I am loving the lead up to Supernaturalâs Season 13 finale. With four episodes remaining, this weekâs âUnfinished Businessâ 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). Weâve 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 wouldnât 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 didnât 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 heâd be directing episode 20 but had no idea what it would be. Turns out itâs one that stars his own character, Gabriel!Â 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 â Gabriel and Loki!
Two of Speightâs previous directing outings have been favorites of mine, especially Season 11âs âJust My Imaginationâ and Season 12âs âStuck In The Middle With Youâ. The latter was beautifully directed and scored, the title and the music and the directing choices a loving tribute to Quentin Tarantinoâs 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: â¦I decided oh, I can totally go stylized with this, weâre 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 inâ¦. Iâm a big Sergio Leone fan, and it felt like there was a lot we sort of pulled from that.
âUnfinished Businessâ 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 Gabrielâs kazoo solo, which was perfect for the alley fight scene â and also worked as an homage to Supernatural actor and Richard Speight good friend Rob Benedictâs band, Louden Swain (fans who love the band join in with a kazoo chorus on one of their best-loved songs). Gruskaâs 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, Iâve been impressed with the beautiful cinematography and lighting and asked Richard about it. His appreciation for director of photography Serge Ladouceurâs talent makes their collaboration a particularly striking one. In War of the Worlds, for example, he said that heâd 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) itâs Lucifer caged up, b) itâs the teaser, and c) it was just artistically a beautiful spaceâ¦. I just wanted to capitalize on Sergeâs gifts as a lighting guru and be sure that we shot it!
Once again in âUnfinished Business,â 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 whatâs happening â brilliant and so suspenseful.
Iâve often thought that itâs 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: Thereâs nothing Iâve ever done with Serge in the two episodes Iâve directed where what Iâve had in my mind doesnât 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 whatâs your favorite shot of the day?
In part because heâs been an integral part of the âSPN Familyâ since its inception and in part because I think thatâs the way that Speight likes to work anyway, his collaboration with both cast and crew yields an episode thatâs 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 â they all worked incredibly well.
Richard:Â I think part of the job of being an actor or a director or anything in this medium is listening. Itâs going okay, if youâre 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 itâs a case of a director working with an actor whoâs been playing the same character for thirteen years, who knows this beat needs to be this.
Lynn: He was right.
Richard: Of course heâs right, itâs his guy.
Itâs impossible to disentangle the contributions of Meredith Glynnâs beautiful dialogue, Richardâs directing, and Jared and Jensenâs powerful acting in a scene like that last scene of âUnfinished Businessâ â and I suppose thatâs as it should be. Thatâs 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 â he told me in an earlier interview that sometimes happens.
Richard: When I was doing âJust My Imaginationâ 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, Iâm not immune to the emotion of what these scenes areâ¦ Even when Iâm filming them, when Iâm watching the monitor, Iâm engaged because these guys are so good. And Iâm engaged in what theyâre doing. I mean, they get to me. And Jared doing that scene just blew me away. Like Jensen going through the whole âweâre familyâ, you know, where he had that whole thing â it was beautifulâ¦ Thereâs 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 Iâm diagnosing him with something scaryâ¦)
Speight also revisited some of the themes he explored in the episodes he previously directed, including the complicated relationship between âessential enemiesâ. In that case, he was talking about Castiel and Lucifer in âWar of the Worldsâ. In this case, in âUnfinished Businessâ it was Gabriel and Loki.
Richard: You donât 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 âold schoolâ, 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 â 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. Deanâs reaction to the Magic Fingers on the motel bed (and Padaleckiâs priceless rendition of Sam leaping up in alarm); Deanâs rapt and appreciative expression while listening to Gabrielâs porn star stories; and Deanâs 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 âall the personal lubricant in the SFVâ 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 âdancingâ that scene â in which Gabriel manages to take out his enemy by stabbing him right though his own body! Didnât see that coming. Gabriel takes out a scrawled kill list to top off the Tarantino vibe (although itâs sort of amusing that he needed to write it out when there were only four names on it, which Iâm pretty sure he could remember. Still, the whole crossing them off your list thing is probably psychologically rewardingâ¦.if youâre 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 Deanâs obsession with Magic Fingers, which we havenât seen in much too long â so thank you, Meredith.
And the brothers squabbling about whether they should take the time to unpack or thatâs âtime we donât haveâ according to Dean. Itâs clear heâs still in the same mode of urgency that had him so frustrated in last weekâs episode, so I also appreciate that continuity â and that the urgency makes perfect sense considering their mother and Jack are almost certainly in mortal danger. Deanâs 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.
Thereâs 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, lookinâ for me?
Speight brings us the Gabriel we know and (sometimes) love in this episode, his personality intact now that heâs 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 â and a particularly horrific kind of torture. Having to live through and witness the death of someone you love every single day? I canât think of much thatâs worse than that. Itâs confusing, because Mystery Spot is such a quirky (wonderfully) weird episode that Deanâs repeated deaths are almost played for laughs â but never for Sam. Jared played Samâs horror and grief and devastation so vividly, and if you watch it through Samâs eyes, the humor disappears. So Gabriel is a controversial figure in the fandom, but also a beloved one thanks to Speightâs 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 thatâs appealing, so in spite of my memory of Mystery Spot, I thoroughly enjoyed having Gabriel back.
Sam tends to Gabrielâs wounds (because Sam Winchesterâs capacity for empathy is infinite), while Gabriel makes up a story about how he got them and makes it clear heâs only here looking for more of his grace. Heâs too weak to leave when the Winchesters tell him itâs gone, but heâs no closer to agreeing to help them. In fact, heâs 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 â 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 âLET GO OF SAMâS HAIR, YOU BASTARD!â). This also gives us a moment of Dean screaming âSammy!â which always makes me happy, and eventually Gabriel does come through and stabs Samâs attacker.
Exhausted, Gabriel sinks to the couch, and Dean announces menacingly âYouâre not goinâ anywhereâ. 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 arenât so much gods as âgod begotten monstersâ, which makes it a little easier to swallow that the Winchesters are just going to take them out on Gabrielâs say so.
Gabriel tells the story of saving Lokiâs 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 âI had all the entertainment I could handleâ and fans treated to a bare-chested Speight and a rapt Dean listening with an expression somewhere between turned on and highly amused, when suddenlyâ¦
Sam: Okay, why donât we just skip to the end?
Dean: (looks at Sam incredulously, clearly wanting more porn star stories)
He cuts to the chase, Lokiâs dad getting killed, Loki and his sons selling Gabriel to Asmodeus.
Dean: So you want revenge?
Sam: And you had to do it with woodâ¦
Gabriel to Sam: Donât let anyone tell you youâre just a pretty face.
Dean: (frowns and shakes his head no no no)
Me: Sorry Dean, youâre 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 youâd 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 canât 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 graceâ¦he debased me, until I wasâ¦ What I went through? You donât 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 wonât change thingsâ¦
This is a very interesting conversation. First, because Dean and Sam have both been horrifically tortured themselves â in Hell and in the Cage with Lucifer. As horrible as Gabrielâs torture clearly was, I doubt it can stack up to what Dean or Sam endured, but neither of them say anything like that. I donât know if itâs because they wouldnât belittle someone elseâs 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 donât agree here about the therapeutic benefits of revenge. Sam always has great empathy for other peopleâs suffering, but heâs been particularly understanding of othersâ need for revenge recently â with Rowena, and now with Gabriel.
The brothers disagree, and Dean accuses Sam of being âhopped up on this Kill Bill fantasy of his,â asking Sam whether if he had a chance heâd go after Lucifer.
Sam: Of course, I would.
Which is, of course, exactly what Dean is worried about â 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 doesnât like where this all is going, he nevertheless listens to Sam. And in this case, itâs 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 canât 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 brothersâ 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, whatâs 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 Gabrielâs 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 canât even say how awesome this scene was, both in Rob Hayterâs 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 isnât there.
Sam: DEAN! Dean! He leftâ¦
Gabriel: Big brothers, always thinking they know bestâ¦
Well thatâs a prophetic line if Iâve 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 Deanâ¦or even Demon Deanâ¦. Which, mmmm.
Perfect music again as weâre introduced to the character of Loki (who I have to say has some great fashion senseâ¦) and understand a bit more of Gabrielâs backstory. Then we get fight scene number 3, Dean fighting a hologram of Loki â and very frustrated by the unfairness of that.
Dean: You can hit me but I canât 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 itâs an epic brawl between Richard Speight Jr. and Richard Speight Jr! Â The choreography, the filming, and Iâm sure the editing all combined to make the scene totally work.
Sam and Dean slide a weapon to Gabriel (whoâs 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 assâ¦youâre a joke, a failure, you stand for nothingâ¦
Gabriel runs him through.
Back at the Impala, Gabriel is surprisingly un-Gabriel-like and thanks the Winchesters for their help, saying that a dealâs a deal so heâll help them.
Sam to Gabriel, once Dean is in the car: Hey, how you feelinâ now thatâ¦
Gabriel: Now that I got my sweet sweet revenge? Swell, Sam. Iâm a whole new guy.
Sam: Thatâs what I thought.
Itâs clear to the viewer that isnât really true; Gabriel looks distinctly less than satisfied. Also, his comment about being âa whole new guyâ wasnât at all ominous, was it? Am I reading too much into it? Hmm. Iâm not sure if Sam fell for his lie or not â I guess weâll find out.
Meanwhile, the second story line is Mary and Jack in the AU, and that one progressed quite a bit too â and quite tragically. Jack has been getting âwinsâ, taking out angels and trying his best to protect the rag tag community of humans remaining in the AU. Heâs strikingly naÃ¯ve 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 Maryâs 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 meâ¦
The look on Maryâs face, as she tries to protect him without stomping all over his optimism and his desire to do goodâ¦. 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 Chauâs character in Dirk Gently (which I miss terribly).
One of the things this version of Kevin has in common with âoursâ is his devotion to his mother â I got emotional hearing how badly he just wanted to be with her again, even if itâs 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 Maryâs maternal tenderness â 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.Â Only Supernatural could put me through that TWICE!
Kevinâs 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 wasnât even sure that Nephilim had wings. I guess they do!
He looks so stricken after, having to face the hard truth that he canât, 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 Iâve saved for last too. Â Iâve watched this scene many times already â partly because itâs 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 âyou must love finding a tree in a forest WTHâ 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. Thatâs why I really am so here for this â 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 â especially when Dean insisted on heading to the AU not with Sam, but with Ketch. Too often, the brothers donât 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 donât just keep quiet, but actually open up and tell each other whatâs bothering them â 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 whatâs 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? Â ‘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 andâ¦. All of it. Of course, heâs 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. Itâs 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. Heâs heard Dean say this before, and heâs taken it on and tried to argue Dean out of it. Told him how smart he is, what a great hunter he is, that thereâs 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 â instead, they have to show you why itâs not true. I think thatâs what Samâs response does. Because there is nothing Dean fears more than people leaving him â Sam more than anyone. And thatâs 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 donât value yourself. Iâm not letting you be the one to jump in front of the train to try to protect me â because weâre in this together. Â I love that Sam got a chance to tell Dean that no matter what, heâs not alone. Itâs Deanâs deepest, most long-standing, probably mostly unconscious fear â that Sam will leave him, somehow. Sam just set him straight right there.
Jared has said that he got to say some words heâs wanted to say for a long time in one of these last of the season episodes. Iâm guessing it was this scene.
Dean smiles a little to hear it, Samâs 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 theyâre facing and the overwhelming odds that they wonât win this time, or they wonât 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 â and for us â in the next three episodes? Iâm 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.