Supernatural’s Queerbaiting Problem

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Source: Digital Spy

By Pen Fang

Spoiler warning for Supernatural (2005-2020). As such, it should be noted that Supernatural has content that may not be suitable for all readers (blood, death). 

Supernatural is the longest running sci-fi TV show. For over a decade, the Winchesters have graced the silver screen. After 15 years, viewers have bid the Winchesters farewell, with the cast, crew, and fans saying emotional goodbyes to the show.

So why is a majority of fan response negative?

The final couple of episodes, especially the finale, seem to have been sloppily written. There is little to no resolution for many of the characters, and many questions are left unanswered. Obviously, for longtime fans of the show, this is disappointing. Furthermore, fans of the show have long been calling out the show for hinting at a relationship between Dean and Castiel (along with Sam) but never following through (queerbaiting), along with killing off all of their LGBTQ+ characters, either for shock value or to develop the lead characters more.

In the weeks following the finale, there has been much fan response to the show, specifically episode 15×18: “Despair”, which aired November 5th, 2020, and has been the subject of much debate. 

Hashtags about the 18th episode of season 15: “Despair” have trended multiple times on Twitter, with a similar situation on Tumblr, with tags having an influx of posts about the episode. Episode 15×18 features Castiel’s love confession to Dean Winchester, an event that felt long overdue, and fell short of many expectations – Dean does not respond and watches solemnly as Castiel is taken by the Empty. The confession, despite being dubbed by Misha Collins as a “homosexual declaration of love”, was not requited, and barely acknowledged after the episode.

Now why is this so problematic? First things first, this plays into the well-known trope of “burying the gay”. Introducing a LGBTQ+ character only to kill them off, whether for shock value, to further non-LGBTQ+ characters’ storylines, or among other reasons (read: homophobia). While this may not seem problematic at first glance, it stems from homophobia. Castiel is outed as gay and then immediately killed, before his sacrifice is ignored by the show. While he has been on the show for years, this is the first time his sexuality is openly, canonically confirmed, and he is immediately killed and ignored. This isn’t the first time this has happened either. For example, Charlie Bradbury, a lesbian character, was infamously butchered and dumped in a bathtub to further the leads’ character arc.

Secondly, the dubbed editions of this episode have been released. For whatever reason, many of the dubs have a requited confession. Famously, a Spanish dub features the line, “Yo a ti, Cas,” in response to Castiel’s declaration. This suggests (keep in mind that the CW has not acknowledged this yet) that Supernatural had a requited confession planned – then removed it. In fact, 15×18 was originally titled “The Truth” rather than “Despair”. Fan theories suggest that the CW may have removed this scene for certain reasons, possibly rooted in homophobia. 

Thirdly, Supernatural has a long history of queerbaiting, or hinting at a LGBTQ+ relationship but never following through. Castiel, Dean, and even Sam, at times, are hinted to be in a relationship. On the surface, this may not seem like a problem, but many times, writers and directors use this tactic to draw LGBTQ+ viewers to the show. With already limited representation on TV, many fans stick to the show hoping for possible representation – that isn’t given. Castiel’s confession – which was immediately followed by his death – fell short, and lacked the proper representation fans wanted.
Supernatural has long had a queerbaiting problem. A large reason the show has stayed so mainstream on social media is because of the possible relationships between Dean, Castiel, and Sam. The show itself has even brought the relationships up only to dismiss them. Many fans watched the last two episodes hoping for a resolution they didn’t get. It seems that the show followed through with its long legacy of queerbaiting yet again.

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