As if this week hasn’t been intense enough already, the folks in the Supernatural writers’ room have done their part to send the internet even further into chaos — by seemingly making their show’s immensely popular ship “Destiel” canon. Although the moment certainly captured viewers’ attention (“Destiel” surged to the top of Twitter’s trending topics last night after the episode aired), whether it’s the big victory fans have been waiting for is another discussion entirely.
A quick rundown for the uninitiated: Supernatural is a, well, supernatural horror/drama show on the CW where hunky brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) drive across the country in their Impala being hot and hunting down all sorts of demonic creatures. Over the course of the show’s 15-year run, which will end later this month, a number of fan-favorite characters have come and gone, but none have cemented themselves so clearly as the fan favorite as Misha Collins’s Castiel, an angel of the Lord with a trench coat and a gravelly, deadpan voice.
Since his introduction in the season-four opener “Lazarus Rising,” fans of the show have vocally shipped Castiel with older brother Dean — and the show’s cast and crew have long since taken to acknowledging and playing around with that fact. Maybe more than any other show, Supernatural is notorious for referencing, poking fun at, and some may even say pandering to its sizable fanbase. In the past they’ve done episodes where the characters encounter conspiracy theorists obsessed with their lives, teenage girls staging a musical about them, and all other kinds of audience stand-ins.
Last night’s episode “Despair” takes the cake, though, by (seemingly) finally making Castiel and Dean’s long-hoped-for romance a reality. The short version is that Castiel has made a deal with an entity to spare Dean from being killed if he takes his own life. Last season, Castiel made a deal with that same entity that he could only die after experiencing true happiness — which would, in turn, imply that Castiel’s moment of true happiness was finally admitting to Dean that he’s in love with him. After those three little words, Castiel is taken by the entity.
Credit where credit’s due — it’s an emotional scene. Misha Collins gives a particularly committed performance, and seeing Cas with genuine tears in his eyes as he confesses his love is as jarring as it is heartbreaking. But the moment also can’t help but feel a little bit insincere, for a number of reasons. Firstly, this feels like a classic case of the “bury your gays” trope, where a show or movie, after finally allowing their queer characters to be happy or confess their love, turns around and immediately fridges them. Granted, this is Supernatural, and both men have “died” and returned before, so whether Cas’s death sticks remains to be seen.
Even setting aside the “bury your gays” issue, though, there’s still the question of the relative one-sidedness of the love. While Castiel is pouring his heart out, Dean is just standing there in shock — and most notably, he doesn’t say “I love you” back. For fans who have been hoping for Destiel since its inception, it almost feels like the show is cheating them or attempting to skirt having to have an actual canon queer relationship onscreen. If the scene really is all there is to it, and Castiel has just been one-sidedly pining for Dean all this time, it turns what could’ve been a triumphant moment into a lackluster, even cliché one.
Still, there are two episodes left in Supernatural’s final season, and with all the antics the series has pulled off in its 15-year run, there’s always the possibility that it could go for the Hail Mary and finally deliver some of the real Destiel payoff that fans have been so hoping for come November 19.