Cas said “I love you” to Dean. It’s still technically vague enough to be considered “familial,” but transparent enough to be queerbaiting, so, okay — that’s how these last few episodes are going to go now then.
The Dean/Cas ship, or “Destiel,” has been a really popular ship in this fandom for 10 years. Personally, I never saw it, and Supernatural doesn’t do romantic relationships well anyway, so it was never anything I expected, let alone expected to be done well. That’s part of the problem with “Despair,” the eighteenth episode of Supernatural’s final season. Cas’ declaration is years too late, on a show that’s only prioritized, at best, a found-family dynamic, during a moment with low stakes and lower standards.
There’s a lot of layers to why “Despair” is the worst Supernatural episode in a long while. The most obvious one rests with the “bury your gays” trope that has plagued LGBTQ characters on television for decades. Dean and Cas, finding themselves on the run from a vengeful Billie, eventually get cornered in the bunker. Dean goes on an incredibly self-pitying monologue, which prompts Cas’ declaration, where his “I love you” is really a “goodbye.” His deal with The Empty will keep Dean safe, but Cas’ speech on happiness leaves a lot to be desired. The sentiment makes sense, but in the context of this season, this moment of revelation feels unearned.
More than that, Cas immediately sacrifices himself to The Empty, and his facial expression as he’s absorbed by darkness reads as satisfaction, as if he, finally unburdned from his feelings, is okay with this. The fact that Cas’ feelings for Dean are clearly unrequited also plays into the scene’s problematic nature, as Jensen Ackles gives a wooden performance in the face of the revelation. Misha Collins at least gives it his all, making this the most Cas has done in years.
Ultimately, we got two empty gestures here. Death of any character in Supernatural’s last season was never going to hit emotionally since these characters have died numerous times. For Cas, this is the sixth time he’s bit the dust — hardly broken up about it. Add queerbaiting and burying your gays into the mix, it feels even worse.
The writers clearly only did this to appease fans of a 10-year old ship but failed to realize the optics of the way they did it, and how those very fans would hate it for what it is — a condescending, patronizing, performative bit of representation that fails to even represent the community that brought that ship to life. They might as well have just not done it — then, at least, Destiel can live in fanon and not be tainted by writers looking for brownie points too late in the game.
What exactly did Cas’ speech do to change either Cas or Dean? It’s rooted in the idea of happiness; Cas says that happiness means to just be “happy,” which is an oversimplifaction, but okay. Cas has had a long road since he first appeared as a rule-following Angel of the Lord in season 4. Since then, he’s discovered free will and a family not built on obligations. He’s been an inconsistent character, but he was starting to be more solidified in his fatherly affections for Jack. It felt like purpose. Instead, he’s in what fans have dubbed “super hell,” punished because he felt too much.
In the end, Cas is dead, and with only two episodes left, I doubt much will change for Dean. He’ll be sad. He’ll be guilty. He’ll shove his emotions away. Even if he did acknowledge feelings for Cas or even what he thinks about Cas’ feelings for him, it’s too late, too little, and too steeped in toxic masculinity to do it justice. That’s Supernatural for ya, baby.