I interpret thus: When Dean says "we" it seems like he means "we = Dean, Sam, Cas" but actually it's "we = Dean and Cas". Similarly when Cas says "you" it seems like he means "you = Dean and Sam" but actually it's "you = just Dean". There's a miscommunication going on, between Dean and Cas, and between them and the audience. Different layers of meaning. The mixtape scene is a great example of this, and the argument they had just beforehand. I encourage you to watch again and interpret both ways.
Follow up: “we” can also be “us / our.” Also Dean sometimes uses “we” to mean “we = just me, Dean”. Such as the argument in 12.19 where Dean is upset with Cas but tries to make it seems like “Dean and Sam are upset with Cas” when really Dean is talking about himself and his own feelings. Quote: “Not only were you ditching *us* but you were also ignoring *us*.” In context, clearly, Dean is talking about himself - “we = just Dean, not including Sam”. Later on: “*we* were worried, that’s not ok.”
Add-on (because I’m re-watching and I can’t switch off): Cas during the mixtape scene, where ‘you’ is read as ’= Dean and Sam’ but likely ’= just Dean.’ Quote: “I didn’t mean to add to *your* distress. […] When *you* were taken I searched for months and I couldn’t find *you*. […] I needed to come back here with a win for *you*.” Followed by Dean saying “me and Sam we had her” so 'we = Dean and Sam’ and Cas switches back to 'you = Dean and Sam’ “And if you find her again?”
Final ask, I promise: I’m just saying for particularly the mixtape scene there’s always a clear distinction made when “we” or “us” or “you” is meant to include Sam, and when it is not. The times when it is not clear are, in my opinion, when Sam is not meant to be included - at least not in a strong way. “I couldn’t find you” - yes Dean AND Sam were missing and Cas was looking for them both, but it’s also meant to be addressed JUST to Dean here. The talk later start notably including Sam. (End.)
Hey! Yes this is a very frustrating thing in this show. Because there are several ways to interpret everything that the characters say. This is why you end up with MASSIVE debates over a simple sentence such as Cas’s love confession in 12x12 and exactly the reason why my tag for that debate is ambiguous love confessions. This show loves its ambiguity because it wants to keep all sides of the audience (though by sides I really mean destiel shippers versus people who would rage quite if it went canon) happy. (Personally I think the show should stick a middle finger up at those who would rage quit over something like Destiel but that’s just me)
This is also an excellent example of why English as a language generally sucks. Other languages have different words for ‘you, we, us, etc’ depending on the meaning. I imagine that translators for subtitles and things must have a hell of a time trying to figure it all out. (I guess that means the translation would entirely depend on whether the specific translator watched the show through a destiel lens with a knowledge of subtext or whether they were just as dense and heteronormative as the rest of the GA.
Anyway, it is as you rightly say, something Dean does a lot. He sublimates his own feelings onto Sam, grouping them together so he isn’t left vulnerable.
11x23 was a great example of where this became SUPER annoying:
You’re the best friend we’ve ever had.
You’re our brother, Cas. I want you to know that.
Textually, Dean is talking ABOUT him AND Sam, but subtextually, through an understanding of the shows history and Dean’s behaviour, it is clear that Dean is actually talking about himself. This exact line was said specifically TO Dean by Bobby in Season 7 after all “You just lost the best friend you ever had”. Whilst I would never want to understate Cas and Sam’s relationship, Cas has always meant more to Dean than Sam and that in itself is evident by the fact that it wasn’t SAM who made an excuse to drag Cas along on a made up beer run so he could talk privately with him about his feelings.
Enter season 12 and every freaking episode is bringing to light just how very different the feelings between Dean and Sam for Cas actually are (season 11 also did this, most obviously in 11x18 but yet we still had that useless little talk in 11x23 which gave us hardly anything *sigh).
I think the moments that you refer to specifically are in 12x19. But they also apply heavily to one specifically memorable scene in 12x12. Both episodes are vitally important to understand how Dean and Cas view each other compared to how they view others.
In 12x12 we get this glorious speech:
DEAN: Cas, come on.
CASTIEL: (talking to Dean) No, you listen to me. You–
(looks around to address everyone) Look, thank you. Thank you.
(looks from Dean to Sam throughout) Knowing you, it… it’s been the best part of my life. And the things that… the things we’ve shared together, they have changed me.
(reaction shot from Mary looking at the boys)
(reaction shot first of Dean, then of Sam – evidence that what Cas just said meant BOTH of them)
You’re my family.
(Cas looks from Dean, to Sam, to Mary)
I love you.
(Cas looks down)
(reaction shot from Dean)
I love all of you.
(Reaction shot and zoom in on Dean and then Sam)
Just please… please, don’t make my last moments be spent watching you die.
(again Cas looks at both Sam and Dean at this point)
Just run. Save yourselves. And I will hold Ramiel off as long as I can.
Following the pattern of eye contact, its pretty clear who he is addressing at each point, except for one point, when he looks down.
Therefore we have to go by reaction shots. Early in the scene the reaction shots are used to establish WHO Cas is talking to at any specific moment. After he looks down, we ONLY get a reaction shot from Dean.
Therefore logically, he is talking to Dean and Dean only when he says “I love you”.
Also we can argue that the emotional weight behind telling ONE person “I love you” romantically, compared to telling several people “I love you” platonically is the reason that Cas averts his eyes at that specific moment. A platonic “I love you” would not cause a person to avert their eyes.
However in the context of the whole scene, many people would argue that is not the case as the majority of other “You’s” refer to more than one person.
This is a perfect example of ambiguity in a scene specifically crafted as such. Frustrating I know.
Let’s look at the next scene that comes a few episodes later (but interestingly enough the next episode specifically devoted and referred to by TPTB as a ‘Cas’ episode, meaning that they wanted the audience to link 12x12 and 12x19 in their minds).
12x19 uses this language ambiguity a lot, but not to mislead the audience, instead like in 11x23, it is used BY Dean to sublimate his own emotions and thoughts on the situation onto his brother, and its pretty obvious that he’s doing it:
Dean: Let me rephrase that for Sam. Where the hell have you been? And why have you ignored our phone calls?
This is the first time where DEAN as a character is purposely trying to bring Sam in to HIS argument. We have seen Cas’s phone, we know all his missed calls were from Dean and Dean only.
Castiel: I was in Heaven. I was working with the angels. When I saw Dagon had captured Kelly, I-I thought they could help.
Sam: Well, at least you’re back. We’re glad you’re back.
Dean: Really? No, I’m sorry. Okay, 'cause while you were striking out in Heaven, we had a shot at Dagon, and we lost.
Castiel: I know. I received your messages.
Dean: Oh, you did – you did receive the messages? Okay, that’s good.
Dean: So not only were you ditching us, but you were also ignoring us? That’s great. 'Cause we really could’ve used the backup. But, uh, you were too busy with, um What was it? Nothing?
Whats interesting about this exchange is how Sam does it as well. He tries to speak for both him and Dean but Dean immediately contradicts him. Which proves that all of Dean’s “Us’s” and “”we’s “ to follow actually just mean him. Sam isn’t overly emotional and upset about the situation. He is more interested in finding out what Cas actually did. As you stated above, the majority of ‘we’s and us’s’ from Dean here actually just mean him.
Then in the now infamous mixtape scene we get this exchange:
Castiel: Sorry, Dean. Um I just wanted to return this.
(hands Dean a mixtape)
Dean: It’s a gift. You keep those.
Dean: Cas, you can’t – With everything that’s going on, you can’t just go dark like that. We didn’t know what happened to you. We were worried. That’s not okay.
The first thing to note here is that this is just Dean repeating to Cas what he already told him back in 12x10 (the last Cas episode and therefore also supposed to stand out in the audiences minds here). The audience has seen the last few episodes whilst Cas has been missing. We all know how Sam reacted to the whole thing – by consoling Dean as per usual. It was only Dean who was really worried. When Dean says here *we* were worried, he means *I* was worried – just like he already admitted to Cas in 12x10. The difference in these two moments is the intimacy of this scene. Hence Dean is most likely slightly uncomfortable and aware that his heart is suddenly out on his sleeve and vulnerable and he’s already been burned by Cas’s abandonment so he uses the plural words instead.
Castiel: Well, I didn’t mean to add to your distress. I – Dean, I just keep failing. Again and again. When you were taken, I searched for months and I couldn’t find you. And then Kelly escaped on my watch, and I couldn’t find her. And I just wanted I needed to come back here with a win for you. For myself.
Unlike with Dean, Cas’s words are far less easy to interpret. The audience already knows that Dean means that HE was worried and not Sam, but we don’t really know whether Cas means just Dean, or Dean AND Sam at this point. Just like with the 12x12 love confession, Cas’s ambiguity is far more difficult to interpret. Both Dean and Sam were taken as you say, so Cas most likely means both of them. But Cas isn’t addressing Dean and Sam right now. When he says he wanted a win for *you* it is only knowing their background and correctly interpreting the intimacy of the scene (following the mixtape moment elevates this even more) that logically, that final *you* at least, means just Dean.
Dean: You think you’re the only one rolling snake eyes here? Me and Sam, we had her. We had Kelly and we lost her.
Castiel: And if you find her again?
Dean: Sam’s working on it. Of course, he’s hell-bent on finding something that doesn’t mean killing her or her kid.
Castiel: Right. And if he doesn’t find something? If you run out of time, could either of you kill an innocent?
Here the plural form of the words is clearly given. Cas clarifies this time with *either of you* which further enhances the singular form of *you* in his previous line (just like in the 12x12 love confession).
Dean: We will find a better way.
Castiel: (gestures to both himself and Dean) You mean, we?
Dean: Yes, dumbass. We. You, me, and Sam, we’re just better together. So now that you’re back, let’s go, Team Free Will. Let’s get it done.
Castiel: I’d like that.
Dean: Great. And I’d like a beer.
Finally, this moment brought into text the ambiguity itself, proof that there is INDEED a miscommunication going on between them. Castiel asks for clarification on that final *we* because he isn’t sure if he is included in Dean’s plans, Dean clarifies that he is, and confirms that the *we* means all 3 of them. This time.
That final moment is a real kicker because it proves several thing:
- The miscommunication is
real between the characters (starting in 11x23 imo) and a big problem in terms
of their relationships.
- The audience is being
invited to question these ambiguous meanings, since they have now seen a
character specifically question them.
- The writers are aware of
the ambiguity and are intentionally writing it that way.
Added to this that in the episode following this one, the characters even further highlight the miscommunication found using plural terms. Max and Alicia constantly squabble over her use of *we* when really she means *I* because Max doesn’t want the Winchesters to think that he is overreacting like his sister. This happens throughout 12x20 to the point where by the end of the episode, it’s pretty much drummed into our brains that when Alicia says *we* or *us* she means *I*. The writers are specifically trying to get the audience to realise this and apply it elsewhere.
It’s almost a neon sign really. 12x19 and 12x20 both go out of their way to prove a point. Words are misleading.
But they want us to think about this. They wouldn’t have spent so long having characters question the words used if they didn’t.
Therefore its no real leap for us to question Cas’s use of the word *you* and how he means it, since it was right there in 12x19 amongst all of Dean’s *we’s* that mean *I’s* and so on…
It may not be a clear distinction in either his *i wanted a win for you* in 12x19, or his *i love you* in 12x12, but the comparison is there, and made clearer by both Dean and then Alicia’s insistence in using plural words to group in other people where they really mean the singular form.
If we are being told to watch out for it, then we damn well will watch out for it, and Cas’s “I love you” was not for the group- plural. It was for Dean. Just like so many other times he has said *you* and meant Dean and only Dean when other people are around. This is what Cas has been doing for years but it is only now that we are specifically given hints in the text to look out for this ambiguity and actually question it. So keep questioning it, and hopefully it won’t remain ambiguous for too much longer.