Characters and Character Development: 9
Aesthetics and Style: 8
Overall Plot: 7
Audience Assumptions: Some familiarity with series (or my Preacher graphic novels reviews)
Episode Five: South Will Rise Again – ****
Part One: Um, What’s with the Racism?
I’ll be completely honest, I don’t know what’s up with the title of this episode. Well, okay, it’s something that Donnie’s masochistic wife says to him at one point to encourage him to get over Jesse, but whether it’s intended as an ominous southern pride thing or a hint that Donnie’s wife is much more racist than she initially seems, it doesn’t seem to fit either the characters or the tone established by the series so far.
The show has been fairly light on addressing the racism common in many parts of the southern United States, and while plenty of the characters have shown prejudice, it’s usually been directed at individual people for things they’ve done, not for their race or religion or sexual orientation. The southern romanticism aspect of the series has also been played down compared to other series that take place in the south and western U.S. – none of the characters has been glorified as particularly noble or good, characters have described the town as a horrible place full of horrible people on multiple occasions. None of the characters has even really addressed the appeals or detriments of living in Texas, aside from the heat. I’m not surprised to hear “the South will rise again” coming from the mouths of one of the minor characters, given the location and given that this character hasn’t been specifically portrayed as not racist, but it is somewhat jarring given the series hasn’t set a precedent for it (and, at least in the first season, doesn’t bring it up again).
Part Two: Well That Was Quick
I wanted to talk about something more important for that first part, but there you go. So, continuing with somewhat unimportant matters, let’s get that damn fishing pole out of the way. This is the episode where the love triangle really takes off and establishes Tulip and Cassidy’s romantic and non-romantic relationships with one another. I call it a fishing pole in the graphic novel reviews because by the time it appears, Jesse and Tulip are back together as a solid item and the books decide to connect Cassidy to them romantically by taping a thread to the Tulip end of the Jesse-Tulip pole and calling it a love triangle. Cassidy just starts flirting with Tulip out of nowhere after they’ve barely had more than one conversation alone together, and well after the main character/best friend/girlfriend dynamic has been established for the main trio. The love triangle isn’t the ultimate goal for the series so much as getting the audience to realize how much of an asshole Cassidy is, but as a love triangle, it’s pretty fucking annoying.
You can imagine my delight that it’s in the show, too. Again, these characters have had all of one and a half conversations before one of them proclaims undying love for the other, though I have to give the show credit that the characters haven’t known each other for longer than a day at this point. There are some other important differences that make it at least more credible where love triangles are concerned, like how Tulip’s relationship with Jesse is pretty diminished at this point in the series. The history is there, and they both still have feelings for one another, but after Tulip talks to Jesse once again to try and convince him of who he is, she confirms that he is, in her mind, beyond salvage. Cassidy asserts almost immediately that he’s in love with her, which for him of course means he wants a one-night stand. While Tulip does not appear to be particularly interested in him for romantic or platonic reasons, she is in an emotional position to be open to it, both for company and to get back at Jesse. It’s also pretty important that neither of them knows of the other’s relationship to Jesse.
Much as I still kind of don’t like it, this is a massive improvement over the graphic novels for several reasons – it is not only a consensual relationship established early in the series and without any of the involved parties realizing the full extent of what is going on, but it also involves the potential of a platonic relationship between Tulip and Cassidy based on their conversations and her becoming aware of him being a vampire before Jesse. Because neither of them realizes that they both know Jesse before having sex, this sets up for that revelation later in the season, and also means that they’ll be forced to interact beyond what both of them seems to think was a one-night stand. This also solves the problem I had in the graphic novels of Cassidy pursuing Tulip with little regard for the safety of his friendship with Jesse or respect for Tulip and Jesse’s relationship.
How the series intends to develop this subplot is still a bit up in the air, but if you’re going to set up a subplot as contrived as a love triangle, doing it like this isn’t a bad way to go.
Part Three: What Does the Cowboy Have to Do with Anything?
A significant portion of the first part of this episode – in fact, the opening – is dedicated to the mysterious cowboy sort of person book readers will know as the Saint of Killers. The show establishes his backstory as one of the interspersed subplots, often coming at the beginning or end of an episode. This would be the second time the Saint appears, following up his arrival in Ratwater, which in this continuity is the predecessor of Annville.
Aside from a large tree that appears as a motif at different points in the series, the Saint’s story seems to have little connection with the present day events, and I’ll admit that upon my first viewing, I had little interest in his story for that very reason. Knowing how the character’s relevance to the main plot is resolved by the end of the season, and having a bit of a sneak peak of what his likely role is to be in future seasons based on the books, I still think that his backstory is a little disruptive to the main plot, but it isn’t poorly done. It largely follows the same backstory as the graphic novels: A man’s family is sick circa 1881, so he travels to a local town for medicine. The town of Ratwater is as dingy as its name suggests, and the horror music used for transitions in this subplot helps capture the feel of an ominous locale.
The Saint learns that the back of the saloon he’ staying at overnight doubles as a black market for human scalps. The Saint sees a visiting family being brutalized in a back room, and on his way home realizes the same is likely to happen to a caravaning family he met heading into town. This causes him to turn back around, and once he gets back to the saloon, the seemingly innocent family turn out to be scalp traders themselves, and may very well have killed the rest of the caravan they were travelling with. Like in the books, the Saint’s horse is shot, delaying his journey home. In this version, however, rather than being shot in a gunfight, the town reverend recognizes the Saint from the Battle at Gettysburg and shoots his horse point-blank out of spite.
I remain conflicted about some of the details in this story. In both the show and the graphic novels, the preacher invites some tie to the present day and Jesse, especially in the show as Ratwater is equated to Annville, but that connection was coincidental in the graphic novels and seems coincidental here as well. I also found the scalp trading to be somewhat confusing. Why was the first family’s father killed and mother raped, but not the second? Was that going to happen to the other family eventually? And did they actually kill the other people in their caravan, or was I just reading too far into it? The only evidence I have for that assertion was that they were travelling in a big group when the Saint encountered them, but only one caravan made it to town, and that one with fresh blood on the floor. If my interpretation is correct, it makes the family creepier and subverts audience expectations of them being nice and wholesome, but I’m not sure how much it contributes to the Saint’s backstory.
I will say that him arriving back home to his wife and child dead and picked at by crows is a haunting scene whether it’s in the graphic novels or the show. The shots of the small farm along with the lack of information we know about him gives this scene a lot of power, implying that he has lost literally everything important to him.