This past Tuesday Supernatural aired what was easily the weakest episode of season 10 so far in “Halt and Catch Fire.” As I observed on Tumblr during my live-blog, viewing this episode was rather like watching a bad, late-90s B-Horror movie…if iPhones were a thing in the late 90s. Anyway, my real beef with this episode is not its overall quality. I figure, when you write 22 episodes a season for 10 years, you are allowed a few duds along the way. My issue is rather the episode’s depiction of Dean’s hetero-sexuality, which was – to put it bluntly – gross and gratuitous even by Supernatural standards.
To give a bit of background, the episode takes place on a university campus, where a ghost is picking off a group of college kids one-by-one. (They killed him in a texting-and-driving accident, hence the vengeful spirit shtick). As Dean and Sam do their usual “suit and tie dance” around the campus, interviewing witnesses and people of interest, Dean is shown leering more than once in utterly gratuitous fashion at the college girls who populate the campuses public areas.
Although Dean has always been portrayed as something of a womanizer on the show, this episode’s depiction of it ushered in a whole new level of creepy, not to mention pointlessness. In canon, Dean is currently 36 years old. The women he was ogling were approximately 19. That’s an age difference of 17 years, meaning he easily could have fathered the girls he was overtly checking out in these scenes. Granted not all romantic or sexual dynamics between two people of significant age difference are inherently problematic, but these shots were, in my opinion, strongly reminiscent of the porn culture fetishization of “barely legal” girls by older men. (Especially since in the scene where this is most blatant, there is overt discussion about Dean’s age, and the fact that he is of a different generation than the college students with whom he’s interacting)
Supernatural has famously taken several giant missteps over the years in terms of how they depict women, and how they portray the heterosexuality of their main characters, especially Dean. (We all remember that horrid virginity-pledge episode where Dean unapologetically seduces a former porn star that had taken a vow of chastity. UBER creepy) But frankly this is the first time – to my recollection – they have depicted one of their leads leering at inappropriately young women who are barely above the legal line of consent.
Indeed, I found the whole thing so patently gross that initially, I believed it was being done on purpose to indicate something about Dean’s deteriorating mental/metaphysical state re: the Mark of Cain. I thought for sure, by the end, they were going to reveal that this was evidence he was slipping precipitously back into demon territory. Nope, apparently this is just regular old Dean being a mega-creep. Awesome.
Which leads me to the other aspect of this that I found not so much offensive as necessary to flag in the on-going civil war over Dean’s potential bisexuality. There are a lot of different rationales fans and viewers put forward in the argument that Dean should not be shown as canonically bisexual, one being that “the show is not about that” or that it would “distract from the story” or that it “serves no purpose.” Alright, well, for the moment let’s just skip over the fact that no one in the history of ever has argued that depictions of heterosexuality ought to be relegated only to shows that are “about” romance/sex. Or that canonical affirmation of a character’s heterosexuality “distracts” from the story. Or that a character’s heterosexuality “serves no purpose” so it should not be present in the narrative at all. Let’s just skip over the queer-phobic nature of demanding that same-sex eroticism constantly justify its own existence in media in a way heterosexuality NEVER EVER EVER is called upon to do. Let’s just by-pass that particular issue, for the moment.
Because as of “Halt and Catch Fire,” I really don’t give a flying fuck is Dean’s bisexuality is “pointless” or “gratuitous” or “doesn’t serve the story,” or is “distracting.” I don’t care. And do you know why I don’t care? Well, aside from the fact that representation of a marginalized societal group is never ‘pointless,’ the depiction of Dean’s hetero-sexuality in 10×13 was literally the most pointless, gratuitous, distracting, plot-irrelevant piece of BS I’ve ever seen. It served literally NO FUNCTION whatsoever in either the arc of the episode or the larger seasonal plot arc. It was by definition “pointless.” Yet somehow, it still managed to make it onto my TV screen in all its gratuitous, creepy, irrelevant glory.
So from now on, protestations of canonizing Dean’s bisexuality need to find a different line of reasoning other than it’s “pointless” or “not what the show’s about.” Because even if it were the case that him having same-sex attraction is ‘irrelevant’ to the story, at this point, putting it in there anyway would simply be an act of parity. If alternate-sex attraction can be depicted in Supernatural while serving absolutely no narrative function whatsoever (which clearly it can), so can same-sex attraction. That’s just fairness, pure and simple.
The truth is that while Supernatural’s depiction of Dean’s hetero-inclinations have often been varying degrees of sexist or excessive over the years, they usually have served some purpose, however flimsy or minimal, within the larger context of a particular episode or story arc. Dean’s sexual indulgence, and occasional abstinence, has often been utilized to communicate something about his broader mental or emotional state to the audience (“My Bloody Valentine,” “99 Problems,” “Reichenbach”), to generate humorous situations and banter with Sam (“Magnificent Seven,” “I Believe the Children are Our Future”), to facilitate homosocial male bonding (“Sex and Violence,” “Free to Be You and Me”) or as a plot-point that actually does service the larger narrative in some way (“The Slice Girls,” “Rock and a Hard Place,” “Girls, Girls, Girls”).
Problematic as many of these depictions are, none of them were unilaterally devoid of purpose. Displays of Dean’s heterosexual inclinations usually can be argued to have some function, however tangential or implicit, within the narrative. So granted, “Halt and Catch Fire” is an outlier in this regard; but the larger point still stands. Dean leering at those girls in that college library was both very creepy, and narratively u-s-e-l-e-s-s. It was the definition of gratuitous, distracting and pointless. It did nothing for the story, nothing whatsoever. Therefore, at this point, even if canonizing Dean’s queer inclinations did ultimately turn out to be ‘pointless’ to the narrative, I am compelled to beg the question SO WHAT?
By the way, if your response to that question is that depictions of queerness have a higher responsibility to be relevant to a plot than do depictions of heterosexuality, congratulations you are a homophobe, and you need to get your hypocritical ass off my fangirl lawn.
(For the record, this is not an argument about canonizing Destiel. While I do ship Dean and Castiel, and while I personally do think they should be canonized, my contentions in this essay are confined to Dean being made canonically bisexual by whatever means. And if your response is, “Why Dean?” my counter to that is this: go add up the number of queer jokes they’ve made about Dean over the years, stack that number up against the number they’ve made about every other nominally straight male character on that show over the years, and then have all the seats ever)