‘Supernatural’ Has Proven There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Explore Gay Storylines

‘Supernatural’ Has Proven There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Explore Gay Storylines

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Editor’s note: This story about the history of Supernatural queerbaiting and the now-infamous “Destiel” episode contains Season 15 spoilers.

Supernatural fans are all over the place after last week’s episode confirmed the show’s longstanding gay ship … and also confirmed its terrible handling of LGBTQ characters. The episode — along with the show’s legacy of queerbaiting — has received consternation from many fans, who were finally given what they wanted before having it snatched away mere seconds later.

Supernatural is a TV series about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padlecki and Jensen Ackles). Along with family members, friends and associates, the two have fought monsters, demons and more over the span of 15 seasons and 15 years. Then, during the Nov. 5, 2020 episode — the series’ third to very last episode — the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) finally confessed his longstanding love to Dean.

“Knowing you has changed me,” Castiel explains in the tearful scene. “Because you cared, I cared. I cared about you, I cared about Sam, I cared about Jack. But I cared about the whole world because of you. You changed me, Dean.”

Dean then asked Castiel why the conversation felt like a goodbye, to which Castiel admitted that it was. He then uttered the words that rocked those familiar with the history of Supernatural queerbaiting: “I love you. Goodbye, Dean.”

For fans, the confession was a long time coming. Since Castiel’s introduction in 2010’s Season 4, fans have speculated over his relationship with Dean. The two have exuded sexual and emotional tension for years. The writing itself even played into it, with gay jokes and circumstances that would lead anyone to raise an eyebrow. So, for many, that “Castiel confession / Destiel confirmation” scene was a triumphant one.

For many more fans, though — even non-fans aware of the history of Supernatural queerbaiting and caught wind of the Destiel revelation — the scene raised several issues. (Queerbaiting is the term for dropping hints of queerness into storylines in order to excite or appease queer fans, but without ever following through on them or truly committing to them.)

First, actor Jensen Ankles has notably been against the idea of a Destiel ship for years. Unwilling to discuss the subtext of his character at fan conventions and opposed to slash fiction that puts his characters in homo love, his stance against the Destiel ship has been so adamant that literary journal articles have been written about it.  

For years, Supernatural has been critiqued for queerbaiting its viewers with teasing scenes that lack any outright confirmation. And while Misha Collins has been supportive of the Destiel ship, even celebrating the confession during an online Zoom discussion also featuring the episode’s director, Collins alone could not hold-off fans’ great disappointment with how this (ultimately queer) storyline was handled.

Worst of all, the Destiel confirmation scene falls into one of the most timeless tropes for gay characters, dubbed “Bury Your Gays.” According to the trope, gay/queer characters are simply more expendable, and thus more likely to be killed off on film and in television series, often via exceptional circumstances. In this episode, the reason Castiel was saying goodbye is because he’d made a deal to go to his final resting place.

And this wasn’t even the first time Supernatural fell into the trope of killing off LGBTQ characters for others’ character development. As just one example, a lesbian character named Charlie Bradbury, played by Felicia Day, was murdered in Season 10, which had repercussions for Sam and Dean.

But perhaps the team behind Supernatural has learned from their mistakes. Maybe Castiel isn’t actually gone for good. An alternate reality version of Charlie appeared in the show following what was believed to be her death. Plus, Castiel’s death has seemingly affected Dean on a deep level. Perhaps Castiel’s confession will bring a realization out of Dean. Perhaps Dean loved Castiel back, or perhaps he’ll fight to bring the angel back.

Or, perhaps not. With two episodes left to the show, things are looking grim for Destiel fans. Will those fans be vindicated for their unending support despite more than a decade’s worth of Supernatual queerbaiting? Or was Castiel’s death the final straw? We’ll see how it all plays out in the next two weeks.

What are your thoughts on Destiel and the legacy of Supernatural queerbaiting?

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