Great question, lurea, although I suspect at the end of this, if you’re still even reading, you’re going to regret asking it :).
I’ve often said that Season 7 convinced me of the canonicity of Dean/Cas, and to this day it boggles my mind that so many fans blame Sera Gamble for ruining the characters’ relationship. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to step through my favorite season, episode by episode, and point out exactly why I’m so convinced their love is not only of the romantic sort, but also very,verycanon.
Before we get started though, we should go over the basics of how serialized TV stories are structured, as this will become relevant once we get to “Girl Next Door” and later episodes.
Modern serialized TV shows follow a highly structured pattern. In each episode, there’s an “A plot” (the main plot), and generally up to two minor/side plots, or B and C plots. Usually, one of these – let’s call it the C plot for this analysis – is the overarching, season-long story arc.
Generally speaking, the A plot will serve as a mirror for whatever is going on in the B and C plots, and vice versa, both directly and thematically. So if, say, the A plot is about Sam and Dean hunting a demon who eats the faces of repentant murderers, then a B plot might be Sam struggling to reconcile his guilt over a murder he committed in the past (a direct mirror), and a C plot might be Dean struggling with issues of personal identity (his “face”) over the entire season (a thematic mirror).
Generally, whenever you see an episode that feels “off” and you can’t put your finger on why, it’s because the A and B/C plots don’t mirror each other like they’re supposed to. (“And Then There Were None”, imo, is a great example of how NOT to do serialized plotting – the B/C plots were all over the place, and the A plot was just stupid). The best episodes, like “Repo Man”, will have all the plots reflecting one another, and can thus tap into the fairly subtle and layered storytelling that this structure offers.
Okay, got it? Good. Strap on your seatbelts, because here we go.
Oh, and fair warning: This analysis has gotten way, way longer than I intended, and I’m going to have to break it into pieces. First installment, covering episodes 1-6, follows below the break.
Episode 1 – Meet The New Boss
What an episode, right? All that delicious angst – a shipper’s dream!
Let’s start with Cas. At the top of the episode, Cas explicitly says that the point of becoming God was to attain Dean’s love:
Cas (seeing them bow down): Stop it. What’s the point if you don’t mean it? You fear me. Not love, not respect, just fear.
When Cas says “not love, not respect”, he is clearly looking directly at Dean. (You can see this is true even though Cas is facing the camera, because when he says “once you were my favorite pets,” he is also facing Dean, but when he continues the sentence “before you turned on me”, he visibly moves his head to look at Bobby. Sam is standing pretty much behind Cas at this point, and is not in the line of sight.) That is to say, this message of “you don’t love me the way I love you, so what’s the point?” is clearly intended for Dean.
Nor is it coincidence that the first action Cas takes as Godstiel is to smite a preacher rallying his flock against homosexuality. Cas could’ve chosen any task, any at all, yet he chooses to go after anti-gay preachers first? I mean, Cas is an angel, so technically he’s not a man, but if we accept he’s in love with Dean, then it’s poetically just that his first divine project is to hunt those who persecute “unnatural” romantic pairings.
But that’s Cas. We already know how he feels; most of Season 6 was about Cas’s feelings for Dean (and that’s a different analysis for another time). Season 7, meanwhile, is mostly about Dean’s feelings for Cas, and we get several clues to the depth of Dean’s feelings right here in this first episode.
It starts with Dean’s body language. Of course, so much of what I would point out in this episode has already been covered in the fandom, but let’s list a few of the highlights:
(What’s important to keep in mind about all of this is that we already know Dean is a man who speaks in actions, not words. Dean’s words are few and far between, but there’s a novel lurking in every movement, every gesture. No movement is idle.
So yes, you can and should take Dean’s body language in this episode (and all episodes, really) as evidence of the deeper feelings his words will never betray, and dismissing any of Dean’s body language as “reading too much into things” (as I’ve seen some fans do) is akin to dismissing conscious choices Jensen has made in portraying his character. So read into it. Read away.)
Of course, all of the gestures and movements I’ve listed above suggest feelings of romantic tension and sexual connection. If you don’t believe me, imagine they happen between a man and a woman who have an established close relationship. It’d be obvious that they were in love, no? So don’t overlook them simply because they happen between two men.
Also don’t overlook the significance of Dean listening into the radio as he’s fixing the Impala. In seven seasons we’ve never once heard Dean tune into talk radio, but now it seems like that’s all he can listen to, and what’s more, he comments on what he hears. When he’s alone, he even vocally approves of Cas’s actions to attack the KKK.
The reason is that the Impala is Dean’s home. It is his one faithful companion and the only rock he has ever had, and so naturally, it’s the “safe place” he chooses to go to think about and process what Cas has done. Note that outside the Impala, Dean doesn’t talk about Cas in anything other than actions and finalities: how we kill him, how we stop him, etc. Inside the Impala, however, Dean allows himself to express how he feels about Cas’s actions: In some cases, like with the KKK, he expresses approval; in others, he is bitter (such as when he tells Sam “he lied to us, he used us, he cracked your gourd like it was nothing…no more talk; we have spent enough on him.”) But above all, the Impala is where Dean tells the truth of what he’s feeling, and that’s why we see him there in so many scenes raw and unpolished and hurt, and always, always those scenes are about what he thinks of Cas…
Yet still Dean keeps that radio on, continuing to listen for news of Cas whenever he can.
(It also might be Dean trying to keep the lines of communication open, in his own way. Remember that the first time Cas tried to talk to Dean in the convenience store in “Lazarus Rising”, he did so by using the radio. And Cas also used the car radio and standalone radio to communicate to Dean in Heaven in “Dark Side of the Moon”)
Outside the Impala, Dean tries to cover up what he feels, and we start to see the beginnings of his alcoholism as a coping mechanism. For example, the scene where Dean ‘accidentally’ stumbles upon news of the massacre at the campaign headquarters opens with Sam noticing Dean sitting at the laptop with a drink in his hand:
Sam: You want some coffee with that?
Dean: It’s 6 PM somewhere.
Dean says he’s watching “cartoon porn”, but if you look at the laptop, you can easily see he’s just surfing the web for news, presumably about Cas. Hence how he “accidentally” stumbles on the news article at just the right time; he was probably already looking for potential targets that Cas might hit.
So basically, Dean’s looking for news of Cas with a huge glass of scotch in hand. Hunter’s helper, indeed.
Moving on, another clue is in how protective Sam is of Dean’s feelings in this episode, even though he’s literally losing his mind. Sam’s so protective, in fact, that he held off on telling Dean about his hallucinations because, “you got a lot of pretty severe crap swinging your way lately, and I thought why burst the one good bubble you had left?”
And yet… what “severe crap” has Dean had going on? Team Free Will doesn’t really have anything to do, no monsters to chase or problems to fix. Cas is all over the globe, Eve’s gone, demons are mostly quiet, and so Dean’s not really doing much of anything. For most of the episode all he’s done is fix the Impala, and mope about Cas.
So it’s not as if by “severe crap”, Sam’s referring to some great time-suck of a hunt that they’ve all been on. He is explicitly referring to Dean’s anguish over Cas, which Sam calls “severe crap”. And that means something big, because Sam is the king of acknowledging feelings that Dean won’t admit to anyone else, even himself (I mean, half of Season 3 was about how Sam had to drag Dean’s fear about going to Hell out of him, remember?) So when Sam acknowledges Dean’s dealing with “severe crap” in losing Cas, he knows what he’s talking about.
The final scene involving Cas’s death and rebirth as Leviathan!Cas has been analyzed to death in this fandom, so I’m not going to spill too much ink on it here. Still, the tight way Dean grits out “dammit”; how he refuses to let go of Cas, waving a hand before his mouth, asking if angels need to breathe; how he is obviously on the verge of tears – for someone who spent most of the episode attempting to kill Cas, he certainly seems heartbroken enough now that he’s gone.
Episode 2 – Hello, Cruel World
Let me lead off by saying that this is a Ben Edlund episode – which means that close readings of the script and camera shots should be encouraged. The man’s a genius. Every line in an Edlund episode should be questioned and picked apart and viewed from all angles.
Like the final scene of the last episode, so much has been written about the opening scene to this one — how broken Dean appears as he watches Cas walk into the reservoir, how obvious his grief is when he finds the coat, that he rolls it up into an approximation of the way they fold the flags hung on veteran’s coffins for their widows/widowers – that I probably don’t need to go in depth here.
What I want to focus on is a moment most people overlook – when Bobby asks Dean how he’s doing, and follows it up with an offer to talk if Dean ever wants it:
Bobby: You just lost one of the best friends you ever had, your brother’s in the bell jar, and purgatory’s most wanted are surfing the sewer lines, but you know, yeah, I get it. You’re fine.
Bobby says what any normal person would in this situation, which makes it easy to overlook just how unusual this is, because actually, this isn’t normal for Bobby Singer. This isn’t how he relates. Bobby is the man who greets genuine anguish with a terse “boo hoo” or “suck it up”, and when Sam chose a demon over his brother, he told Dean “so sorry your feelings got hurt, princess”. Later on in this very season, he will tell Dean to shove his grief down so deep until essentially he can’t find it anymore. I mean, it’s not just that Bobby isn’t touchy-feely; it’s that he actively derides and discourages displays of emotion in his adopted sons.
So that a man who has time and again told Dean to deny his pain now is not only acknowledging that pain, but validating it, should show that the circumstances here are so extraordinary even Bobby can’t deny them any longer.
So why now? Why does Bobby offer to talk now, and about this, especially when Team Free Will has hunted world-threatening monsters and Sam’s gone off-the-rails before?
The only difference here is Cas – it is the loss of Cas that has Bobby reaching out in a way so foreign to him it visibly freaks him out as he does it.
I think the root of this action, as with many things in this series, is John Winchester. In season 4, especially, it’s made very clear that Bobby has no love for John, and that he blames John for a lot of the emotional and mental dysfunction that his two sons currently struggle with. In “Lucifer Rising”, he even snaps when he thinks Dean sounds too much like John, saying “you’re a better man than your daddy ever was”.
Bobby also knows that it was losing the love of his life that pushed John over the edge, and turned him from a normal man into a cold-blooded, obsessed monster. Maybe he understands this even more than Dean and Sam do, since Bobby lost his wife to a demon too.
Look, Bobby ain’t no idjit. There’s an obvious parallel here, between John losing Mary and Dean losing Cas, and Bobby can see it. And given how much he dislikes John, it only makes sense that if Bobby sees Dean on the path to becoming like his father, he’s going to do anything he can – include offering to talk about Dean’s feelings – to stop it.
What I’m saying, in other words, is that this one bit of dialogue reveals that Bobby thinks Cas is the love of Dean’s life, and that he’s afraid losing him will turn Dean into the next John.
And like I said, Bobby ain’t no idjit. Given how broken Dean becomes in this season, he wasn’t exactly all that wrong.
3 – The Girl Next Door
Okay, so, the Amy subplot dragged out way too long; I agree that stretching it over the next three episodes was a pacing misfire. However, the idea itself isn’t a bad one.
Set aside all the killing people or not killing people or whatever, and you’re left with this: Amy is a supernatural being that Sam fell in love with as a child. More importantly, from Dean’s perspective: Amy is a supernatural being that Sam once fell in love with when he was too stupid to know not to. Dean knows that no matter how innocent she seems, Amy is a snake in the grass. She’s dangerous. And by killing Amy, Dean thinks he’s doing Sam a favor. Sam’s blinded by nostalgia, Dean thinks, and so it’s up to Dean to do what must be done.
This is a pretty obvious projection on Dean’s part of his feelings about what Cas did to him. Cas seemed innocuous, and Dean trusted him. But then Cas broke Sam’s wall, opened the door to Purgatory and unleashed the Leviathan. Cas, by virtue of being a supernatural being, is and always was dangerous, and Dean forgot it. He let his feelings cloud his judgment, and now everyone must pay the price.
Here’s why I really emphasized all that stuff about A plots and B/C plots earlier, because without understanding how the A plot mirrors the C plot and vice versa, you’re missing out on what this episode is really trying to tell you.
Basically, the A plot in this episode (the Amy storyline) acts as a reflection of the C plot (Dean’s grief), in which Dean realizes that Cas is the supernatural being that he fell in love with when he was too stupid to know not to. And so by killing Amy, Dean is attempting to retroactively fix that mistake with Cas.
If you miss that, then certainly this episode and the next are going to lose their punch.
4 – Defending Your Life
So first, we have our first instance of Dean trying to have a one-night stand in, what, three seasons? And he has to psych himself into it, telling himself, “You are Dean Winchester. This is what you do.”
And so why is it so important that Dean sleep with someone – sleep with a woman – he just met, anyway? The language he uses sounds almost like he’s psyching himself up for a rebound. (A rebound from who? Cas.)
Speaking of which, this dialogue happens during this episode:
Dean: [*pounds a double scotch*] I’ll do another.
Bartender: Love life or job? [*smiles at Dean’s confused look*] Two quick doubles, it’s something. I’m Mia, by the way.
Dean: Well, Mia. That is a… complex question.
As I’ve said before, if Dean is really only troubled by his guilt over Amy, why the vague non-response to “love life or job”? If we are to assume that Dean is not in love with Cas, then his response here is nonsensical, because he hasn’t slept with anyone since Lisa, and Anna before her. But if Dean is in love with Cas, well, then suddenly his response makes a whole lot more sense.
The problem with this episode, I think, is how the POV works. Dean is the POV character, so at the trial scene, Osiris goes through great pains to imply that Dean feels guilty over killing Amy. But as I talked above, while Dean THINKS he feels guilty over Amy, he’s really just projecting onto that situation what he truly feels guilty over – and that’s Cas. He feels guilty for falling in love with Cas, and for not stopping him before everything got out of hand. So it’s a case of muddying the lines between A plot for C plot.
Still, I do like this episode, and I think it’s no coincidence Jo appears in it, either, because Jo is someone that Dean always felt he should love romantically, but didn’t. She was an idea he liked, but could never quite subscribe to. In that regard, she’s a lot like Lisa, who Dean clung to long after he could feasibly convince himself he was in love with her and not just in love with the idea of her.
Setting aside Jo’s side of the equation here, because that’s a different discussion entirely, Dean always felt guilty that he didn’t love Jo (or Lisa) the way he thinks they wanted him to love them back. Which, if you think about it, sort of echoes what Cas was implying in “Meet the New Boss” about how Dean didn’t love Cas the way Cas wanted him to, so what was the point of it all, etc.
The difference, though, is that while Dean couldn’t give Jo and Lisa the same romantic love he thought they wanted; in Cas’s case, he can’t give the same platonic love he thinks Cas wants. Remember how “Girl Next Door” shows that Dean feels guilty for falling in love with Cas? Well, “Defending Your Life” underlines that point, illustrating that Dean thinks Cas just wants a brother and a friend, when in fact Dean wishes for something much more. (This idea will be re-visited in more detail in “Repo Man” and “Reading Is Fundamental”.)
5 – Shut Up, Dr. Phil
By this point, Dean’s alcoholism is in full swing, and early in the episode, we see him drinking himself to sleep (note the empty beer bottle by the bedstand) and having nightmares about Cas dying, Sam shooting at Dean in madness, and his killing Amy (again the projection thing!).
Note that unlike the scenes of Sam’s madness or Amy’s death, Dean’s memory of Cas’s death is shot in a strange negative space, with jerky, uneven camera shots. Even in dreams, Dean is unable to linger on the moment for too long. And it says something important that he can look his brother’s madness in the eye, but when he tries to reconcile Cas’s death, his brain shuts down and goes off the rails. He can’t deal with the idea, even in dreams.
Back to the A plot, in which two witches are currently having marital troubles because Don the husband had an affair. Coffeeisoxygen wrote a much more detailed analysis about the A plot than I will, but as always, the A plot in this episode is a parallel for the C plot, which is Dean’s grief over Cas (the B plot is with Chet the Leviathan). So, that means, in this parallel, Cas was the philandering spouse, and Dean is the one with hurt feelings that can’t be gotten over.
For example, note how Dean says to Maggie, the witch Don cheated on:
Dean: Nobody can defend Don. Right? Totally. But, uh, we get that you feel betrayed…because you were.
No less than an acknowledgement from one “scorned spouse” to another. Also there’s this aside:
Dean (describing the Starks’ relationship): Maybe it’s punishment. Maybe it’s sick, messed-up, erotic, kinky, clamps and feathers kind of love.
Sam (to Dean): Okay, okay, that’s going way too deep, there, cowboy.
Bolded for where Sam basically tells Dean to quit projecting his own shit on the Starks.
(And what is Dean projecting about? A love that he considers, in his own words, “sick”, “messed-up” and “kinky”. Remember what I said about Dean feeling guilty for falling in love with Cas, and thinking it’s unrequited? His own words suggest that he thinks his feelings are “sick” and “messed up”, presumably because he’s a human in love with a supernatural being. He says similar things when describing the relationship between Sam and Amy in “Girl Next Door”.)
And if that weren’t enough, Sam immediately follows that up with:
Sam (to Maggie): Look, what he’s trying to say is that — is that you two — whatever it is you have, you’re bonded.
Hello, word choice. That’s no accident there. Word choice matters.
It’s important that Sam is the one to take the lead in this conversation, because it leaves Dean free to hear Sam’s message as well.
“When a relationship cracks, usually both parties have a hand in it”; and
“All these years, you buried your anger and your disappointment till it tore you apart. All you needed to do was talk.”
And despite Dean brushing away Sam’s attempt to talk about what’s eating at him later in the episode, Dean does pay attention here. Rewatch this scene, with your eyes on Dean, and you’ll see how the camera switches to him at key moments of Sam’s ‘counselling’ and lingers on his reactions. Clearly he is listening – and Dean will attempt to put these ideas into practice with Cas in both “The Born Again Identity” and “Reading Is Fundamental”.
One last bit: Notice that Sam’s “all you needed to do was talk” makes Dean so angry that he actually goads the witches into inflicting more punishment on him, even though their conflict by this point is mostly resolved. It’s like when he hears that, Dean wants to be hurt. Ouch.
6 – Slash Fiction
This episode is mostly to advance the overarching Leviathan storyline, but there is that bit at the end where Dean finally admits to killing Amy – which is another indication that he listened to what Sam said last episode and is trying to talk about his feelings. Of course, it backfires, and Sam leaves.
That’s an important moment for Dean – just because he’s willing to admit his guilt doesn’t mean that others won’t be mad at him for the wrongs he committed. And nor it doesn’t absolve him of his wrongdoing. Dean realizes that he can’t just let Sam go now; he’s still got to put in the work to make things right.
Keep this in mind for when Dean gives Cas the “nobody cares that you’re broken” speech in “Survival of the Fittest”.
Okay, that’s enough for now. Next up: Episodes 6-8