The Morning After
An artistic gem.
Every once in a while a story comes along that really shows the depth of a performer’s talent. Supernatural’s “Unfinished Business” was that show for Richard Speight, Jr. As its director, Richard’s signature style became evident. A Kill Bill homage, the Tarantino music, flashbacks, slow motion, strobe-lit gunfight and frequent scene switches gave the story an artistic edginess that added both interest and character to a script that was already intriguing. Richard used many of these elements in another stellar episode 12.12 “Stuck in the Middle (with you)”. Although they were less evident in his other Supernatural directing projects, 11.08 “Just My Imagination”, 12.20 “Twigs & Twine & Tasha Banes” and 13.07 “War of the Worlds”, their stunning integration into “Unfinished Business” hints that perhaps Richard is finding a niche that both suits him and produces outstanding hours of television.
For an additional challenge, Richard played multiple roles in this story – playboy Trickster; vengeful, vulnerable, perhaps maturing Gabriel; and grieving, angry Loki. That’s difficult on any day, but doubly so when you’re steering the ship! Although Loki seemed less distinct from Gabriel and the Trickster than perhaps I would have wanted, that may have been intentional as the original trained the knock-off. Their final face-off was thrilling nonetheless, simply because it was so much fun seeing Gabriel fight with “himself”!
In addition, this episode layered Gabriel’s character with backstory, motives and emotions that allowed for character growth, leading to him honoring his word and allying with Sam and Dean in the fight against Michael. So they now have an archangel on their side and an endless supply of archangel grace to reopen the rift to the alternate universe. A curious question, however, is whether Castiel will want to lay claim to Gabriel to power up heaven, and going back to my questions on last week’s celestial developments, whether Cas and Gabe will learn of Lucifer’s ascension to Heaven’s throne before they waltz back in to save the day. That all seems complicated and contentious. The guy who “isn’t a team player” and prefers to watch from the sidelines is now front and center in TWO supernatural, apocalyptic battles.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge the phenomenal acting of Osric Chau as AU Kevin Tran. While I adored real world Kevin, the intensity of this performance suggests that Osric has truly grown as an actor since his earlier years on Supernatural. He delivered a powerful, heartbreaking end to the conflicted, confused prophet. His early death was again tragic, as I had hoped that Kevin might find both the courage and conviction to become one of the freedom fighters. A prophet and a Nephilim would sure help the cause! Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Goodbye sweet Kevin, again.
“Unfinished Business” also added another superb episode to Meredith Glynn’s “win” column. As the author of “The Big Empty” (13.04) and “Regarding Dean” (12.11), Meredith’s best writing seems to come through in close character studies, when an actor must portray either multiple aspects of, or another version of, himself. According to IMDB, she’s a contributing writing to 13.22, so there’s hope that at least a little character growth (or another transformation) may be infused into the end of this season. In any case, I loved every minute of Gabriel’s, Kevin’s and Jack’s journeys in this episode.
As usual, Samantha Smith and Alexander Calvert gave outstanding performances. Now that the horrid BMoL and Mary parenting crisis debacles are over, Mary has a perfect place in the storyline. Just as Dean was “at home” with 360 degree combat in Purgatory, Mary knows how to survive in a battlefield world. I have loved her and Jack’s partnership and the mother/son relationship that has developed between them. They were both robbed of it with their own families, and fighting imminent annihilation at the hands of merciless angels has brought them together. That, and a mutual love for Sam and Dean. Jack is part of the family, adopted by both brothers and mom now.
Remember this foreshadowing in 13.9 “The Bad Place”?
Jack has full archangel wings now! Our little boy is growing up! What an outstanding reveal! He is developing, learning about and using more of his powers. I couldn’t be happier about his storyline! They better not even think of killing him off! Mary said she can’t lose another boy. As an audience member, I whole heartedly agree. Jack better be here to stay!
Besides superb stories, writing and acting, “Unfinished Business” was jam packed with season 13’s threads! The most obvious are also the most disturbing.
Loki: When we first made terms, I had only one condition -- I would give him my face, teach him to be me, the trickster, if he agreed to abandon the more volatile affairs of his family. Forever.
The Trickster is really Gabriel, who stole his identity from Loki. Loki’s specialty is making things appear to be something they are not, such as holograms that are both corporeal and ethereal, or dilapidated hotels that morph into luxurious penthouses. He taught our archangel all the tricks! Then there’s the three Norse “god-begotten monsters” who appear to be human but are really animal spirits.
As with so many other entities this season, their true power is hidden beneath an unassuming exterior (who could be afraid of a guy in the green and red plaid jacket?!)
Kevin appears to be a prisoner but he's really a suicide bomber sent to inflitrate the enemy's inner sanctum. Such an blatant emphasis on imposters is highly disturbing! Is it referring to someone else hiding in plain sight (Castiel/Entity) or something that is going to happen as the finale cliffhanger (spoiler)? Given the prominence of this thread all season, I now believe it’s both! I’m going to be unnerved when the truth is revealed!
Despite Gabriel’s laissez-faire affectations, he took to heart the brutal life assessment that was delivered by his supposed joke-master mentor:
Loki: You think you're some poor, innocent victim? Gabriel, with his deadbeat daddy and his mean older brothers. Who will help me? Who will save me? I did! But you couldn't keep one promise. And then you had the audacity to ask me to help you again?! You think I deserve to die for your spinelessness?! That my sons deserved to die?! Of course, of course you would need someone to swoop in and save your pitiful ass. Face it, old friend, you're a joke. You're a failure. You live for pleasure. You stand for nothing. And in the end, that's exactly what you'll die for.
It’s not anything the Winchesters haven’t said to him a dozen times before, but for some reason, Gabriel listened when he was lambasted by Loki. This much needed character growth would have been slightly more understandable if we could have heard why Loki’s words got through to him, but at least now Gabe’s taking a stand.
Disturbingly, everyone kept talking about “the end” again! I wish they would stop doing that!
Sam: Trickster's like a Hugh Hefner type, right? Wine, women, song (the music thread?). Maybe he doesn't want the party to end.
Sam: Okay! Why don't we just skip to the end?
Gabriel: So this is how it ended.
Kevin: But then the end of the world happened, and everyone around me -- my friends, and my mom -- they all started to die. But God chose me? What does that even mean?!
Dean: Not like I care about killing gods, okay? But this whole revenge kick? It's a waste of time.
Sam: What if it's not?
Dean: You've seen it, Sam -- with me, with Dad. Revenge only ends one way -- ugly.
Sam: Well, maybe it doesn't have to.
ARGH!! In this case, the references serve as reminders that the end of the real and AU worlds are both looming. Probably more importantly, “the end is nigh” subliminally builds tension for the end of the season. In these cases, (happily) I don’t think the mentions threaten the end of the series (the more likely meaning of Naomi’s words last week), but the suspense is torture! The silver lining is that Sam is now challenging Dean's "end bloody" scenario. Sam's optimism is back! Go Sam!
“The end” brought up another disturbing sub-thread that is worth tugging on a bit.
Loki: When he hit that hotel, he broke that promise, and it cost my father his life.
Dean: The world was coming to an end.
Loki: That never mattered to him before. Gabriel had to be punished. Odin was a salty, disagreeable bastard. Truth is he despised me. But he was my father. I'm sure you understand. What would you do for your father?
That last line stuck out to me. When I heard it, it seemed like I’d heard that challenge before in the past few weeks. Do you remember something like that? At that time, and again in “Unfinished Business”, I got a very uneasy feeling that John Winchester’s story isn’t over. That somehow we haven’t heard “the end” of his impact on or interaction with Dean. Even the episode’s title implies more than Gabriel and Michael trying to tidy up after themselves. Loki, Gabriel and Dean (emphasized over Sam) all had daddy issues and “family dramas”. Donkey god called daddy (Loki) as soon as they knew Gabriel was back. There were several references to mean fathers and their sons. Has anyone else detected this trickle of hints? What do you make of it?
Talking & Speaking the Truth
Loki’s dress down of Gabriel was an unsolicited and likely unwelcome monologue of truth about Gabriel’s life. His was not the only truth spoken in this episode, however. Mary tried talking sense into Kevin and Jack, and the brothers had some “unfinished business” to address:
Sam: Hey back at the hotel why did you go after Loki without us?
Dean: Saw an opening, so I took it.
Sam: So you left us?
Dean: You guys were handling those goons just fine. I just figured I'd multitask.
Sam: That's not… I'm saying this has become a whole thing with you lately.
Dean: A whole thing? Since when?
Sam: Since the last time we opened up a rift. Since you decided to sideline me and then head to Apocalypse World with Ketch.
Dean: Okay, well we talked about that.
Sam: Did we? Because I gotta be honest, after everything, you're treating me like I deserve to be back at the kid's table or something.
Dean: Sam, I'm not gonna apologize for protecting you.
Sam: So that's what you think you're doing here?
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. 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.
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. And if we die? We'll do that together, too.
Powerful, emotional truths from both Sam and Dean! Thank you Meredith! The protection theme that we noted in “The Thing” (13.17) was furthered with Dean’s admission that he’s still trying to protect Sam. Sam, however, finally (thank GOD!), spoke up and reiterated in no uncertain terms that he is a not a child who needs protection. He’s noticed how Dean has been “sidelining” him but he is and wants to be an equal partner with Dean. Hallelujah!
I’m not crazy about the reference to dying together. It wasn’t framed as foreshadowing - rather as a realistic recognition of their lives as hunters chasing the apocalypse – so I honestly don’t see this as additional warnings about the end of the series. Thus, I have not categorized it as such. This was just our brothers having a heart-to-heart talk about their relationship. Score one for broments, and for both boys admitting their truths.
The emphasis on “together” also continued the “Breaking up” Thread we discussed in “The Thing”. Sam sees them as a team, but it’s unclear whether his words got through to Dean as well as Loki’s did to Gabriel. Time will tell.
Speaking of truth, Gabe may have slipped into his old ways for just a moment at the end of everything:
Sam: Hey, How you feeling? Now that you…
Gabriel: Got my sweet, sweet vengeance on?
Sam: Yeah, sure. I guess.
Gabriel: Swell, Sam. I'm a whole new guy.
Sam: That's what I thought.
Either “whole” is one of Meredith’s favorite words, or it appeared six times in the dialog to emphasize the fragmented existence of a being who impersonates someone else. Being true to neither himself nor the other person, neither is wholly themselves. I see a “disguise” implication here!
Gabriel: Loki owed me one, so he helped me ditch Gabriel and become him.
Dean: So then you took on his whole trickster vibe. What did Loki do while you were impersonating him?
Any chance that Loki and Gabriel switched places? Gabriel himself said he was “a whole new guy”! Just moments earlier, Loki told Dean,
“Mess with the real Trickster, get the real tricks.”
What do you think? Will the real Trickster please stand up!
Sam's inquiry into the aftermath of revenge was extremely unsettling for another reason as well. Together with Dean’s reminder that Sam went to Hell with Lucifer, Sam’s admission that he’d “take a shot” at killing Lucifer...
Dean: If you had a shot at Lucifer, you wouldn't take it?
Sam: Of course I would.
…and Gabriel’s pursuit of revenge as the motivation behind their entire partnership, this episode seemed like foreshadowing a future critical moment between Sam and Lucifer, perhaps one that leads to the finale’s cliffhanger.
Gabriel: What I went through, you don’t forgive.
Gabriel took a short “siesta” on the couch, then woke up from what appeared to be a bad dream. A small insertion to continue the season’s sleeping thread perhaps? Jack can also “dream walk” now with ease it seems, since he was able to spy on the abandoned church hideout just by closing his eyes.
Mary: What is going on?
Jack: Maybe he's scared.
Jacob: We've been fighting Michael the better part of eight years. There is nothing he is scared of.
Jack: He's scared of me.
There were other mentions of fear as well, maybe to contrast Kevin and Gabriel’s cowardice with Dean, Sam, Mary and Jack’s bravery.
Gabriel: Seven years is a long-ass time for me to plan my own personal brand of vengeance. So if you guys aren't gonna get onboard
Sam: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. We're on board. Right, Dean?
Gabriel: I'm sorry. What was that?
Gabriel: Peachy. So here's what we're gonna do. We go in, we kill Sleipnir, and then, we surprise Big Daddy in the penthouse.
The alternate reality was trashed 8 years ago (season 5), and Gabriel was taken 7 years ago (season 6), a short time after Sam and Dean averted the apocalypse. Establishing these specific timelines is interesting. Is anyone tracking these events? Maybe averting the apocalypse in this world had ripple effects in other worlds? Feels like overlapping timelines should be a fan project/article for hiatus!
The Norse gods’ spirit animals, haggis, stuck pig, eager beavers. Any others?
What a difference from last week’s episode! “Unfinished Business” was Supernatural at its best. Good story, great acting, characters we care about and a closing broment. Let’s have more of this please… until the season’s end breaks our hearts once again.
Thoughts on the deeper meanings of this episode’s story? Threads I missed? Comment below!
Additional screencaps courtesy of: http://www.homeofthenutty.com/supernatural/
Transcript quotes courtesy of: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/