Supernatural: The Last Great American Bury Your Gays
The series finale of Supernatural was as if the writers asked themselves "what is the ending that will piss the most people off" and then went for it.
Supernatural just ended it’s 15 year run. I’m writing this just as the last episode has aired. I want to preface this with that I went into this episode with absolutely no expectations at all. The nineteenth episode had been alright in ending the show as it was, with the defeat of the Big Bad and the win, so I was really only looking for a coda of sorts. Maybe Sam and Dean retire and have a farm or whatever. Cas comes back with the people Jack poofed, I don’t know.
Instead, I got an episode that was written as if someone thought the show should have ended in season one. Sam and Dean regressed back to their early season selves, where they had no one, no friends, no family, no support system. And that was made very clear in the final battle in the barn. Sam being knocked out and out of commission for those few seconds were what allowed 1.) a weird cameo from an actress who had been in one episode and never mentioned again, and 2.) the opportunity for Dean to become distracted, slip, and fall in the worst, most contrived back-first way into a nail. A nail. What then occurred was a scene this show has played a thousand times over. Dean dying in Sam’s arms. What is this, season 3? No, wait, I’m pretty sure Dean gave the “I’m proud of you” speech back in season 10.
With Dean’s death, we get a shot of his extremely empty, pitiful hunter’s funeral. Burning alone with just Sam and a dog to mourn him. We don’t even see other characters, such as Donna who was mentioned, learn of his death. It’s only Sam being sad. We see Sam back up his things, shut down the bunker, and leave in probably what was the most forced finality for such an important, beloved set piece. That bunker was Dean’s home. Sam just looked longingly into Dean’s room, and left it abandoned. Perhaps this would have been sadder if we saw Sam pack up Dean’s items, but no. He turns off the lights and shuts the door behind him.
Dean, now freshly dead, wakes up in heaven. He meets and talks with Bobby Singer, the original Bobby Singer who passed in season 7. Bobby delivers some clunky exposition about the new state of Heaven, where everything is open borders for everyone to wander around. The thing that made me, personally, the most annoyed, was the name dropping of Castiel and Jack in this scene. It was just a casual mention: “oh hey, the new god, aka your adopted Nephilim son, created this new heaven with the help of your best friend, the angel Castiel, who confessed his undying love for you right before his untimely death, what helpful friends!” and, instead of addressing the fact that Castiel was out of the Empty, the story steered Dean into… driving his car. The same car he’s been driving for fifteen seasons. I understand the car is an important icon of the show, but maybe, just maybe, the character who heroically sacrificed himself should take a bit of priority? Just a thought.
In what was probably the most laughable montage I’ve ever seen on a television show, we see Sam don a Doc Brown wig and Walmart glasses as he walks around with several mismatched children who play his son, “Dean,” until he comes to an end even more pitiful than Dean’s.
They reunite in heaven and that’s the end.
The Destiel Situation
Supernatural has always been bad regarding minority characters. One of the worst deaths to ever occur on the show was that of Charlie Bradbury in the show’s tenth season. She was a fan favorite lesbian who was brutally murdered by a nazi and left in a bathtub for Dean and Sam to find. After that fiasco, it felt like the show tried to do better, and it did for a little while, but only in bit characters who were around for maybe one episode. The only canonically recurring bisexual character is Chuck, the villain. Jesse and Cesar were only around for one episode. Claire and Kaia got their happy ending, but only after Kaia was believed to be killed and the two women never had an on-screen reunion. Castiel and Dean’s eventual demises were, admittedly, not as awful as Charlie's, but it did feel like the executives knew it would bad. They were running the same tricks they've done to the other lgbtq characters.
Going into Supernatural’s season 15 was a feat in and of itself. When I learned this show was ending, I cried like a baby. It’s been a staple in my life for the last seven to eight years. I was very sad to let it go, but I had faith it would be good because they had, in my opinion, set up the perfect final Big Bad. Chuck Shurley, God himself, was the villain. He was the unseen hand, the oppressive force on Sam and Dean’s lives, making them face danger after danger, loss after loss, and finally facing him to regain their autonomy as people and break out of God’s control was very interesting to me.
What I did not expect, however, was the extreme emphasis put on Castiel and Dean’s relationship. Time and time again, even when they were arguing in the beginning of the season, their relationship was basically the A plot. They were constantly dancing around each other until it came to a head in the episode when they went to purgatory. Dean got on his knees and told Castiel he forgives him for the events of season 14 via a very emotional and impactful prayer. We see them begin to mend their relationship and open up to each other as the season gets closer and closer to its end.
Of course, this all comes to a head in episode eighteen. Castiel and Dean are being chased by Death themself, and Dean is, funnily enough, being slowly killed by Death’s hands on his heart. In a rush, Castiel and Dean make a break for the only safe room they can find. Castiel wards Billie from entering, and the two have a heart to heart when they realize they are cornered. Suddenly, Castiel remembers that he had made a deal with the only entity capable of killing death. Using this to his unfortunate advantage, Castiel understands how to defeat Billie. He must summon the courage to finally be happy, and thus meet his end. This moment of pure happiness is, quite literally, allowing himself to be openly in love with Dean Winchester without fear.
Castiel has always been a profoundly queer-aligned character. From his ambiguous gender, to his struggles with accepting himself, to his fear of rejection combined with his overwhelming need to be loved, to believing he’s worth nothing to his family. But he has always been a beacon for hope, for light, because he experiences these pains and becomes better, always looking to be good. He’s a genuinely good character. This is what many queer fans latched on to him. They saw their identities reflected in him.
On the surface, this love confession is everything any fan of the Dean and Castiel pairing could ever dream of. It was something fans have just begun to assume based on their own personal biases, but Castiel canonically revealing that he has been in love with Dean Winchester for probably his entire run on the show is so profoundly groundbreaking and genuinely moving. It literally changes the whole lens of the show through Castiel’s point of view, gives new, heavier meaning to his actions and decisions, and his scenes with Dean. It is now canon to rewatch their old scenes and say: “Cas was in love with Dean here.” That is so special and so necessary on a television show notorious for killing minority characters.
Unfortunately for Castiel, and his queer fans, this beautiful moment is incredibly undercut by Supernatural maintaining that notorious reputation. After all he's been through and struggled with, Castiel accepts his fate and perishes into the depths of the Empty with a smile on his face. Dean sobs into his hands, and the episode ends. While a poignant call back to Castiel's origins, complete with a handprint, wing framing (thank you Richard Speight Jr.), and "Dean Winchester Is Saved", once the shock of Destiel wears off, Cas's death felt brutally difficult to deal with. A repressed queer character weaponizing their only moment of happiness as a beacon into death and martyrdom will probably never sit right with me.
Moving into the final two episodes, one would think that this mind-blowing emotional confession scene would need a follow up, right? That the death of a major fan favorite character would need to be addressed, right? Dean’s answer would need to be spoken out loud, right? This must be acknowledged outside of this one scene, right?
This scene is never mentioned again.
This “homosexual declaration of love” (to quote Misha Collins) quite literally broke the internet. Fans and non-fans of Supernatural alike had something to say about this. It trended worldwide, surpassing the United States Presidential Election. That’s how big that scene was.
But all that is given in canon is Dean Winchester mentioning Cas passing, Sam Winchester casually remarking that he misses Cas, and then Cas being revealed to have been brought to heaven by New God, Jack. That’s it.
Even the “I love you” was cut from promotions, recaps, and mentioning within the show’s reflection documentary that came before the finale episode. Castiel was not so much Bury Your Gays but Bury Your Gays and Erase Their Existence from the basic fabric of the show. Castiel was one of the most beloved characters, if not the most beloved, and the amount of effort put into the final two episodes regarding his wellbeing, and his family’s love for him, was astoundingly abysmal. The bare minimum was not even achieved here.
Dean Winchester, on the other hand, is a whole different animal. This is a character that was also adopted by queer fans and has been headcanoned as bisexual for as long as his character has been around. This theory seriously spiked in the show’s eighth season, which is when Destiel also saw it’s first true surgency into popularity. Even without Castiel, Dean Winchester has been a beacon for hope and for comfort of people who identify as bisexual. Most fans had come to terms with the fact that Dean Winchester would not be confirmed either way in canon, even if for most of the show’s run Jensen Ackles was not particularly a fan of this headcanon (though its safe to say he’s changed his tune a little re: s15.) However, having this confession changed those hopes drastically.
Many folks, including myself, saw the worm on the hook and knew that there were three choices regarding Dean’s perspective on this confession: either he reciprocates, he rejects, or the story ignores it. The last option felt like the worst because the text practically screamed for Dean to answer. Over the course of the season, Dean was constantly interrupted regarding his and Castiel’s relationship. This was not new, but it came to the fore-front in this season. His "Cas-" right before he is shoved out of the way proves there was something Dean had to say. Unfortunately, that third option was the one chosen and so Dean and Castiel’s relationship was unfulfilled entirely on Dean’s end.
The nineteenth episode had big shoes to fill following that scene, but again, it was ignored. Dean only frowns when explaining Castiel’s demise, only demands Chuck bring Cas back once, there's a cruel joke of a phone call, and Dean does not even bother asking New God Jack about Cas. Reminder: This was the same character who nearly killed himself in grief when Cas had died in the past. It was like any sadness, any of the intense love or grief Dean had for Castiel was completely wiped in the finale.
I could have forgiven this. There were several avenues in which I would have been okay with this ending of their relationship. They all basically boil down to this: Dean lives his life trying to be the man Castiel died to protect, he’s content with himself, he lives until he’s 75, dies, and sees Castiel in heaven again (along with the rest of his family). That’s what would have made Castiel’s sacrifice worth it, or at least made some kind of narrative sense.
Instead, Castiel’s speech about Dean being more than a killer, being more than a hunter, deserving to live for love and happiness, was completely rendered irrelevant when it was decided Dean Winchester would die from a basic mistake made on a run of the mill hunt not even a year after the events of episode nineteen. To make matters worse, Castiel is revived off screen and this information is given in a single line of dialogue, never to be elaborated on. In one ear and out the other with only a small smile from Dean for a reaction.
That is the end of a twelve-year relationship, the end of one of the most integral parts of Supernatural. A side comment and a smile.
It actually astounds me how a show that is so in tune with it’s fanbase, so aware of it’s own faults in storytelling, would write “Carry On” and say that it was good. They’ve written the exact ending they parodied the whole season. The exact ending that they told viewers over and over this season was objectively bad. They decided to greenlight the (half) canonization of one of the most popular ships in the history of fan culture, only to kill the two characters immediately after and never give them a reunion. Never do them justice.
I don’t know if the Supernatural writers know, but Supernatural has not been about the Sam and Dean unit for years. It has grown to include so many others, most of whom are barely even considered in these final two episodes. Castiel dying for Dean Winchester only for that sacrifice to only buy Dean Winchester a laughably miniscule amount of time, is spitting on the story structure they built for the last season. Having Dean die in Sam’s arms was an ending that worked in season 3. It does not work now. It rings even hollower than Jaime and Cersei Lannister dying by strategically placed bricks. An absolute narrative betrayal.
The only silver linings are: 1.) that we got the confession. Even if it was too little too late, the presence of that confession retroactively makes Castiel a canonically queer character for 100+ episodes. That is simply amazing and means more to me than can be stated. 2.) the fact that episode nineteen can effectively function as a series finale. I can pretend that Dean and Sam Winchester retired after rescuing Castiel from the Empty and they all lived happily ever after. But these are the only things I can appreciate. (Disclaimer: this criticism is not meant for the actors. Those men brought their absolute A-game to the table and delivered what they could. I appreciate them more than life itself.)