This has been a hell of a week. The United States presidential election happened on Tuesday and Americans (and most of the rest of the world) waited through constant anxiety attacks to find out who won as results trickled in. Everyone was on edge, tensions were high, and I really could have used my number one comfort show, “Supernatural.” On Thursday, the third to last “Supernatural” episode ever aired in the midst of all this uncertainty and anxiety – an episode ominously titled ‘Despair’.
True to “Supernatural” form, its third to last episode aired in the middle of unprecedented chaos and caused even more chaos, both in the fandom and more broadly in terms of anyone watching trending topics that night. In fact, #Supernatural not only trended, but #Destiel and #Putin trended – often in the same tweets. Who the hell had that one on their 2020 bingo card??
As “Supernatural” ends its run, it’s no longer the major player on Tumblr that it once was, but on Thursday all those 2012 “Supernatural” accounts rose from the dead en masse to comment on whether or not “Destiel Is Canon” with a mind blowing range of unironic celebration posts alongside an equally mind blowing array of shitposts and hilarious memes making fun of the show for how that possibility played out. I admit I never thought that if “Supernatural” once again ruled Tumblr memes, it would be for making fun of a scene that was the opposite of intended to be funny.
But it’s been that kind of a week. I have mixed feelings all over the place that I still haven’t sorted out and the US Presidential election was just decided Saturday after 987 years, so I’m not likely to sort them out any time soon. Instead, I’ll try to dig into the entire episode, not just those three minutes, and see where it brought us, for better or worse.
The episode picks up right where 15.17 left off, Sam helping an injured Jack. Jack tells them all to leave him, for their own good.
Jack: I don’t wanna hurt you, don’t let me hurt you…
Alex Calvert is so good at making me feel for Jack, that plaintive ‘don’t let me hurt you’ going right to my heart. Dean has changed his tune completely, insisting passionately that they’re not gonna give up on him. Poor Dean must have whiplash with how the writers keep making him change his tune so often.
Billie appears, blaming them for her plan not working and then zapping Jack out of there to the Empty.
Which means we get to see Rachel Miner again, so yay. Jack promptly explodes, though, so boo. The explosion wakes everything up and makes a lot of noise and totally pisses it off. Enraged, the Empty attacks Jack, crushing his head.
Poor Jack, he’s been through a lot in the last two minutes.
Billie gives us some exposition about the Empty being pissed at her too for sending an explosive Jack there, and reminds us that the Empty can’t come to Earth unless it is summoned, which we already knew, but okay. And Sam reminds us what we figured out last week about Billie’s plan – that anyone who was resurrected will die, including Sam and Dean. Billie also is pissed that Sam took the God book and wants it back, refusing to return the maybe still alive Jack until Sam gives it to her. Sam finally goes to get it; instead of putting it in her outstretched hand, he drops it on the table instead. Sassy, Sam.
Billie underestimates the Winchesters for some reason and walks away to read the new portion of the God book, her scythe left behind and her back to the Winchesters. She zaps Jack back to them but insists he’s coming with her, since he’s still “useful”, and that’s when Dean has had enough. He grabs her scythe and attacks her, injuring her. She zaps herself out of there, leaving Jack (and her scythe) behind.
Lisa Berry can be very scary indeed and she proves it in this episode, telling the reapers in her library that “the plan has changed.” Uh oh.
That night, neither of the Winchesters can sleep. Dean drinks in the dark, and Sam joins him. Dean slides a glass and the bottle to his brother and they settle in, mirror images of each other. It’s a beautifully filmed scene from director Richard Speight, Jr. but melancholy as hell.
Dean: Sam, I’m sorry…about everything.
Sam: Dean, you don’t have to…
Dean: I pulled a gun on you! I couldn’t stop… we were so close to beating him… I couldn’t snap out of it.
Sam: Yeah, well, you did. And you’ve snapped me out of worse.
Sam: You have.
Sam is hanging onto hope for both of them, saying they’ll regroup. Somehow.
Dean raises his glass.
Dean: To somehow
They clink glasses, drink together in the dark.
I loved that scene, perfectly depicting how the Winchesters work. They get each other and need few words to come to an understanding after there’s been a breach in that understanding. They sit in companionable silence after, sharing the burden of what’s to come.
Meanwhile, AU Charlie and her new girlfriend Stevie enjoy some home cooked breakfast before a hunt, which is all normal and nice until…
Stevie vanishes, plate full of scrambled eggs crashing to the floor and shattering.
She calls the Winchesters and they rush to her place, which makes me cry because it’s called “Kim Manor”, a shout out to the late “Supernatural” director Kim Manners, who was so influential in crafting the show and making it what it is. I’m guessing that’s director Richard’s Easter egg, but it could be anyone’s, since they all loved and miss Kim.
While Sam and Dean meet with AU Charlie, Castiel has a chat with Jack, asking him how he’s feeling. Jack confesses that now that the plan is ended, his destiny averted, he feels lost, unsure of his purpose.
Jack: I wanted to make things right. I was ready to die. For Sam, for Dean, for the world.
Cas: You never needed absolution from Sam and Dean, or me. We care about you because you’re you.
Jack confesses that he’s scared, and Castiel agrees, saying that he is too.
It’s a nice moment between Castiel and Jack, ending with Cas gripping Jack’s shoulder in reassurance.
Inside, Charlie regrets falling in love again, and bristles when the Winchesters tell her what’s going on and why Stevie may have disappeared. She lashes out at them, which didn’t seem very fair to me, since it’s only because of them that any of the AU people escaped their world before it was destroyed in the first place. Bobby calls and says that another AU hunter just vanished, and everyone realizes that it’s happening – that anyone who’s been resurrected is in danger.
They race to Eileen’s house, Sam texting her on the way, when suddenly the texts stop. Sam glances at Dean, wordlessly conveying his alarm, and Dean floors it.
They pull up to find her duffel and phone on the sidewalk next to her car, her last text to Sam unfinished.
Dean (in full big brother concern mode): Sammy?
Sam: (straightening up) No no no, I can’t. If I let myself go there, I’ll lose my mind. I can’t right now. We have to get everyone to safety.
Dean agrees, but says that while Sam does that, he’s going after Billie.
Dean: I started it, I’m gonna end it.
Dean: We didn’t make Chuck pay, but Billie? Her I can kill.
Cas offers to go with him, and Sam agrees to the plan after Dean says they have no choice.
The whole conversation is a little unclear to me, since I’m not sure why Dean says he started “this” or why they have no choice but to go after Billie now, but they all seem in agreement that they do.
Sam: Be careful.
Dean steps forward and I start to cry because oh shit, it’s not even the end of the episode and we have a Sam and Dean hug? That only happens when things are very very very bad.
Dean steps back and ducks his head, makes sure Sam is looking him in the eye before he asks, “Okay?”
Sam nods, and I cry harder because big brothers, man.
Both Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles did an amazing job with this scene, putting so much emotion into their performances. Sam looks devastated, swallowing it all back because he has no choice, and Dean has always been the most devastated by seeing the people he loves in pain.
Dean: Let’s go reap a reaper.
Sam and Jack head toward an abandoned silo that Donna found; when they stop to get gas, Sam notices how down Jack is. Surmising he’s feeling useless, Sam says that he needs Jack to drive so Sam can do some research, hoping to give Jack back some feeling of usefulness. Daddy Sam to the rescue.
They meet up with Donna, so we get to see her ‘D Train’ license plate again and I’m glad to have Briana Buckmaster back before the end. Another hug, which makes me emotional again – doubly so because it’s been so long since most of us can hug anyone not in our ‘bubble’ in real life. This was the last episode filmed before Covid, so Sam and Donna could share a nice long hug.
Donna says Garth and Jody and the girls are all on alert, and they’re joined by AU Charlie and AU Bobby and the rest of the AU hunters in the silo, which they paint wards all over and enhance them with a spell from Rowena. Bobby reminds Sam that he’s the boss and that people listen to him (and, oddly, that they have no port-a-potty). Jack’s hands start to feel funny, and when he goes to pull up a plant that’s mysteriously grown inside the silo through an opening near where he was painting, the plant withers and dies.
(So Jack will be the next Death then, I’m guessing? Or the bringer of both life and death? Like Chuck and Amara?)
Sam looks around, once again the ‘Chief’, at the AU people making up their beds and settling in, feeling responsible for them like he did when they all first came back from the apocalypse world.
Then suddenly one of the kids who’s with them disappears, just like that. Panic ensues, and while Sam stands there helplessly watching, one after another the AU people get zapped into nothing ala “Avengers: Infinity Wars.”
Charlie: Sam, what do we do?
Sam turns to Bobby.
It’s only Sam and Jack, looking around at the empty silo in horror.
We are supposed to be feeling horror too, but unfortunately we don’t have any real connection to any of the Apocalypse World people so it doesn’t have anywhere near the impact that it did when Thanos did it. AU Charlie and AU Bobby were never our Charlie and Bobby, and it’s clear even in this episode that they have no connection to or affection for Sam and Dean. The only death that made me gasp was Donna’s because that was our Donna and because we didn’t expect it, thinking that only people who had been resurrected or brought from another world were at risk. Apparently, it’s everyone.
Sam and Jack exit the silo, looking around at the eerie quiet.
Jack: Sam? Was it just them?
Sam: I don’t know.
We see empty swings still moving back and forth at a playground, empty baby carriages, abandoned gas stations. I definitely read this fic once. Okay, more than once.
Dean and Cas, meanwhile, go after Billie, Dean armed with her scythe. Which was, frankly, really hot.
Billie: Is this where I say, hello, boys? Hello, boys.
Lisa Berry gives me chills at that moment.
Dean is pissed as hell at this point, after seeing AU Charlie and his brother lose someone they cared about and how much that hurt them, so he’s all for killing Billie. She, however, gets the upper hand and attacks Castiel, choking him.
Billie: Remember when you stabbed me in the back, Castiel? Because I do!
Dean grabs the scythe and manages to cut her again, pinning her against the wall with it.
Dean: Call it off! Stop killing my people!
Billie (laughing bitterly): I didn’t hurt your friends. I’m guessing it’s Chuck. You’re in the wrong place, Dean.
She also lets them know that when Dean cut her, that nick was actually fatal. She’s dying.
Billie: You killed me, Dean.
And there’s just one thing she’d like before she dies.
Billie: I’d like to see you dead.
Richard Speight, Jr. filmed an awesome pursuit scene then, Dean and Cas escaping back into the bunker through the secret door and trying to get away, Billie taking her time following them through the bunker’s long hallways, menacing as she stalks after them, taunting them, scraping her scythe along the walls and leaving sparks in its wake.
Billie: I’m so glad you came…
Dean collapses, clutching his heart.
Billie: It’s always been you, Dean. Death defying. Rule breaking. Everything I love to put down. You are human disorder incarnate.
I love all those themes coming together, all those times Dean really has defied death, defied the ‘natural order’. All those warnings he ignored about how dangerous all that was.
Dean staggers, and Cas throws an arm around him and pulls him along.
Cas: I’ve got you.
They barricade themselves in a room, and Cas draws Dean’s knife from his pocket and cuts his hand, painting a blood sigil on the door to stop Billie’s attack on Dean’s heart. It works temporarily, but both Dean and Cas know that it won’t stop her forever. Time is not on their side.
Billie bangs on the door.
Dean sags, hopeless.
Dean: We’ll lose. I led us right into another trap. All because I couldn’t hurt Chuck.
(What??? Dean certainly was all for hurting Chuck, so I don’t think that’s on him.)
Dean: Because I was angry…It’s all I know how to do…
(Huh? Everyone was on board with this plan, Dean. And why wouldn’t you be angry? What is with this show and the pathologizing of anger, even instrumental anger?)
Dean: Everybody is gonna die, Cas. Everybody. I can’t stop it. I’m sorry.
Dean’s sorrow snaps Cas out of his own hopelessness, and he confides to Dean that he made a deal with the Empty to save Jack’s life, so that if he has a moment of true happiness the Empty will be summoned. And that’s the only thing that can go up against Billie.
Cas: I always wondered, what it could be, what my true happiness could even look like. I never found the answer. The one thing I want is something I know I can’t have.
Castiel is tearing up now, though he looks hopeful and is smiling through them, and I feel my own eyes welling up.
Castiel: I think I know now. Happiness isn’t in the having, it’s in just being. It’s in just saying it.
Dean looks confused, not understanding what Cas is talking about, or why he’s both crying and smiling.
Cas: I know how you see yourself. Destructive, angry, broken. Daddy’s blunt instrument motivated by hate and anger.
Dean flinches, forehead creased in confusion and recognition.
Cas: But that’s not who you are. Everyone sees it. Everyone who knows you knows that what you’ve done, you’ve done for love. That is who you are. You’re the most caring man on earth, the most selfless, loving human being I will ever know. Knowing you has changed me. You cared — so I cared. About you, about Sam, about Jack. I cared about the whole world because of you. You changed me, Dean.
Misha is openly sobbing now, and so am I. It felt as much like Misha’s heartfelt message to Jensen and to “Supernatural” as it did Castiel’s message to Dean, and the genuine emotion really got to me.
Dean: (beginning to tear up too) Why does this sound like a goodbye?
Cas: Because it is. I love you.
Dean: Don’t do this, Cas!
But Castiel looks determined, and entirely at peace with his decision. The familiar black goo of the Empty starts to seep through the wall behind them, and Dean turns to it, looking stricken.
Cas: Goodbye, Dean.
(A nice call back to Castiel’s signature ‘Hello, Dean.’)
The familiar strains of Jay Gruska’s family theme start to play, bringing even more tears (to me, in real life).
Castiel clutches Dean’s shoulder, then abruptly tosses him aside and gives himself over to the Empty.
The black tendrils start to engulf him, for a second looking like his angel wings behind him, and then they engulf Billie too, pulling them both into it and disappearing through the wall, leaving Dean on the floor, alone, a bloody handprint on his shoulder (an intentional call back to the handprint Cas left on him when he pulled him out of hell – apparently something Richard, Berens, Misha and Jensen came up with together)
Outside the silo, Sam calls Dean’s “other other phone” and gets voicemail.
Crumpled on the floor, Dean stares at his phone, the screen reading “Sam” as it buzzes again and again.
He puts it down, burying his face in his hands and sobbing.
Cut to credits.
My immediate reaction as the episode ended was to start yelling at my tv screen that there’s no way Dean wouldn’t answer his phone when Sam has just been through another phone interaction that ended with Eileen being (presumably) dead. I still think that didn’t make sense, but I’ll go with:
a) he’s still in shock and crushed by the sudden loss of Cas and
b) he doesn’t want to tell Sam that they’ve lost someone else important to them.
I was also still wiping tears off my face because Misha Collins really went there in that last scene and, knowing it might be his last on the show, it hit me extra hard. This show has meant so much to its cast, and their relationship with each other has been so strong and so life changing, that I have no doubt that some of those tears were Misha’s tears. The reality of that – of their real life emotions at that moment – pulled all my own real life feelings of loss right to the surface. (Today in an online panel Misha said that he and Jensen went to Jensen’s trailer for a drink after shooting that scene, so yeah. I can’t even imagine how emotional they were, in real life.) Cue ugly crying.
I was thrown out of my sobbing a little as I started to wonder if the scene was in part about the show trying to cater to its fans and keep all of them happy (which is never actually possible). I’m not always against some fan service, but I didn’t want to be pulled out of that moment when Misha had me entirely pulled in. I’ve said before that Robert Berens is deft at writing scenes that intentionally provide for multiple interpretations, and this was another one of those.
There were plenty of cues to read it as a declaration of romantic love if you were looking for one (and perhaps waiting a very long time for one). But it was also ambiguous and open for interpretation as the agape that angels are supposed to specialize in, an ‘I love you’ not an ‘I’m in love with you.’ Misha said today at a panel that it was his intention that Castiel’s declaration was one of romantic love despite the ambiguity, so at least for the person portraying the character, that’s his interpretation and what he was conveying.
There are, predictably, a million different reactions from fandom. Some people who ship it are feeling very happy and lord knows happiness is a rare and precious thing these days so you go, people, revel in that happiness. Others who ship it are feeling let down because this seemed one sided, or worse was both one-sided and a someone-comes-out-and-gets-thrown-into-hell-for-it trope. There are accusations of homophobia being thrown around, and warring factions of yay and boo that I wish weren’t happening in the midst of everything else going on in this world.
Fans who don’t ship it are also divided, some of them interpreting it as a platonic declaration of Castiel’s love and fine with that (interpreting the thing he wants and can’t have to be accepting that Cas loves Sam, Dean and Jack and is loved in return but not being able to stay and actually have that). Other fans who don’t ship it but love the character wanted his sacrifice to be more about love of humanity than romantic love for one human so were not as fine with it, or were just caught off guard by the unexpected turn of events and are more confused than anything.
In other words, there are a lot of very different perspectives on this episode. I was surprised because there was a lot of lead up to Castiel wanting more than anything to be part of a family, accepted and loved by Sam and Dean and as a father to Jack. Just a few episodes ago, he expressed his joy and sense of fulfillment in being a parent to Jack, so I expected that would be the happiness that would eventually take him as he sacrificed himself for his family and his son.
I was thinking a lot about Castiel’s evolution after this episode, and realized that the show has moved away from its initial depiction of angels as non-gendered and fearsome and awe inspiring, to portraying them as very human, from Serafina as besotted with Adam to the fangirl angel wanting an autograph that Chuck encountered in Heaven last episode. I loved Lee Majdoub’s portrayal of Hannah as essentially non-binary that he wrote about in There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, but the show seems to have abandoned that idea and gone with a gendered conceptualization. That was necessary to allow what Castiel said in this episode to have the meaning it has for a lot of fans, I realize now, but I do miss the original take on angels.
The fact that Cas was yanked away and sent to Turbo Hell (the Empty) immediately after his declaration of love caught the attention of seemingly every corner of the internet (Misha acknowledged the criticism of the show playing into the bury your gays trope in the panel today as well). That part has been the fodder for an incredible number of memes all over the internet with a lot of criticism for the show and this episode for potentially sending someone who just came out to their best friend straight to hell, along with a bunch of pretty problematic other deaths all in the same episode.
Tumblr: As if people needed more reason to fear coming out, now they have to fear being yeeted into the abyss.
Suffice it to say, this has been one of the most controversial “Supernatural” episodes ever, which is a lot to take when there are only two left. While some of the memes are hilarious, it also kinda hurts to see so much making fun of the show when I just want to take it seriously as it comes to an end. Most of the larger general audience just seems confused.
In keeping with “Supernatural” always being the most improbable of little television shows on the CW, this episode ran on the Thursday night after the US election, when emotions were running high and people all over the world were on pins and needles waiting for results and glued to social media and the news. First #”Supernatural” trended, and then, as the Dean and Cas emotional scene ended, #Destiel trended too – incongruously mixed in with US election results! If that wasn’t weird enough, a tweet went viral that has inextricably paired Destiel and Vladimir Putin.
@Lilyloo: Future history books: The 2020 election was shaken by one singular even. On November 5th, Destiel became canon, and one long-time “Supernatural” fan was so overwhelmed by the news they chose to resign their job. That man was none other than Vladimir Putin.
(There was, at the time, a rumor going around online that Putin had in fact resigned). The juxtaposition of Destiel and Putin is definitely a legacy that nobody saw coming for “Supernatural,” I’m fairly certain. And while it was again hilarious, it added to how surreal the entire night felt for this fandom.
It’s not a night I’ll soon forget, that’s for sure!
The episode definitely kept my attention, and there were quite a few scenes that were beautifully directed and acted. Richard Speight, Jr. has a good eye for making the show as gorgeous as it should be, and for creating the suspense that a scene like Billie’s slow almost casual pursuit of Dean and Cas needed. The little touches, like Billie dragging her scythe along the wall, the scraping sound and the sparks flying, were perfect. Richard said in a convention panel this weekend that it was very hard to be in the room filming the emotional scene between Dean and Cas, that it was “very powerful to be in that space”. He said there was nobody who wasn’t affected by it, which I’m sure is true – Misha’s emotions certainly affected me!
As to where we are with two episodes to go and where the rest of this episode took us, I’m not super happy about Billie ending up being a villain. I always loved the snarky but mutually respectful relationship between Dean especially and Death, and I’m sorry that changed so much. Lisa Berry did an amazing job but I wish that evolution hadn’t happened. And what ever happened to all that about Death reaping God someday?
Bringing back the AU people wasn’t my favorite story line either – I didn’t like it in the first place, so it’s disappointing that a story line I so disliked had to make a return in the third to last episode. I love love love original Charlie and Bobby, but the AU versions always seemed a cheap way to bring back some of the fandom’s favorite actors without undoing the deaths that maybe weren’t a great idea.
I never cared about the AU versions because they never knew or cared about the Winchesters, so why should I? Making the big goal of this episode saving the AU people didn’t give me much investment in that part of the plot, and neither did Billie as a villain (who really just wanted to put the universe back into working the way it was supposed to, so not all that villainous really). Most of Sam’s interaction with Eileen has also been offscreen, so as much as I love Shoshannah Stern to the moon and back, she wasn’t here for me to get invested in that relationship very much either and once again she exited the show offscreen.
I am also a bit disappointed that Cas didn’t get to say anything at all to Sam in terms of goodbye, that their relationship which had also grown so close was just disregarded, and that Jack, who Cas loves like a son, doesn’t even know that he sacrificed himself and is gone. I do think we’ll see Cas again before the show ends, as much as they’ve gone to great pains to make us think we won’t, so maybe he’ll get that chance then. My Sastiel-shipping friends are feeling pretty sad right now, so I’ll hope for a better goodbye for them.
I think I’m a little disappointed too that Castiel’s ending has been overshadowed by all the discussion of Destiel being or not being canon – by real life fandom disagreements instead of a collective mourning for the fictional character who had such a fascinating evolution and learned so much about free will and choice and fighting for what you believe in. “I did it all for love” is an appealing trope, but in terms of Castiel’s hero’s journey, not the ending everyone was hoping for. However, some fans definitely were, and Misha seems happy and satisfied with his character’s ending and real people’s feelings are always more important to me than fictional characters, so I’m gonna go with that.
I think this was important to Misha and something he wanted to give to his fans who have supported him for so many years so passionately, and felt that he could give them a conceptualization of his own character’s journey that many people could relate to. It is a beautiful message that there’s happiness in just being your real self and speaking your own truth, no matter what that is – and that one’s happiness does not hinge on anyone else’s acceptance or approval. It just is what it is, and saying it is joyful in itself. Misha did an incredible job showing us Castiel’s joy in that, even as the Empty comes for him and sweeps him away; you can see the satisfaction on his face, the still radiant happiness he’s feeling. All the kudos, Misha.
As for me, I’m going into the final two episodes feeling incredibly fragile. I’m sad that there are so many divided reactions to this episode out there and that so many people are criticizing the show so brutally right now as it comes to an end. And I really don’t know what to expect from the next episode or the finale at all at this point. Now that we know everyone is gone, I’m guessing everyone will be restored, so that takes some of the gravity away. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I honestly don’t know. I guess I just hope what we have to look forward to is not only despair….but I’m afraid to totally count on that! This is “Supernatural,” after all. And just the fact that it’s ending means the next two weeks are going to be painful indeed.