Supernatural: In the face of despair

Let me say it right now: If you haven’t watched this week’s episode of Supernatural, don’t read any further because this episode has to be experienced. Read my recap and commentary later but go watch the episode now. Because nothing can recreate the impact of this episode seen firsthand. Having said that, let’s recap and consider Supernatural: “Despair.”

Bombs are about to go off

At the end of “Unity,” Chuck had lit Jack’s cosmic fuse. This episode opens with Sam (Jared Padalecki) half-carrying Jack (Alexander Calvert) into the library of the bunker; Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Castiel (Misha Collins) follow. Jack begs—commands— Castiel to get him away from the bunker so he doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s a powerful moment, one of Alex Calvert’s best I think, Jack fully owning a power that is getting away from him. And that’s when Billie (a.k.a. Death) (Lisa Berry) appears. She’s angry at the boys, her plans foiled. She can’t stop Jack’s detonation but she can mitigate the effects. She sends Jack to The Empty—the only place, the only being in the universe strong enough to contain the blast—where Jack explodes.

And that’s all before the title roll.

Billie tells Sam, Dean and Cas that Jack may have survived the explosion. She also says it means that The Empty will be pissed at her. The boys are not sympathetic. Sam confronts her about her plan: taking God’s place, returning angels to heaven, demons to hell, and those who were resurrected from the dead back to ashes, including Sam, Dean, and Eileen. He demands Jack’s return. Billie rolls her eyes.

Billie’s smart, but maybe a little careless?

She tells him that if Jack is alive in The Empty, he won’t survive for long. She won’t deliver him back to the Winchesters unless she gets what she came for: God’s death book, which Sam stole from her library. Sam relents and gives the book to Billie. She puts down her scythe and picks up the book. She pauses to read the end—now that Team Free Will 2.0 has once again changed the plan, she wants to see how it ends. She retrieves Jack but won’t release him; he’s still useful. Dean’s had enough. He picks up the scythe and slices Billie’s shoulder. Billie disappears, leaving both the scythe and the book.

Supernatural, 'Despair': Sam and Dean drinking in the library | The CW
Sam and Dean drinking in the library | The CW

In the middle of the night, Sam and Dean have a drink together. Dean apologizes for his actions: getting lost in his rage at Chuck, pointing a gun at Sam. Sam forgives him. Dean goes through the list of allies they’ve lost and the powers they’re up against. They’ve still got each other, though, and they’ve grown for it.

What else is cooking

Stevie (Tori Katongo), Charlie Bradbury’s girlfriend, is preparing eggs for breakfast. She passes Charlie (Felicia Day) a plate. While Charlie enjoys her first bites of delicious scrambled eggs, Stevie disappears.

Charlie calls Sam and Dean for help. After Charlie explains what’s happened, they have an idea why. Outside, Castiel and a shellshocked Jack wait for the Winchesters. Jack tells Cas he feels strange. He was ready to die but now here he is, his fate averted, and he doesn’t know why he survived. He’s scared. Cas admits that he’s scared too.

Supernatural 'Despair': Castiel has a fatherly conversation with Jack | The CW
Castiel has a fatherly conversation with Jack | The CW

Sam and Dean tell Charlie they’ve made some big enemies. Charlie deduces that Stevie’s disappearance is a result of that. Sam gets a call from Bobby who says another Apocalypse World survivor has disappeared. Dean does the math: anyone who’s ever been resurrected will disappear, too. Sam realizes that means Eileen—and anyone else who’s on Billie’s list. They head to Eileen’s place immediately. On the way, Sam texts Eileen. She responds and then . . . she doesn’t.

More disappearances

When they arrive at Eileen’s place, they find her belongings on the sidewalk by her car, her phone smashed, mid-text message. The situation is clear; she’s been taken. When Dean tries to offer Sam a little comfort, Sam refuses. “If I let myself go there now, I’ll lose my mind,” he says. But they all know.

Supernatural 'Despair': Last texts between Sam and Eileen | The CW
Last texts between Sam and Eileen | The CW

Sam decides they need to get everyone they know to safety. Dean agrees and says that’s what Sam should do. Dean says that Billie’s left her blade; he’s going to go take care of her. Castiel says he’ll go with Dean. Sam and Dean hug; Sam’s grief is clear in the embrace. When Dean pulls away, he puts a hand on Sam’s neck and looks at him like a father. The words are unspoken: You be strong now. Sam nods wordlessly. It’s such a lovely moment; the passing of strength between them. Dean and Cas head to the car. Sam and Dean exchange one more glance and then Dean and Castiel depart.

At a gas station with Eileen’s car, Sam calls Donna (Briana Buckmaster). She’s been scouting locations for a safe house and she’s found one. Sam sees that Jack is still shellshocked and so decides that Jack is going to drive while Sam does research and looks for spells. It’s a way to get him to engage in the world again. Jack gets into the driver’s seat and they head to the safe house.

Dean and Cas arrive at the bunker. They get the scythe and head to Death’s library.

Gimme shelter (for real this time)

Sam and Jack arrive at the safe house, an abandoned grain silo. Donna is there waiting for them. She tells Sam that she’s called everyone—Jody and the girls, Garth, other hunters—and told them all to get to safety. Sam is reassured: Jody, Bobby, Donna, none of them should be on Billie’s list. Charlie arrives in combat fatigues, ready to do battle. Inside the silo, the group is painting protective sigils along every wall. Bobby (Jim Beaver) is already there and tells Sam he’s in charge. While painting sigils, Jack discovers a weed growing. When he reaches to pull it, it withers within inches of his touch.

Supernatural 'Despair': I'm Dean Motherf*cking Winchester: Stop killing my friends | The CW
I’m Dean Motherf*cking Winchester: Stop killing my people | The CW

At Death’s library, Dean and Cas confront Billie, Dean with scythe in hand. Dean tells her to stop killing his friends. When Dean gets Billie under the blade, she says she didn’t hurt them; she guesses it’s Chuck at work.

Sam strengthens the sigils around the silo with magic, but then one of the Apocalypse World survivor’s kids disappears. The sigils aren’t working. One by one, everyone in the silo disappears except for Sam and Jack.

Death is coming

Billie tells Dean that when he sliced her in the bunker library, it was fatal, just slow. Now, she just wants to see him dead. She uses her powers to toss Dean and Castiel away. They recover and flee back to the bunker. Billie appears above them in the catwalk. She starts squeezing Dean’s heart and he crumples. Castiel grabs him and they run.

Supernatural 'Despair': Billie stalks Dean and Castiel in the bunker | The CW
Billie stalks Dean and Castiel in the bunker | The CW

“It’s you, Dean. It’s always been you. Death defying, rule breaking. You are everything I live to set right, to put down, to tame. You are human disorder incarnate.”

–Billie a.k.a. Death

Cas and Dean end up in the dungeon archive. Castiel grabs Dean’s knife, slices open his hand and draws a warding on the door in his blood. The warding keeps Billie’s power out and relieves Dean’s pain. Billie begins to slowly hammer on the door. Cas points out that Billie said the wound Dean inflicted on her was killing her; they could wait her out. But Dean knows it’s only a matter of time before she gets in. They’re trapped and it’s his fault.

Castiel summons The Empty

Cas realizes that there’s one thing strong enough to stop Billie: The Empty. And there’s only one way to summon The Empty: by Castiel’s achieving true happiness. This was the deal he made with The Empty to save Jack’s life several episodes ago. The Empty will absorb him in that moment. And that’s when Cas makes his stand against darkness and fear to save the people he loves. I can’t even try to summarize the monolog, so here it is, in full:

“I always wondered, ever since I took that burden, that curse, I always wondered what it could be. What my true happiness could even look like, and I never found an answer. Because the one thing I want, it’s something I know I can’t have.

“But I think I know, I think I know now. Happiness isn’t in the having. It’s in just being. It’s in just saying it. . . . I know . . . I know how you see yourself, Dean. You see yourself the same way our enemies see you: you’re destructive and you’re angry and you’re broken. You’re Daddy’s blunt instrument.

“You think that hate and anger, that’s what drives you, that’s who you are. It’s not. And everyone who knows you, sees it. Everything you have ever done, the good and the bad, you have done for love. You raised your little brother for love, you fought for this whole world for love. That is who you are. You’re the most caring man on Earth, you are the most selfless, loving human being I will ever know.”

Supernatural 'Despair': Castiel speaks his truth | The CW
Castiel speaks his truth | The CW

In that moment, Dean steels himself. He may actually know what’s coming.

“You know, ever since we met,” Cas continues, “ever since I pulled you out of Hell, knowing you has changed me. Because you cared, I cared. I cared about you. I cared about Sam. I cared about Jack. But I cared about the whole world because of you. You changed me, Dean.”

Dean, stoned-faced, asks, “Why does this sound like a goodbye?”

“Because it is,” Castiel says, his eyes shining with tears, his face alight with his truth. “I love you.”

“Don’t do this, Cas,” says Dean softly, a break in his voice.

“Goodbye, Dean.”

Castiel throws Dean aside, away from the wave of The Empty as it crashes through the wall of the archive. With complete bliss on his face, Cas stands and accepts The Empty as it embraces him. It engulfs Billie as well. Dean watches, completely gutted, Castiel’s handprint on his shoulder, just as when Cas raised him from Perdition back in season 4.

Supernatural 'Despair': Dean is marked by Castiel | The CW
Dean is marked by Castiel | The CW

Sam and Jack emerge from the silo. Jack asks, “Sam, was it just them?” The world looks empty. Sam tries to call Dean, but Dean can’t deal with it; he doesn’t answer. He sits on the floor of the archive and weeps.

Supernatural “Despair”: I have thoughts

Predictably, fandom has gone utterly mad in the wake of this devastating conclusion. For ten hours after the episode ended, the top trending term on Twitter was #destiel, the portmanteau of Dean and Castiel’s names for those who see their relationship as a romantic one. It pushed the election and Vladimir Putin out of the way. Misha Collins had this to say about that final scene:

Misha Collins tweets about Supernatural 'Despair' and Castiel's storyline

Do I think this was confirmation of #destiel as canon? I’m of two minds about it. On the one hand, HELL yes, but if anyone’s been paying attention for the last twelve seasons, then there’s little argument about it. Characters have commented about Castiel’s love for Dean almost since the character was introduced. Dean has loved him like a brother, a brother-in-arms, and more, and the evidence is in the episodes: how he hugs Cas when they first reunite in Purgatory, how he tearfully apologizes to Castiel earlier in season 15 in Purgatory. There’s so much more, a lot of textual evidence to support it.

On the other hand, maybe not. Castiel, at base, is a wavelength of celestial intent tied to a human vessel, and the love he declares may be the soul-deep love of one brother for another or the divine love infused in him as a celestial being. Of course, that does leave the question of what Castiel meant when he said, “Because the one thing I want, it’s something I know I can’t have.” Is his love unrequited? If it is, does that mean that #destiel wasn’t canon at all? Does the lack of verbal acknowledgement from Dean negate Castiel’s love or the validity of what they are to each other? I don’t think so. After all, as Castiel says, happiness isn’t in the having, it’s in the being.

We’ve still got two episodes to find out if the writers are going to clear that up for us, to see if Dean will say anything about it. His weeping on the floor was an eloquent statement that I don’t think people are giving enough credit for.

In terms of performances, the whole cast knocked it out of the park. But I think the man behind the curtain is the one we should thank: Richard Speight Jr.—also known as the angel Gabriel in previous seasons—directed the episode and gave us some beautiful things to look at: the moody scene between Dean and Sam drinking in the library, that shot of Dean full of rage in Death’s library, the sweet moment between Sam and Dean when they discover Eileen is gone, and Castiel’s heartfelt farewell. Good directors bring out the heart in performances and he showed us everything we wanted in this episode.

There was another moment in this episode that bears some note: the withering of the weed beneath Jack’s hand. He felt strange after returning from The Empty. He was the person nearest to Billie when Dean sliced her shoulder. He is the most powerful supernatural being currently in existence with, perhaps, the exception of Chuck. Though it was not explicitly stated in “Despair,” methinks we’ve met the next Death. And I wonder how he’ll feel about it.

We’ll all find out next week.

Janna Silverstein is a writer and editor, an all-round professional nerd living in Seattle with two cats, a really big TV, and lots of books. She has more theories about this episode and the next one but she’s saving them. Or maybe she’s tweeting them @JESilverstein.

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