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 I’d 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, very canon.
A continuation of this analysis.
6 – Slash Fiction
Last time, in my attempt to get through as many episodes as I could, I didn’t go through “Slash Fiction” as carefully as I should have, and I missed two pretty important Dean/Cas moments in the episode.
The first comes when where Levi!Dean says about Dean:
Levi!Dean: He doesn’t have relationships. No, he has applications for sainthood.
YES. A thousand times yes. Dean has this tendency to view the people he loves as all good or all bad, and it’s probably one of his biggest faults inhibiting him from forming lasting relationships. By relating to people in this way, Dean condenses real, human individuals – who inevitably have flaws and weaknesses – into ideas, which can be clung to or discarded at will. In essence, he negates and erases their humanity.
But nobody can stand on a pedestal forever. We all make mistakes; we all fall eventually. And so Dean is bound to be disappointed by those he loves most, because he refuses to accept that everyone has flaws, even the people he’s closest to.
Dean does this, of course, because his own self-worth and identity are so damaged that he can’t conceive of himself in anything other than ideas: the Good Son; the Righteous Man; the Protective Older Brother; etc. He never learned how (thanks, John). And Dean hates himself so much for not being able to live up to these roles – imposed mostly by outside sources – that he compensates by erasing the weaknesses he sees in others, because by doing so he can justify his own self-loathing (as in, “these people are perfect, which only makes me look that much worse in comparison”, etc.). If they weren’t perfect, then they’d be like him, and in Dean’s mind, he loves these people too much to think so poorly of them.
(Where did Dean learn to relate to people this way? From his father, John Winchester, of course, who placed Mary on such a high pedestal after her death that the real thing was bound to hurt and disappoint her sons when they eventually met her. Nobody could live up to the St. Mary Winchester, not even Mary Winchester. But that’s another analysis for another time.)
Nowhere is Dean’s tendency toward erasure more apparent than with Lisa. Somehow Lisa went from being the “bendiest weekend of my life” to the idealized family that he never thought he could have (mostly because of his interactions with Ben in “The Kids Are Alright”, I think). Jensen himself has even confirmed that Dean wasn’t in love with Lisa so much as he was in love with what he thought she represented. And that’s why, I think, their relationship was doomed to fail: because people don’t represent family, or peace, or closure. They’re just people.
Season 6 does some brilliantly clever things with point-of-view to underline this point. Many people complained (myself included) that Lisa lost any semblance of personality she’d once had this season, but consider that for this arc, Dean is our POV character, not the generally omniscient POV we had for the previous five seasons. So what do we, as the audience, learn about Lisa through Dean’s eyes? Not much, other than that she is pretty, and comforting, and puts up with his crap. They have nothing in common. We see them do nothing together: no shared hobbies, barely even any conversations that don’t revolve around season plot points.
Indeed, we learn far more about Ben – we hear about his school projects, we see him help Dean restore a car. And when Dean arranges to die in “Appointment in Samarra”, the letter he writes is addressed to Ben, not Lisa, or Lisa and Ben.
Lisa remains a big question mark, which is not how she appeared in “The Kids Are Alright” – also written by Sera Gamble, by the way, which suggests to me that her character erasure here was entirely intentional. It’s a hint that Dean doesn’t really see Lisa as anything other than an idea, as the Saint That Stayed With Him. (Sound familiar? It should, as that’s what Meg says of Cas in “Reading is Fundamental”.)
Character-wise, Dean needed the Lisa and Ben arc; he needed this gigantic fuck-up in his life, because it shows him just how disastrous and harmful his tendency to idolize people can be. And it’s a big stepping stone as to why he tries so hard to reach out to forgive Cas in the end of Season 7. Contrary to popular criticism, Dean is growing. Dean is evolving. He’s learning what acting like a man really means.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
With Cas, Dean finally found someone that should be able to live up to the pedestal. After all, Cas is an Angel of the Lord, the holiest of the holy. Undying loyalty, otherworldly devotion, profound bond, etc. If Cas can’t be perfect, nobody can. But then of course Cas betrays him by working with Crowley, and lying to him, etc. He falls off the pedestal.
Note how Dean talks about Cas in “Meet the New Boss”:
Dean: Cas is never coming back. He’s lied to us, he used us, he cracked your gourd like it was nothing. No more talk; we have spent enough on him.
Sam: Dean, look, I know you think that Cas is gone —
Dean: It’s because he is.
Sam: He’s not! He’s in there somewhere, Dean. I know it.
Dean: No, you don’t.
Dean simply cannot wrap his head around a Cas who would make such grievous mistakes, so he writes the angel off completely. And it makes sense, because this is what happens when you disappoint someone who doesn’t have relationships but “applications for sainthood”. When you fail him, he discards you like the idea you are.
And yet, there is some hope here, some growth, because when push comes to shove, and Cas tries to return the souls to Purgatory and apologizes and tries to fix his mistake, Dean doesn’t actually write Cas off. Hedoesn’t forgive him, that’s absolutely true. But when Cas says “I’m gonna find some way to redeem myself to you,” Dean answers:
Dean: All right, well, one thing at a time. Come on. Let’s get you out of here. Come on.
Not “forget it”, or “there’s no redeeming what you did”, or “wipe my memory of you like you wiped Lisa’s memory of me”. The future of his relationship with Cas is left as an open door, “one thing at a time”, and that is already so far beyond what Dean has ever offered anyone else who has hurt him (other than Sam) that it should stand out like a giant, flashing neon sign pointing to both the depth of Dean’s feelings and the personal growth of his character.
Earlier I said there were two moments in this episode worth exploring. The second is, oddly enough, the Air Supply song Dean lipsyncs to.
Music is and always has been integral to Supernatural. It acts as a mirror for the on-screen action, in the same way a B plot mirrors the A plot, and so on. The songs are always very carefully chosen, and they often hold important clues, or offer commentary, on the events currently in progress. Consider, for example, the heartbreaking scene in Season 3 when Dean and Sam sing along to “Wanted Dead Or Alive” (the most brilliant moment of the first five seasons, imho); or how apt Styx’s “Renegade” is in “Nightshifter”; or the ironic use of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” in “Free to Be You And Me”. (And, of course, there’s “Carry On My Wayward Son”, and “Fire of Unknown Origin” and “Hell’s Bells” and “O, Death” and basically I HAVE ALL THE MUSIC FEELS). So if there’s a song used in this show, you can be sure the writers want you to pay attention to it
So, that said, here’s some of the lyrics to “All Out of Love”,
I’m all out of love, I’m so lost without you
I know you were right believing for so long
I’m all out of love, what am I without you
I can’t be too late to say that I was so wrong
I want you to come back and carry me home
Away from thess long lonely nights
I’m reaching for you, are you feeling it too?
Does the feeling seem oh so right?
And what would you say if I called on you now
And said that I can’t hold on?
There’s no easy way, it gets harder each day
Please love me or I’ll be gone, I’ll be gone.
Note that Dean doesn’t just sing along to this song. He rocks out to it. Even after Sam catches him, he keeps on singing. Dean feels the music, and the lyrics, in the way that you do when you hear a song that is obviously speaking to something you feel inside. And this isn’t a song about how he’s a cowboy on the run, and it’s not a song about being strong and manly – it’s a song about loss, and grief; it’s all about how the singer is lost without his love, how he wishes he could apologize and make things right, and, most importantly, how difficult it is for the singer to keep holding on without that love in his life.
I mean, come the fuck on.
7 – The Mentalists
“The Mentalists” is one of my favorite episodes of the entire series. Maybe it’s because I live so close to where the post-Civil War U.S. spiritualist movement began, or because I’m such a big Vladmir Nabokov fan, but I know a fair bit of history about the spiritualist movement and the Fox sisters and how they scammed the fuck out of everybody, and I just love, love, love that they eventually touched on this really fascinating period of U.S. history. I’d like to think that if Dean and Sam were real, they’d have been besties with Margaret and Kate. (Also, ngl, I have serious “Sister Thibodeaux” feels. LOVE HER. Wish she hadn’t died. Alas. Story of a SPN fangirl’s life.)
The episode is also fairly rife with allusions to the depth and nature of Dean’s grief, starting with the scene in the museum in front of the photo of the Campbell “brothers” (a real couple, by the way: Allen Campbell and Charles Shrouds). This is the first time that the show explicitly acknowledges that calling someone your brother can be a cover for how you really feel for them (as the Campbell ‘brothers’ were actually lovers that, unlike every other sibling act on the wall, “got on famously”.) And remember that just a season ago, Dean called Cas “family” and “like a brother”.
Watch Dean’s face in this scene as he puts two and two together. (Screencap at the top of the section.) It’s kind of priceless.
(Nice callback, by the way, to the Campbell family – you have to wonder if Dean was looking at this photo and wondering if these guys were family members.)
This moment is followed up by a message from Ellen from the beyond. Now, you know by now I have no love lost for Ellen Harvelle, but during her run on the show she did always think of Dean as a surrogate son, far more so than she ever did for Sam; and so it’s no surprise that if she had the opportunity to knock some sense into Dean, she’d seize it.
The museum curator grabs Dean’s arm and says:
Curator: Do you know an Eleanor, or an Ellen? She seems quite concerned about you. She wants to tell you, pardon me, if you don’t tell someone how bad it really is, she’ll kick your ass from beyond. You have to trust someone again, eventually.
It’s possible, I suppose, that at first, Dean thinks Ellen’s talking about his relationship with Sam; after “kick your ass from beyond”, he looks back to where Sam disappeared. But it becomes indisputable who Ellen is really talking about when she says “you have to trust someone again, eventually”. It’s Cas. (This is confirmed when Dean echoes the earlier message later in the episode by saying, “since Cas, I’m having a hard time trusting anybody.”)
If you needed out-loud confirmation that Cas is the source of Dean’s grief over the past several episodes, and that he’s been projecting his feelings onto Amy, here it is.
It’s further underscored by the fact that Dean immediately runs out to talk to Sam about what he’s feeling, but Sam shuts him down several times, and it turns into an argument about Amy. And yet, the argument isn’t about Amy, not really. Notice what Dean says here:
Dean: I put down a monster who killed four people, and if you didn’t know her, you’d have done the same thing.
Sam: I did know her, Dean.
Dean: Yeah, which is why you couldn’t do it…Look, I get it. There are certain people in this world, no matter how dangerous they are, you just can’t.
Remember what I said in “Girl Next Door” and “Defending Your Life”, that all Dean’s guilt over Amy was really a projection about Cas and how guilty he felt for forgetting how dangerous Cas really was? Well, again, here’s your proof. Dean runs out to talk to Sam about “how bad it really is”, and then he says this, and c’mon, you have to do some serious squinting to not see the parallel to Cas here.
Sam, by the way, is having none of it. He snaps (very)angrily at Dean:
Sam: Don’t you pull that card! That’s bull.
For what it’s worth, I think in this scene, Sam’s not angry about Amy as much as he is about Dean trying to dictate when and how Sam can feel emotions. Note that Dean acknowledges Sam is angry and that he has a right to be (“you’re pissed, okay? And you’ve got the right”) in the same breath that he tells him “enough’s enough”, and that’s not fair to Sam. Nobody gets to tell you how to be angry or when to forgive, not even your brother, and it shows significant growth on Sam’s part that he’s become self-aware enough to tell his brother to shove it.
Besides, I think Sam drops a clue about what he’s really upset about in this scene:
Sam: Look, I’ll work this damn case, but you lied to me, and you killed my friend.
Sam’s upset that Dean killed Amy, no doubt, but notice the order of operations here. What stings Sam more – and which is why he mentions it first – is that Dean lied, that he shut him out. It’s an idea he’ll reiterate in the final scene:
Sam: What I’m saying is… I get why you did it. You were just trying to make sure no one else got hurt. But here’s the thing. You can’t just look me in the face and tell me you’re fine. I mean, you’re not sleeping, you drink for the record… Just be honest with me.
It’s not about Amy. It never really was. It was about Dean not trusting him enough to talk about the turmoil he’s going through – and it’s the same thing that upset Sam so much back in Season 3, by the way. So Sam figures if Dean’s gonna shut him out, then, well, he’ll shut Dean out first. Sam’s frustrated, and he’s scared, and he feels helpless, watching the brother he adores succumb to his grief. The irony, of course, is that Sam understands FAR better than Dean thinks about what his brother’s going through – after all, he did lose Jess.
Note how Dean follows up:
Dean: I didn’t trust her, Sam. Of course, ever since Cas, I’m having a hard time trusting anybody. And as far as how I’ve been acting… I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I don’t like lying to you. You know, it doesn’t feel right. So, yeah, you got me there. I’ve been climbing the walls.
This is our first mention of Cas’s name in four episodes, and the way Dean spits it out as if it physically hurts him to say is a good indication that his hurt and rage over the events of “Hello, Cruel World” remain unabated.
It’s also our first explicit confirmation from Dean himself that he doesn’t talk about how he’s feeling because he doesn’t understand it. He can’t describe it, he can’t pinpoint it. When it comes to his behavior, the sleeplessness, the alcoholism – typical symptoms of grief over a lost love – he admits he just doesn’t have the words to explain it. Like the dream where he sees Cas’s death only in negative space and in jerky camera shots, Dean simply has no capacity to stare this problem head-on and make sense of it.
And that’s significant, because Dean has lost friends and family before. He is intimately familiar with the patterns and mechanisms of his own grief. Except… this grief is different. This grief over Cas is special. This grief hurts so bad he can’t even name it.
Karen Singer once “went on a limb” and said Dean had never before been in love. I think it’s safe to say that if they had that conversation right now, it would take a decidedly different turn.
And yet, note how Dean is now taking the first steps toward trying to name that grief. He’s attempting to quantify that pain and communicate it to someone. He admits he doesn’t have the words to describe the grief he feels—but he does admit that he feels it, and that’s a big step forward for someone who’s made an Olympic sport out of emotional repression.
8 – Season 7, Time for a Wedding
I’m not going to waste much effort on this rancid, steaming excuse of an episode. Way to take one of your most likeable characters, and one of the only remaining female ones, and turn her into a rapist. Nice guys. Nice.
Still, this is the episode in which Garth is introduced, and in Dean and Garth’s relationship there are some clear parallels to “Free to Be You and Me”, such as the scene where they visit the CEO, or when Garth hugs Dean, which is funny because Dean is so uncomfortable with people invading his personal space (more memorably explored in “Free to Be You and Me”). Oh, and I guess there’s the bit at the end about how healthy Sam seems these days, and Sam gives Dean permission to look after himself for a change, which, seriously, the guy really needs.
Still, this is the cruelest and most offensive episode of the entire series, and generally I just pretend it doesn’t exist. And I hate to even end off on it, but this installment is already over 3,000 words, so I need to wrap it up anyway.
Next time: Episodes 9, 10 and 11.