Why Season Nine is Setting Up Dean for a Long-Term Love Interest (and Why I Think It's Castiel)
aka Why the First Half of Season Nine Wasn’t As Shitty for Destiel Shippers As You Think
So amidst all the brouhaha surrounding this season – the apparent “bro-zoning” of Cas and Twittergate fiasco and so on – I have been noticing a pattern. Supernatural is a show, according to all the wonderful, more observant meta-writers out there, that lives and breathes themes and symbolism and imagery. So far in season nine, the one constant, the one recurring motif, the one question that has been asked again and again, the one that I see (and I know I’m not the only one) – is love.
This is, for my own interests, basically a summary of the Dean/Cas side of the season’s love theme, of all things Destiel from 9x01-9x09. It goes without saying, I think, that 9x10-9x11 gave us even more… and great hopes for the rest of the season as well.
Who Do You Love?
Songs, as you know, are chosen for a reason on Supernatural, and this one framed the season for us: the question is asked explicitly, right from the start: who do you love? The song seems like an odd choice for the season opener of the show – unless, of course, love (in all its forms) is to be a major theme of the season. Shippers noticed right away that the editors of this musical video tribute to seasons past (and particularly the events of season eight) gave us one possible answer: Castiel, his entrances timed perfectly with the question at hand, every time. Who do you love, and how?
I Need You Here
It did not escape this shipper’s notice that the very first scene of the season involved Dean praying, very intimately, to Castiel. The importance of Cas, and his relationship with Dean, is established right away, and reinforced throughout the episode: by Ezekiel - “I believe in Castiel – and you” - and by Dean’s refusal to give up Cas to the angels even when they are beating him to a pulp – even when his brother’s life is at stake. They also share their first phone call of the season, mirrored beautifully later on in the mid-season finale.
Love and… Love
The L-word emerges textually in the second episode of the season when Ezekiel (or, as we now know, Gadreel), attempts to comfort Dean about his decision regarding Sam: “You did what you did out of love.” Zeke, obviously, doesn’t know Dean Winchester very well yet. “I don’t do the whole love and… love,” is his awkward response, and what an interesting thing for Dean to say. Dean may be emotionally constipated, but there’s no real reason for him to feel embarrassment for loving his brother (he himself has brought the “L-word” out in the past, in charged moments with Sam). Having Zeke point this out – and Dean correct him – is a clear signal, again, of the intended trajectory for his character this season. Dean needs to accept love as something that is okay for him to demonstrate – necessary, even – and not just in regards to his brother. He does, after all, say the word twice.
Never Do That Again (aka Sammy, He’s Gone)
Cas’ importance to Dean is reestablished in the much-contested (and, most agree, poorly directed) third episode of the season. Dean searches for Castiel throughout the episode, resorting to the darkest part of himself, the one that tortures without remorse, to find him. When he finally does, it is just in time to see Cas fatally stabbed by a reaper, who Dean then stabs in turn. Dean’s reaction to Cas’ death is without question the most emotional we’ve seen him in such circumstances (because this is not the first time we have seen Dean react to Cas’ death). He doesn’t look on in stunned silence. He doesn’t clench his fists and say “Dammit.” He grabs Cas’ arms, he grabs his thigh. He cups Cas’ face in his hands and pleads for him to wake. The man who says “Sammy, he’s gone,” without realizing that it is Zeke he is speaking to, is a man who is utterly lost.
Upon Cas’ revival, Dean is visually placed between he and Sam and turns away from his brother’s unconscious form to go to his friend in a glorious piece of foreshadowing, most agree, for somewhere down the road. His immediate instinct is nurturing: “Hey, hey, yeah,” said in comfort and reassurance, hands once more placed intimately on Cas’ thigh and arm, his walls and “tough-guy” voice only returning when Sam joins them. The shift is made blatant in the moment Dean has to take to get himself together in order to say, endearingly, “Never do that again!”
He Used His Angel Blade
Also in this episode, Cas’ humanity has been explored, and he has been established as a man with sexual desires and needs (something we saw the seeds planted for in 8x17). In the episode’s (also contested) final scene, this fact is also made clear to Dean, who finds it surprising and yet is clearly delighted – a little too delighted – in the news. Until Zeke drops his anti-Cas bomb, Dean can’t take his eyes from the former angel. Of course, when he realizes what he has to do, all the happiness leaves him. And it’s a break-up scene, in every sense of the word.
Scarecrow and Tin Man
In the Oz-themed fourth episode of the season, Sam and Dean are referred to, respectively, as the Scarecrow and the Tin Man by Crowley. The Tin Man of course, has no heart – a reminder of Dean’s earlier claim to Ezekiel (“I don’t do the whole love and… love”). The actual Tin Man is later revealed to have died – perhaps a warning for what is to come if Dean does not find a heart of his own.
Others have pointed out that this Robbie Thompson episode also established the idea that mind-control cannot be broken by platonic or familial love – despite the fact that we saw Dean bring Castiel out of a similar situation in Thompson’s 8x17.
I Want to Know What Love Is
A small thing, but once again, music provides our reminder of the emerging theme – the quest for love – and it is not only played in the background here in the fifth, dog-themed episode, but discussed and defended by Dean himself.
I Can’t Let You Do This
Dean is chomping at the bit to see Cas at the first opportunity, and he outright lies to Sam and Kevin about where he is going when Cas calls him with a case. This episode reminds us again that Dean is unable to keep a smile from his face when he’s with Cas, even as Cas does his chilly best to act scorned by Dean’s abandonment. Not only does this episode establish with certainty that “everything feels different” - that Cas is now capable of feeling emotion in a way he has never been able to before – but it gives us a reminder that Cas is interested in romance via his pseudo-date with Nora.
The pseudo-date also gives us the glories of a purposeful use of romantic trope - “I can’t let you do this” - from Dean to Cas (diverted, yes, into another topic, as this trope always is), and the further fabulous beauty of Dean’s face as he watches Cas unbutton his shirt at Dean’s encouragement (seriously Jensen what are you doing).
Dean and Cas come together, as they always do, to defeat the rogue angel as Cas declares, “I want to live,” an important step in his own development as an individual and as a potential partner for Dean. Their parting, after the infamous “fanfiction gap” of time from evening til morning, is wistful, and leaves much unspoken.
I Have to Go
Thanks to a schedule switch, immediately following the episode where Dean leaves Cas behind for his brother, we see a young Dean leave his first love behind – for his brother. This episode, among other things, clearly establishes that the thing keeping Dean from finding his heart and admitting that he can – and would like to, and does – love, is the responsibility he feels toward his brother. For the first time, this theme is explicitly associated with romantic love, through Robin, the girl he left behind. And that is important.
Always the Adios
Though by the eight episode of the season Dean is falling deeper and deeper into the worst parts of himself, we catch a glimpse of his true desires in the impromptu speech he delivers to the celibacy group: “Always the adios…” Dean has grown past the fleeting affection he gets from random hook-ups at the bars – in the past few seasons, Dean hasn’t seemed interested in them at all, and this admission explains why. He hates the goodbye – he wants something more. For the second time, the quest for love is associated explicitly with love of the sexual and/or romantic variety.
We Just Can’t Work Together
Sam, our tour guide on the Destiel express, is in top form when Team Free Will meets up again in episode nine. His face while Dean and Cas discuss the merits and failings of his hookup with April (again, really!) is priceless, and when Dean starts getting touchy-feely, Sam announces that he is getting the heck out of there for another round (my favourite thing in the world has to be the many and entertaining ways in which Sam attempts to interrupt Dean and Cas during their “moments”). When Cas goes instead, and Zeke emerges for a little chat, Dean defends Cas and demands once more why he has to keep him away. Zeke takes a walk.
And then, in case you didn’t get the memo that Dean and Cas broke up in episode three, here’s a second break-up scene for you! This time, at least, Dean is trying to be as honest as he feels he can be, admitting that it is not what he wants, that it is something he must do to keep his brother safe. Cas is hurt, but also seems to be considering what Dean is saying, and you can see the wheels turning in that analytical mind of his.
I Did What I Had to Do
Dean and Cas’ final phone call of the mid-season finale is beautifully shot, and uses extreme closeups to convey both the urgency and intimacy of the conversation (also the gorgeousness of both parties’ eyes). It’s a callback to their first conversation of the season, also by telephone, and it nicely bookends this uncomfortable period of time in their relationship when they are kept apart - unable to properly communicate - by Dean’s choices and Dean’s lies. As we see in the next episode, when given the opportunity – through truth, forgiveness, and understanding - their relationship flourishes into the very thing each of them most needs.
Heart, Bow, Grace
One final nod toward this season-long quest for love – for realizing what it is you want and need, what you deserve – is the continuing question about the spell that caused the angels to fall – the spell that required Castiel’s grace to be complete. The show has been deliberately bringing this spell back to our attention all season, through Kevin’s attempts at translation, through Crowley’s deliberately misleading “the spell can’t be undone,” accompanied by a number of vague “blah blah blahs.” Fans have theorized about the connections between the three ingredients: heart of a Nephilim, the product of love between an angel and human; bow of a Cupid, used to create love between humans. And the grace of an angel. It is not unreasonable to suspect that it would have to be the grace of an angel who can love.
The spell – and its undoing – provides the perfect framework over the remainder of the season for Castiel, the angel learning how to feel like a human, to discover what exactly it is that he feels.
She Loved Me Unconditionally
“Love” is the word, and the name of the game this season. Even before we were given the glorious parallels of Abner and Gadreel, of Cain and Colette, even before we saw on screen just how good Dean and Cas are for each other, love was in the air: through music, through textual references, through repeated romantic and sexual encounters past and present for both Dean and Cas, through the ingredients of the overarching angel spell. Learning of Dean’s past hope for romance with Robin, and his wistfulness for more than casual sex, are indicators that the show intends, eventually, to delve into this and give Dean the long-term romantic partner he is looking for. Castiel’s journey of self-discovery regarding humanity and emotion has set him up as a potential loving partner… for someone.
At this point in the game, from a storytelling point of view, each is the logical choice for the other.