Nov. 5 marked the one year anniversary of one of this era’s most terrible, ridiculous and wonderful phenomena: Destiel.
“Destiel” is the ship name for two “Supernatural” characters: demon-hunter Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) and angel Castiel (Misha Collins). Marked by longing glances, tender touches, and the willingness to do anything for each other, the pair muddle through the show’s many seasons and multiple apocalypses in a purportedly straight, platonic and heterosexual way. Despite clear mishandling on the part of the showrunners, many of the show’s viewers grow deeply attached to the possibility of their romantic relationship.
As a show, “Supernatural” features no shortage of homophobia and misogyny. For example, there are almost no compelling female characters; all of the interesting and multifaceted characters are men and, as a result, all of the complex and layered relationships are between those men. Inevitably, the tenderness and closeness of these relationships become homoerotic in the eyes of viewers, yet the writers continued to insist that everyone must be straight. Despite this, “Supernatural” had a cult following of fans, many of whom were particularly invested in the primary ship, Destiel. People waited years for any glimmer of hope that their dreams might be realised.
After all, “Supernatural” had been growing in popularity since it first aired in 2005 and after Castiel’s introduction in 2008 people have been shipping him with Dean with increasing fervor. As a show, “Supernatural” is a beast, having run longer than most middle-schoolers have been alive despite a wild variation in quality that meant viewership was rarely consistent. In fact, a lot of continuing interest in the show could be directly attributed to Destiel rather than any of the main plot.
Despite years of controversy among the fandom and actors, as the writers of “Supernatural” came to the end of this mammoth of a series, they had a decision to make about how to end the famous relationship between Castiel and Dean. They could have done nothing, and ended the show as it had always been. Instead, they chose one of the only directions that would make fans even angrier — adhering to the “bury your gays” trope. Even fans who had long given up on the show flocked to watch Destiel’s love confession. In an earlier episode, Castiel had made a deal that as soon as he experienced true happiness he would be dragged off to a hell stand-in for eternal torment.
Then, in episode 18 of season 15, “Despair,” the confession finally happened. As a tearful Castiel proclaimed his love, Dean faced him confused, eventually blurting out a “What are you talking about, man?” Even as Castiel said the words central to every rom-com — “I love you” — Dean had little to no reaction other than looking vaguely sad when Castiel was dragged away to death. Despite Castiel immediately being punished for admitting he loved another man, and Dean not actually verbally reciprocating his feelings, Destiel was finally canon. Well, kind of. The mishandling of their relationship was so wild that it caused an uproar.
Viewership for “Supernatural” had been declining for several seasons, but the landmark event that was the confirmation of Destiel renewed interest in the ship, if not the show as a whole. Shockingly, less than a week after the finale, there was even more Destiel craziness. It turned out Castiel and Dean were actually mutually in love — but only in Spanish. In the Spanish dub, after Castiel said “Te amo,” Dean replied “Yo a ti, Cas,” effectively telling Castiel that he felt the same way. Destiel was unequivocally real. Nevermind that it was only in Spanish, and that one of the characters was immediately dragged away to his death.
Destiel (mostly) becoming canon was a cultural phenomenon that has continued to endure (a causality has even been posited between Supernatural’s terrible writing and Georgia going blue and securing the result of the 2020 election). Despite the incompetence shown by many of the people who worked on “Supernatural,” when it came to establishing this relationship, the hilarity of the show’s plot development deserves to be marked at its anniversary.
— Staff writer Millie Mae Healy can be reached at email@example.com.