A while back, I wrote a post about this most recent season of Supernatural: more specifically, about my skepticism regarding the show’s repeated tendency to use Dean and Castiel to engage in romantic tropes to move the narrative drama forward, then pull back at the end of a season to retain the how’s carefully heteronormative status quo. With the airing of the finale this week, Alpha and Omega, I was unsurprised to see SPN fall back on more of the same, as Dean took Castiel on a drive to, as Jensen Ackles described, “explain” why Dean has been so particularly upset at Castiel’s giving himself up to Lucifer this season. Unsurprisingly, the conversation was more or less as expected, with Dean telling Castiel that he’s he and Sam’s “best friend” — moreover, that he’s their “brother.”
Ignoring for a moment that this scene does nothing to explain why Dean in particular had such a crushing reaction (or why his response differed so completely from Sam, who spent the body of the season far more worried about werewolves, banshees, and square planets than he did his angel-brother from another mother), I find myself reacting with far more frustration than I expected. As we all know by now, Alpha and Omega marked a kind of major ending: a quasi-series finale, if you will, as current show runner Jeremy Carver has left Supernatural to helm a new show for the CW, and left Andrew Dabb, long-time staff writer, to take over. And perhaps this is the core of my ire. Because just as Swan Song set up Sera Gamble’s narrative arc for seasons 6 and 7 by hinting at a Sam who had returned from Hell, Not Quite Right; just as Survival of the Fittest prepped Carver’s era by shuttling Dean and Castiel to purgatory, and leaving Sam panicked, afraid, and utterly alone; Alpha and Omega serves to offer us our first glimpse into Dabb’s vision for the show’s future.
To be sure, there are many things to be excited for. After years of consistently escalating theatrics, culminating in a family reunion between God, his sister, and a motley collection of Winchesters, a demon, a witch, and a now-missing-or-dead archangel (and yet somehow, inexplicably, not including Cas and the father who abandoned him), season 12 stands to return us to a long-wished for narrative: that of humans, of hunters and Men (and Women) of Letters; the reminder that the Winchesters are known within their community — known, and disliked. The introduction of Toni may even suggest a knowledge of the angels that was wasted in season 8, as we’re offered a glimpse of Castiel pinned beside Dean, his “true” identity (Cassiel, the archangel of sorrow and the death of kings) written beside it with a question mark. Amara’s final gift to Dean – the apparent return of his mother, in what may be the greatest unfridging since Marvel rendered the Bucky Clause moot, could potentially undo the very fabric on which the show’s hypermacho narrative is formed. The Winchesters stand to potentially gain an identity they’ve never known to this point: that of someones’ children, rather than someones’ soldiers. Moreover, the audience could be introduced to the true once and future bloodline of American hunters, and Mary herself could, for the first time, meet her children — and discover that for all her efforts, she was unable to keep them from the family business.
Certainly, there’s a lot of potential moving into S12. It’s perhaps for this reason that I’m surprised by how complete and unflinching my own response was to the episode. Without a doubt, I’ve had an at-times troubled relationship with Supernatural: it’d be impossible not to, having watched a show for as long as I’ve watched this one. But watching Dean “brozone” Cas, as the kids are calling it on Tumblr and Twitter, was the final nail in an eleven year old coffin.
It isn’t even a matter of “going canon,” for me. I come from old, old school fandom. My first ship was Mulder and Scully, a pairing that I still wish to this day had not, gone canon. I’m fairly sure the disaster of that pairing, and show, set the tone for the rest of my fandom experience. Since then, I’ve shipped Clark/Lex (Smallville), Steve/Bucky (Captain America), and a host of assorted RPF pairings. Clearly, I’m not in it to win it when it comes to canon pairings. But I do ask for a certain amount of respect as a viewer. Supernatural has toed this line repeatedly in the last few years, most recently after season 8, when an entire season of romantic tropes was dismissed as fantasy on behalf of the audience. In the wake of this mess, I stopped watching for two years — my longest break from the show. I returned because it seemed as though the show had gotten better; that they’d backed off the teasing; that they understood where they went wrong.
Season 11 had me curious, because they seemed to have learned their lesson. Dabb, Berens, Thompson** — even Carver — are not people who come off as mean-spirited. And as 11 progressed, the reliance on romantic tropes to push the narrative forward — to push Dean’s emotional arc forward — became so very obvious, it became harder and harder for me to read it as anything other than what it was. I still didn’t expect canon, no. I expected ambiguity, certainly.
(** Robbie Thompson has of course since left the show.)
What I did not expect was the complete, thorough, and firm shut-down that came with Alpha and Omega. After a season in which Dabb, the new showrunner, was responsible for many of the episodes that were the most egregious in their use of romantic tropes and winking subtext, Alpha and Omega took time out of its narrative to let us know, as an audience, “THERE IS NOTHING TO SEE HERE, AND NOTHING SEPARATES DEAN’S RELATIONSHIP WITH CAS FROM CAS’S RELATIONSHIP TO SAM.”
Which is of course absurd. We know it’s absurd. The stilted acting in the scene suggests everyone involved felt it was absurd at the time. But it was written, and filmed, and important enough to include in the episode, awkwardly-executed and all. This in itself suggests a scene that was significant to them, narratively. More telling still is the fact that we simply have not had a scene like this in a very long time, if ever. Certainly not in recent memory.
Perhaps if it hadn’t been so awkwardly filmed, or set within the narrative. Perhaps if it hadn’t come during a season filled with strange one-liners insisting Dean was pining for someone, or that he should follow his heart, or suggesting he should settle down with someone who “understands the life.” Maybe if they hadn’t just introduced a pair of gay hunters whose relationship immediately prompted curiosity from Dean. Hell, maybe if Dabb hadn’t devoted an entire episode to Dean’s first crush being on a brick shithouse of a wrestler. Or maybe if it hadn’t come a week after JIBcon, at which Misha stood in front of the audience and actively addressed SPN’s past queerbaiting issues, joking as though they were a thing of the past instead of a thing of Next Wednesday.
It’s never a good idea to make snap judgments right after an episode has aired; years of this show has taught me that. Sam and Dean Winchester are television’s versions of the Velveteen Rabbit: after so many years and stories, inane or not, they’ve become real to me in a way very few fictional characters have, or will, likely ever achieve. And I know myself well enough to know that stomping a foot and announcing “I’m done” would be an inevitable lie. But there are many ways to follow a story, and not all of them involve a reliance on the source material, or a fealty to a production that does not treat its audience with respect. I need to believe that a show respects me as a viewer. And I’m struggling to continue to do so with Supernatural. Like Charlie Brown with that football, I don’t trust that they aren’t laughing when they tell me to kick.
After a while, even the most stubborn player has to step off the field.