Friday 20 November 2020

The Final Mistake


This time yesterday, I was anxious but still hopeful. I needed a win. It’s been a shitty year in so many ways for everyone, but also for me personally. Getting the ending I wanted on a TV show wasn’t going to get me mobile again, but it would have given me a reason to smile. Instead, today, I feel sad, I feel let down, I feel grief, I feel anger and frustration. I feel like someone took something else away from me. Those of you who have ever been invested in a TV show or a film franchise will understand this feeling.

I came to Supernatural in the middle of season six. I was part of the Doctor Who fandom, had found friends in it. Series six of DW stared a character called Canton Everett Delaware III in the first two episode played by Mark Sheppard. My DW friends also watched Supernatural and said he played a demon called Crowley in the show. I caught up those seasons quickly. I loved Crowley, and the brothers, Dean especially, but along the way, I found Castiel.

Now some people see it straight away, and some people don’t, but the way Dean and Castiel looked at each other, from the first moment I saw them, something clicked. Over the next nine years, that relationship develop, and I hoped, God how I hoped. Alongside my writing career, I wrote the odd bit of fanfiction filling in those fanfic gaps. Every season, I hoped they’d be brave enough to follow through with the feelings these two characters clearly had for each other, feelings which to me seemed more than brotherly. When this didn’t happen, the show was accused of queerbaiting.

Then they announced Supernatural would be coming to an end in this year – the year that has become the year from hell. In episode eighteen, Cas tells Dean he loves him – loves him. This is a declaration of romantic love which Misha Collins has confirmed. Misha said that he was told to play being in love with Dean from the beginning of the season, but as he continued, he realised he’d always played Cas this way. Dean doesn’t answer him in that scene, but you can see the emotion on his face. He ignores Sam’s call. This event shouldn’t have been something to simply brush off and not talk about, but it gets no mention beyond Dean saying Cas is gone. In episode nineteen, the world is fixed, and Sam and Dean drive off in Baby. Much of me wishes they’d left it there, but they didn’t, which brings me to why I’m so sad.

The writers and producers of Supernatural had the chance to do something massive with this finale. They had the chance to send a message to so many people that a man like Dean could be in love with another man. People would have talked about this for years. This would have been the show that killed everybody, not just the gays, but brought them back. They could have given Sam an ending with Eileen, a woman he loved, not someone whose face we didn’t even get to see. They could have made both sides of Destiel canon. Cas thought Dean would never love him. Dean thought Cas was an angel, a divine being, who couldn’t love someone as damaged as him. Cas told him what a good man he was, but Dean didn’t get a chance to process those words, and we didn’t get to hear how he felt about it. A character who had been on the show for eleven years confessed his love to another character, and that person didn’t even get to talk about it! A football fan would say - we was robbed - and we were. So many people were robbed. And once again the gays were buried. Although in this case, I think both characters would have been bisexual or pansexual, the result is the same.

Some people have blamed Jensen, but I don’t believe that for a minute having seen how he is around Misha and knowing what parts he has played before. At the Jus in Bello con last year, he clearly wasn’t pleased with the ending. Misha has yet to say anything. In the end, the writers bottled it. Did the powers that be step in? I don’t know. But in my view a chance was missed. This was a bad ending. It didn’t make sense either. The writer in me kept being jarred out of the moment. I wanted to feel but I kept shouting – no – it wouldn’t happen like that. Dean wouldn’t die being pushed on a nail. If he had to die, he’d have died heroically saving Sam or someone else he cared about. He certainly wouldn’t get to heaven, hear that Cas was there, and not want to find him. If for no other reason than, as he has often said, Cas is his best friend, and family doesn’t end with blood.

So, after the finale, I’m upset, sad, and more than a little angry. I’ll go back and watch the many episodes I love again, but not this one. This ending will go down as another of those disasters like Dexter or How I Met Your Mother as far as I’m concerned. For me, it let fandom down and didn't do the characters or the story arc justice. And the real truth is that I am not all right about it.

Wednesday 11 November 2020

Fandom, Gay Romance, and Me


I came to fandom quite late in life. Don’t get me wrong, I’d been a fan of certain programmes, especially Doctor Who, for a long time, but I’d never connected with other fans until I went looking. The reason I went looking was the death of one character.

I was born into the generation who watched television, and I’ve watched a lot over my nearly sixty years, but only two programmes have sucked me in and torn at my emotions – ripping my heart to shreds. Those two programmes are Torchwood and Supernatural. It was the death of Ianto Jones in Torchwood that I can say with all truthfulness changed 

When Ianto died in the arms of his lover, Captain Jack Harkness, I cried. It wasn’t the first time I’d cried over the death of a character – see Dr Greene in ER – but, maybe because this coincided with my increased use of social media, I went looking for anything online I could find to see if others felt the same, and a whole world opened up. I found fandom. I found fanfiction. I found fanart. I found an online community of fans. I read, I watched, and I communicated. I found like- minded friends online, people who have become real friends even though we’ve never met in person, but I know will be there when I need them. Then, I started writing and I met other writers online. I discovered a new love. I wrote story after story about Torchwood. I wrote fix-its that were canon compliant and alternative. I wrote stories, from drabbles of 100 words to my biggest work of fanfiction, Torchwood High which is 200K words. I republished a re-edited version during lockdown. But what has this to do with gay romance you might ask?

I don’t know what it is about gay romance that first pulled me in. I’d never been a big reader of romance, except for reading family sagas and historical novels. They occasionally had gay characters who I found myself rooting for. I also read a lot of fantasy, especially the novels of Stephen Donaldson, Julian May, and Katherine Kerr. They too had gay characters. I loved sprawling stories and bought books by the inch with big themes. But romance is usually more intimate. Yes, that is obvious, and yes there are side characters. But essentially, the story is about two people finding each other, finding the person for them. Heterosexual romance, even that with its difficulties, is ‘acceptable’. LGBTQ+ romance provides another layer, even if there isn’t any conflict at all. Take Schitt’s Creek, for example. David and Patrick face no opposition at all in the story, but I was invested in their love story much more than that of Alexis and Ted. I love David, but I adore Patrick because he loved David and his many wonderful eccentricities. I love an opposites attract story.

Anyway, this brings me back to Ianto. As fans we watched as he struggled with his feelings for Jack. Jack had killed his girlfriend, and yet, like many others, Ianto was drawn to him. Maybe it was sex at first, just a bit of fun with a stopwatch. But by the time he died, their story had developed into a love story. When Ianto whispers his love for Jack as he dies, it’s heart breaking because you think that there will be no more and I wanted more, even down to buying curtains—old joke. Fortunately, because of the audio plays from the BBC and Big Finish, this isn’t the case, but at the time, it felt like the end had come to soon. Fandom exploded. Accusations of ‘bury the gays’ were levelled at Russell T Davies. A shrine was built to Ianto, a fictional character, in Cardiff Bay. This shrine is still there eleven years later.

Back to Doctor Who and Matt Smith’s eleventh Doctor and the connection to my other obsession. The opening episodes of series six, The Impossible Astronaut and The Day of the Moon, got me writing again because of one character, Canton Everett Delaware III played by Mark Sheppard and his father Morgan Sheppard. I fell in love with character and the actor and wrote an 80K fanfiction called The Canton Chronicles. My fandom friends pointed me towards a show called Supernatural in which he played the baddie, Crowley. I caught up six and a half series to join along with their weekly watch. 

Yes, I loved Crowley, but in series four, Castiel appeared making one of the greatest TV show entrances ever. For me, the connection between the gorgeous Dean and his angel was immediately obvious. I found others had seen it too. I discovered Destiel. This time around I discovered Tumblr. I watched fascinated as these two edged nearer to each other then pulled away. Maybe it was because I’d never watched the brothers in real time that I didn’t invest in their relationship. My investment in Destiel was total. This, for me, was Jack and Ianto all over again. I waited, and waited, and waited. I hoped and despaired. And yes, I loved Cockles too. Then they announced season fifteen would be the last. Would they go there? Could they make Destiel canon? I don’t think it was any secret that Misha was on board with the idea and Jensen had played bisexual before. Last week, during the US elections, Destiel trended higher than the elections and Putin because Castiel confessed his love for Dean. 

It wasn’t the first time he’d said I love you, but this was different. Misha has since acknowledged that this was different. Castiel says he wants something he knows he can never have, and those, for me, are the words which make this declaration different. It is a heart-breaking scene. It has made me happy, sad, and angry. I’m happy that Castiel said it. I’m sad Dean didn’t get chance to reply, and that this might be the last time we see Castiel. And I’m angry because, like Ianto, Castiel immediately dies. Ianto is sacrificed and Cas is sacrificed. ‘Bury the gays’ strikes once more. And I’m back watching videos, reading fanfiction, and writing a fix it, depending on what happens in the last two episodes, because I still have hope it’s not the last we’ve seen of Castiel.

I’ve thought a lot about the connection between my love for these two programmes and gay romance lately, and I think what these stories give me is the chance to become a cheerleader. I support Cardiff City and Leeds United football teams. I’m used to being happy and sad in equal measure. When I pick up a book, sometimes I wonder whether to continue, but by the end, I want the main characters to get their happy ending. TV and film often provide no guarantees for LGBTQ+ characters, but the stories I read do. And let’s face it, today we all need a happy ending. Fingers crossed, there’s still an outside chance for Destiel.