Well, I guess we know why we’ve spent so much time with the Cowboy. “Finish The Song” doesn’t explicitly explain what he is, but we get a chance to see what he’s capable of, and then see where he’s ended up: stuck in Hell, reliving the same tragedy and massacre over and over and over again until DeBlanc and Fiore come down to offer him a job. The concept is fairly close to the comics, although that version of the character has significantly more mythology behind him—it’ll be interesting to see if we learn more about the Cowboy in next week’s season finale, although we already know enough to know he’s a major threat. Also, he doesn’t much care for religious men.

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As the season’s penultimate entry, the episode does a good job of moving people into place before the big showdown; even better, the movements are important in and of themselves, and not just for their end result. Back to DeBlanc and Fiore—their decision to go to Hell is crucial because it means finally bringing the Cowboy into the main storyline. But it also allows a chance for some world and character building. We find out that getting into Hell is at once tricky and fundamentally mundane. You find a certain travel agency, and you buy a ticket. (The ticket lady will try and trick you into having sex with her. Resist her charms.) And it’s legitimately entertaining to spend more time with the angels themselves. The two could’ve been twerps and nothing more, but there’s a brief moment when DeBlanc calls Fiore “my dear” that’s honestly and sincerely sweet. As messy as the show’s first season has often been, the amount of depth it’s allowed characters who might otherwise have been onenote works very well.

“Finish The Song” also gives Emily a chance to show her true colors, and it’s a heel turn I can’t say I was expecting; yet it makes perfect sense. Her decision to sacrifice Miles to Cassidy is legitimately shocking because we’ve been led to trust her as the “decent” person of the main group, a woman with a clear understanding of right and wrong and what her obligations are. Yet understanding your obligations—or your place in life—isn’t the same as accepting them. It speaks to one of the show’s core themes, something that Tulip’s been pestering Jesse with all season (and which Jesse seems to have finally realized): just “doing good” for the sake of doing good isn’t a long term solution. The real truth of who you are is always going to be underneath even your best intentions, waiting for a chance to come out. Better to embrace it and deal with the damage than pretend otherwise.

It’s been clear for a while that Emily isn’t happy (Lucy Griffiths’ performance has had “quiet desperation” written over it from the start), but who knew she was unhappy enough to kill? Oh sure, she doesn’t murder Miles herself, exactly. She just tricks him into going into Cassidy’s room; and the vampire, being in a more or less feral state from his sun-related injuries, does the rest. But saying this isn’t murder is splitting hairs—Emily is the only person capable of making a decision in the situation. (Apparently Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho makes for an effective motivational tool.) Her apparent apathy afterwards is even more telling. It re-contextualizes her character, making her arguably worse than Tulip and Jesse at their worst. After all, they have something like a code. Emily pretends to be an upright citizen, but she killed a man who loved and trusted her. Her reasons make her at least somewhat sympathetic, but it’s still a nasty thing to do.

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Seeing Emily go rogue is the most shocking character shift the hour has to offer, but the episode overall does a great job of finding ways to clarify its cast, making sure we know and care about the people we’re supposed to care about going into the finale. We already talked about DeBlanc and Fiore (and the fact that the main reason they’ve been doing what they’ve been doing is so they won’t get separated is adorable), but “Finish The Song” also has Jesse and Cassidy reuniting, with Jesse apologizing for his behavior, and Cassidy more or less shrugging the whole thing off.

Jesse and Cassidy’s friendship has been building the whole season; it’s one of the only relationships on the show that came into its own without any prior history (unlike, say, Jesse and Tulip, who have a past together). There were some shortcuts at the beginning—namely, Cassidy somehow ending up with a job at the church for, uh, reasons—but the work since then has been excellent, and seeing them digging up bodies (and burying poor Miles) had that lovely hang-out vibe you get from good shows. These are people you want to see spending time together, arguing, beating up bad guys, and maybe possibly betraying each other at some point. They’re more than just concepts or jokes, they’re figures worth investing your emotional energy into, and that means, whatever its faults, the season has gotten the important stuff right.

Looking ahead, several guns have been hung on the wall for next Sunday, including: Odin is reading for Jesse to denounce God; the Cowboy, who’s is very good at murder, is coming up from Hell to murder Jesse; the Seraphim, last scene struggling in DeBlanc and Fiore’s motel room, is released by Sheriff Root (in the closest thing to an off character moment in the whole hour—W. Earl Brown is great, but Root still hasn’t really solidified into anything specific, and his decision to mercy kill the angel with his bare hands seems like something that happens more because the plot needs it than anything he’d do of his own volition), and is now free to hunt Jesse and Genesis again; Tulip is off in Albuquerque, getting revenge with a meat tenderizer, but I’m sure she’ll be back soon; and Jesse has an angel hand and the heaven phone, and he’s planning to reach out and touch Someone.

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That’s a lot of moving parts. Yet they’re all held together by Jesse at the center, which means the narrative is working exactly like it should. Not everything in “Finish The Song” revolved around our favorite morally-conflicted preacher, but it all fit together with a purpose and clarity that suggests the season’s earlier meandering was either growing pains or some kind of long game planning. It’s thrilling to watch something so inventive and strange and also fundamentally well-organized. There’s no guarantee that the payoff next week will be everything we’re looking for, but there’s enough reason to trust that it could be, and that’s cause for excitement.

Stray observations

  • Jesse apologizes to Tulip (and uses that “Till the end of the world” phrase) over voice mail. Hopefully this means Tulip will be part of the main action once she gets back from her revenging, because that character is too much fun to be as sidelined as she has been.
  • Anybody else get a Breaking Bad vibe from that spot where DeBlanc and Fiore met the bus to Hell?

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  • Jesse escapes from Sheriff Root’s car using the pen Odin gave him to sign over the church. Also, Root’s pretty upset about Eugene, and believes Jesse’s responsible. Remember Eugene? I expect we’ll see him again soon.
  • “You freak out a lot, Emily? ‘Cause you look like you freak out a lot.” -Tulip, making a small error in judgement.
  • The symbolism of Emily trying to give guinea pigs their freedom does not bode well for her future; her “cage” is gone, but where else can she go?
  • Goodbye, Miles. It’s too bad that no one in the episode appears to mind that you’re dead.
  • A good chunk of the episode’s final act is given over to repeating the Cowboy’s story, and it’s impressive how slowly the show establishes his trap. I’m sure most viewers will catch on quick enough (we know DeBlanc and Fiore are going to Hell; we know the Cowboy has done some awful things; and we know that he has to come into the main story somehow), but it’s a still a lot of time spent watching scenes we’ve already seen.

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