only all of the many many police they met were half as competent at checking up on them).  Instead they’re left to interview as one of the Queen’s new squires – where she is duelling the competition in LARP duels. Her speech is rather put off by spotting Sam and Dean.

She is not happy to see them, having to completely change her identity after her last encounter – she now goes by Kerry.  After speculating about being a monster magnet she decides them being there means monsters are here and since she doesn’t want to die, she’s out of there – drops her crown on Dean’s head and starts to walk out.  Dean stops her by telling her about Ed and Lance.

She recognises the tree as a celtic magic symbol (in a video game anyway) and we find out that her “army” is shrinking – many of the people who LARPed as 4 of her guards had hospital worthy accidents lately. While none of them had real life enemies, they had lots of in game enemies and she points to the 4 factions in the LARP. Since that weekend is the battle to see who gets to be monarch, the other three factions have a vested interest in taking her down. They’re briefly distracted why Dean points out better tactics for her forces on the battle map. Sam begins to moot the possibility that one of the other factions got their hands on real magic while Dean redeploys her siege engines (to her approval). Dean thinks Charlie should run somewhere safe while they try to find out who’s behind it but Sam wants her to stay because she knows the setting better (even Dean points out that keeping civilians safe is normally Sam’s focus). Charlie decides to stay – she may want to run but she’s “queen” and, besides, she’s tired of running and she likes the life she’s built.

Sam gets a call from toxicology saying Lance’s symptoms point to him being killed by belladonna (both Dean and Charlie leap to the porn star, not the poison, derailing Sam a little) but there was none in his system – just as Ed died by being pulled apart and having rope burns without any actual ropes.

Sam goes to the computer tent to do some research on the accidents, while Dean canvasses with Charlie – which requires him to dress the part for LARPing while he recaps her on what’s been happening. She pokes at his guilt for breaking up Sam and Amelia which… uh, he didn’t actually do. Her ex-husband came back? He gave Sam a choice but pointed out – sensibly and the same as Amelia gave to Sam… why is this being recast as Dean’s fault? We also get another annoying slashwink/queerbait when she implies Dean seems to have broken up with someone too (now if you want to throw blame, Sam’s definitely responsible for ending Dean’s friendship with Benny).  Walking through the tents Charlie says her first love is tabletop RPGs but she enjoys the escapism and Dean praises what she did for them before when she tries to diminish her role. We also have a wonderful reminder (in case the pornstar hint flew past) that Charlie is a lesbian and gets a fair amount of attention from the women where she and Dean share a moment (see, this is actual inclusion).

At the computer tent, Sam finds that all the other accidental victims all had the mark of the tree on them. The woman on the computer next to him tells him about the people. She also identifies the factions and they’re not all Charlie’s, 2 of the other factions have been hit as well. Researching the tree calls it the “tree of pain” anyone with it gets bad faerie mojo. He leaves, ducking out of the woman’s invitation to join her in her tent.

At the same time Dean questions the last faction – the Shadow Orcs – and finds that the tree is their leader’s family crest. They head to that camp and Charlie introduces Dean as her handmaiden.  For safety, Dean encourages Charlie to return to their camp, alone, and find Sam. I think he leaves it to her judgement whether she carries the great big “kidnap me!” sign or not.  She is, to absolutely no-one’s surprise, ambushed. First by a LARPer then by what seems to be an actual monster with a skull for a head.

Back at camp it seems Dean and his LARP guide couldn’t even find the Shadow Orc faction (Dean has hunted wendigo in the woods but LARPers elude him?) and have to rely on a LARP prisoner exchange to get near the Shadow Orc leader. At which point Sam fills him in on his research and they realise Charlie is missing.

Charlie wakes up in a rather awesomely decorated tent with the deer-skull-headed  guy looming silently. She tries to leave through one door and ends up coming in the opposite one.  She panics a little, especially as the skull-person approaches, babbling and panicking that she just wants her old life back. The robed figure takes off the skull to reveal a woman underneath who says that’s all she wants as well. Deadly monster replaced with attractive woman cheers Charlie up no end.

Sam and Dean go ahead with the the LARP prison exchange and Dean draws a gun which does quickly make it clear that, no, the Shadow Orcs aren’t to blame but everyone is now thoroughly frightened and freaked out by Dean firing live ammunition. That’s definitely against the LARP rules.

Back to Charlie and the mystery woman is Gilda, a faerie, and was summoned by a spell. She’s controlled by someone who makes her hurt people – something she’d never ever ever do, honest (yes, I’m doubtful). Gilda can only be freed by someone destroying her master’s book of magic. Charlie promises she will – and they start kissing.

Which is when Sam and Dean find the tent and enter – and it turns out that Boltar (real name Jerry), Dean’s LARP guide, is the one who controls Gilda. Dean and Sam point guns at him – and he has Gilda turn the guns into feathers. And yes, he’s doing all this to become king to Charlie’s queen – he takes the game, as Charlie said, far far too seriously. And he got his book of spells from ebay.

Boltar gets a real sword and starts fighting Dean while he has Gilda strangle Sam with a suit of armour – but Charlie announces that she’s the one who saves damsels in distress round here and stabs his book, freeing Gilda, reversing the magic and allowing Dean to backhand him across the face.

Gilda kisses Charlie goodbye and then returns to faerie land, taking Jerry with her to stand trial.

Sam and Dean back in normal clothes the next day, Charlie says she’s going to face reality from now on – including the fact that reality includes monsters, so she isn’t going to run and change her identity.

Sam and Dean have a moment while Dean acknowledges that Sam needs time to get over Amelia. And they decide to have fun –including LARPing in Charlie’s army and Dean making a glorious medieval speech.

Hmmm, a bit of a pointless fluff episode really. Yeah it was kinda sorta fun, but it didn’t really advance anything and it was also pretty ridiculous and not in a fun way. I know there was high drama last episode, but it wasn’t so high and heavy to need a break – and there’s meta there lying untouched which I’d rather they pay attention to

They got in some “tee-hee, LARP isn’t it silly” but equal amount of “this is kind of cool and fun” which is a change from many times I’ve seen the hobby depicted, which is interesting

And we had Charlie back! And her being a lesbian was neither a throw-away foot note nor was it the overwhelming point of her character. And she is an awesome, fun, excellent character I’d love to see more of. Well done Supernatural, it’s been 8 series but you have one GBLT character who was used in 2 episode who was pretty damn cool. Bravo – please be making this a habit.

My only tiny complaint is a bit of a side-eye over Dean being completely happy with Charlie being a lesbian, but when we saw him with the gay men playing comic relief, it was a very different story.

I want to rate it highly because of Charlie, but, I’ll be honest, I was rather bored and disinterested throughout. Possibly because the episode rested on either the gimmick of LARPing to people who aren’t very familiar with it, or the inner “look we’re showing LARPing” squee to big fans and participants of it. Since I fall pretty much in the middle of those 2 (like Charlie, I'm more of a tabletop fan myself), it wasn’t for me.