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.
Previously: Repo Man (cont.)
16: Out With The Old
That “Out With The Old” should get its own episode in this analysis is merely a trick of the line-up, as it’s sandwiched here between the two best episodes of the season (forewarning: The Born Again Identity is going to be another multi-parter, I can tell already).
Truth is, I… struggle with “Out With The Old”.
Taken out of context, “Out with the Old” is a fairly charming episode. It has quite a few clever moments, some great Sam and Dean banter, and hey, we even get to meet a likable new Levi named George. And of course there’s Frank, and who doesn’t love Frank?
But at the same time, “Out With the Old” serves us up some really tired and ridiculous caricatures in place of female characters. Their absurdity is thrown in even starker relief when you compare them to the other brilliant female characters this season has so far introduced.
I mean, in a season that brought us the cold, calculating Amazons, did we really need Joyce, a shrill harpy of a villain who has literally no redeeming qualities? (Seriously, she’s not even a good businesswoman, so it’s impossible to understand how she even ended up in this plot.) And in a season that introduced the fierce and brave Krissy Chambers, did we really need a bratty Daddy’s Little Girl who almost dies because she selfishly refuses to listen to her father’s warnings? And in a season that features Sister Thibideaux and Melanie Golden’s genuinely touching (and Bechdel-busting) friendship, did we really need a troupe of dancers cattily gossiping about one of their own behind her back?
As a dancer myself, the ballet troupe scene particularly bugged me, because its depiction of troupe dynamics is a classic sexist stereotype, and I want to stress: this is not how any troupe I’ve ever been a part of has behaved. We all know our divas, of course, but as a whole, dance tends to be a warm and supportive community, even when we end up competing for the same gigs or performance slots. Cattiness is the exception, not the rule.
It is, however, how men think female dancers behave, or at least how certain men do, and it should be obvious before the title cards even roll that a man wrote this episode. Surprise, surprise: “Out With The Old” is an episode co-written by Robert Singer. (Robert Singer also co-wrote the execrable and woefully sexist “Sin City” as well as “Appointment in Samarra”, a story which for some reason made it a point to portray Tessa, one of the show’s most powerful remaining female beings, in a subordinate role not just to Death but also to Dean. Seriously: Huh?)
Behind the director’s chair, Robert Singer achieves brilliant things – just see “Croatoan”, “Death’s Door” or “The Born Again Identity” for ample evidence. He’s an incredible director, no doubt about it. But behind the pen, however, he betrays some serious old-white-dude bias, and “Out With The Old” is no exception.
Singer is also the main reason, I suspect, that “Out With the Old” lacks any moments that explicitly or implicitly explore Dean’s feelings towards Cas – it’s like Singer decided to completely abandon the C plot that has been so intricately threaded throughout each of the first fifteen episodes in favor of killer porn jokes. The only reference to Dean’s grief is a bit of advice I’ll talk about in a second that could just as easily refer to Bobby as it does to Cas.
Given that this episode immediately follows “Repo Man”, an episode which cannot be fully appreciated without at least some baseline assumption of Destiel, and immediately preceeds “The Born Again Identity”, which come on, the omission here feels really, really jarring.
It’s so glaring, in fact, that I suspect conflict behind the scenes and in the Writer’s Pit; perhaps Singer never really bought into the whole Dean/Cas, profound-bond thing (unlike, say, Ben Edlund). And since Singer is the show’s (notoriously hands-on) executive producer, his influence may be a factor in why Dean/Cas remains an implicit, not explicit, relationship on the show. (After all, it’s sure as hell not through any lack of effort on Sera Gamble’s part, as we’ll see next episode.)
I can’t say this for sure, of course. I mean, who knows, Singer might be writing Destiel fanfic in his trailer as we speak. But you wouldn’t be able to tell that through the episodes he writes, you know? His episodes tend to feature Dean in roles that convey or explore traditional male power – flirting it up with the curvaceous antagonistic bartender in “Sin City”, for example; or being the new guy at the company who outranks the longer-time female employee (much to her dismay) in “Appointment in Samarra” – instead of the intricacies of male friendships or how machismo conflicts with the healthy expression of emotion.
In particular, there’s one moment in “Out With The Old” that really grinds my gourd:
Dean: Dancers. They are toe shoes full of crazy.
Sam: You – and you would know this how?
Dean: I saw “Black Swan.” Twice. (Pauses for a beat as Sam gives him a strange look) Hot tutu-on-tutu action? Come on, Sam. What’s wrong with you?
Sam: (rolls his eyes) Wow. The depths of your… Anyway.
HURR HURR A MAN LIKES DANCE MOVIES HE MUST BE GAY HURR.
I tried to rationalize this dialogue by saying, “well, it doesn’t matter that liking dance movies doesn’t make a man gay – only that SAM thinks it does, and thus this exchange illustrates that Sam is just as wrapped up in the ideal of machismo as his brother is”.
I tried to focus on the point Sam’s making here, which is pretty obvious: Sam is implying that Dean is not straight – the only conclusion to the phrase “the depths of your…” that makes sense in context is “denial” (Denial of what? Homo- or bisexuality.) – and the teasing nature of the exchange in turn implies that Sam would be perfectly okay with it if Dean would just admit it to himself.
I tried, but I can’t. Because this dialogue is really fucking offensive, not just to me, but to the characters who have to spew it.
The humor of this joke is predicated on the idea that we the audience will find a man who likes dance movies inherently weird or unmanly, and thus funny. But the whole fucking point of the show is that a real man likes whatever he likes. He doesn’t have to hold to some other person’s ideal of what he should or not like, not even the audience’s.
The joke might’ve worked back in Season 2, when Dean was still figuring this stuff out. But he’s come too far along towards building his own definition of what masculinity means for crap like this. Jesus, Singer. We’re not twelve year olds. Give us a little credit here. There was a way to make these points about masculinity and Sam without going the homophobic and sexist route, but Singer didn’t take it. Worse, nobody caught it before it aired, and that just really boils my blood. The show is usually much better than this.
Still, “Out with the Old” has its moments, and the actors’ performances are, of course, exquisite, including those from the supporting cast. We also see Dean reach an important emotional plateau, an understanding of sorts about the nature of his grief. He has not dealt or reconciled his losses – not by a long shot – but he has to some extent learned to live with them, and he coasts by life with his feelings barely-concealed and half-acknowledged. He’s in stasis mode, and that gives him a certain false confidence: Dean thinks he’s stopped falling, when in fact he’s only hit terminal velocity.
In fact, he’s feeling so even-footed about things that he even drops this nugget for Scott:
Scott: Car crash. You know, I keep thinking, if I hadn’t pushed her, then…
Dean: A little tip. Feeling guilty ain’t gonna bring ‘em back. Best you can do is live your life the way that you think would make her proud. Or at least not embarrass the crap out of her.
Like I said earlier, this dialogue probably refers to Bobby, not Cas. These words about making people proud (or not embarrassing them) sounds more like something a son would say about a deceased father than what a widower would say about his lover. Still, it does show that he’s made quite a bit of progress in his depression, that he’s come to some amount of peace, or at least stasis, about everything.
What’s most telling, though, is what we don’t see. If I’m not mistaken, we haven’t seen Dean with a drink in his hand for three episodes, not since “The Slice Girls”. And when he’s out in public in “Out With The Old”, he brings the laptop to a coffee shop, not a bar.
That doesn’t mean he’s not drinking – in fact, the amount of alcohol he’ll need to consume in “Party On, Garth” to get drunk suggests that he’s still imbibing quite a bit, certainly enough to keep his tolerance near Marion Ravenwood levels. But alcoholism is a cyclical disease, and some days or weeks you’re healthier than you are in others. Maybe he’s on an upswing right now, his brush with Lydia and Emma scaring him straight for a bit – or maybe he’s so low that not even liquor would be able to dull the pain anymore. It’s hard to tell.
All the reduced drinking and false confidence in the world doesn’t amount to much, though. It’s like a wall Dean’s built in his mind, separating himself from his grief instead of dealing with it. It’s all about to come crashing down anyway, brought down like the wall of Jericho by the return of a certain angel, and one man’s deepest, darkest fears come to life.
Coming Soon: The Born Again Identity