Dead Boy Detectives Is a Love Story at Heart

TV Features Netflix
Dead Boy Detectives Is a Love Story at Heart

Dead Boy Detectives is many things: a supernatural procedural complete with spooky cases of the week, a youthful coming-of-age drama, a campy horror story, and a thrilling expansion of a larger fictional universe (Netflx’s The Sandman). But, and perhaps most importantly, it is a story of connection—of surprising friendships, unexpected kindnesses, and love that’s capable of spanning both decades and planes of existence. It’s the sort of show that (like many genre favorites before it) may seem silly on the surface, but ultimately uses its supernatural setting and monster-of-the-week plots to explore deeper and more universal truths.

As a series, Dead Boy Detectives is also effortlessly queer, featuring characters of both varying sexualities and at wildly different places on their journeys to discover who they are. The show’s attitude toward queer representation is expansive and warm and it incorporates a variety of different LGBTQ+ stories within its larger narrative whole, from characters who are confident in their sexuality to those who are questioning their identities or considering coming out for the first time. These stories are blended in such a way that there are moments where it feels possible to root for any potential romantic pairing on the show’s canvas or ship any character with another. But it is the central friendship between Edwin Payne (George Rexstrew) and Charles Rowland (Jayden Revri) that forms the heart of the show—and that has stolen the hearts of fans everywhere. Their bond is achingly romantic in virtually every sense of the word, and whether or not you think the pair will ever be anything more than eternal life partners, their relationship is still the series’ most important and impactful love story. 

Edwin and Charles have an unconventional relationship, to put it mildly. Born decades apart, now ghosts who refuse to move on from the world of the living, their opposites-attract friendship crosses all sorts of boundaries, including the one between life and death. Sent to Hell on a technicality after being part of a ritual sacrifice, Edwin spends 70 years suffering unimaginable tortures—most of which involved being repeatedly mauled to death by a giant spider made of doll heads, it’s gross—before he manages to escape. Newly free in 1989, he discovers a badly injured Charles, hypothermic after nearly being drowned by bullies and hiding in the attic of his former school-turned-current haunting ground. Understanding immediately that he hasn’t long to live, Edwin eases Charles’s passing by talking to him, telling him about life as a ghost, and generally being thoughtful and comforting in a way we rarely see him attempt with any other character within the series. It is perhaps this unasked-for but much-needed kindness that spurs Charles to decide to stay by Edwin’s side rather than cross over after his death. 

The pair spend the next four decades living in one another’s pockets, founding a supernatural detective agency to help ghosts that need it, and generally acting really married, even if their relationship doesn’t initially have an especially romantic overtone. Yet, the genuine love between them is palpable in their every interaction, whether they’re working a case, joking around, or hiding from Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) herself. Though both are free with their verbal and physical affection, it’s their consistent willingness to sacrifice for one another that sets their relationship apart, whether that means the simple act of engaging in activities they would otherwise dislike—Edwin does not seem like a guy who boxes is what I’m saying–or risking their souls on a trip into Hell. And in refusing to submit to the expected afterlife status quo, they’re pioneering a new way of existence for the sake of one another. Building their own side, to crib a phrase from fellow Neil Gaiman property Good Omens, and if that’s not love, I’m not sure what is.

Edwin’s slow-burn realization that he’s not only allowed to have romantic feelings toward another boy but that he’s actually in love with his best friend is an arc that encompasses most of the series’ first season. But although there is a love confession before the final credits roll, Edward’s emotional journey is about so much more than just his feelings for Charles. A sweetly empowering story of self-discovery and self-acceptance, his gradual understanding that he doesn’t have to repress these key aspects of himself is a quiet and heartfelt triumph for the character. That, as the kids say, is growth.

Hailing from a time when young men were encouraged to bottle up their emotions and any vulnerability was seen as weakness, Edwin’s got little experience with any sort of overt affection, let alone romantic love or same-sex attraction. His stoic, socially awkward tendencies are usually played for laughs, but they also indicate how deliberately he still holds himself apart from most of the world around him. (Save for Charles, of course, who is generally the exception to all Edwin’s rules.) His instant jealousy over his BFF’s flirtation with living psychic Crystal (Kassius Nelson) is the first clue that something more than platonic is happening here. But it is when he is dragged back to Hell and forced to face Despair (Donna Preston) herself that Edwin has to confront the truth of many things about himself, including his desperate need to tell his friend how he truly feels about him.

What that confession will ultimately mean is, of course, up to (hopefully) future seasons of the show to explore. Charles takes Edwin’s L-word bomb in stride, seemingly more focused on getting them both out of Hell in one piece, Orpheus and Eurydice-style. (Which is, in its way, a kind of grand romantic gesture if you think about it.) But he also doesn’t seem particularly surprised by Edward’s words. Although he admits he doesn’t reciprocate his friend’s romantic feelings in the same way (at least at the moment), he also acknowledges that the pair literally have the rest of forever to figure out how to categorize whatever it is that exists between them. An answer that’s both honest and heartfelt, to be sure, but also one that’s not explicitly a no, either.

To be fair, that makes sense. Dead Boy Detectives‘ first season has been remarkably forthright about the fact that both its main characters still have plenty of lingering trauma and toxic learned behavior to unpack, and perhaps that is precisely the sort of personal development that should take priority at the moment. (They do have unlimited time, after all.)  But, when given the chance to crush shippers’ dreams, the show doesn’t fully close the door of a possible romance, either. Instead, Charles’ response is just another example of the unorthodox relationship between these two, which exists in such an intriguingly literal liminal space where almost anything feels possible. 

Perhaps Charles and Edwin truly are destined to remain platonic best friends who just happen to get weirdly jealous anytime any other being—living, dead, or magical—gets too close to the other’s personal space. But… maybe they aren’t, and Dead Boy Detectives certainly leaves plenty of room for that kind of reading, and for the hope that their relationship will continue to evolve as the series continues. But no matter which way you choose to read their relationship, the show is pretty clear on one thing: no matter who else may come and go in their long afterlives, their love for each other will literally last forever.  And that’s pretty darn romantic. 

Dead Boy Detectives is currently streaming on Netflix.

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV

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