Welcome back to our weekly coverage of the final season of Supernatural in our series Supernatural: End of the Road. You can read a review of the entire season up to episode 13 here, and read individual reviews of “Last Holiday,” “Gimme Shelter,” “Drag Me Away (From You),” and “Unity,” as well.
Strap in, my friends. This is gonna be a long one.
As I’m sure you know, this past episode, “Despair”, included what appeared at first to be a fulfillment of our greatest hopes and dreams – Destiel acknowledged on screen. And I must admit that I, too, was initially joyful at what I saw. However, the internet quickly realized this was not exactly what happened. While I am a huge Destiel shipper, I am highly disappointed with “Despair.” This review will contain a detailed analysis of Cas’s final scene and Dean’s reaction. But first, let’s recap the episode.
“Despair” opens exactly where “Unity” left off, but quickly fixes the Jack-is-a-bomb problem with some convenient magic and lawyer-like wording. Billie appears and POOFS! Jack to the Empty, where he can explode in peace. According to Billie, Jack was never in danger of dying from exploding – she only said it would be fatal if Chuck and Amara died. Gosh, what an interesting detail we never got on our screens!
It’s kind of interesting that Chuck said literally a few minutes ago that we would get to watch Jack die, and then Jack didn’t actually die. I guess it’s hard to write omniscient characters, huh? Or, you know, this could be a really great metaphor: God makes all these plans, but the people just keep defying him with their willpower and personalities. It’s like how an author can plan to write a certain story, but characters end up taking on a life of their own, and they grow and develop in ways you couldn’t expect or plan, BUT IS PERFECTLY NATURAL AND MAKES SENSE.
Anyway, Jack explodes in the Empty. We actually get a creepy scene of the Empty then attacking Jack, growling to him, “You made it loud!” to great effect. Meanwhile, Billie agrees to bring Jack back if the boys turn over God’s death book. They do, and Billie reads it first, obviously checking to see if she still needs Jack. When she brings Jack back she comments that he is still useful. Dean then attacks her with her own scythe, cutting her shoulder, and Billie flees.
In the next scene, Dean and Sam share some whiskey and summarize the plot for us so far. Dean apologizes for pointing a gun at Sam. Sam shrugs it off. In fairness, that’s like the least threatening thing that’s ever happened to Sam Winchester, sooo….
Next, the CW gets a delivery from Home Depot of a brand new fridge, and they immediately stick a gay woman in it! Charlie is having a wonderful breakfast with her new gal pal, Stevie, who was actually present in the first few episodes of the season helping out with the hole-to-hell fiasco. Suddenly, Stevie is gone! Gasp! Darn, isn’t it so sad, especially since we got that one moment of happiness? See “To Kill a Lesbian” for more analysis on this problem.
As a side note, are all the lesbians in Supernatural called guys’ names? Charlie? Stevie? Are they this uncreative? And according to the Internet, this actor, while lovely, is heterosexual. So thank you Supernatural for casting two straight women to play two gay women, then killing one in front of the other. Neat-o.
Sam and Dean respond to Charlie’s call about Stevie. Charlie says some sad shit, and also demands to know if she is a side character, so her death will just be “collateral damage.” The boys don’t get a chance to answer before they realize that Eileen, another side character, is also in danger. They rush out.
Meanwhile, Cas and Jack have a heartfelt conversation at the car about Jack’s destiny. Jack is confused because he thought his main plot was to re-do season 11’s ending; Cas points out that he did, in fact, re-do it, since he also failed to kill Chuck and Amara by being a bomb. Jack questions his purpose and adds a little dash of themes to this episode.
On the way to Eileen’s, we get a tense scene in the car as Sam is texting Eileen, and she suddenly stops texting back. When they arrive at her house they discover that yes, in fact, Eileen was also a side character, and has now also disappeared. Jared Padalecki shows sadness by twitching every muscle in his face. Really, watch him while he’s hugging Dean – it’s sort of impressive.
Sam and Dean believe Billie is returning everyone back to where they belong, per her ultimate plan. Why they think this is beyond me – Billie can’t return everyone where they belong as Death, this is why she wanted to become God, so why do they think she can do it all of a sudden? But anyway this big plot hole is apparently just out of their eyesight, so they get distracted by trying to kill Billie. Dean and Cas leave to do that action plot, while Sam and Jack work on getting all of the alternate universe people to a super-safe silo in the middle of nowhere. God forbid everyone come to their high-tech bunker.
All the side characters arrive at the silo and go inside. Sam and Jack paint some rad graffiti on the walls and do some spells. While this is happening, Jack discovers he is not powerless as he thought: he gets distracted by a plant and, when he moves his hands towards it, the plant slowly crumples and dies. Jack thus discovers his powers of creating bad CGI, but does not tell Sam.
Feeling all safe and happy, disaster strikes – everyone starts to burst into dust and disappear! Oh no! Not uh – not, uh, not the little girl who’s name is apparently Lily! And not her unnamed family! Oh no, not all these extras who probably weren’t paid SAG! Not replacement Charlie and replacement Bobby! Yikes. Soon Sam and Jack are the only ones left, and it is apparent that it’s not only the alternate universe people who are being taken. Outside, Sam and Jack discover that *everyone* is gone. The cameraman gives us some great shots of an empty playground to show us this.
Meanwhile, Dean and Cas head to the bunker to use the key to Death’s library. Dean has Death’s scythe and, to be completely honest, looks really badass with it. They go to Death’s library and find death at her desk. Dean demands that Billie stop killing his friends. Death reveals that it’s not her, OBVIOUSLY, it is Chuck, LITERALLY DUH.
Billie also reveals that the wound she sustained in the beginning of the episode is killing her (?). Before she dies, Billie wants to see Dean die – she snatches her scythe back and begins to chase Dean and Cas through the library and back to their bunker.
Billie stalking Dean and Cas felt like true horror, reminiscent of the Silent Hill and Resident Evil game series. At one point, she scratches her scythe along a stone wall, creating an eerie sound of death approaching. Quite beautifully done! Billie chases them to a random storage room in the bunker. Cas closes the door and wards it.
Dean despairs about their circumstances, stating that all he knows how to do is kill, and that he led them into another trap. Cas, meanwhile, I guess can’t fly them away (???), so he listens to Dean slowly break down. Dean concludes that Billie, who is banging on the door, will break through and kill them both. Cas then remembers that the Empty can defeat Billie, but it can only come to earth if it is “summoned.”
Cas reveals that the Empty will come to collect Cas when Cas feels a moment of true happiness, and so if he feels that happiness, he can summon the Empty. Cas says he thought happiness would be in having, but that actually happiness can instead be in being: specifically, though Cas cannot have Dean, Cas can be in love with Dean and achieve true happiness. Cas confesses his love for Dean Winchester. Dean says “No homo,” and the Empty comes. It takes not only Cas, but also Billie and, importantly, Billie’s scythe (one of the few weapons that can theoretically kill God).
Dean, who Cas threw aside before the Empty came, puts his face in his hands and cries one manly tear. It is full of testosterone.
Analysis: Castiel’s Final Speech
Let’s start with the positive: Castiel’s final speech was incredible. Well written and amazingly acted, it sent chills up my spine when it aired and continues to move me upon multiple re-watches. Castiel got the ending he deserved, he earned, by choosing to sacrifice himself to save the love of his life, the man who showed him the goodness in humanity. Half of the Destiel equation was there in glorious color.
Unfortunately, the speech also betrays its homophobic angle, and Dean’s reactions confirm that this is not, in fact, a fulfillment of Destiel.
I think the best way to understand this scene is to analyze it line-by-line. If you’d like to re-watch the scene itself, you can see it here. Cas reveals to Dean he made a deal with the Empty, and that the Empty would come to claim Cas when he experienced a moment of true happiness. Cas then says:
“I always wondered, ever since, I took that burden that curse I wondered, what it could be – what my true happiness could even look like.”
The screen cuts to Dean’s face here, which was the first visual cue to the audience that this was potentially going the Destiel route. Cas also begins tearing up after this. He continues:
“And I never found an answer.”
This is interesting, because it made me think maybe Cas was just realizing his feelings for Dean. Since Cas is an angel – and is not accustomed to being in love or having human emotions – it would make sense for Cas to be the one to lag behind in understanding his own feelings. Indeed, most of the past Destiel evidence is Dean flirting with Cas and Cas not getting it. But then Cas says:
“Because the one thing I want, it’s something I know I can’t have.”
Yikes! YIKES. Yikes, my friends, just yikes. Without the rest of the speech, we already are confirmed that Destiel is not a thing (sorry). Frankly, Cas is not an emotionally complex or mature enough character to foreclose the chance that Dean loves him back. Indeed, I don’t think most people are – when you love someone, there’s always that sliver of hope that it’s reciprocated. And Cas has plenty of evidence that it is reciprocated. It doesn’t make sense, relying on the text of the show, that Cas would think Dean does not love him. Therefore, the only reason this is in the text is because the writers are telling us, the audience, that Dean does not reciprocate. And so I declare again: yikes!
“But I think I know, I think I know now, happiness isn’t in the having, it’s in just being, it’s in just saying it.”
Lord, what a beautiful line! And Misha Collins delivered it so perfectly. I love this line because it gets at a powerful theme: the value in love is not its quantity, but its quality. The theme that love is not only valuable if it is everlasting is one of my personal favorites and, interestingly, runs counter to what a lot of supernatural lore is all about. Magic and monsters are often immortal, granting everlasting life and/or everlasting love; so for the text to acknowledge that actually having something isn’t the worthwhile portion is fascinating. A movie that plays with this theme well is Arrival, based on Ted Chiang’s short story “A Story of Your Life,” which I discuss with my dad in our podcast.
By this point in the speech, it’s obvious what Cas is getting at. And here’s the thing: Dean’s actor, Jensen Ackles, is easily the best actor on this television show. Over the years he’s grown and developed and spread his acting wings, and I have no doubt this man can do any material he is given.
You can tell by Jensen’s face that Dean is not taking this well.
Jensen looks like the straight friend who doesn’t know what to do because his best friend is in love with him. Jensen does not look in love, or shocked, or confused, or stunned, or any of those things I’ve seen y’all trying to gaslight on the internet. He looks uncomfortable. And then he says:
“What’re you talking about, man?”
MAN. DUDE. BRO. GUY. FRIEND. PAL. BUDDY. Did you know Dean’s not gay? He is just so manly. Manly men aren’t gay! God his testosterone is out of control. Cas continues:
“I know, I know how you see yourself Dean. You see yourself the same way our enemies see you. You’re destructive, and you’re angry, and you’re broken, you’re daddy’s blunt instrument. You think that hate and anger that’s, that’s what drives you that’s what you are. It’s not, and everyone who knows you sees it. Everything you have ever done – the good and the bad – you have done for love. You raise your little brother for love, you fought for this whole world for love. That is who you are.”
Cas continues with his beautiful speech, and for the first time in this conversation the word “love” appears. At this point every Destiel shipper on the planet collectively sat on the edge of their seats. Cas makes an excellent point about Dean’s character – that he is a loving man – which I think supports the notion that Dean is really our main character, not Dean and Sam (sorrynotsorry). Cas is describing Dean’s soul to him. What an amazing moment.
Dean continues to look uncomfortable. Not confused; uncomfortable. Cas continues:
“You are the most caring man on earth, you are the most selfless, loving, human being I will ever know. You know ever since we met, ever since I pulled you out of Hell, knowing you has changed me. Because you cared, I cared – I cared about you, I cared about Sam, I cared about Jack, I cared about the whole world because of you. You changed me, Dean.”
Love this section, just one note – Cas shouldn’t have said “pulled you out of Hell,” he should have said “raised you from Perdition,” that’s his like go-to line when talking about that. Not sure how they missed that one. Anyway, Misha Collins is acting his face off during this and Jensen Ackles looks even more uncomfortable: he tenses his jaw, he swallows, he glances away. Not good guys, not good! Then Dean says:
“Why does this sound like a goodbye?”
And Castiel responds: “Because it is.”
That was beautiful! In a heartbreaking way, of course. But again, this scene is being carried entirely by Misha Collins; my boy Jensen is not doing us any favors here. Cas then confesses his love and says:
“I love you.”
A glorious, beautiful, heartfelt line that has been building for literally over a decade. To which Dean No-Homo Winchester responds:
“Don’t do this, Cas.”
YIKES MY FRIENDS. What a BAD LINE to have following Cas’s declaration. And yes, again, I’ve seen the internet trying to gaslight this to mean “Don’t go into the empty Cas” but, my dudes, this is also something the straight friend would say to try to stop their gay friend from “ruining” the friendship by confessing their love. And that is exactly how it struck me on the very first watch. I know I cannot be the only one.
Frankly, if they wanted it to be clear that Dean was telling Cas not to go, he should have said “Don’t do this” in the line preceding when Cas said “I love you.” Then it would have been clear that Dean didn’t want Cas to say it because Dean didn’t want Cas to go. But saying it after seriously blurs the meaning. Finally, Cas says:
And throws Dean to the side as the Empty comes to claim Cas and Billie. The episode ends with Dean – who just heard his “best friend” confess his love and then watched him immediately die, all because of mistakes Dean made – shed exactly one very testosterone-laden man tear.
As I said in the beginning, the Castiel portion of this is great. The actor does the script justice. The script does the character justice. And the plot all makes sense for Cas needing to die in that moment, and in that way. That’s all fine and dandy.
But Destiel isn’t an unrequited love story. Destiel is the story, as demonstrated in the text of the show over fifteen seasons, of a human man Dean Winchester falling in (romantic) love with the angel who raised him from Perdition. It isn’t even a story about Cas falling in love, really. The Destiel evidence is almost completely one-sided in favor of Dean flirting with Cas, not vice-versa.
And the thematic point of this structure is obvious: a toxically masculine young man who only expresses himself through violence, anger, and destruction, matures into an adult who understands his complex feelings and accepts himself as a multi-faceted human, with all the good and bad that comes with it, and in doing so becomes a real man (i.e. reaches a zenith of personhood). What an incredible and amazing theme to demonstrate through character development! And what an important message!
The fact that they chose instead to make Cas confess his love undermines the whole premise of Destiel because it removes any positive LGBTQ+ commentary from the story. Cas doesn’t even have a gender, and he’s mentioned before not having a preference on sexuality because he is a supernatural creature, so it’s not like Cas is gay. His vessel being male has nothing to do with Cas’ gender identity.
What’s really upsetting is imagining how different this whole thing would have been if Cas’s vessel was female. How fast do you think Dean would’ve had sex with Cas then? Right away? Maybe on the way up from perdition?
As far as Destiel goes, no, Destiel is not canon. If Dean is not in love with Castiel, then Destiel has not been fulfilled. If that wasn’t bad enough, there are even more bad implications.
Analysis: Dean Winchester is Not a Homosexual!
Somehow, the Supernatural writers managed to acknowledge Destiel while also confirming that Dean Winchester is definitely, 100%, not homosexual (in case anyone was worried!). It’s as if they took the concept of Destiel and inverted it. The scene between Cas and Dean is a clear “no homo-ing” of Dean Winchester, as even Cas acknowledges that Dean can’t be gay.
Seriously, how fragile is the masculinity over in that writer’s room? And you don’t have to be male to have fragile masculinity. Female writers can also endorse a homophobic stance. The only logic I can make of all of this is that, despite Dean’s behavior towards Cas for over ten seasons, the writers simply could not see a strong, aggressive, “masculine” man like Dean as gay. And that is the worst implication of this whole mess.
And I swear to Chuck, if they end up doing something with Dean and Amara, I will absolutely lose my mind. If their connection is validated, but Dean’s and Cas’s isn’t, then we know for a fact it’s a homophobic nightmare.
Finally, there’s the *really* bad implication of having a character declare their gay love (“gay” being a blurry word here, since again, Castiel doesn’t have gender or sexuality like we do), and then having that character die immediately. It is especially problematic that the love was unrequited – here’s Cas, the gay friend ruining the friendship with his homosexuality and making everything awkward, but hey! Now he’s dead! Problem solved. 🙂
I have the ittiest, bittiest flicker of hope that I am wrong. I have always been a huge Destiel shipper, and I am starved for LGBTQ+ representation, ESPECIALLY for masculine men who are gay. As I wrote in my first piece in this series, now is the time for a character like Dean Winchester to be confirmed LGBTQ+. To do anything less is cowardice. Maybe that’s what CW stands for – coward.
I can’t give an arbitrary rating to this episode yet, as I am waiting for all my Destiel dreams to be confirmed crushed by the finale; I will return to “Despair” in my post-season analysis.
Join us next week for the penultimate episode of Supernatural, “Inherit the Earth.”
Images courtesy of The CW.
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