Monday, May 27, 2024

Best Fictional Couples That Never Were

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In the world of media, there are so many couples, or ships, that were well written, compelling, beautiful even, with the potential to have a romance that reached toward icon status … yet, they were never made canon, or were only canon for all of five minutes, leaving the ship mainly unexplored. This leaves me wondering what could have been in terms of storytelling and characterization, and as such, I thought to discuss some of my favorite pairings that never really got the chance to flourish.

Before we begin, I’d like to point out that I write this not with the intent of offending anyone, but to analyze what I would have liked to see in terms of romance for these particular pieces of media. This is not to bash any ships that may have been canon, nor is it to attack any fans. If you disagree with my pairings or dislike them, that is fine as well; we all have our own opinions, and none of them are invalid. I’m just here to discuss the potential that these couples could have brought to their shows in terms of storytelling, not arguing about what ship is better than the other.

Also, considering the topic of the piece there will be spoilers, for all medias mentioned. So yeah, Spoiler Warning.

Now, with that said, let the gushing begin!

Meg Masters / Castiel — “Megstiel” (Supernatural)

Yeah, I’m starting off controversial, but I can’t help it. These two were an absolute delight to me, not only because of the chemistry between the actors and the dynamic of the characters, though those certainly played their parts. I love this ship because it entails the trope that leaves me weak, helpless to stop myself from falling in love — the “Enemies to Lovers” trope. Castiel is an angel, and Meg, a demon. When they meet, they are on opposite sides of the apocalypse. Meg is working for literal Satan, and Castiel, the side of humanity. But even in their meeting, there’s some flirting going on — at least, from Meg’s side. The relationship starts off … fiery …

Get it?!?

But as their motivations intertwine, they form a weird friendship. Meg slowly begins to become a better person (by demon standards, anyway) and helps Team Free Will fight for the side of good. Through this, she and Cas become close. She’s the one that takes care of him when he loses his mind. This relationship had a significant impact on Meg’s character development, showing that though she is a monster who has committed heinous acts, there is still compassion within her. The potential to be greater. To love.

And Meg does fall in love with Castiel. She never explicitly says it (it’s not in her personality) but we get the implication through her conversation with Sam about his girlfriend at the time:

“So, some chick actually got you off hunting, huh? That’s one rare creature. Tell me, how’d you meet this unicorn?”

So Meg calls Sam’s girlfriend a “unicorn,” one that was able to change Sam’s outlook on life through existing and loving him. Then, she says this:

“You fell in love with a unicorn. It was beautiful, then sad, then sadder. I laughed, I cried, I puked in my mouth a little. And honestly, I kind of get it.”

Meg says she relates to Sam falling in love. And after this conversation, she sacrifices herself to save Castiel, saying this line that never ceases to break my heart:

“Go. Save your brother … and my unicorn.”

Castiel is Meg’s unicorn, the one that helped her change as a person and shift her motivations and outlooks. Her love for him helped her grow and feel a selflessness that made her put the lives of others before her own — not just Castiel, but the Winchesters as well. Meg was better because she knew Cas.

As for Castiel, and Meg’s impact on him, the fact that he and Meg are opposites in every way gave him potential to learn things that someone like Meg could have taught him. Demon-ness aside, Meg was wild, outspoken, and very aware of humans, i.e. our everyday lives, mannerisms, and pop culture. Castiel leans more toward being reserved, and, while loving humans, is pretty clueless when it comes to understanding our little quirks or references. For example, Meg’s nickname for Castiel is Clarence and he has no idea why she calls him that. Ironically, Meg is a supernatural being that is quite human, despite her monstrous acts, and Castiel seemed to be drawn to that.

What I also like about Megstiel, from Castiel’s end of things, is that his sexuality was explored through his interactions with Meg. Around this time, the show was constantly reminding us that Castiel was a virgin, and so it was interesting to see him be attracted to someone who could certainly help him explore that part of himself. Of course, there’s Pizza Man Kiss shown in their introductory gif, but there’s even more than that. Meg offered to take Cas’s virginity, and, after being confused about her euphemism (as Cas does), he understands and seems to want to sleep with her:

Meg: We survive this? I’m gonna order some pizza and we’re gonna move some furniture around. You understand?

Castiel: [in confusion] No, I …

Meg: [smiles suggestively]

Castiel: [understands] Wait … actually… yes, I —

[They’re interrupted by the Winchesters] 

Obviously, Meg died before this could happen, and Castiel lost his virginity to someone else. Considering the fact that Cas’s virginity was a fairly established part of his character (and, as such, the loss of it should’ve been important for his character), I think it would have been more impactful for the story and his character if he lost it to someone he actually had a bond with, like Meg (or, if not her, then at least a certain Winchester … ahem). Especially since, through Meg, his sexuality was explored. But instead, he lost it to some reaper whose character was nowhere near as woven with Cas’s character as Meg’s was. Yeah, I’m still a little bitter about that. Alas.

Meg also was there for Castiel when no one else was able to be, and I think that resonated with Cas. Even in his unstable mental state, he expressed his attraction and admiration for Meg:

Castiel: [smiles] Will you look at her? My caretaker. All of that thorny pain. So beautiful.

Meg: [unimpressed] We’ve been over this. I don’t like poetry. Put up or shut up.

Here’s another favorite:

Castiel: Meg, are you hurt?

Meg: Shut up.

Did I mention that Meg is a tsundere? Because she is. And it’s probably one of the reasons why I love her dynamic with Cas — I love tsunderes. Trashy, I know.

Anyway, Cas recognizes Meg’s concern for him and bonds with her because of it, as Meg points out to Sam:

“We both call, who do you think Cas will come to? I’m guessing me. You heard him — thorny beauty, blah, blah. I’m the saint who stayed with him.”

During that time in his life, Cas really needed emotional support. And even though Meg puts on her tough-girl front with him, she obviously cares, and that draws him to her. He values her and wants her to be safe:

Castiel: [Sam] should stay here and protect Meg.

Meg: Since when do I need protecting?

Castiel: Since you were held captive and tortured for over a year.

Meg: Touché.

So he definitely cares, in return.

After Meg’s death, we never see Cas directly ask about her or mourn her (technically we don’t even know if he knows Meg is dead, though it can be assumed the Winchesters told him offscreen, even though something like that should have been on screen … I’m not bitter, you’re bitter). However, after her death, he does give himself the alias “Clarence,” which was Meg’s nickname for him. As sweet as that is, it’s a somewhat lackluster ending to this relationship, considering what their characters were to each other. Though it was nice to see that Meg was still on Cas’s mind, even a season after her death, I would have loved to see more of their dynamic explored.

Bonnie Bennett / Damon Salvatore — “Bamon” (The Vampire Diaries)             

This pairing is a strange one, considering their dynamic (and characterization) gets jumbled and stagnated (and arguably assassinated) due to the shoddy writing of the show. Still, Bonnie and Damon had so much potential. Once again, we have the “Enemies to Lovers,” thing going on — I definitely have a type — but really, they are so much more than that. Or at least, they could have been.

Bonnie and Damon start off being enemies — the true hatred mainly being Bonnie’s side —with her being a witch, a protector of humanity and advocate of nature, and Damon, my problematic fave, a vampire, an abomination of nature who leaves nothing but destruction in his wake. Damon bit Bonnie, and Bonnie tried to burn him alive (the entire show in a nutshell, to be honest). Yet, even with their loathing and violence, they were an excellent team when forced to work together, and they helped each other solve the conflicts over the series’s run in quite effective ways.

Not to mention that Damon seemed to want Bonnie’s approval, even when he didn’t like her. He thanks her a lot, when gratitude is most certainly not one of his traits, and even asked her to give him a second chance (and of course he screwed that up, but still). The irony of this setup is, even though they dislike each other, Damon promised Bonnie’s ancestor that he would defend her bloodline, so there was always a connection between the two of them even when they wished there wasn’t.

As the show goes on, we see them not become friends, per se, but start to tolerate each other and even depend on one another to protect themselves and Elena, their mutual connection. The more adventures they share, the more we see that Damon truly does care about Bonnie, even though he never would have admitted it at that point. He was devastated by Bonnie’s (first) death, which was surprising, because while it was evident that he respected Bonnie, even while disliking her, it hadn’t been shown until then just how much he truly cared about her. He tries to excuse his devastation at the news by using Elena as the reason why he cared, but honestly, he was way too upset about it for that to be the only reason. Damon cared about Bonnie, even in the earlier seasons, before their friendship took off. Elena herself knew it:

Elena: We lost Bonnie on the island. Damon stayed back to try and find her.

Matt: That’s funny. Doesn’t he hate her?

Elena: He doesn’t hate her. I think he actually kind of loves her. You’re mean to the people that you care about.

Matt: That’s some messed-up logic.

Elena: Damon logic.

We got our first Bamon hug in the island scene that Elena mentioned in her quote. Again, it was surprising, to see how much Damon had come to care about Bonnie. In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been surprising. Damon always had a respect for Bonnie that opened its way to stronger feelings. Bonnie was always the one who would stand up to him, never put up with his crap, and it seems like Damon liked that about her. But even still, the characters didn’t interact that much at the time to gives us more of that. Then, the finale of season five gave us quite the scenario: Bonnie and Damon die together, leaving us with a scene that would prepare us for the blossoming of their friendship in season six: 

Damon: This place is going down, isn’t it?

Bonnie: It is. I’m sure there are a million people we’d rather be with right now, but… [holds Damon’s hand]

Damon: A couple thousand, at most. [holds Bonnie’s hand back] 

It was a sweet moment, and a perfect beginning of the next season, which, in terms of content alone, was Bamon’s year. Bonnie and Damon are in the afterlife, repeating the same day everyday, and through this, they become best friends, learning each other’s habits, and becoming quite protective of each other. Bonnie’s magic, which hadn’t been working ever since her death, comes back to her because she wants to protect Damon. Damon confides in Bonnie, telling her about his worst crimes. Bonnie, seeing the potential in him, never lets him forget that he has the means to become a better person, if he chooses to.

What I like about this dynamic is that, while it could have become the sexist “Good Girl Changes the Bad Boy,” trope, it never went there — or at least, it didn’t to me. It always felt like Bonnie’s good example was something to motivate Damon to do the work himself, as opposed to Bonnie carrying his burden for him, which made it endearing rather than frustrating.

When they finally find the means to escape the afterlife and return to the real world, we get a callback to their last lines of dialogue in the fifth season finale:

Damon: I’m sure there are about a billion people you’d rather be here with…

Bonnie: [smiles] Not exactly.

Damon: [smiles back]

It’s adorable, really. But all goes wrong when Kai, the season’s villain, foils their plans. Bonnie sacrifices her chance of escaping to free Damon and keep Kai trapped in the prison world. Normally this would be a good thing, but it’s yet another example of Bonnie putting other people’s needs before her own. She is constantly sacrificing herself for her friends, but they hardly ever return the favor, and it’s something the show never really addressed in the way it should’ve.

However, that starts to change when Damon returns to the real world, and goes out of his way to save Bonnie, when he discovers that she’s still “alive.” Though he still focuses on his relationship with Elena, he tries his best to save Bonnie, and even tells Elena that he isn’t trying to save Bonnie to impress her. For the longest time, Bonnie and Damon were connected through Elena, but now, they have something of their own — the prison world, the afterlife, and all the time they spent there together, seemingly alone, where they confided in one another, ate pancakes, and played Monopoly.

Even still, Bonnie had to save herself, as she always does, which was frustrating to see. On the plus side, we got another Bamon hug, and it was even more amazing than the last one.

And now, we get to the beginning of writing issues that hindered the relationship as well as Bonnie and Damon’s characterizations. Kai makes it out of the prison world, claiming to have information about Damon’s supposedly dead mother, but he won’t tell Damon unless he sets up a meeting between Bonnie and Kai. Damon, wanting to know about his mother, goes against Bonnie’s wishes and tricks her into seeing Kai. This triggers Bonnie’s PTSD, as Kai tortured and abused her when they were trapped in the prison world together.

This was yet another sign of Damon’s character being regressed, in this case, when it comes to his relationship with Bonnie. We’ve seen him be protective of her before, especially when it comes to Kai, and now he disregards her feelings and puts her in an uncomfortable position. Granted, it was for an understandable cause — to learn how to see his mother again — and he did apologize when he learned just how much he hurt her, but we know how crafty Damon can be. It didn’t really make sense for his character, at that point, to be selfish and hurt his best friend to get what he wanted. More and more anti-development things like this would happen between Bonnie and Damon, especially in seasons seven and eight, so I wanted to mention it here.

Even with that little problem that would be the start of many more in future seasons, season six ended with Damon and Bonnie’s relationship reaching its peak in terms of romantic subtext and progression. Kai uses a spell to link Elena’s consciousness with Bonnie’s life, then gives Damon a choice. If he kills Bonnie, Elena will wake up immediately, and they can be together. If he spares Bonnie, Elena will fall into a sleep that cannot be ended until Bonnie dies. If this were the Damon from a previous season, he would have saved Elena in a heartbeat. But here, he kills Kai and saves Bonnie, willing to wait for Elena to wake up when Bonnie dies of natural causes.

Again, even with the little hiccups along the way, this was a good milestone in Bonnie and Damon’s journey, not only for their relationship, but for their characterizations. Bonnie is the type to put others before herself, sacrificing herself constantly for those who never do the same for her. But this time, someone does save her, and it’s Damon. We even get some romantic imagery from it, with Damon carrying her away from danger, bridal style.

As for Damon, this was good for his character development as well. I mentioned this in the section on Damon in my Most Compelling Vampires list, but Damon begins the series not having an identity outside of Katherine, an obsession that indirectly caused him to become a selfish, murderous monster. He then projects this obsession onto Elena (in my opinion, at least), which isn’t healthy. I think Damon’s character development should have been about him pulling away from Katherine (including her doppleganger, Elena), and changing the toxic things about himself that spawned from his obsession. Having Damon choose Bonnie, someone who doesn’t look exactly like Katherine, was a good step in that direction.

To wrap this up, season six was a mostly great time for Bonnie and Damon, and got me on board for a potential romance — it felt like they were setting that up. But season seven began to ruin their dynamic in a lot of ways, and season eight downright killed it, taking out all romantic subtext and making it strictly platonic in the most forced way. Season seven involved Damon literally abandoning Bonnie, choosing to desiccate so that he would sleep through all the decades of Bonnie’s life and wake when she dies, so that he wouldn’t have to wait for Elena to wake up. Even after Bonnie tells him how much it would break her heart for him to do that, he still does it. It’s the first time since their friendship that Damon knows for a fact how much he would hurt Bonnie, but hurts her anyway. It was character regression at its finest.

When he is allowed to flourish, we get moments like this, where Bonnie, who has gone mad from becoming the Huntress, tries to kill him, and Damon tries to stop her not through violence, which Damon usually uses to solve his problems, but by telling her how much he admires and loves her. Damon, who has proven himself to be the self-preserving “kill or be killed,” sort of man, is perfectly willing to let Bonnie kill him, because he doesn’t want to hurt her. That is the character Damon Salvatore is, when his character isn’t forced to regress by the writers.

As for Bonnie, season seven and eight didn’t do her character any favors either. When Damon desiccates, she becomes codependent and broken from it, when that was never her character (she wasn’t the type to break down just because she was without a man). Then she begins a lackluster (in my opinion) romance with Enzo, becomes codependent to the point where she wants to burn herself alive because she feels worthless without him.

It is because of these things that I consider Bonnie and Damon a couple that never was. They had so much potential. In the hands of good writers, this could have been beautiful. The dichotomy of a keeper of nature finding common ground with an abomination of nature, the compelling progression of enemies to friends to lovers, an intertwining of character growth, romantic subtext, and an excellent chemistry between Ian Somerhalder and Kat Graham (who wanted the romance even more than the fans, judging by how they used to gush about it in interviews), are all perfect elements that could have made Bonnie and Damon a couple for the ages.

Zuko / Katara — “Zutara” (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

This another controversial one. I’m trash, I know, but please, put down your torches and hear me out.

So with these two, there’s the “enemies to lovers,” dynamic, of course. They begin on opposite sides of the war, with Zuko doing whatever he can to please his father, Fire Lord Ozai, and Katara aiding Avatar Aang in his quest to defeat the Fire Lord. There’s also the “opposites attract” element, in a literal and figurative sense. Zuko is a firebender, Katara is a waterbender. Katara is kind and calm, and Zuko is (or rather, starts out being) hot-tempered and prone to cruelty. Lots of Zutara shippers like this symbolism, especially the fire and water bit, since the show always stresses how balance is key to a healthy world and mindset. You cannot have light without darkness, yin without yang, or, in terms of the elements, fire without water, and vice versa. Depending on your point of view, you can see that as romantic.

While I find that notion appealing, that isn’t the main thing that draws me to the idea of Zuko and Katara being romantic. What I like about Zutara are their parallels, and what that means for them.

Zuko and Katara were both hurt by the Fire Nation. Zuko was raised amongst them, trained to be the future ruler of his people by a psychologically, emotionally, and physically abusive tyrannical parent that had unrealistic expectations of him, to the point where it made Zuko damaged and internally lost. Katara’s damage from the Fire Nation is different, but just as painful and traumatizing. A Fire Nation soldier killed her mother, and she has been holding her anger and pain inside ever since, trying to be strong for her brother, her people, and herself.

Strength. It is something Zuko and Katara both cling to in the midst of their trauma. Trauma that was inflicted upon them by the same source. This gives Zuko and Katara significant similarities. This is realized by Zuko himself during the Coup of Ba Sing Se, when she and Zuko are having their conversation in the caves:

Katara: You’re the Fire Lord’s son. Spreading war and violence and hatred is in your blood!

Zuko: You don’t know what you’re talking about!

Katara: I don’t? How dare you! You have no idea what this war has put me through, me personally! The Fire Nation took my mother away from me.

Zuko: I’m sorry. That’s something we have in common.

Ozai took Zuko’s mother, Ursa, away from him, just as his soldier took Katara’s mother away from her. Zuko was abused by his father, and the Water Tribe (amongst all of the other nations) have been oppressed by the Fire Nation as a whole for an entire century. Katara and Zuko’s grief and trauma is intertwined due to the violent sickness that was the Fire Nation during that time, and it shaped who they became as people. It is because of this that I think a romance should have formed through a mutual healing arc.

And we get hints of that healing arc during a few of Zuko and Katara’s actions — quite literally, in the beginning, as Zuko opens up to Katara about his scar and feelings about his father:

Katara: I’m sorry I yelled at you before.

Zuko: It doesn’t matter.

Katara: It’s just that for so long now, whenever I would imagine the face of the enemy, it was your face.

Zuko: My face? I see. [He touches his scar]

Katara: No, no, that’s—that’s not what I mean.

Zuko: It’s okay. I used to think this scar marked me. The mark of the banished prince, cursed to chase the Avatar forever. But lately, I’ve realized I’m free to determine my own destiny, even if I’ll never be free of my mark.

Katara: Maybe you could be free of it.

Zuko: What?

Katara: I have healing abilities.

Zuko: It’s a scar, it can’t be healed.

Katara: [Holds up a vial.] This is water from the Spirit Oasis at the North Pole. It has special properties, so I’ve been saving it for something important. I don’t know if it would work, but … [she touches Zuko’s scar]

There’s a lot to unpack here. It should be pointed out that, at this point, Zuko and Katara don’t know each other that well on a personal level. Their interactions involved mostly fighting, not talking, and when they do talk, it’s Zuko using Katara’s mother’s necklace to blackmail or to taunt her. They … weren’t close, to put it lightly. Yet Zuko is comfortable being vulnerable with Katara here, telling her things that he doesn’t talk about with anyone, save for his Uncle Iroh. It seems like he feels a kinship with Katara over the loss of their mothers (and who took their mothers from them) and senses Katara’s empathetic nature.

And Katara is being empathetic here. Up until this point, she saw Zuko as a monster, but now, she sees his humanity, senses the goodness in him, and wants to help him. She offers him a priceless gift, to remove the physical manifestation of his shame and abuse. It’s a significant, beautiful thing for Katara to offer to use the Spirit Oasis water, a rare, precious substance, to someone who was/is her enemy. Yet she offers.

And Zuko accepts. He trusts her, which is something he has a difficult time doing. And, most beautifully, he does something that is infinitely important for his character — he lets Katara touch his scar. The last time a girl tried to touch his scar, he pulled away, but here, he lets it happen. It’s as if, with Katara, someone he relates to on a place of pain and grief, he trusts her to understand his pain. And so, he lets her touch him. It is a precious moment, a perfect one that is a fantastic set up for a romance. More importantly, it’s the start of two abused, hurt, traumatized people helping each other heal and grow closer because of their bond.

Then Zuko falters in his journey toward goodness, sides with Azula during the coup, and Katara hates him again. It all makes sense, considering Zuko’s character type, his development, and Katara’s as well. Though it may have appeared to be a roadblock or dead-end for a potential romance, it introduced another element of their dynamic that I love: forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a huge theme of both Katara and Zuko’s character development and the show in general. The writers explored this theme with Katara via Zuko, and with him. When Zuko joins Team Avatar, Katara is still angry with him for what he did in Ba Sing Se, and Zuko desperately wants her forgiveness and approval. Mind you, he wants the approval of all of Team Avatar, but he seems to crave Katara’s the most, probably because of what they share. So he offers to help her get revenge on the Fire Nation soldier that killed her mother.

This story expresses the struggle of forgiving, and the lure of revenge. During the hunt for her mother’s killer, Katara is consumed by rage, uses bloodbending, and almost murders the killer. Zuko, while supporting Katara no matter what, is visibly disturbed by her rage, which is a step into his own arc since it gives him perspective on his own rage. In the end, Katara does not kill the soldier, nor does she forgive him. But she forgives Zuko, which is important. Katara’s forgiveness of Zuko not only shows that she still sees that goodness within him, but it is a good step into her healing — letting go of hurt, and pain. It’s one for Zuko’s as well — if Katara can forgive him, perhaps he can forgive himself.

After this, Zuko and Katara become friends. Zuko still confides in her in the same way he would in his Uncle Iroh. Her kindness and wisdom gives him a lot of perspective and makes him trust her even more. This leads to him sacrificing himself for her. Azula cheats during their Agni Kai, shoots a lightning bolt at Katara, and Zuko literally takes lightning to the heart to save Katara. It shows just how great the effect they’ve had on each other has been in a short amount of time. Considering Zuko’s character development, it’s likely that he would have done the same for anyone one Team Avatar, but considering his connection with Katara, it’s impactful and symbolic that he saved her. Azula’s lightning is powered by rage and madness, fear and hurt. It threatens to hit Katara, fill her with all the emotions she had at the start of the story and worked so hard to free herself from. Zuko jumps in front of her like a shield, saving her from it, and taking it onto himself.

I’m not crying, you’re crying.

When Azula is defeated, Katara and Zuko stand over her. The scene reminds me of Katara’s interaction with her mother’s killer, but more personal and enhanced. Zuko stands over Azula, as Katara did with the soldier, while Azula is in the soldier’s place, down on the ground. Zuko does not boast over Azula’s downfall, nor does it seem like he has forgiven her, as Katara never forgave the soldier. But there is pity on his face, a mourning for what their family could have been, another key factor in his healing arc. With Katara there, in the same way Zuko was there for her when she faced her mother’s killer, it shows how important their characters are to each other, and their arcs.

Zuko and Katara’s relationship works as a friendship, sure, but because of the details of their characterization and dynamic, I always felt like there was — or could have been — something more there, something profound, thematic, meaningful, and honestly, beautiful. Two trauma victims whose hurt is linked, finding each other, healing, and helping each other move on and become the best people they can, all while falling in love because they understand each other in a way no one else can … now, that sounds like the best couple that never was.

So there you have it, three couples, or ships, that I wished could have made it into their canons. As someone whose favorite ships almost never become canon, I have many more, but my heart can only take so much of this at once. Stay tuned for more of these not-couples in the future!

Images Courtesy of The CW and Nickelodeon

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