NOTE: Opinions presented in this article reflect those of the author and are not necessarily those of TDF as an entity.
Supernatural has a problem, a problem that’s been brewing for a number of years now. No, I don’t mean a problem with its’ writing or story structure. It has those problems, too, of course, but the one I’m getting at is much larger, and cannot be rectified with better editing or continuity control. Namely, that it wants to please everybody, and that strategy is swiftly becoming entirely untenable.
For anyone who might be bizarrely unaware, Supernatural is famous for having one of the largest and most active fandoms currently in existence. (Check Tumblr’s weekly fandom metrics if you don’t believe me) Granted, in the era of social media, all entertainment is subject to seemingly endless critique, dissection and opinion-barrage by the masses. But Supernatural stands at something of a pinnacle in that arena (lucky them) and consensus amongst its’ fandom about pretty much anything is difficult to come by…everybody loves Bobby being the one reliable exception.
For some people, it’s all about Dean’s character arc, while some people are primarily here for Sam. Some fans will only watch episodes that include Castiel, and others just want him to go away and never return. Some people are devotees of the Monster of the Week format, while others are desperate for more solidly built myth-arc plots. Then of course – most divisive of all – there are the bisexual-Dean fans versus the hetero-Dean devotees, and the Destiel shippers, versus the Wincesters and the platonic-bros-for-life crowd.
All fandoms have their fair share of shipping wars and entrenched disputes over any number of topics. In many ways, this is in the nature and at the core of the institution of fandom itself, and that is much to the good, IMO. When it comes to pop-culture, I do not believe consensus is inherently a virtue in most instances; debate and intelligent disagreement have a great deal of intrinsic democratic value.
And truth be told, most of the disagreements and fandom dissatisfactions with Supernatural are either largely moot points, good only for academic debate at this juncture (e.g. was John Winchester outright abusive or just a lousy father) OR they are indefinitely tolerable, and fans will continue to watch the show irrespective of their prevalence/continuance (e.g. the lack of any main female characters throughout the show’s entire run).
Most of the things fans find fault with exist at the level of a side-eye annoyance that can often be shrugged off without too much difficulty (Or which only become ‘serious’ bones of contentious at the height of a hiatus, when all the good meta and speculation and coda/reparative fics have run relatively dry) In other words, fans can tolerate a fair amount of things that frustrate them, and continue to be reliable viewers. Yes, everyone has their own idiosyncratic lines in the sand, but as a demographic phenomenon, a preference for myth-arc versus MotW episodes is not usually going to drive away viewers en masse if a season delivers substantially less than their desired amount.
Here’s my point: fans will put up with some shit indefinitely, they’ll put up with some shit not at all, and some shit they’ll tolerate only up to a point. Supernatural is, I believe, swiftly approaching that point with regard to their now infamous (should I say ‘notorious’?) bi-Dean/Destiel/Castiel problem.
I already know of a number of people who have “rage-quit” the show due to their (tragically well-founded) lack of faith that Dean and Castiel will ever consummate their extravagantly drawn-out UST. The series’ queerbaiting – which is such a well-documented phenomenon that by now, everyone from the Daily Dot and Policy Mic to MTV, Salon and TV Guide treat it as an accepted fact – has already alienated a significant number of former viewers, and those of us who are still hanging on grow wearier of it by the day.
(REALLY, show?! Really?)
Supernatural’s fundamental problem is that it thinks it can continue to walk this razor-thin tightrope into infinity. Its’ writers and producers think they can make Misha Collins a series regular, and only include him in a handful of episodes throughout the whole of season 10. They think they can mollify the Cas-haters by making him largely absent, while simultaneously dropping in just enough Dean/Cas bonding to string along the Destielers at the same time (e.g. that scene at the restaurant, which let us all please note, resulted in a season high in the overall ratings after it was released as the teaser)
As I was watching the show’s latest installment, “The Things They Carried” this past Wednesday, my Tumblr dash saw an endless string of reblogs for the following post, which I believe summarizes the situation quite succinctly:
Supernatural’s problem is that the dilemma of Castiel, and his potential romantic relationship with Dean, is a fight that is NEVER going to be reconciled within the fandom or the general audience. People are NEVER going to come to any degree of consensus about it. And while slash fans used to only make up a miniscule fraction of a show’s total audience, that reality is swiftly becoming an anachronism. Indeed, if any show could potentially claim to have a critical mass of slash shippers amongst its core ‘general’ audience, it would probably be Supernatural (Sorry, fellas, that’s just what happens when send all your women packing to an early grave)
Maddeningly, Supernatural still refuses to actually face this fairly transparent fact. But fan patience for their denialism is becoming terminal very quickly. So here’s my two-cents, for whatever it is worth to you SPN writers: quit being such a big bunch of wishy-washy cowards and, well
Either get rid of Castiel completely, or make Destiel canon. Bluntly, those are your two options. But please, enough of this ridiculous roller-coaster of “Dean and I do share a more profound bond,” and “I love need you,” to the two of them barely speaking to each other once every ten episodes. It doesn’t make sense, it’s profoundly bad writing and the opportunism behind it is so aggravatingly transparent, it’s cringe-worthy.
No matter which choice you ultimately make, you are GOING to make some faction of your audience mad. Sorry if I have to be the bearer of bad news for you on that front, but it’s past time y’all face facts. You have written yourselves into a dilemma for which there is absolutely no win-win solution. The only reason Captain Kirk never believed in no-win scenarios is because he was never part of the Supernatural fandom. You are not Burger King and not everyone can have it their way. So please stop writing the show like you are just desperate not to piss anyone off too much. There’s no getting around it at this point. Some significant faction of your viewership is going to wind up pissed at you when this is all over and done with.
You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You need to embrace that fact and get it over with, because right now you are just spinning your wheels, putting off an inevitability that you cannot circumvent. Either pull the trigger on Destiel or pull the trigger on Castiel, but whoever you are planning to disappoint, DO IT ALREADY. Stop dragging all of us along on your never-ending journey of colossal ambivalence. You have already managed to finagle a whopping eleven seasons out of it, which is way more than most other shows could ever dream of getting.
Yes, either one of those choices could very well be the end of you. Both are potentially fatal to your ratings, and you are not wrong to be afraid. But it’s time to face the music, because this see-saw of endless indecision isn’t fun anymore, for anyone. Please, why don’t you do us all a great big favor, and pick a bloody side already?
Post-Hoc Addendum: For the record, this piece was never meant to give the impression that I think Castiel is a worthwhile character only in his capacity to be shipped with Dean. I do not think that at all. My point here is more that I do not think he can remain on the show without simultaneously perpetuating false hope of Destiel becoming canon. Castiel is a worthwhile character in his own right, without a doubt. I just personally feel that his continued presence basically guarantees continued belief by a large number of fans in a ship that is probably destined never to come to port.
What I am calling for here, ultimately, is the total annihilation of false hope around Destiel, by whatever means. If they can pull that off and keep Castiel around, well bully for them and I stand corrected, egg all over my face.