In 2005, the CW aired the first season of a show about two brothers, raised to hunt monsters. 15 years and 327 episodes later, the now infamous Supernatural finally laid its weary head to rest.
I stopped watching Supernatural around five years ago, long after the quality of its heyday had faded. Yet, I would be lying if I said I never enjoyed it. As a young teenager I loved the show, and I certainly still hold a lot of nostalgia for it now; and so, when the final episodes aired, I decided to see where the Winchester brothers ended up at long last.
And boy do I wish I hadn’t.
In its very first episode, the set up of Supernatural was that the integral difference between these two brothers was that Dean, the oldest, was dedicated to the hunting life their father raised them in and had accepted his life would be a short and bloody one. Sam, on the other hand, rejected the life dictated by their father and instead wanted to go to school, meet a girl, and have a ‘normal’ white picket fence life. Yet, over the course of the show, Dean learnt he was worth, and that he wanted, more than dying young on the job, and Sam learnt to love his life of ‘saving people, hunting things’. The original ending of the show, the season 5 finale, subverted their original destinies by having Sam die fighting heaven and hell, leaving Dean to live an apple-pie life; this felt like a natural conclusion to their character arcs and the show as a whole.
So now, another 10 years on, years of character development, dying and coming back to life more times than I can count and finally killing God – the writer of their lives and therefore giving them their free will (a theme since the introduction of heaven in season 4) – you would imagine the paths laid out for them in episode one would be null. They are changed, complex characters who finally have freedom over their lives. And yet, the finale goes on to reinforce the original paths set out for the brothers. Dean dies, impaled on a rusty nail during a fight with vampires only halfway through the episode, leaving Sam alone to go on and marry and raise a son with an unknown woman, shown with a blurred face in the back of a shot and neglecting to even mention Elieen, a beloved character he had been romantically linked to for seasons now.
You would have thought, after 15 years, they might have come up with something more original, more interesting, more profound even? But no, the man who has died literally hundreds of times is taken out by a rusty nail, while Sam grows old. Just like they were supposed to from the start. But it’s okay – they meet up in heaven (which is suddenly fixed now despite seasons of structural and management issues) and bro-hug the episode, and the show, out.
“But wait”, the observant among you might be thinking, “isn’t there another main character we haven’t mentioned?” Well, you would be right. What became of the angel Castiel? After making headlines and stealing the spotlight from the US election earlier this month, what happened to the angel after sacrificing himself and declaring his undying love for Dean? Nothing. The fan favourite character was tossed aside with two casual mentions, leaving us to assume he is still burning forever in ‘megahell’.
I originally held off writing anything about the already infamous Destiel love confession, some part of me naively wondering that there must be more to the story – after all, this wouldn’t be the first time that ‘gay love pierced the veil of death to save the day’ on this show. Now I remember that line was played for jokes, and we have been played for fools.
Destiel, the ship name for Dean and Castiel, has been infamous on the internet for over 10 years, with fans seeing many of their interactions as romantic- or queer-coded since Castiel’s introduction to the show in 2008 – and not without cause. The show pushed the idea of their ‘more profound bond’ with romantic affection, multiple self-sacrifices as well as other characters referring to them as boyfriends; the show toyed with its fans for years. Castiel’s entire character arc was about rebelling against his family, everything he knew, for Dean. It’s simple really, if Castiel had taken a female form, he and Dean would have been together since season 5. Although, granted, in this case Castiel would have definitely been killed off shortly after because women, especially romantically coded women, are rarely allowed to live beyond a few episodes on this show.
With all this in mind, it’s no wonder Destiel became the flagship for queerbaiting. Yet, on November 5th, news finally came through that at long last, Destiel was canon. Fans who had not seen the show in years rushed to the trending pages; was this finally a positive step for queer representation? From Supernatural? It did not take long for people to realise – it was not.
Backed into a corner, with no escape, Castiel admits to Dean their only solution – he must sacrifice himself to the “empty”, where he will suffer forever in what is essentially, ‘megahell’. Why? Because Castiel made a deal that in his moment of true happiness he would be condemned; that moment of true happiness being telling Dean that he loves him. Yet, before Dean even has time to respond, Castiel is gone, perhaps setting a new world record in whiplash between queerbaiting, and the “bury your gays” trope. There is something even more sinister about this reveal, though, as not only is Castiel now dead, but he is dead specifically because of his love confession. The act of admitting his gay love for Dean is what condemns him to hell. The writers could not have come up with a more homophobic love confession if they tried.
Anyone giving the show any benefit of the doubt might have said: “Well, there are still two episodes left, and this is Supernatural, maybe he won’t stay dead? Maybe Dean will confess his feelings as well? Maybe they can be together?” But if there is one thing Supernatural has proved over the years, it is that it doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. Dean never mentions Castiel’s confession, or his own feelings one way or another. He does not try to save him like he has countless times before and his name is barely mentioned again. Castiel – much like the attitude of many old fans towards the show – is condemned and abandoned.
The refusal to address Castiel’s confession is not just irritating for fans who have supported and longed for the pair to be a couple – it is not even just that it is frustrating to see the same tired queer tropes of “bury your gays” or “last-minute queers” – it is that the love between Castiel and Dean has been so integral to their character arcs, for so many seasons, that without resolution the entire story falls apart. Without Castiel, Dean is written back into his role as Daddy’s little soldier, protecting his kid brother, the perceptual older brother, just as he was when we met him in 2005. Castiel and Dean were arguably the biggest personification of the show’s core running theme of found family; something that has been reiterated across the 15 year run with Bobby, with Jack, but most of all, with Castiel. Yet, by removing almost all trace of these characters in favour of focusing solely once more on the co-dependency of these two brothers, the emotional core the show has been building all this time is lost. Supernatural would rather betray its own core than allow for the natural resolution of Dean’s arc, all to avoid confronting the fact that they accidentally wrote a queer love story into the heart of their show. When you consider all this, it’s easy to see how the finale we got was inevitable. The writers made a choice, and they picked heteronormativity over quality storytelling.
As Supernatural reaches the end of it’s very long road, I can’t help but wonder if it was maybe better left in 2010, as originally planned – the writers and their attitudes clearly were; newsflash, queerbaiting hasn’t been cool since Sherlock. The disappointing thing is it didn’t have to be this way. A heartfelt, natural resolution was right under their fingertips, they just weren’t willing to raise that rainbow flag. So, after all these years, Supernatural has doomed itself to serve as a cautionary tale to the rest of the industry; move with the times, or quit while you’re ahead.