I am loving the lead up to Supernatural’s Season 13 finale. With four episodes remaining, this week’s ‘Unfinished Business’ kept up the momentum and continued the work of bringing the team together who will try to save the world (from AU Michael or Lucifer or the both of them). We’ve now gotten rid of Asmodeus to clear off the playing field a bit, and by the end of this episode Castiel, Gabriel and Rowena will all be in the bunker with the Winchesters getting ready to save Mary and Jack (oh, and the world).
Richard Speight, Jr. directed this episode, which wouldn’t be OMG AMAZING in itself since he has already directed multiple episodes. What makes it OMG AMAZING is that Richard ended up directing an episode in which he also is the featured guest star! They assign the directing schedule early on, so originally they didn’t know Gabriel would be getting an origin story, or that this would be it. When I sat down with Richard earlier this year after his first directing foray for Season 13, he knew he’d be directing episode 20 but had no idea what it would be. Turns out it’s one that stars his own character, Gabriel! Not one to be easily discouraged, Speight opted to do it anyway. He must have worked his butt off, but he pulled off a tour de force performance as not one guest character, but TWO – Gabriel and Loki!
Two of Speight’s previous directing outings have been favorites of mine, especially Season 11’s ‘Just My Imagination’ and Season 12’s ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’. The latter was beautifully directed and scored, the title and the music and the directing choices a loving tribute to Quentin Tarantino’s films. That was writer Davy Perez who wrote the nod to Tarantino, but Richard told me in an interview at that time that he then knew he could pick up the momentum and roll with it.
Richard: …I decided oh, I can totally go stylized with this, we’re gonna go cinematically stylized, and I can dive in and keep fanning the flames in that direction. So that led to a lot of Western themes that I put in there, and to a Western score that got put in…. I’m a big Sergio Leone fan, and it felt like there was a lot we sort of pulled from that.
‘Unfinished Business’ also lent itself to being cinematically stylized, from some of the filming choices to the set dec to the awesome music score by Jay Gruska that really set the episode apart. Gruska apparently composed original music even for Gabriel’s kazoo solo, which was perfect for the alley fight scene – and also worked as an homage to Supernatural actor and Richard Speight good friend Rob Benedict’s band, Louden Swain (fans who love the band join in with a kazoo chorus on one of their best-loved songs). Gruska’s score was integral to the cinematic styling of this episode, making some of the pivotal scenes more memorable.
In some of the previous episodes he has directed, I’ve been impressed with the beautiful cinematography and lighting and asked Richard about it. His appreciation for director of photography Serge Ladouceur’s talent makes their collaboration a particularly striking one. In War of the Worlds, for example, he said that he’d almost over-shot the sequence with Lucifer in the hanging cage being tormented by Michael because it just looked so cool!
Richard: It was such a cool set, it was the teaser for the episode, and Serge had these lighting flashes going and the light flashing through and so I just shot the hell out of it and I used every angle I got, I used everything. I had a crane for the top, I had a spin move, I had a dolly move outside the room, just because I thought a) it’s Lucifer caged up, b) it’s the teaser, and c) it was just artistically a beautiful space…. I just wanted to capitalize on Serge’s gifts as a lighting guru and be sure that we shot it!
Once again in ‘Unfinished Business,’ Richard and Serge produced a collaboration that was artistically memorable. The fight scene in the dark was particularly striking, Sam and Dean lit up in flashes as they fire at the bad guys, the action playing out in just brief bits of information as we try to figure out what’s happening – brilliant and so suspenseful.
I’ve often thought that it’s the fact that collaboration is the norm on Supernatural that has kept the quality of the show where it usually is even thirteen seasons in. In an earlier interview chat I had with Richard after his first two directing stints, he had this to say about working with Serge.
Richard: There’s nothing I’ve ever done with Serge in the two episodes I’ve directed where what I’ve had in my mind doesn’t pale in comparison to what he does. I have a shot design and he and I go over it. Serge and I talk constantly during the process, we ride to set together and we ride home together, so we talk about what worked before, what worked that day. I make him play a game called what’s your favorite shot of the day?
In part because he’s been an integral part of the “SPN Family” since its inception and in part because I think that’s the way that Speight likes to work anyway, his collaboration with both cast and crew yields an episode that’s technically well done and also emotionally rich. The fight scenes choreographed so brilliantly with Rob Hayter, the lighting and blocking coordinated with Serge, and the emotional beats with Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, especially that last scene – they all worked incredibly well.
Richard: I think part of the job of being an actor or a director or anything in this medium is listening. It’s going okay, if you’re an expert in your field, meaning your visual effects guy or your DP or your stunt coordinator, and they say something and they feel strongly about it, you listen to that.
He also talked about trusting Jared and Jensen and collaborating with them, since they know their characters inside and out.
Richard on working with Jensen: To me it’s a case of a director working with an actor who’s been playing the same character for thirteen years, who knows this beat needs to be this.
Lynn: He was right.
Richard: Of course he’s right, it’s his guy.
It’s impossible to disentangle the contributions of Meredith Glynn’s beautiful dialogue, Richard’s directing, and Jared and Jensen’s powerful acting in a scene like that last scene of ‘Unfinished Business’ – and I suppose that’s as it should be. That’s the collaboration that makes a scene like that work the way it did, leaving me and so many other fans overwhelmed with emotion. I have to wonder if director Richard was emotional filming that scene too – he told me in an earlier interview that sometimes happens.
Richard: When I was doing ‘Just My Imagination’ and Jared was delivering that speech with Sully about having to go back in the Cage, I was completely choked up during that. I mean, I’m not immune to the emotion of what these scenes are… Even when I’m filming them, when I’m watching the monitor, I’m engaged because these guys are so good. And I’m engaged in what they’re doing. I mean, they get to me. And Jared doing that scene just blew me away. Like Jensen going through the whole ‘we’re family’, you know, where he had that whole thing – it was beautiful… There’s something about the emotional content that those boys bring.
There is. And it came through loud and clear in that last scene.
We also got some emotional moments between Mary and Jack in the AU, and Speight got to direct fan favorite Osric Chau as Kevin for the second time (in a mini arc which broke my heart).
(And I suppose I should add that Speight collaborated with himself well too, though that sounds like I’m diagnosing him with something scary…)
Speight also revisited some of the themes he explored in the episodes he previously directed, including the complicated relationship between ‘essential enemies’. In that case, he was talking about Castiel and Lucifer in ‘War of the Worlds’. In this case, in ‘Unfinished Business’ it was Gabriel and Loki.
Richard: You don’t want to sucker punch your enemy. You want to kill him at full power, not when his back is turned.
That certainly applied to Gabriel, who wanted to take his revenge out “old school”, mano a mano with Loki and his sons.
Speight is also skilled at giving the actors room to mix up little humorous moments in with the serious business – and of course Jared and Jensen (and Richard as an actor) are all geniuses at just that.
So we had priceless little moments of humor. Dean’s reaction to the Magic Fingers on the motel bed (and Padalecki’s priceless rendition of Sam leaping up in alarm); Dean’s rapt and appreciative expression while listening to Gabriel’s porn star stories; and Dean’s little no no no shake of his head when Gabriel quips that Sam is more than just a pretty face. Priceless.
There was also that humorous line about “all the personal lubricant in the SFV” which I needed Twitter to tell me was the San Fernando Valley, apparently where most of the porn is made. Who knew?
Bottom line? I thought Speight did a truly impressive job of both directing and acting, and the rest of the cast and crew brought their A game in an episode that was all about that distinctly Supernatural spirit of collaboration.
The episode begins with Fenrir in the alley, the kazoo music announcing Gabriel and his quest for revenge, and then a fight scene that was beautifully choreographed and set to perfect music.
Kudos to Rob Hayter and to Speight for both directing and ‘dancing’ that scene – in which Gabriel manages to take out his enemy by stabbing him right though his own body! Didn’t see that coming. Gabriel takes out a scrawled kill list to top off the Tarantino vibe (although it’s sort of amusing that he needed to write it out when there were only four names on it, which I’m pretty sure he could remember. Still, the whole crossing them off your list thing is probably psychologically rewarding….if you’re into that sorta thing.)
Meanwhile, Sam and Dean are holed up in a motel while they try to find Gabriel, which brings a much appreciated early seasons vibe. Complete with Dean’s obsession with Magic Fingers, which we haven’t seen in much too long – so thank you, Meredith.
And the brothers squabbling about whether they should take the time to unpack or that’s “time we don’t have” according to Dean. It’s clear he’s still in the same mode of urgency that had him so frustrated in last week’s episode, so I also appreciate that continuity – and that the urgency makes perfect sense considering their mother and Jack are almost certainly in mortal danger. Dean’s fear that time is running out for Mary and Jack pervades the episode, and the latter half of the season, which I think is as it should be.
There’s a knock on the door and Sam and Dean stop their squabbling instantly and go back to being perfectly in sync, pulling their guns like mirror images.
Gabriel: Hey fellas, lookin’ for me?
Speight brings us the Gabriel we know and (sometimes) love in this episode, his personality intact now that he’s had a chance to recover a bit from his trauma at the hands of Asmodeus. I think most fans are at least a little conflicted about the character after what Sam went through in Mystery Spot, which actually constituted torture – and a particularly horrific kind of torture. Having to live through and witness the death of someone you love every single day? I can’t think of much that’s worse than that. It’s confusing, because Mystery Spot is such a quirky (wonderfully) weird episode that Dean’s repeated deaths are almost played for laughs – but never for Sam. Jared played Sam’s horror and grief and devastation so vividly, and if you watch it through Sam’s eyes, the humor disappears. So Gabriel is a controversial figure in the fandom, but also a beloved one thanks to Speight’s portrayal and his own status as such a fan favorite actor. He has never played Gabriel as anything but motivated by self interest, and I think that still stands in this episode, but he also plays him in a way that’s appealing, so in spite of my memory of Mystery Spot, I thoroughly enjoyed having Gabriel back.
Sam tends to Gabriel’s wounds (because Sam Winchester’s capacity for empathy is infinite), while Gabriel makes up a story about how he got them and makes it clear he’s only here looking for more of his grace. He’s too weak to leave when the Winchesters tell him it’s gone, but he’s no closer to agreeing to help them. In fact, he’s about to peace out again when the remaining demi gods break in the door, leaving two very startled Winchesters and Gabriel to have a very Gabriel response.
(VFX kudos for the spirit animals of the demi gods super imposed on their faces – very cool. And to guest actors Sandy Robson, Michael Adamthwaite and Fletcher Donovan, who did a great job playing soon-to-be-killed Norse demi gods).
Fight scene number one ensues, in which Sam gets choked by a burly demi god, and then hauled up by the hair (with an entire fandom yelling “LET GO OF SAM’S HAIR, YOU BASTARD!”). This also gives us a moment of Dean screaming “Sammy!” which always makes me happy, and eventually Gabriel does come through and stabs Sam’s attacker.
Exhausted, Gabriel sinks to the couch, and Dean announces menacingly “You’re not goin’ anywhere’. And dangles a pair of handcuffs.
Which makes a really good gif with an entirely different implication.
One of my favorite scenes follows, as a handcuffed Gabriel has story time with Sam and Dean. The boys sit facing him, straddling their chairs, and Gabriel tells his story. We learn that the Norse demi gods aren’t so much gods as “god begotten monsters”, which makes it a little easier to swallow that the Winchesters are just going to take them out on Gabriel’s say so.
Gabriel tells the story of saving Loki’s life and then in return having Loki give him his identity, leaving Gabriel to live a life of luxury, when Dean interrupts.
Dean: I thought this story had porn stars.
Gabriel stands corrected, retelling the story with the porn stars featured. I love that the demi gods were not all depicted as straight, and I love the fabulous set dec with graphic art posters and stark white opulence everywhere, and once again I love the music that sets the tone so perfectly, much of it Tarantino-esque. The montage of the past continues with Gabriel boasting “I had all the entertainment I could handle” and fans treated to a bare-chested Speight and a rapt Dean listening with an expression somewhere between turned on and highly amused, when suddenly…
Sam: Okay, why don’t we just skip to the end?
Dean: (looks at Sam incredulously, clearly wanting more porn star stories)
He cuts to the chase, Loki’s dad getting killed, Loki and his sons selling Gabriel to Asmodeus.
Dean: So you want revenge?
Sam: And you had to do it with wood…
Gabriel to Sam: Don’t let anyone tell you you’re just a pretty face.
Dean: (frowns and shakes his head no no no)
Me: Sorry Dean, you’re wrong on this one.
Dean rightly points out that if Gabriel had helped them stop Lucifer, things would have been different.
Dean: None of this would have happened if you’d just stuck around and helped us fight Lucifer.
That does not sit well with Gabriel, which means we get a wonderful performance from Richard Speight Jr. as an actor (and a director) as he goes off on Sam and Dean. His trauma is still fresh, and all the emotion that goes with that tumbles out. In fact, he still can’t talk about all of it, which was a very realistic touch (kudos, Meredith).
Gabriel: Every day Asmodeus tortured me. EVERY DAY. He fed off my grace…he debased me, until I was… What I went through? You don’t forgive. Get me?
Dean looks unconvinced, but Sam speaks first.
Sam: Yeah, we do.
Dean: Okay, you went through it, we get it. But killing Loki, it won’t change things…
This is a very interesting conversation. First, because Dean and Sam have both been horrifically tortured themselves – in Hell and in the Cage with Lucifer. As horrible as Gabriel’s torture clearly was, I doubt it can stack up to what Dean or Sam endured, but neither of them say anything like that. I don’t know if it’s because they wouldn’t belittle someone else’s trauma, understanding it as they do from personal experience, or if they just want to block that part of their lives out. Gabriel himself tortured Sam in Mystery Spot, but nobody mentions that either.
Sam and Dean also very much don’t agree here about the therapeutic benefits of revenge. Sam always has great empathy for other people’s suffering, but he’s been particularly understanding of others’ need for revenge recently – with Rowena, and now with Gabriel.
The brothers disagree, and Dean accuses Sam of being “hopped up on this Kill Bill fantasy of his,” asking Sam whether if he had a chance he’d go after Lucifer.
Sam: Of course, I would.
Which is, of course, exactly what Dean is worried about – and the source of some of his over-protective decision making.
What I liked about that conversation was that Sam tells Dean the absolute truth, and while Dean doesn’t like where this all is going, he nevertheless listens to Sam. And in this case, it’s Sam who makes the decision and Dean who goes along, albeit reluctantly. Part of his reluctance is also that he knows his mother and Jack are still in danger, so this feels like a detour they can’t afford. Hence his comment later to Loki about wasting his time, and probably his eagerness to jump in and kill Loki just to get it done. Sam, on the other hand, sees a partnership with Gabriel as a way of bolstering their chances of actually getting to Mary and Jack, so the brothers’ ultimate goal is the same. They just disagree about how to go about it (much like Mary and Jack in the AU).
Dean to Gabriel: All right, Uma, what’s the plan?
So much wonderful homage in the next scene, distinctive whistling music playing as the Winchesters flank Gabriel looking like his giant bodyguards. The elevator doors slowly close on Gabriel’s face and the music abruptly changes to elevator music, another humorous touch breaking the tension for a moment.
Not for long though, because we get fight scene number 2, in the dark! I can’t even say how awesome this scene was, both in Rob Hayter’s fight choreography and in the lighting and directing. Sam and Dean were seriously badass, and the way it was filmed just upped the urgency palpably.
As soon as the lights come back on, Sam realizes Dean isn’t there.
Sam: DEAN! Dean! He left…
Gabriel: Big brothers, always thinking they know best…
Well that’s a prophetic line if I’ve ever heard one!
Dean goes after Loki on his own, stalking down the hall with his weapon and looking for all the world like Mark of Cain Dean…or even Demon Dean…. Which, mmmm.
Perfect music again as we’re introduced to the character of Loki (who I have to say has some great fashion sense…) and understand a bit more of Gabriel’s backstory. Then we get fight scene number 3, Dean fighting a hologram of Loki – and very frustrated by the unfairness of that.
Dean: You can hit me but I can’t hit you??
Dean ends up on the floor, and Sam bursts in to save him, firing at hologram Loki to no avail, then helping his brother up. (Yes, I liked that moment).
Meanwhile, real Loki is in the hallway and it’s an epic brawl between Richard Speight Jr. and Richard Speight Jr! The choreography, the filming, and I’m sure the editing all combined to make the scene totally work.
Sam and Dean slide a weapon to Gabriel (who’s losing the fight) and he pins Loki with it.
Loki, however, gets the last word.
Loki: You need someone to swoop in and save your pitiful ass…you’re a joke, a failure, you stand for nothing…
Gabriel runs him through.
Back at the Impala, Gabriel is surprisingly un-Gabriel-like and thanks the Winchesters for their help, saying that a deal’s a deal so he’ll help them.
Sam to Gabriel, once Dean is in the car: Hey, how you feelin’ now that…
Gabriel: Now that I got my sweet sweet revenge? Swell, Sam. I’m a whole new guy.
Sam: That’s what I thought.
It’s clear to the viewer that isn’t really true; Gabriel looks distinctly less than satisfied. Also, his comment about being “a whole new guy” wasn’t at all ominous, was it? Am I reading too much into it? Hmm. I’m not sure if Sam fell for his lie or not – I guess we’ll find out.
Meanwhile, the second story line is Mary and Jack in the AU, and that one progressed quite a bit too – and quite tragically. Jack has been getting “wins”, taking out angels and trying his best to protect the rag tag community of humans remaining in the AU. He’s strikingly naïve and optimistic, and Alex Calvert plays that with a depth that really makes my heart ache for Jack. Calvert and Samantha Smith have some nice chemistry, so Mary’s concern for Jack and her attempt to gently bring him back to reality seemed much like the struggle every parent has when your child thinks they can fly like Superman or will grow up to be a rock star.
Jack: (with conviction) Maybe Michael is scared of me…
The look on Mary’s face, as she tries to protect him without stomping all over his optimism and his desire to do good…. Ouch. Nice job, Samantha Smith.
I loved having Osric Chau back as Kevin too, and whoa, did he ever do a great job of making me feel for that character who has had such a rough time of it in both universes! This Kevin has an almost unhinged manic energy, a little reminiscent of Chau’s character in Dirk Gently (which I miss terribly).
One of the things this version of Kevin has in common with “ours” is his devotion to his mother – I got emotional hearing how badly he just wanted to be with her again, even if it’s only by believing that Michael will let him reunite with her in Heaven. I have a great fondness for Mrs. Tran, so that added to the emotional impact. I also loved how much Osric showed us about Kevin in his response to Mary’s maternal tenderness – a small moment, but spoke volumes. I so wanted this Kevin to survive, but alas, I had to endure yet another tragic Kevin Tran death. Only Supernatural could put me through that TWICE!
Kevin’s ominous last words to Jack gave me chills, partly because they echo the words Mark Sheppard wanted Crowley to say (but in reverse): Even if you win, you still lose.
Very cool to see Jack enclose Mary in his wings to protect her, even though I wasn’t even sure that Nephilim had wings. I guess they do!
He looks so stricken after, having to face the hard truth that he can’t, in fact, protect everyone. Poor Jack. I almost felt like Mary was raising him as a hunter, something she never actually did with Sam and Dean.
And then we arrive at the last scene of the episode, which I’ve saved for last too. I’ve watched this scene many times already – partly because it’s all over my social media. Thanks again, Meredith, for this emotional scene.
Before the episode aired, I posted a tongue in cheek tweet with a screencap of Sam and Dean sitting down and having a conversation and saying I AM SO HERE FOR THIS or something, which prompted a fair number of people to say skeptical things like ‘you must love finding a tree in a forest WTH’ but (tongue in cheek intentions aside), this Show can give me a conversation between the brothers Winchester and make it something that wrings emotion out of me for DAYS. That’s why I really am so here for this – for scenes like this one.
Dean is drinking, stressed and upset and not very optimistic.
Cas, Gabriel, and Rowena are with the Winchesters in the bunker, Cas helping his brother settle in.
And Sam decides he wants to talk. Part of what he wants to talk about is why Dean has been sidelining him. NGL, I was so happy to hear Sam bring that up, because it was clearly bothering him a lot – especially when Dean insisted on heading to the AU not with Sam, but with Ketch. Too often, the brothers don’t tell each other when something is bothering them, and then it gets between them. So I was instantly like OOOOOH. Season 13 has been generous in giving us more times when Sam and Dean don’t just keep quiet, but actually open up and tell each other what’s bothering them – and like I said, I am so here for that!
Dean: I’m not gonna apologize for protecting you.
Sam: So that’s what you think you’re doing here?
That question prompts Dean to open up about what’s really going on with him, and how much of his protectiveness (and sidelining of Sam) are based on fear, plain and simple.
Dean: You remember what happened the last time we had front row tickets to the Lucifer/Michael show? ‘Cause I do. You died and went to Hell.
There it is, and of course, Dean is thinking about that every waking moment. Perhaps the biggest trauma of his life, Sam trapped in the Cage and tortured by Lucifer and coming back soulless and Gadreel and…. All of it. Of course, he’s terrified with Lucifer and Michael on the playing field again, and sees his brother as vulnerable.
Dean: But see, this time, the apocalypse isn’t looking for us. We’re actually looking for it. I don’t care what happens to me. I never really have. But I do care about what happens to my brother.
Oh Dean, that hurt my heart so much. I believe every single word of it, as difficult as it is to hear. It’s Dean. I think Meredith got that right, even if I sometimes desperately want Dean to care about himself as much as others care about him.
I think Sam knows that about his brother too. He’s heard Dean say this before, and he’s taken it on and tried to argue Dean out of it. Told him how smart he is, what a great hunter he is, that there’s nothing more important to Sam than being like him or not letting him down. This is a deep core belief that Dean has struggled with his whole life, and nobody can argue you out of those kind of things – instead, they have to show you why it’s not true. I think that’s what Sam’s response does. Because there is nothing Dean fears more than people leaving him – Sam more than anyone. And that’s the fear that Sam lays to rest, once and for fucking all.
Sam: Dean, we’re going to that place, and we’re gonna save Jack and Mom. Together. And if something happens, we will deal with it together.
He pauses, lets that sink in. Starts to leave, then turns back, his voice raw with emotion and heavy with conviction.
Sam: And if we die? We’ll do that together, too.
In other words, I value you, even in those times when you don’t value yourself. I’m not letting you be the one to jump in front of the train to try to protect me – because we’re in this together. I love that Sam got a chance to tell Dean that no matter what, he’s not alone. It’s Dean’s deepest, most long-standing, probably mostly unconscious fear – that Sam will leave him, somehow. Sam just set him straight right there.
Jared has said that he got to say some words he’s wanted to say for a long time in one of these last of the season episodes. I’m guessing it was this scene.
Dean smiles a little to hear it, Sam’s reassurance and determination and loyalty and love all wound up in what he said. But then his smile fades and the worry and pessimism and hopelessness return, the awareness of what they’re facing and the overwhelming odds that they won’t win this time, or they won’t get to Mary or Jack on time. Slowly the light goes out of his eyes as they fill with unshed tears.
And that look? Made me shiver. Whatever is coming for them – and for us – in the next three episodes? I’m pretty terrified.
My previous chats with Richard Speight Jr. on directing Supernatural are here FYI:
Check out the trailer for the Supernatural finale of Beat the Devil above.