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: The Born Again Identity, Part 1 (Death)
The Born Again Identity, Part 2
Last time I spoke about the Death stage of the Heroine’s Journey as it relates to Supernatural, in which Dean is finally stripped of every defense mechanism, brought to his lowest point through Sam’s illness, and, in discovering Emmanuel, “dies”.
But as Dream Theater would say, death is not the end. It’s only a transition.
The name of this episode is “The Born Again Identity” – a clever wordplay on The Bourne Identity, in which an amnesiac secret operative attempts to place together clues leading him back to his former life. In addition, evangelical Christians, like Emmanuel, like Roy LeGrange, often claim to be “born again” in their faith, referring to a mental transition, from faithless to saved.
This season, Cas resembles both cases. He is both the amnesiac rediscovering himself, and the faithless man stumbling into his own baptism, and crawling out blank, fresh, new.
But becoming “born again” isn’t as easy as reclaiming some memories, or in swimming back to shore. It’s hard, and it’s messy, and it feels like dying, because it is.
But at least we don’t have to go it alone.
After dying, how are we born again? Alone and terrified and vulnerable, how do we crawl out of Death and back to the land of living?
We are pulled out.
Like fish from a river, like a Righteous Man from Perdition, we are plucked from the bleakness of our own non-existence, and reanimated by the breath and hope of another. Resurrection is not an act of our own doing. A heart, once stopped, cannot restart itself. Lungs, once stilled, will never heave again, not unless someone else forces the air into our lungs, and demands that we breathe. Someone else must make us live.
Miracles do not happen, but they can be given. All it takes is for one man to give the air from his lungs so that another man’s lungs are filled with it. We sustain each other. We save each other. And that means, fundamentally, that each and every one of us deserves to be saved.
The stage that follows “Death” in the Heroine’s Journey is not “Rebirth”, but “Support”. As the Heroine languishes in the dark, hopeless Perdition of her own Death, a voice calls to her. It’s a voice she knows, a voice she will listen to. She lifts her head. And in the direction of that voice, she sees the way out. She begins to walk toward it, finding strength inside herself that was there all along. She realizes that even though Death is a lonely enterprise, she herself is not—and never has been—alone.
This is one of the major differences between the Hero’s and Heroine’s Journey. The Hero needs to be brought low to prove himself to his group, but the Heroine needs to be brought low in order to accept support from her group. That’s because Heroines do not need to establish separate identities from their pack so much as find the right pack – generally one of their own creation – that will support them in times of need.
And it’s for that reason I find these stories so compelling, and so relevant to my own experience. A human really only comes of age once in her life, but in eighty-odd years she will die a thousand deaths and be reborn each time, pulled back to life by the families she creates wherever she treads. Family, connection, solidarity, love – these are the axis points around which human civilization pivots, and it’s the reason we survive even as other creatures – even angels – fall. We sustain each other, even in Death. This is what makes us human.
It’s also what makes us God’s favorite creations. God is the One, the Only. The Lonely. So God made us in His image and gave us one another, and that is both the kindest and saddest gift, and the one gift He can never share.
And so it goes in Supernatural, where Chuck returns Cas to Dean and Dean to Cas over and over again, even when they’ve been exploded by archangels, even when it’s an obvious deus ex machina, even when it doesn’t make any narrative sense whatsoever. Nothing keeps them apart for long. Because Chuck simply can’t bear it for His favorite sons – the only ones who got the point of the story – to denied the one gift He can give that matters.
When Dean knocks on Daphne’s door, a man answers, identifies as Emmanuel. Dean looks momentarily surprised, as if he were expecting someone else. (And maybe he was. After all, Bobby didn’t raise no idjit; surely Dean could read the signs in Mackey’s story as well as Bobby could.) But of course the man is no man, but a demon wearing a man’s skin – a taxidermy of a human, yet another example this season of a wolf lurking in sheep’s clothing.
Through the window, he sees Daphne struggling against her bonds. The demon does not attempt to hide his crime. And he throws Dean against the door and reveals that Emmanuel is already on the demons’ radar – that, in fact, if Dean hadn’t showed up when he did, Emmanuel would be toast (as well as that pretty young thing that plucked him from the river).
I linger on this point because it means that this time, Dean is Cas’s deus ex machina, swooping in to save the angel at just the right time. Whether it’s fate or chance or the heavy-hand of Chuck at work, Dean manages to find Cas here when he is at his most vulnerable – amnesiac, wandering, in complete control of his healing powers but none of his defensive ones – and he saves him from certain torture and death at Crowley’s hands. He offers the kind of Support that Cas needs, even when he doesn’t know he needs it. (A nice bit of foreshadowing to what’s about to happen shortly.)
Dean ganks the demon, who rolls down the porch stairs to stop in front of a man in grey trousers. It is Cas. Dean’s face falls. He stops moving. He stops breathing. And as I said last time, this is the moment Dean dies.
Emmanuel looks down at the demon. Maybe it looks like someone he knows – a neighbor, perhaps, or a friend. But it is not. Though it looks like any other man to us, for some reason, Emmanuel can see past this pleasant face, this taxidermy of a human, to the monster lurking inside. (This also foreshadows the narrative role Cas will play in “Survival of the Fittest”.)
And note, this ability to see deeper isn’t a fact of Cas remembering anything, or learning anything special. He just can. It is something innately Castiel, a power he has always had locked within him that just needed the right circumstances to be reawakened.
Or the right person.
Horrified at the creature bleeding out on his doorstep, Emmanuel looks up at Dean – not in recognition, but in fear, amazement. And we the viewers are meant to wonder – if Emmanuel can see past the demon’s mask, then can he also see past Dean’s façade?
“I see inside you,” Cas once told Dean, right before he betrayed his brothers and gave up paradise and even Heaven itself. “I see your guilt, your anger, confusion.” But what he didn’t tell Dean was that he also saw a man worth saving, a soul burning bright; a soul he never, not for one minute, doubted was the Righteous Man of prophecy. Can Emmanuel still see inside Dean, to the soul of the Righteous Man burning bright within? Does some piece of his blank, tattered mind still sway toward that soul, like a hand to a shoulder, like a voice in the darkness, calling him home?
Scene change. Emmanuel has apparently invited Dean inside, and he rushes over to untie Daphne.
Daphne. Oh, Daphne. A lot of fans have problems with her, this strange woman who dragged Cas out of the river and, a few scant months later, married him. She’s just plot device, they cry, and well, they’re not wrong.
But buckle in, readers, because I’m about to explain why she exists, and hopefully put your minds at ease about her – but first it’s going to require we tread into some crazy-deep lit-geekery.
(And before you say, “gosh, Flutie, you’re looking too deep; this show wouldn’t reference Ancient Greek literature” – and I know some of you are already thinking it – I’ll point out that the first five seasons of Supernatural are basically a modern thematical retelling of The Oresteia, exploring the idea of fate versus free will and the idea that children must put to rights the sins of the father. Supernatural is so Greek it would make Aeschylus run screaming to the ouzo.)
In westerns and in classical literature, particularly that of nautical civilizations like Ancient Greece, wherever you get a lot of explorers and wanderers in a forbidding landscape, there’s a certain mythic tradition of… well, I’m not even sure what to call her, but let’s just say, “the virgin by the shore”.
Basically, it goes like this: The hero of the story is shipwrecked. A beautiful maiden (sometimes a water nymph, sometimes a princess) finds him, lost and confused, and takes her into her home. Captivated by this handsome and tortured stranger, she dresses him, feeds him, and gives him shelter and respite for a little while, at least until he can get his bearings and return to his journey. And then he leaves. End of story.
Note that this interlude, as short as it is, isn’t about the hero finding his true love – although sex certainly can happen between the two, and some genuine affection does tend to develop – but about the comfort she offers him, however transient it might be.
The best and perhaps most famous example of the Virgin by the Shore is Nausicaa, the princess of Scheria, from The Odyssey. In case it’s been awhile since you’ve read that book (which, WHY ARE YOU READING THIS CRAPFEST, GO READ THAT INSTEAD RIGHT NOW), let me give you a quick (ha) refresher:
When Odysseus meets Nausicaa, he has been away from his family for twenty years (kept away by his own hubris, but that’s a different story for another time). He has just lost all of his remaining crew in a shipwreck of his own doing (IIRC, his pride causes Poseidon to send a storm). These men were his closest friends; his only friends; the comrades-in-arms that he’d travelled with for twenty years, surviving ten years of war, then another ten years of monsters and sailing and starvation and being turned into pigs by pissed-off witches; and now they’re all gone, direct sacrifices of Odysseus’s hubris. So when he washes up on the shores of Scheria confused, naked, alone, Odysseus is feeling rightfully sorry for himself. He’s at the lowest point he’ll ever reach.
He stumbles into an idyllic scene, wherein Nausicaa and her handmaidens are playing with a ball, while waiting for laundry to dry on the banks of a river. The servants freak and scatter, but Nausicaa approaches him. Unafraid, she gives him some of the clean clothing before inviting him back to her parents’ abode.
Nausicaa is very young, very trusting, and very, very pretty. She clearly has a bit of a crush on Odysseus – her dad even offers to marry her to Odysseus – but it never amounts to anything, particularly because no matter how many women Odysseus sticks his dick in (and oh my god, let me tell you, it’s a lot), his heart remains with his wife, Penelope, back home. But Odysseus develops a certain fondness for his erstwhile caretaker, and of all the women he meets on his journey, Nausicaa is the only one he does not tell Penelope about when he returns to Ithaka.
So that’s it. That’s Nausicaa’s entire role in the story: Give him a shirt, develop a crush and let him go. But to Odysseus, the role she plays in his life is the most important, the most crucial of all the characters he meets, because she’s the one who saves him when nobody else can. She even tells him as much before she leaves, reminding him to, “never forget me, for I gave you life.” And you know what? He never does.
You can probably see where I’m going with this. Daphne is Cas’s Nausicaa. She was a girl who happened to be hiking by the river, and found a man, drenched, confused – and, of course, naked. Captivated by this handsome stranger, she took him home, gave him food, shelter, clothing. She gave him life.
That alone suggests Daphne is both a good woman and a highly naïve one. And we can see by the way she looks at Emmanuel that she admires him greatly, even if his body language suggests that the affection isn’t quite returned. She even names him Emmanuel, a Hebrew name that means “God is With Us” – which: omg Sera lolz – and her role in the story is too small for her to see the irony in it.
But that’s the way it was meant to be. Daphne’s role in the story was always meant to be brief. Cas was only meant to stop here in Colorado as a waypoint, as a safe port in the storm, before continuing his journey with Dean. The point of Nausicaa, and of Daphne, isn’t in the finding, but in the being found.
(The name “Daphne”, by the way, I think is meant to hint at the true nature of Daphne and Emmanuel’s relationship. In Ovid’s The Metamorphosis, Daphne was the name of a nature nymph, the daughter of the river Ladon. The god Apollo fell in love with her and pursued her, but as a sworn virgin, she wanted none of him. In another tale, Daphne was also described as determined to remain a virgin (and, interestingly, having a bit of a thing for hunters).
Pair all this with Daphne’s direct callback to the virginal Nausicaa, and the general shiftiness Emmanuel and Daphne exhibit when the word “wife” is said, and it’s enough to get me wondering if, despite the ring on Emmanuel’s finger, maybe the pair weren’t as ‘married’ as it might first appear. If Emmanuel and Daphne were truly married, and it wasn’t just a ruse to throw off their suspicious neighbors – they do live in Colorado, after all, a state known for its substantial conservative Christian population – the double reference to enduring chastity here makes me wonder if they’d ever actually even consummated their relationship.)
As soon as we see Daphne, it’s obvious why Emmanuel trusted her so easily after emerging from the river. Just look at her:
That strong jaw. Those bright, green eyes. That fearless gaze. She looks very similar to someone else we know, doesn’t she? In fact, her resemblance to Dean is actually kinda uncanny; she could even be Dean’s sister. Even her name – Daphne – is just “Dean” with a few extra vowels.
But Emmanuel trusts her for more reasons than just physical looks, because as I’ve said time and again, the theme of this season is that a person’s outsides don’t matter as much as their insides. We know Emmanuel can see within Daphne, where there gleams a bright, beautiful soul, obviously as earnest as it is trusting. An angel once walked into a reservoir and hoped against hope that a certain human with bright green eyes and a righteous soul would save him. When he washes up on shore, that’s exactly what he finds. Welp. In that case, I’d trust her too.
But Daphne is just a pale shade of Dean. A facsimile, but not the real thing. A taxidermy of a soulmate, a mimicry of a profound bond. Nausicaa, not Penelope.
One last point on Daphne before we move on – and I’ve written about this in more detail elsewhere, though damned if I can find it now – but take note of the knick-knacks on Daphne’s mantelpiece. You’ll notice a fair bit of Buddhist-inspired paraphernalia: Buddha statues, sitars, the whole works.
The fundamental conceit of Buddhism, of course, is that humans are caught in a ceaseless cycle of death and rebirth, until we manage to transcend our natures and achieve Nirvana. Buddhism (and Hinduism too, IIRC) both state that we are the universe trying to understand itself; that, as living souls, we are each a fragment of total perception, just one compartment in that dragonfly eye of group mind.
Which, of course, is exactly what 2014!Cas said. (Just sayin’.)
Emmanuel unties Daphne. “Emmanuel,” she says, “They were looking for you.”
When she rises, they do not embrace. They do not kiss. They do not even hold each other close. Daphne simply touches her palm to his cheek, as a faith healer to a worshipper, or a mother to a child. A simple touch of compassion, gentle and sincere, but lacking any deep or profound romantic connection. I have touched strangers this way. Strangers I like, perhaps, but strangers all the same.
As soon as her hand drops. Emmanuel looks over to Dean, even though Daphne’s eyes are still upon him. And Emmanuel holds the stare. He does not blink, does not drop his gaze or look away – just constant, unyielding eye contact, long after anyone could conceivably consider it comfortable. His face is equal parts spooked and enthralled.
He walks over to where Dean is. Dean hasn’t moved into the room, hasn’t moved away from the entrance of it even. This is curious, indeed, as the Dean we know would be checking the open window for sulfur tracks, or securing the doors and windows in case the demons returned. But this Dean is small and rooted at the feet; he is the fixed point around which the room, and his universe, spins and spins.
Throughout this scene, Jensen’s body language is, well, painful. It’s obvious that Dean has little control over his own body. His mouth hangs open. His shoulders slump. He forgets to blink. He struggles to breathe, and with every inhale his shoulders heave, as if it is an effort. It’s not just that he can’t believe what he’s seeing – it’s that the scene before him is like a nightmare, a punch directly to the gut. And it is. This is everything Dean had hoped for when he pulled that trenchcoat from the river, and yet in the worst possible way; his friend the walking corpse, an empty shell, the confirmation of all his worst fears. Because Emmanuel lives and breathes, it means that Cas is truly gone. After all, one man must die to give another life. That is the way of miracles.
Emmanuel approaches and introduces himself. He has one hand around Daphne’s wrist. Their fingers are not interlaced. He is not holding her hand, so much as dragging her behind him. (As Emmanuel speaks, Daphne licks her lips apropos of nothing – another Dean-like habit.)
Emmanuel puts out his hand for Dean to shake, and Dean stares at it for a moment warily before leaning in to grab it. The distance between them is remarkable, foreign. In four years of friendship, they’ve never held a conversation separated by so much air and space.
Emmanuel continues speaking, thanking Dean for protecting his wife, and at the mention of “wife”, Dean’s eyes flick to Daphne for the first time. Until this moment, it’s as if he didn’t even see her. “Your wife. Right,” he sputters. He can’t believe what he’s hearing. He looks almost offended by the notion, as if Cas is telling some kind of dirty joke that really, really isn’t funny.
And maybe he is. Just before the camera cuts away, Daphne begins to smile at Dean at the word “wife”, and there’s something in her face that’s almost apologetic, as if Cas is saying something worth apologizing for. I wonder.
“I saw his face,” says Emmanuel to Daphne, who looks up at him not with fear, but unchecked admiration. She is not surprised. In fact, she actually looks rather proud of him. Because she knows that Emmanuel is special. She has always known, from the moment she found him in the river, that God wanted her to find him; that God wouldn’t have sent her to find a person who wasn’t special in some way.
“His real face,” Emmanuel adds, and he once more looks at Dean, even though his wife’s eyes are still upon him.
“It was a demon,” says Dean, obviously spooked that this man wearing Cas’s face doesn’t know about demons. Because if he doesn’t remember demons, then he doesn’t remember the Pit, or pulling Dean from it – Dean’s Resurrection, the most important moment of their conjoined lives. No matter what happened between them later, that came first, and serves as the foundation of their profound bond, the excuse and the cause, and Cas would remember it, no matter what.
Emmanuel looks down and to the right, somewhere back toward Daphne. This is the direction someone looks when they are ‘talking to themselves’, meaning he’s having a conversation in his head, perhaps replaying Dean’s words to himself, trying to make sense of them. “A demon walked the earth,” he mutters.
“Demons,” corrects Dean, and his voice draws back Emmanuel’s gaze. He narrows his eyes at Dean in a familiar, peering way. What Dean says is eerily familiar, like remembering that you’ve forgotten something but you can’t remember what, and the fact of it clearly confuses him.
“You saw the demon’s true face,” says Daphne. Unlike a normal person, she’s not particularly surprised by this revelation that there are demons. No, instead, she is gratified that Emmanuel can detect them. She is proud. She is Sue Ann, leaning on her husband, the taxidermy of a faith healer. She is Nausicaa, leaning on Odysseus, presenting him to her father and mother. She even smiles slightly, as if to say, “Look, look, at this creature I have saved from drowning. Look at how I have cared for him, and made him powerful and whole once more.”
Let’s not skip past this, because I think it’s actually fairly suggestive that Daphne shows no visible reaction to the idea of demons. Most humans, even those who already believed in angels and demons, would be freaking out right now at such a revelation. But not Daphne. Nope, she acts like she already knew.
And for that matter, why didn’t the demons possess Daphne as well? Certainly that’s been their MO all along – find the person a target is closest to, and possess them. Yet, Daphne is simply tied up, used as bait. Perhaps it’s because she couldn’t be possessed?
Most telling of all, I think, is that Daphne tells Emmanuel that God wanted her to find her – even though from her knickknacks, she’s obviously a Buddhist, and Buddhism is essentially a non-theistic faith. What does a Buddhist care about God?
Throughout the series God has taken a particular interest in Cas – specifically,He keeps resurrecting Cas, with little to no explanation offered, and sends him back toddling towards Dean. Is it so difficult to imagine that this time, as long as He’s going to bring Cas back, He might as well assign someone to watch over him until Dean can find him again? Someone with foreknowledge of demons and angels, someone who can’t be possessed.
It’s just idle speculation, sure, but I don’t know, it wouldn’t be the first time Chuck has written in a deus ex machina to provide for his favorite characters, right?
Just a thought.
Anyway, back to the scene. “Emmanuel has special gifts,” preens Daphne.
When Dean struggles to say, “I’ve heard that about Emmanuel,” Emmanuel can’t meet Dean’s eyes. He looks almost ashamed.
Then Emmanuel raises his eyes once more. “What’s your issue?”
Dean’s eyes flick to Daphne before answering.
Why? Why does Dean look at Daphne before answering Emmanuel? It’s not because he’s afraid to mention Sam in front of her – after all, he does it anyway.
No, I think that flick of the eyes tells us that Dean’s problem, at that moment, is in finding Cas here, with a wife, playing house, scraping out a regular life that isn’t his. His problem is that Cas has apparently forgotten him completely. His problem is that Emmanuel is alive, and Cas is dead, and that means Dean is dead too.
Scene change. Dean and Cas are driving in a car. Dean’s eyes are on Cas, but Cas is not returning the gaze.
“So Daphne,” he says. “Your wife?”
Dean asks this, even though Cas has already told him in the prior scene that, yes, Daphne is his wife. But Dean needs the extra confirmation, because it’s this one point he can’t believe. Not the faith healing. Not the house in the suburbs. Not even the blue sweater that verges on Meta!Misha. No, it’s Daphne. The wife. His wife, whoever this man wearing Cas’s skin is.
Dean looks more hurt than confused. And I don’t blame him. Because it’s insulting enough for Cas to forget the profound bond they once forged – but to replace it, even duplicate it with another human? That’s downright cruel.
Like I said before, Daphne isn’t just a wife. Here she is also a kick to Dean’s soul, a twist of the knife that landed the killing blow. Daphne is a stark reminder of the lesson Dean learned with Amy – that no matter how profound and individual he may think their bond is, Cas simply can’t reciprocate it. He doesn’t have the equipment to love deeply and personally, the same way Dean does. Daphne proves that to Cas, Dean is just another human. Unremarkable. Forgettable. Replaceable.
Emmanuel, interestingly, doesn’t answer Dean’s question with a yes or no. All he says is by way of response is, “She found me and cared for me.”
That’s important. Emmanuel establishes Daphne not as his love or soulmate, but as his caretaker. She found him. She plucked him from the river. She gave him life when nobody else could. He owes her.
It’s the start of a new pattern for Cas. Whether it’s Meg or Daphne or, yes, even Dean, Cas will now gravitate towards caretakers, because the crushing weight of his guilt is a burden he cannot shoulder alone. He wants to be taken care of. Like Odysseus, he wants to be soothed, absolved of his sins; he wants urgently and above all else to be forgiven, and to be healed. He wants one man to breathe life into his lungs, so that he may once again live. He wants nothing short of a miracle.
But Meg and Daphne, they’re unable to offer the healing he so needs. You could say they’re taxidermies of caretakers, perhaps; that they fit the bill in body and action, but not in spirit. The only one that truly fix Cas is Dean, the ultimate nurturer. The healer. The fixer of broken things. His ability to fix, to build homes and families where none before existed, this is Dean’s single greatest talent, and the one he is defined by in everything from “All Hell Breaks Loose (Part 1)” to “Exile on Main Street”. (Both Sera Gamble episodes, btw.)
It’s the ultimate irony, isn’t it? Once upon a time, a broken man who believed he broke everything he touched met an unbroken angel, and in so doing, shattered the angel into a million pieces. Yet somehow, in the breaking, both of them emerged stronger than ever before.
Once upon a time, Cas pulled Dean from Perdition and gave him new life. Now Cas needs Dean to return the favor, and he will continue to seek out substitutes until Dean does.
Back to the car. Dean asks Emmanuel to elaborate on how Daphne found him. Emmanuel, oddly, evades. “It’s a strange story,” he says. “You might not like it.”
Why does Emmanuel evade this question? What is he thinking in this moment? I mean, he doesn’t remember this man, doesn’t know him from Adam. But somewhere, somehow, in the back of his mind, he already knows that this story – particularly the bit about him getting naked – will make Dean uncomfortable. In fact, when he actually does tell the story, he hesitates a moment before saying the word “unclothed”; and he looks at Dean almost apologetically before continuing.
I think it’s because that Emmanuel knows this story about his nakedness will make Dean specifically uncomfortable. And that Emmanuel has such a strong impression of this man’s sexual discomfort, when he can’t even remember the man in question, suggests that Cas knew all along about Dean’s sexual attraction to him. He saw the longing stares, the clenched jaws. He heard the inappropriate sexual jokes. He registered it all, and knew it so intimately, so plainly that even when he forgot everything else about Dean, some small part of him remembered this. Whether Cas reciprocated isn’t really the question here (FWIW I think he did, though that’s a Season 6 question, not Season 7). It’s simply that Cas knew – and accepted it.
“Well, if it’s working for you,” says Dean, unconvinced.
“It’s my life. It’s a good life,” replies Emmanuel. He’s both right and wrong on these counts. Yes, this is Emmanuel’s life; and, yes, it is a good life. But he is not Emmanuel. Emmanuel is a lie, a dream—or as Plato might say, a shadow cast on a cave wall.
“But what if you were some kind of, I don’t know,” says Dean, obviously struggling to get the next words out, “Bad Guy?”
Dean can barely say it, and his face is so tense that I can’t truly believe he buys what he’s saying. Like I discussed back in “Meet the New Boss”, Dean tried to completely write Cas off. He tried to tell himself Cas had gone completely darkside, that there was nothing of him left, that the Cas he knew and loved was gone. But even then, he didn’t believe it, just as he’s not believing it now.
“I don’t feel like a bad person,” Emmanuel replies simply.
And who ever does?
Back in the car, Emmanuel asks after Sam’s diagnosis, meaning that he’d hopped into the car without already knowing. Without asking what he’d need to do, without even knowing if he could even help, Emmanuel trusted Dean enough to go with him anyway. He just went, because Dean asked him to. Because his body remembered, like a habit.
Dean explains the situation:
Dean: Someone did this to him.
Emmanuel: You’re angry.
Dean: Well, yeah.
Emmanuel acknowledges Dean’s anger. He explicitly calls Dean out on his feelings, and names them when Dean can’t. He simply states the obvious, which of course is the one thing that nobody this season since Bobby has said.
Dean: Dude broke my brother’s head.
Emmanuel: He betrayed you, this dude? He was your friend?
At the word “friend”, Dean jerks his head away. He looks out the driver’s window and collects his thoughts away from Emmanuel’s unwavering gaze. And when he turns his face back toward the windshield – not toward Emmanuel, but facing out toward the road, the only comfort left to him – he looks lost, even near tears.
Dean: Yeah, well, he’s gone.
Emmanuel: Did you kill him?
Dean snaps his gaze back to Emmanuel. Because, yes, at some level, Dean does believe he killed Cas. That it was his inability to trust and the inappropriateness of his feelings, that got Cas killed. Dean believes he breaks everything he touches; and thus Cas was murdered, with Dean holding the knife.
Dean thought the worst thing that could happen already did when Cas crawled into that reservoir and didn’t come out. But that was before Dean died. And now, as he languishes here in the hopelessness and darkness of Death, the worst thing that could happen actually does — Cas’s ghost reappears and names Dean as his killer. Dean is forced to confront his worst fear, and in the worst possible way.
This is a theme that appears over and over again in Sera Gamble’s Supernatural episodes, particularly in Season 4’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Dean Winchester,” where the Witnesses rose and explained how Bobby, Sam and Dean were responsible for their deaths; and in Season 1’s “Dead in the Water”, where the ghost of the little boy called his killers down into a watery grave.
But it’s also a theme that reappears again and again in classical literature, from Shakespeare to Sophocles, and even in the first story we as humans ever wrote down, The Epic of Gilgamesh (which, seriously, if you haven’t already, go read it, IT’S SO GOOD, and Destiel is basically just a Gilgamesh/Enkidu modern AU anyway).
Dean looks at Cas in the eye and stutters, in a strangled voice:
Dean: Honestly? I…I don’t know if he is dead. I just know that this… whole thing… it couldn’t be messier.
Dean looks Cas’s ghost in the eye and confronts his worst fear. He doesn’t back down from it. He doesn’t run from it, or pretend it doesn’t exist. He acknowledges it, right in its metaphorical face. Dean is a messiah figure, a hero; but this, right here, this is the bravest he has ever been.
And while this action doesn’t resolve or dispel his fear, it does serve to bolster his confidence, and as Dean talks, he starts to open up to Cas, just as he always has:
Dean: You know, I used to be able to just shake this stuff off. You know, whatever it was. It might take me some time, but I always could. What Cas did… [Dean looks in the rearview mirror for a reaction from Emmanuel, but sees none] I just can’t – I don’t know why.
Emmanuel is just Cas’s ghost; an empty shell; a taxidermy of Dean’s best friend, the love of his life, the seal set upon his heart and upon his arm. And yet, Dean still confesses these things to him, ghost or not, because these things need to be said, even if nobody inside is listening. Dean needs to talk through this, finally, for himself. His fears, his feelings need to be made concrete, and real.
In this exchange, Dean admits that he used to be able to shake off bad times – his father’s death, the Apocalpyse, his brother’s betrayal, all of it. Whatever it was, he could move past it. But this, what Cas did, this is special. This he can’t move past. And that’s because, obviously, Cas is special, their relationship is special, different than any other he’s ever had.
Karen once looked at Dean and told him, “I’m guessing you’ve never been in love.” And she was right; Dean hadn’t. Because if he had, he would’ve known immediately why Cas is different, and why his betrayal hurt the most. Because Dean has had friends. He’s had family. Cas is neither. Cas is in a class all of his own.
If this exchange doesn’t at last convince you that Dean is in love with Cas, then honestly? Nothing will.
Emmanuel: Well, it doesn’t matter why.
Dean (angrily): Of course it matters.
Dean misunderstands Emmanuel here. What he hears is Cas’s ghost telling him that it doesn’t matter why Dean feels this way. And incredibly, Dean fights him on it.
How far he has come since the “Girl Next Door”! Here Dean defends his feelings toward a supernatural creature, whereas earlier this season he tried to deny them. Of course they matter, says Dean. No ghost, even one wearing Castiel’s skin, is going to tell Dean that their profound bond doesn’t mean anything, because to Dean, it does.
Even if it only matters to him, it still matters.
And that’s the moment when Cas finally breaks through:
Emmanuel: No. You’re not a machine, Dean. You’re human.
Since Bobby’s death, three men have offered Dean advice in how to deal with his grief. Frank Devereaux tells him to “decide to be fine”, to cover up his pain with a smile. Eliot Ness tells him to shut his emotions away, to cut them off completely. And then Emmanuel opens his mouth and speaks with Castiel’s voice, and repeats the advice that Bobby once gave Dean so long ago: feel what you feel, for you are human, and that is what humans do.
Only Emmanuel acknowledges Dean’s grief. Only Emmanuel validates it, and accepts it. Not even Sam has been able to offer Dean this support (given that he’s been tangling with his own grief over Bobby, and then of course Hallucifer). Only Emmanuel does, and with such certainty and efficiency that it just can’t be argued with.
This is the turning point of the episode – no, the entire season – no, hell, Dean and Cas’s entire relationship; it’s the culmination of four years of profound bonds and giving you everything and making it up as we go, this, right here.
Dean asks Frank, why do I ache? and Frank replies, Because you choose to.
Dean asks Eliot, why do I ache? and Eliot replies, Because you are unmanly.
Dean asks Emmanuel, why do I ache? and Castiel replies, Because you are human.
And those words are like a voice in the dark, calling Dean back to the land of the living, calling him home.
How are we reborn? Once dead, we can not reanimate ourselves. Another man must breathe life into our lungs and fill them with air. This is the great secret of life: We sustain each other. We save each other.
With two little words – you’re human – Cas saves Dean now as surely as he did the day he dragged Dean from the Pit. Because in this instant, Dean regains hope. He knows Cas has not abandoned him, that Cas is still in there, somewhere, somehow, and he has been all along.
Death is a lonely enterprise. But now Dean knows that he is not — and never has been — alone.
Next time – The Born Again Identity Part 3