Queer Representation and Supernatural

CW for post: homophobia, queerbaiting, bury your gays, queer people going to hell, brief mention of sex, gif usage

How am I supposed to focus on book blogging when my brain has spent practically every waking moment since Friday morning thinking about a TV show that I haven’t watched a single episode of since 2016?

I can’t, is the answer. I can’t do it. My life has been thrown out of balance. I don’t know how to react to this. I’ve thought about this show more in the last few days than I have in the last few years. It’s dug up my old grievances with the show. My partner has been a saint putting up with my ranting about things from this show that are entirely unrelated to recent events, but now that recent events have got me thinking about this show it’s all come flooding back.

I’m talking about Supernatural, and if you were on either Twitter or Tumblr near the end of last week then you already know why.

But just in case, and for the sake of having a record, I’ll explain anyway.

Supernatural is a fantasy horror show about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, who hunt monsters and demons. A few seasons in they team up with an angel, Castiel, and together the three of them work to stop the apocalypse that the vast majority of both angels and demons want to bring about, all while God is nowhere to be found. Yes, this aspect of the show was inspired by Good Omens. However, Supernatural continued on long past this point in the story, and things have gone increasingly off the rails ever since.

The show was supposed to end at season 5 y’all. There have been good episodes since then, but has it been worth it? Many would say no.

Sam Winchester, Dean Winchester, and Castiel looking through a doorway with concerned expressions on their faces.

I used to adore this show. It was my everything in my early teens. It was all I would talk about and it was all I could think about. I loved the characters and I thought the world within the show was a lot of fun to watch, although it definitely wasn’t a world that I’d ever want to live in. I was never under the impression that the show was perfect, I’ve always been aware of some of its flaws and that some episodes and seasons are a lot weaker than others, but it brought me joy at a time when I desperately needed it.

I eventually stopped watching. I know exactly when I stopped watching, because the episode immediately after that point was a milestone one, but that doesn’t matter. I tried to rewatch from the beginning at one point but I got distracted by Undertale the next week, so I stopped again.

Something that Supernatural has become infamous for is its queerbaiting. Queerbaiting is when a work of fiction hints at the possibility of queerness being depicted, and the creators of said work of fiction hint that there could be queerness depicted, but they never have any real intentions of following through with it. The goal is to get queer people to watch and to stick around in the hope that they might get some representation, without the creator having to actually commit to it. Supernatural did this with the characters of Dean and Castiel. Constant references were made both in and out of universe to the two of them being interested in each other, or being each other’s ‘boyfriend’, or even being in love with each other, but nothing ever actually happened between them and it was increasingly clear that the powers that be had no interest in ever letting a real romantic relationship develop.

Until last week when, just a couple of episodes away from the end of the series altogether, Castiel finally confessed his love – his romantic love – for Dean.

Only for him to be dragged away to a place commonly considered to be worse than hell straight afterwards because the act of being honest about himself and his feelings made him happy.

Castiel was sent to Super Hell for being gay.

Castiel being taken to The Empty, or Super Hell. He is on fire and falling down a tube of fire.

Let’s back up a bit.

Earlier in the show (either early in the current season or in the season before, I’m not entirely sure which and it doesn’t make a difference anyway) Cas struck a deal with the entity known as The Empty, which is also the real name of the Super Hell. Someone that Cas cares a lot about had died and been sent there, and Cas wanted to trade places with him. The Empty agreed, but it didn’t take Cas’ life right away. Instead it said that it would wait until Cas had a moment of true happiness, and it would kill him then.

We can pretend, for a minute, that this isn’t just a rip off of Angel’s situation in the Buffyverse shows. Supernatural has never made any secret of being inspired by other works. I refer you back to the whole plot reference its early seasons (that should’ve been its later seasons) give to Good Omens. We all know that Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel did it better. This comparison is great for memes, and is something to bear in mind when considering the choices that were made to get to this point, but it’s not the main issue here.

Cas confessing his love to Dean after hiding it for so long made him truly happy for the first time since that deal was made. Naturally, this meant that The Empty took him right then and there.

Dean’s reaction, or rather his lack of a reaction, is in keeping with his character. Dean doesn’t deal well with emotions even at the best of times, which this was decidedly not, and it would’ve been out of character for him to process what Cas was telling him and respond properly in the limited time they had to talk. Everything else aside, Dean’s silence makes a lot of sense.

Dean shortly after Castiel disappears. He is sitting on the floor against a wall with his head in his hands.

But guess what?

This is still very bad representation, it is still legitimately homophobic, and it still deserves to get mocked and criticised until the end of time.

It doesn’t matter that it makes perfect sense in context. It doesn’t matter that there’s still time for everything to get resolved and for everyone to live happily ever after. It doesn’t make the tiniest amount of difference at all.

The fact of the matter is that Supernatural queerbaited its audience for eleven years. They only had one of the characters in question confess their love, effectively coming out as some flavour of queer in the process, when it was so close to the end of the series as a whole that they wouldn’t have to commit to a serious or lengthy depiction of that character being textually queer. And then, upon that character coming out, they sent that character directly to Super Hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200, just because they were happy about themself and the fact that they were queer.

There’s no defending any of that.

Fictional characters do not have agency of their own. They’re not real. They are entirely at the whims and mercy of the people who write them. This isn’t a situation that’s happening in real life. This is a situation that the writers have decided was the best thing to happen in the story.

And anyone with two braincells to rub together could tell you that sending your character to Super Hell for being gay isn’t a good idea, under any circumstances.

Dean saying 'What is wrong with you?"

I wrote a prototype version of this post on Tumblr the other day in an attempt to get my thoughts in order, and in that I suggested a few ways in which Cas could have come out and still been sent to Super Hell without it being the homophobic mess that it ended up being. My ideas weren’t airtight, but that’s because I came up with them on the spot. I’m sure that the actual writers on the actual show are more than capable of figuring something out that’s a lot better.

But then again, they wrote this storyline, so maybe they aren’t so capable after all.

I don’t think anyone was expecting good representation from Supernatural of all things. This show has a pretty terrible track record with its treatment of women, so it treating queer characters well was honestly never going to happen. Plus it’s basically impossible to have a conversation about queerbaiting without mentioning this show. Eleven years.

But to have a major character come out as queer, for them to be happy about it, and then get sent to Super Hell because of that happiness? That goes way beyond poor representation. That’s a slap in the face.

There’s a sliding scale between thoughtlessness and malice, but there’s a point where it doesn’t matter where on the scale something falls. The results are harmful either way.

Dean saying 'I will stab you in your face.'

I’ve seen some people saying that we should be happy that we got even this much, and saying that because it makes sense in the wider context of the show then there’s nothing to be upset about. I understand why some people feel this way about it, but it just makes me feel sad for them.

We deserve to be treated better than this! We shouldn’t have to accept scraps and act like it’s a feast when it’s the furthest thing from it! If this is how queer characters are going to be treated then it’s better not to have any at all.

When people think of the queer representation in The 100, what do they remember? Sure, Lexa appeared in the finale of that season and got a proper send off, but that doesn’t change the fact that she was killed by a stray bullet just after having sex with her girlfriend. The book series that the show is based off doesn’t have any queer represenation at all (though granted I haven’t read the final book) and therefore does not have such a reputation.

Clarke and Lexa from The 100.

Bad queer representation is worse than no queer representation. Good queer representation is obviously best, and what we should be striving for, but if something is going to do something like this then I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing that they wouldn’t bother at all.

I’ve spent so much time mostly engaging with books that do have good queer representation that hearing about the shit that the Supernatural showrunners just pulled was honestly a shock. In many ways, the fact that they really went there, plus the timing of it all (the US election uncertainty, the Putin resigning rumours, the Sherlock renewal rumours), makes the whole situation morph from anger inducing to downright hysterical. I’ve experienced so much joy along with my rage and it’s made me feel more alive than I have in a long while.

Misha Collins in costume as Castiel, holding Jensen Ackles in costume as Dean over one arm. Misha is saying 'Confetti! It's a parade!'

From what I can tell, the cast and crew of Supernatural are delighted that Cas has finally been allowed to come out, and I don’t have a problem with that at all! To my knowledge, some of them, including Misha Collins, have been pushing for something like this for a long time! They’ve been speaking a lot and speaking openly since that episode aired about Cas being queer, and that’s genuinely a good thing.

I’m also not saying that people aren’t allowed to enjoy the show, and aren’t allowed to be happy that Cas’ love for Dean has been confirmed. As I said at the beginning of this post, I adored this show when I was younger. For years now I’ve been planning to go back to the start and watch the whole show from start to finish once it was finished for good. And Dean and Cas were probably my first proper fictional ship, so it going somewhat canon is a wild experience for me.

But the way that Castiel’s storyline on Supernatural has been written is homophobic, and it deserves to be ridiculed, not praised.

(Which, to be fair, most people seem to be doing an excellent job of doing. Good work all. Keep it up.)

Castiel saying 'It's hilarious'. His expression is serious, as if he is trying to encourage people to laugh as a joke that they did not find funny.

About The Blogger

El is a 21 year old university student from the UK who loves to read and loves talking about what they read. They particularly like to focus on books featuring lgbtq+ main characters.

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