Stuck in Translation
Hi guys! So, after my meta of this last episode, I got an anonymous ask about my take on Cas’ I love you, and I since I saw that some other people like @mijrake and @tinkdw had replied to my post and were wondering about this as well, I decided to look into it to see if my hunch was right.
As a recap, the question was -
That I love you - was it for Dean? Or was it a plural?
- and my initial assumption was, yeah, definitely a plural, and not for Dean (or not in any overly romantic sense, anyway).
First, I have to say - I understand why other people’s interpretations will differ from mine, and I agree that the camera work on this show is completely Destiel-friendly, but what I also think is that camera work is not what defines what’s going for most people - actions and words is how the audience understands a story, because that’s the instinctive, ‘natural’ way to make sense of real life as well. The vast majority of viewers (and I’m including myself here, because I only know the very basics of how movies are made) won’t know anything about silent storytelling, subtext, camera angles, framed ships on the walls and beer labels. Plus, they’re watching this show like they’re watching dozens of other shows - simply because it’s fun, or because it’s on, or because yeah, I’ve missed a couple of seasons but holy shit, this looks good so let’s give it another chance. They’re not going to read meta online and watch gifs in slow-motion until they can’t function and turn and toss in their beds wondering what Cas really meant, which is why subtextual-only building of gay relationships is dishonest and queerbaiting if it doesn’t follow through. This is, after all, the main reason why most people aren’t even aware that Destiel is a thing - because most of it is still in the subtext.
And coming to the language thing - I’m an interpreter and a translator, so I face this kind of situations every day. In interpreting, everything is generally way too fast to make informed decisions and educated guesses, so you simply do your best, but when translating I often agonize over what to say, especially when working on UK texts, because I know how understated people there can be, so I’ve normally got this text saying one thing but I know, I’m sure of it, that it actually means something else, and what the hell do I do with this now and just kill me.
In this case - I’m sorry guys - from what I’ve seen most people don’t agree with me, but I’m not changing my mind. I would never translate Cas’ I love you as a singular. Never ever. It would be dishonest of me, and definitely an overinterpretation. A casual viewer wouldn’t even notice the camera pan to Dean, or would assume it’s normal in a platonic way - Dean’s the one Cas has the profound bond with, after all - he saved Dean from Hell, rebelled against Heaven because Dean asked him to, and is generally learning how to think and feel for himself from Dean. Most of the time when Cas is speaking we get a reaction shot from Dean, not Sam, but reaction shots in themselves are not enough to assume two characters are in love with each other and want to bang right, left and centre. And, well, I’m not a fansubber, but I like follow the work of the Italian fansubbing community and 99% of the time they do an outstanding job, so I’ve gone tinkering around on their websites and this is what they did -
Conoscervi…è stata la cosa più bella, per me. E tutte le cose…che abbiamo condiviso…mi hanno cambiato. Siete la mia famiglia. Vi voglio bene. A tutti voi.
- and, to me, it makes perfect sense. The verb to love in Italian - amare - is profoundly connected with romantic or sexual love, and it’d be beyond weird to use it with a family member. Voler bene is the expression we use for that, and is how Cas’ I love you - I love all of you is translated as.
Compare and contrast with Metatron’s taunts - He’s in love with…humanity - which was translated as È innamorato…dell’umanità: that was the right choice, because ‘in love’ is the unambiguous expression for romantic love, just like innamorarsi di qualcuno in Italian. In fact, all the most famous instances of I love you directed to family members were inevitably translated with voler bene.
Va tutto bene. Perche’ sei mio fratello. E ti voglio bene comunque. [5x11, Sam]
Lucifero…Tu sei mio fratello e ti voglio bene. [5x12, Gabriel]
In Italian, amare can be used with family members and friends but not as a direct ti amo - only in a kind of I love my friends way. This is recognized by the fansubbers, who do use the word when the context is more general:
Deludo le persone che amo. Ho deluso papa’ e adesso credo di aver deluso anche te. [2x22, Dean]
E quando cederai alla fine, e credimi, cederai, Sam…e tutti quelli che conosci e ami…potrebbero essere morti da tempo. Tutti eccetto me. [10x22, Cas]
Translating Cas’ I love you as Ti amo would have been incorrect, out of context and dishonest, especially since Cas just said all three Winchesters are like family to him.
So, look - what annoys me about stuff like that is that what we’re doing right now is the inevitable result. The whole point of inserting ambiguous scenes is to keep everybody happy and get people talking about what happened so we won’t lose interest in the show. Some people right now are elated because my God, Cas told Dean he loved him, while other people feel tricked and let down by the fact the scene wasn’t clear enough, and the thing is - there is no right or wrong answer because that’s how the scene was written in the first place - ambiguously. The words mean one thing, but the way they’re framed into the conversation means another. They could be directed at Dean, but Cas looks away from him, but we still get Dean’s reaction shot. And so on, and so forth. One could easily write a novel about how this scene was written, played and shot, and I’ve got no doubt we will do that, just as we wrote novels about all those other moments who meant everything and nothing, all at once.
Just for fun: here’s the work of the other fansubbers in romance languages.
French: Vous connaître…Ce fut la meilleure partie de ma vie. Les choses qu'on a partagées m'ont transformé. Vous êtes ma famille. Je vous aime. Je vous aime tous. [PLURAL]
Portuguese: Conhecer vocês…foi a melhor parte da minha vida. E as coisas que…as coisas que fizemos juntos, elas me mudaram. Vocês são minha família. Eu amo vocês. Amo todos vocês. [PLURAL]
Spanish: Conoceros…ha sido lo mejor de mi vida. Y las cosas…Las cosas que hemos compartido juntos, me han cambiado. Sois mi familia. Os quiero. Os quiero a todos. [PLURAL]
So, please - there were a lot of significant things going on in this episode, and as a determined and obsessive and combative Cas girl, I was blown away by Cas acknowledging and accepting his place at the Winchesters’ side and formulating those human feelings that have been flickering on and off in his chest from the start, but personally, I’m also not going to kid myself here. This did not make Destiel canon: like many other choices they’ve made other the years, it made Destiel easier, believable, within reach and a natural conclusion to this story they’re telling - but for the moment, that relationship is still subtextual and it’s up to them to bloody get it out of the subtext, not up to us to drag it out - and that’s simply how the rules work.