Appropriately enough, the TV show Supernatural is managing to cause drama from beyond the grave. Although the series finale aired last week, the fandom is exploding once again due to a Spanish-language version of an earlier (extremely spoilery) episode. It offered a very different interpretation of a pivotal scene: the angel Castiel confessing his love to Dean Winchester. In English, Dean doesn’t reciprocate. But in Spanish, he seemingly does.
For over a decade, fans have campaigned for Destiel (Dean and Castiel) to become a couple, causing friction with the showrunners’ image of Dean as a staunchly heterosexual man. Two episodes before the finale, Supernatural answered that question in the most controversial way possible. Castiel confessed his love to Dean before immediately dying and being sucked into a hell dimension—a narrative choice that many people felt was comically homophobic, tying into the “bury your gays” trope. Then in the series finale, Dean died and went to heaven (with his car!) while Castiel remained offscreen. The show made sure to keep the two characters apart, resulting in a rather unsatisfying ending. It was the final cherry on top of Supernatural‘s iconic reputation for queerbaiting.
Like many popular shows, Supernatural is dubbed into other languages. It has a big Spanish-speaking audience, and episodes air in Spanish on the Warner Channel a couple of weeks after they air in English. This gave English-language Supernatural fans plenty of time to analyze every molecule of Castiel’s confession scene before the Spanish translation knocked it out of the water. In English, Castiel says “I love you,” and Dean replies with, “Don’t do this, Cas.” Meanwhile in Spanish, Castiel says “Te amo,” (“I love you.”) while Dean says “Y yo a ti,” (“And I you.”) This puts a completely different spin on the scene.
After 15 years on air, Supernatural has a colossal presence in Western TV fandom, especially on Tumblr, a hub for queer fandom and shipping. That’s partly thanks to Destiel, a pairing that perfectly illustrates the divide between audiences who want to see queer love stories on TV and creators who have other plans in mind. Much like with Sherlock, some fans kept watching because they thought these two characters would get a happy ending together. And when they didn’t, those fans were extremely disappointed.
Supernatural’s ending inspired a ton of backlash, fanfiction, and conspiracy theories about what “should” have happened instead. This Spanish translation is feeding into those conspiracy theories, shared on the hashtag #TheySilencedYou. Some fans are even accusing the CW of “censoring” the English episode, theorizing that the Spanish translation was based on an earlier version of the script. They believe the Spanish dialogue represents a “real” version of canon that wasn’t allowed to air on the CW. (This clashes with the fact that the CW airs plenty of shows with queer leads, including Batwoman, Riverdale and Roswell: New Mexico.)
It doesn’t help that the scene was kind of weirdly edited, so you can theoretically imagine it being edited down from a different version. But there’s no solid evidence to suggest that’s true. Also, the dubbed Spanish dialogue doesn’t “prove” anything. Dean’s Spanish reply does change the meaning of the scene, but it’s totally normal for dubbed and subtitled translations to make changes to the dialogue. Just ask any anime fan. Most of the time, the translators are just trying to fit the dialogue to the actors’ original lip movements.
Fandom conspiracy theories function in a similar manner to real-world conspiracy theories like QAnon. They rely on the idea that true believers can interpret hidden messages left behind by those in power, revealing an elaborate secret. In One Direction fandom, some fans thought that Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson were in a secret relationship, but were forced into the closet by their managers. Some literally believed that Tomlinson’s girlfriend and child were fake. And when Sherlock aired its final episode without John and Sherlock getting together as a couple, fans popularized the Johnlock Conspiracy, theorizing that the BBC made a secret unaired episode where the show’s queer subtext became canon.
Now we’re seeing the same thing happen with Supernatural. While plenty of fans are content with writing fanfic, critiquing the show, or simply making fun of the dissatisfying ending, others believe the CW censored a “better” ending that was revealed by the Spanish dub. And sure, it is possible that a different version of the scene wound up on the cutting room floor. But this doesn’t change the show’s dubious history with queer representation, and it certainly doesn’t change the events of the finale. Dean still dies and goes to heaven, where he waits around for his brother Sam to die of old age. Castiel is effectively irrelevent to their ending, carefully removed from Dean’s happily-ever-after. The Spanish dub just adds another dash of ambiguity to an 11-season history of queerbaiting. And fans are free to choose whichever version they prefer.
Supernatural’s most compelling moments usually focused on intense relationships between men, whether it was Sam and Dean and their father, or Dean and Castiel. The queer subtext between Dean and Castiel was also very obvious from Castiel’s earliest appearances in season 4. You can easily interpret Dean as a closeted bisexual who struggles to find happiness thanks to his own toxic views of gender and sexuality. That’s arguably a better story than the “official” canon, which is why so many people balked at Supernatural‘s ending, and are now scrambling for ways to change what’s already set in stone.