Jensen Ackles (left) as Dean Winchester and Misha Collins as Castiel TWITTER/DESTIELFILMS

A month ago, I awoke to a frankly bizarre turn of events. Amid the chaos of the US election, the last thing I expected to flood my social media was Supernatural. The longest-running US fantasy show in history has always been my guilty pleasure. With its mainstream popularity having steadily declined over its run, seeing it trending was surprising. After watching the antepenultimate episode of the final season, aptly named ‘Despair’, it made gut-wrenching sense.

If you’ve somehow managed to make it through the past 15 years without hearing of Supernatural (in which case I applaud you and encourage you to stop here), here’s some background:

The show centres around Sam and Dean Winchester, brothers who travel around America hunting fantastical monsters. In typical CW-style, it begins a red-blooded dramatic action fest, with monsters of the week, an intriguing plot, and clunky dialogue paired with one-dimensional characterisation. Over the seasons, it evolves into a character-driven phenomenon. The introduction of the angel Castiel in Season 4 marks a striking transition in focus to the importance of “found family” and strong personal bonds in overcoming evil.

Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as the Winchester brothersTWITTER/CASISLOVED

As storylines became increasingly haphazard and convoluted, ratings were sustained by people’s investment in the characters. Supernatural’s mainstream audience were die-hard supporters of the brothers’ monster-killing, but the show gained more fans online, forming an extraordinarily large, diverse fanbase.

“The bar was on the floor, yet they still managed to comfortably limbo under it”.

For many, the interactions between Dean and Castiel oozed romantic subtext, and they quickly became fan-favourites together. Despite not being heavily invested myself, people have a point; throughout the 145 episodes Castiel features in, there are countless instances of suggestive dialogue, actions that would’ve culminated in full-blown romance had one character been a woman (the angel is technically genderless, but definitely characterised male). Instead, the showrunners embarked on a cruel saga of queerbaiting.

Queerbaiting – hinting at queer relationships without proper depiction – is a vicious tool used to lure in audiences desperately hoping for the dredges of representation. The “bury-your-gays” trope refers to queer characters being needlessly killed, often for shock value. To find the worst possible combination of these, look no further than Supernatural!

Supernatural (2005-2020)TWITTER/CASISLOVED

After over a decade of queerbaiting, ‘Despair’ arrived, in all its choppily-edited glory. Under attack from Death, Castiel euphorically declares his love for Dean. The sheer joy he feels from this promptly and directly summons a supreme evil, sending him and Death somewhere akin to hell for eternity. Castiel sacrifices himself to save the man he loves simply by admitting his love.

When I watched this, I had to laugh. I’d never had high expectations with this show, not when its only visible queer representation consists of two one-time-featuring gay couples and Charlie, a lesbian originally fridged after seven appearances (reflecting Supernatural’s relentless adversity to women, but that’s a rant for another time). The bar was on the floor, yet they still managed to comfortably limbo under it.

Supernatural (2005-2020)TWITTER/CW_SPN

The message here – admitting queer love will enact your depraved fate – is bafflingly horrific in itself, but made appallingly ridiculous when Castiel’s declaration isn’t mentioned again. Dean doesn’t acknowledge the weight of his sacrifice, nor display any meaningful reciprocation; his reaction is absurdly out-of-character considering the previous 12 seasons which, at the very least, prove he cares for Castiel in some way.

Instead, the penultimate episode robotically ties up Season 15. God himself is defeated. It feels no more monumental than a garden-variety monster hunt. A contrived series montage follows. In the finale, the brothers hunt vampires in clown masks (a stark metaphor for us still watching) and Dean ludicrously, unceremoniously dies, rendering Castiel’s sacrifice pointless anyway – another queer-coded character buried. Sam lives a long peaceful life before joining Dean in heaven, and an offhand line hints Castiel might also be around.

“Supernatural opted to go down in history as the only show to be quite so consistently disappointing”.

These events have dubious narrative justification. There is zero rationale behind scrapping the rich character development from 15 years of growth for an ending that would’ve made sense after Season 1.

One could blame the writers; Supernatural has plenty of tonal and narrative inconsistencies, but I firmly believe such a colossal cock-up could only come from last-minute executive decisions. Interestingly, in the Latin-American Spanish-dubbed version of ‘Despair’, Dean responds to Castiel’s love declaration with “me too”. Whether this line featured in an original English script or if it was just a hilariously game-changing mistranslation, it caused fans to rage against the CW, claiming censorship. Queer love was destined to be treated with immense callousness by the network. In the end, they frantically used it as a ploy to bring back old fans, only to cast away their hopeful expectations without remorse.

Misha Collins as Castiel in the antepenultimate episodeTWITTER/DESTIELISJACK

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Supernatural’s final moments are the textbook definition of too little, too late. Queer audiences are no longer starved for representation. With the format of television changing rapidly, why sit through endless 23-episode seasons when shorter shows portray queer characters far better? With Dean and Castiel, there was a chance that may never occur again to do something never done before.

After painstakingly developing these much-loved characters, confirming romantic feelings between them and giving them a happy ending would have elevated Supernatural to legendary status. Alas, with Dean’s brutal lack of acknowledgement of Castiel’s unrequited love and a completely lacklustre finale, it opted to go down in history as the only show to be quite so consistently disappointing.

All I can say is I pray we don’t get a reboot. Lay your weary head to rest, Supernatural. Don’t carry on.