CS Soapbox: Supernatural’s Ending is a Tribute to the Beauty of Platonic Love
For many television shows centered around evolving relationships, romance tends to be the default focus or endgame for leading characters with a heavy emphasis on happiness seemingly only stemming from romantic love. Within and outside of the screen, it often feels like the idea of contentment is limited to romantic relationships, which goes against two very real truths: You can be single and still be fulfilled and happy, and your most important relationships with others can absolutely be ones that exist outside of romance and/or sex.
I often get tired of the narrative that the point of life is to eventually wind up married and pumping out babies, as though my entire existence is limited to this one “goal” that is not nearly as universal as many in society have deemed. Why do people suggest that there is something lacking in people’s lives if they are not in a romantic or sexual relationship? Why is society conditioned to believe that the most important relationships lie only within the parameters of romance, especially when so many people’s platonic relationships are the ones that matter the most to them?
In a recent interview with Glamour, Jensen Ackles teased that the series finale of Supernatural, an episode full of collaborative Easter eggs tracing back to the show’s beginnings and that is mainly focused on the relationship between Sam and Dean, “is this beautiful throwback to the whole show–to what it was, what it has been, and what it is today.” Throughout its 15 seasons, Supernatural kept its exploration of relationships firmly rooted in platonic and familial love, and the series finale paid tribute to how beautiful, powerful, and significant these types of relationships are as Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester’s (Ackles) story came to a close. Nothing against romance, of course, or the importance romantic love does obviously play in many people’s lives. But for those of us whose main connection with love stems from platonic or familial connections, or who at least recognize what makes non-romantic relationships special on their own, Supernatural’s dedication to telling a different kind of love story was refreshing and welcome from beginning to end.
Of course, romance has existed in pockets during the show’s 15-year run, but we have never seen the main characters in any long-term romantic relationships that were explored heavily onscreen; any romance stories tied to the boys were usually brief, and many romantic relationships in general even existed more offscreen. Take John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Mary Winchester (Samantha Smith), for example, whose key romantic love story essentially jumpstarts John’s dive into the hunting life as he seeks revenge following Mary’s death in the Pilot, resulting in raising his children in a life filled with violence and trauma as he trains them to be warriors against all the things that go bump in the night. While the tangible love between the two characters is clear whether they’re alive or dead, and again, plays a key part in their respective stories — not to mention how it affects the brothers — there are only four episodes in the entire series where John and Mary’s relationship is actually explored with the two of them onscreen together.
Out of 327 hours, romance mostly took a backseat as Supernatural made it a point to mainly tell stories revolving around significant platonic/familial love, validating the importance of these relationships and how they, once again, are far more meaningful to a lot of people, depending on who you ask. In my case, the most important relationships I have are all platonic and familial, which obviously plays a big part as to why I love that the writers stayed true to the idea of putting those types of relationships front and center, but I know I’m not the only one who appreciated that the show consistently explored essential profound love outside society and the media’s romantic love story norm.
The final season of the series touched a bit on romance in the form of Sam and Eileen Leahy’s (Shoshannah Stern) relationship — that started out years prior as a solid friendship dynamic between the two hunters that I adored before Chuck (Rob Benedict) aka God decided to meddle — but there’s a fair debate among fans revolving around this particular pairing especially after Chuck reveals in the episode “The Trap” that he had intentionally manipulated the events surrounding Eileen’s resurrection (following her death in Season 12) and used her as a spy against the brothers, before then further controlling her actions by forcing her to slice Sam up with a scalpel. Chuck’s revelation and the events in the episode leave Eileen (and some fans) questioning what is real and pulling away from that relationship as she takes her leave from the Men of Letters bunker.
It’s important to note that once Chuck’s power and any potential influence or manipulation by the former God was taken off the board after he is defeated by the brothers and Jack (Alexander Calvert), Sam and Eileen never come back together in an onscreen endgame romance (however, during the montage of Sam’s aging life near the end of the series finale, it is left open as to who his partner and/or co-parent could be, allowing viewers to maintain whatever headcanon suits them best). Instead, the brothers, along with the rest of humanity, are completely free to choose and write their own stories from here on out without ever again having to worry about the authenticity of their reality.
Leading up to the finale there was also Castiel’s (Misha Collins) final moments onscreen in 15.18 when he says goodbye to Dean with a romantic declaration of love before sacrificing himself to save him in a very meaningful send-off. Dean learns a few important lessons following the heartbreaking event, some tied to loss as well as love. Interestingly enough, the scene set a precedent for speaking truths in those precious final moments to the people we love most. Later, a dying Dean makes sure to take the time — even with inches of rebar impaled viciously through his body — to speak some of his own truths to Sam, including telling him, “I love you so much. My baby brother,” during the tragic yet powerful barn scene in the finale. There’s a distinct parallel here symbolizing the importance of love in all of its forms that never sacrifices or sidelines the message surrounding significant platonic and/or familial love, or how those relationships can be just as or sometimes even more important to someone — and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The final hour proves to be one of growth for the brothers as at different times in the episode we see each of them finding ways to carry on after loss, choosing to face the painful reality of living while mourning those we love even when it feels impossible to go on — as we all have to — instead of reverting back to anger and revenge or actions that may lead to more violence and long-lasting consequences. Early on in the episode when Sam is missing Castiel and Jack (the latter of which is now following a different path as a new “hands-off” God), Dean tells his little brother that the pain will not go away, but if they don’t keep living, “then all that sacrifice is for nothing,” foreshadowing events to come but more importantly, revealing Dean’s acceptance and freedom from anger and refusal to wallow in despair because there is still life to live, until there isn’t.
Dean’s death is tragic to us as fans who love these characters, as people who understand the weight of losing people you love far too soon, and in knowing how much these two brothers mean to each other. But as gut-wrenching as the scene is, it is also beautiful and meaningful — and exquisitely played by Padalecki and Ackles, who both shine throughout the entire episode — because of the raw emotion and love that comes spilling out as easily as Sam and Dean’s (and our) tears. Dean knows his injury is fatal, that he doesn’t have much time, and allows himself to be vulnerable, asking Sam to stay with him (all he ever had to do was ask) as he speaks openly and honestly to his little brother.
Besides telling Sam how proud of him he is and that he doesn’t want Sam to find a way to bring him back, knowing how high the price has been in the past whenever they’ve defied death and the loss of each other (and especially knowing how far Sam would go to get him back), Dean shares for the first time what it was like for him when he went to fetch Sam at Stanford after their father went missing after a hunting trip all those years ago. Dean reveals that he must’ve stood outside of Sam’s door for hours, afraid Sam would reject him: “I didn’t know what I would’ve done if I didn’t have you.” Dean was scared, he explains, “Because when it all came down to it, it was always you and me. It’s always been you…and me.” Sam asks his brother not to leave him and Dean places his hand over his brother’s heart, telling him he’s not leaving him, and that he’ll be with him every day that Sam is out there living. He tells his baby brother that he loves him, so much, and soon asks Sam to tell him that it’s okay. Dean knows that he raised his brother into the strong, smart man that he is who will fight to carry on as his brother has asked; but as the person who has spent his entire life taking care of his little brother, he needs to hear from Sam that it’s okay for him to go. And Sam, who wants nothing more than for Dean to stay, places his hand over Dean’s and tells his brother that it’s okay.
Dean dies as a hunter, having helped save two young brothers, and he doesn’t die alone; the person he loves most, who loves him more than anything, physically comforts him to the best of his ability in those final moments as Sam gently lays his forehead against Dean’s, letting him know he’s there with him, every step, as their hands stay pressed together before Dean takes his last breath. Only then does Sam, who was already a weeping mess, allow himself to completely break down and cling to his brother as the reality of devastating loss slams into him. The scene is bursting at the seams with heartache and love, from the brothers being clear how much the other means to them, to the final gifts of truths and comforts they give each other, knowing that for now, this really is goodbye.
The tragedy of Dean’s death, and the reality Sam faces for the first time having to carry on with the knowledge that his big brother really isn’t coming back, forces them to acknowledge, accept, and undergo the most universal human experience that they’ve often been able to break the rules with in the past. Sam and Dean would do anything for each other, but they were never going to escape death permanently. It was as inevitable for them as it is for everyone else. In the barn, Dean isn’t seeking out death, nor is he ready for it, but he comes to terms with the seriousness of his injury instead of denying the reality of what has happened, having always believed a hunt would be his final act. Through that acceptance, peace is ultimately found on the other side of the veil instead of misery or regret. Once Sam joins him later, the reward the brothers have earned after years of sacrifice and pain and saving people is in being able to enjoy eternity at peace together, a gift of a rebuilt Heaven where the walls have been broken down and they and their lost loved ones get to be together forever thanks to Jack and Castiel; a Heaven they both deserve. Together forever is key for the brothers’ happiness in the afterlife (Dean even implies to Bobby (Jim Beaver), who greets Dean after he passes, that Heaven isn’t perfect without Sam but Bobby reassures him that Sam will be along soon enough since time works different there) because again, this is about the power of platonic and familial love and how those types of love can leave us as fulfilled and happy as those who experience contentment within romantic love.
Before we get to the brothers’ reunion, though, we have to talk about grief and what it means to carry on while struggling with profound loss. There’s a great quote about how grief and love are tied together by Jamie Anderson, who says, “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” Grief and love are so intensely intertwined — I, and anyone who has experienced loss, know this to be true — and it shone through in such a bittersweet way in the finale. The hurt Sam experiences following Dean’s death is deeply painful to witness because 1) we understand how much he loves and misses his big brother, and 2) loss is relatable.
Sam carries that grief with him everywhere; through memories, an unfillable emptiness, and by keeping his brother as close as possible, like wearing Dean’s watch, for example, even on his own deathbed. We’ve established that love has many forms, and grief is one that can last a lifetime as we do our best to carry on and live life as much as we can to the fullest. But the pain of loss can sneak up on you at any time, and the finale does a wonderful job at showing that particularly in the scene where Sam sits in the Impala in the driver’s seat and cries while gripping the steering wheel tightly, clearly missing Dean even after so many years. Love and grief are both everlasting, and it’s ultimately through love that we are able to find happiness as we carry on, no matter how much it might hurt sometimes. While Dean’s time in Heaven, driving around in Baby as he waits for Sammy to arrive, is far shorter than the years Sam spends without him, the younger Winchester brother lives his life the way his brother would have wanted him to and even raises a son, named after Dean, honoring his brother and the Winchester legacy in more ways than one. Through love, Sam raises his son in a life free from the same trauma he and Dean grew up in, overcoming generational violence and finding the joys in life that helped Sam get through each day without Dean by his side.
Throughout the series, no matter the challenges their relationship faced over the years (and boy, there were some tough ones) at the end of the day, the two brothers were there through thick and thin, even when it hurt, even when one of them was at their worst; they always fought their way back to each other because that’s how much they loved each other. The unconditional love between Sam and Dean was apparent over 15 seasons and was highlighted beautifully in the series finale as two brothers, completely writing their own stories, chose to be together in life, and then in death, waiting to reunite before setting off on their afterlife adventures together. I imagine after Sam and Dean spend time catching up in Heaven, with Sam undoubtedly telling Dean all about his nephew named after him and the life he lived for his brother, the two will now get the chance to travel throughout Heaven together reuniting with family and friends.
Beyond even the core relationship of the Winchester brothers, who developed connections with many beloved characters over the years, Supernatural proved that you don’t have to have a romantic story or endgame to be happy or fulfilled. The significance of platonic and/or familial love and the unbreakable threads these relationships can weave into our hearts and lives should never be treated as less important or less meaningful. Romance was largely sidelined on the show in order to explore love itself, particularly that of family, without attachments to society’s “traditional” ideas of what love or family or contentment has to look like, rejecting that romantic love is the only happy ending.
How beautiful is it for those of us that cherish our platonic bonds and find meaning in these types of relationships to have witnessed one of the greatest love stories ever told that had nothing to do with romance or sex, and instead was embedded in a deeply emotional connection between two brothers who kept fighting alongside each other through years of triumph and anguish, who then end up reunited in the afterlife at peace together, knowing that at the very least, they have the one they love most with them, providing hope for them where they haven’t always had it, and maybe even for some of us?
When asked by TVLine to share what feeling they would use to describe Sam and Dean’s ending, Padalecki and Ackles agreed on “content” and “satisfaction.” For people like me, and for any aromantic and/or asexual fans (such as those who shared their personal stories and thoughts with me) who may have identified with the message that you can be surrounded by love without romance and/or sex, or that you can be happy — or content and satisfied — with platonic or familial love being the most essential or meaningful relationships in your life, it took my breath away that Supernatural went above and beyond to remind viewers in the end that love, simply love, is what matters. And sometimes, a powerful love story can be between two heroic brothers who saved the world.