‘Supernatural’: The Slowest Burn or Biggest Queerbaiting? Time to Decide

As the subtext says, but how will it end?
September 17, 2019
12 mins read

The end is near. When “Supernatural” started back in 2005, no one knew where it would go. It started as a tale of two brothers. Hunting things. Saving people. The family business. But it grew.

From a series that was only meant to go for five seasons, the story has taken the Winchester brothers to new heights, thanks in part to the angel Castiel. Misha Collins’ character was only supposed to be around for six episodes, but fans fell in love with the angel. Most fans will argue that they weren’t the only ones.

The relationship between Castiel and Dean Winchester may have started as wishful thinking on the part of audiences after seeing the actors portrayals, but it grew and the more time the two interact on screen, the less it seems the arguments against the romance hold weight. The actors and the writers leaned into it as much as they could without actually saying the words, one of the reasons Misha Collins could never be in every episode.

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Except for the moments they actually say the words in deathbed confessions. But it’s always undercut with the message of family — allowing for arguments against a romantic relationship, despite the prolonged eye contact, often close proximity and clearly stated “profound bond.”

People argue the two have a brotherly bond to extend the family themes that started and carried the show for years, but not confirming the ridiculous amount of subtext undercuts the sacrifices and struggles of Dean and Cas’ relationship, as well as the actual brotherly relationship between Sam and Dean.

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With the final ride on the horizon, Season 15 of “Supernatural” has several loose ends to tie up. Jake Abel’s confirmed return as long-lost brother Adam, a character lost to Hell nearly 10 years ago, signifies the creators’ determination to finish each part of the long “Supernatural” story.

Creators acknowledged they forgot about Adam in the episode “Fan Fiction” and in it, they acknowledge the very popular Dean/Cas relationship. With the final season approaching, creators could make or break the end of this beloved show with this loose end. Will the writers be cowards in their final season or will they finally finish telling one of the longest romance stories on television?

While this article is about the romance between Castiel and Dean — or as most people know it, Destiel — I’m not here to convince you it exists. Whether you do or you don’t is still up in the air and that’s part of the problem. But out of all the ships out there, from “Sherlock” to the MCU, Destiel is one of the few that holds the most weight.

Anyone who has seen the two interact can see that even the other characters know, from the line ,“You have me confused with the other angel. You know, the one in the dirty trench coat who’s in love with you,” to the numerous times the word boyfriend is tossed around. If you don’t believe me, I urge you to follow the hyperlinks and see for yourself. This article is about the creators actually saying the words and confirming what every viewer already knows and its importance.

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One of the writers once said that the show is art and art is up for interpretation so people could, and do, argue that the romantic attraction doesn’t exist — many people are just seeing what they want to see. But the point is that so many people want to see it and those that don’t just heighten the importance of confirming their story. Giving the fans a definite answer will solidify the story that’s being told.

Do they want to tell the story of a fallen angel and a surly hunter finding love in the darkness of their monster and death-filled lives, or do they want to be known as the story that left so much up for interpretation that it ended up saying nothing?

What follows will interpret the relationship as real subtext, whether or not it was intended. “Supernatural” has taken many strange twists and turns over its 15-year history and spoilers will abound. Arm up with the first 14 seasons on Netflix now.

Accepting the underlying romance between Dean and Cas allows their story to be looked at in different ways. Dean taught Castiel to have emotions and to love and Castiel taught Dean self-acceptance and self-worth, which is seen in one of Castiel’s first lines, “You don’t think you deserved to be saved.” The strength and beauty of their connection only grows stronger when it comes from a love deeper than familial love.

Castiel rebelled against Heaven, his family, gave up an army, went to Hell and back for Dean and that means so much more when viewed through the romantic lens. Even Heaven torturing Castiel, forcing him to kill versions of Dean couldn’t break their bond. If nothing else, Castiel loves Dean Winchester in a way he was not meant to. Dean saves Castiel from Heaven’s control. In that scene, Dean says, “We’re a family. We need you. I need you,” but originally the line was “I love you.”

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Perhaps this change was because Dean Winchester, as manly as he tries to be, would never say the words, much like his inspiration Han Solo, or because they learned the show was renewed for a ninth season and wanted to keep the door open for all interpretations of their relationship.

But the show is definitely on its final ride with Season 15 and the creators do not have to worry about appeasing everyone anymore. They could easily confirm the romance. No more network hovering over them making sure they don’t alienate the more homophobic audiences or worrying about getting renewed for another season. Despite the CW’s “Dare to Defy” slogan, they’re only so daring.

The homophobia remains a key reason creators need to explicitly confirm the romance. Representation normalizes the differences and makes accepting ones’ self and other people easier. The LGBTQ communities need all the representation they can get, as many shows too often rely on stereotypes over actual well-developed characters or focus solely on their sexuality and journey to understand it.

Dean Winchester as a bi man would show the world strength and goodness, as well as normalize bisexuality while letting it be just one fact out of the many we already have about the character. If they can make God bi, why not one of the main characters?

While “Supernatural” has had plenty of LGBT characters, many of whom are dead, they remain on the fringes of the stories, on the outside. Confirming Dean’s sexuality would let everyone know that their sexuality is just as valid as everyone else.

If the creators don’t do it for the good of the community or the story, they should do it for the fans. They dragged the relationship between Dean and Cas out for so long, giving fans who liked it just enough to keep watching, but never enough to confirm anything to keep the homophobes and others that didn’t like it at bay. If creators don’t confirm it, it was a decade of “queerbaiting.”

Queerbaiting is defined as, “a marketing technique for fiction and entertainment in which creators hint at, but then not actually depict, same-sex romance.” “Supernatural” could be the biggest offender of queerbaiting the history of TV has ever seen. They’ve kept audiences on the hook for over a decade and fans deserve better.

The creators have a chance to explicitly confirm the Dean and Cas relationship and if they do, it’ll be one of the greatest love stories TV has seen, given all they’ve gone through together and the strength of their love for each other. Or they continue to hurt the LGBTQ community and their fans by keeping it up for interpretation, which hurts the story and the audience just as much.

While the show is ultimately about Sam and Dean as brothers, Castiel saved it from cancellation more than once and the Destiel relationship kept it alive for so long. The writers and the actors owe it more than just a fan theory. They might not have meant for the romance to develop, but it did.

If Castiel had been played by a woman, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Dean and Cas would have slept together in Season 4 and in fact Sam and Cas would have hooked up after all the times Dean pushed Cas away, as well leaving them in a strange dramatic love triangle. Instead, Castiel’s male vessel will most likely scare the creators too much to actually bring to light the full story they’ve been writing, whether they meant to or not.

Unlike some of the other issues with “Supernatural,” the queerbaiting can still be fixed. It’s not too late. Even those that don’t see the ship or don’t like it have to admit that after 10 years of being led on, Destiel deserves some confirmation.

They have one more season to stop running from what they’ve started and tie up the loosest end of them all. Like I said, if not for the fans or the community they’ve been using, then for the story. If the “Supernatural” creators truly want to finish the story they started, the true extent of their relationship must be confirmed or else the story lacks depth, if not originality.

With the end on the way, the creators have a choice to make about the legacy of their work. They can either confirm the romance or they can keep stringing people along till the bloody end leaving so much unsaid that they ultimately said nothing. If they don’t confirm it, “Supernatural” won’t be remembered as a show about two brothers; it’ll be remembered as a show that used and manipulated their audience for a decade leaving all the people that they’ve touched and helped soured.

So “Supernatural,” how do you want to go out? Will it be honoring the story you’ve been building and fighting the homophobic monsters of our world or will it be giving in to fear and copping out like so many shows before with the ambiguous interpretation ending?

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