After 12 years Supernatural finally did it! Sort of. Kind of. OK, did you watch last night’s Supernatural yet? If not, time to click away. We’re talking “Despair.”
In a scene ripped straight out of Joss Whedon’s Buffy or Angel, the (unrelated) angel Castiel (Misha Collins) admitted that his one true moment of happiness — his most pure and selfish and wonderful love — was for the demon hunter Dean (Jensen Ackles). Online, Supernatural fans who had long since given up on the show swooned and screamed. All those eyes focused on Georgia and its slow shift blue turned to the CW, and on Twitter #DestielIsCanon quickly began trending above the results for a state election that could determine the next leader of one of the most powerful countries on earth.
But friend, the moment Castiel confessed his love to Dean was absolute utter bullshit. After years of baiting fans with long looks, gentle touches, and pithy asides, Supernatural finally made it canon like Eponine and Marius are canon, and then, much like Les Misérables, offed the confessor.
There’s a reason “shipping” is usually associated with teens. To truly ship a pair of fictional characters requires an absolute passion that seems more common in the hormone-fuelled years of adolescence, when every moment of drama is either world-ending or totally euphoric. Shipping consumes a person — turns them into a fanatic — not unlike the guy who strips off his clothes and paints himself green and yellow to attend a Packers game in the middle of winter. When you’re in it, it’s exhilarating — even when you leave a ship behind. Move on to another ship? Rredirect those energies to other activities? It can still bring you a measure of pleasure. I still sigh a little when someone sends me an old pic of Mulder and Scully or Janeway and Seven.
Few couples have engendered that kind of fanaticism like Dean and Castiel from Supernatural. Destiel (the couple’s portmanteau) has inspired considerable drama online and is why we have alpha/beta/omega wolfporn. It is currently the top ship on AO3 with 20,000 more stories than the second most popular pairing (Sherlock and Watson). Castiel is an angel commanded to save Dean from Hell and Dean is a self-loathing demon hunter who doesn’t believe Castiel is an angel, let alone one who would pull him from perdition. Since season four of the show way back in 2008, fans have been saying these two characters are more than friends and should confess and recognise their romantic feelings for one another.
The show has disagreed and happily strung those fans along. In fandom this is called “queerbaiting” and while it’s more common in femslash fandom — where the fans are themselves queer — it’s an accusation frequently lobbed by fans at showrunners who tease same-sex relationships that never seem to go anywhere. Supernatural is loaded with references to Dean possibly being bisexual and has had no issue making jokes about everyone thinking Dean and Castiel were dating. Even TV Guide was calling out the show for queerbaiting, all the way back in 2014.
Pre-Glee, fandoms tolerated baiting and explored unexplored relationships in fiction and through alternative mediums. But with Glee, fans began regularly interacting with showrunners and even convinced them to make one-off joke relationships, like Britanna, canon. Since then many fandoms have become obsessed with the need for ships to be made canon. In the early 2010s, fandoms would wage wars to win Entertainment Weekly and Zimbio polls in the hopes of swaying showrunners.
Couples being made canon is treated the same way as the Packers winning a Super Bowl. There’s cheering and shouting, and the only reason no one flips a car or sets a mailbox on fire is because fandom is typically very online. And last night, after 12 years of baiting, Supernatural made Destiel “canon.” While most fans had long since cooled to the pairing and the show, they reacted the same way I did when that awful 2008 X-Files movie finally let Mulder and Scully smooch. There was a lot of joy online.
But to the very end of the relationship, the show was still a queerbaiting mess because, folks…Destiel is about as canon as a Trump second term.
The fact is: Castiel did confess his love for Dean. Unequivocally. He admitted that he’d made a deal with the Shadow, a sentient being existing in place predating all the domains of God, and that he’d get to live on Earth until he felt a moment of pure happiness (just like Angel and his soul), at which point his millennia-long watch would end. In the course of confessing his love to Dean, he had that moment, and the Shadow then dragged him back into that emptiness akin to hell.
So. Yeah. The gay guy got dragged to hell for confessing his love.
As Castiel wept while he confessed and was pulled away, Dean was stoic and seemed resigned, or almost angrily embarrassed by the confession. He did not confess any feelings in return. He did not admit he ever had or would feel that way. Or even say thank you. He just watched stoically as his best friend confessed love and died. Which, honestly, if I was a straight no-homo dude, is probably how I would react too.
Things could change. There are two episodes left and Dean very well could get tanked on a couple of brewskies and admit he really wanted to hug wrestle an angel in a trench coat. But the last guy who admitted he loved another dude got dragged to hell. So I wouldn’t count on it.