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: Dallas – *****
Part One: What Happens in Dallas Stays in Dallas… Or Ruins Your Long-Term Relationships. Either Way.
This is another episode which relies on flashbacks, not unlike Episode Seven of the first season, but instead of Jesse’s childhood, we once again see the events surrounding Carlos a few years prior to the start of the series. Much of this episode focuses on the aftermath of the miscarriage and its effect on the couple, so predictably it contains some heavy material.
Jesse becomes a house husband lounging around and smoking pot with a friend, Reggie, while Tulip takes to working as a realtor’s assistant, both of them adamant that they stay away from crime. Most of the flashbacks take place a few months after the pivotal event, so by then they’ve settled down in Houston and are working at having a baby again, to no avail. Weeks pass with Jesse dropping lower into depression and apathy, drinking heavily and eventually starting to turn toward religion as he did as a child. Apparently he lost his faith somewhere between his father’s death and now, but as he grows more desperate, he starts going to church and dragging Tulip with him, and even praying for the pregnancy tests to show up positive.
Despite his best efforts, Tulip remains unconvinced by his religious approach, and in dealing with her own grief, remains distant, putting up a front of competence while acting almost lifeless over the whole baby-making effort. The tension between their conflicting interests is released, as it kind of has to be, when Jesse discovers Tulip’s birth control pills hidden away in a vent, and both of them break down because of it. I expected as much, though I’m a little surprised, in a positive way, that the series went through with it. The scene begins almost casually, with Jesse revealing a bag of money Tulip had hidden less carefully, and her confessing that she neither wants nor can handle a domestic lifestyle, that she wants to be respected for who she is instead of lowering herself to do petty errands for someone she feels doesn’t deserve it. There’s a moment that I particularly like when Jesse accuses her of not caring about losing their unborn child, right before he pulls out the pills and demands an explanation, and the look on Tulip’s face is harrowing – a mix of grief, guilt, rage, embarrassment, shame, sorrow, and simple pain that anyone, especially Jesse, would fail so horribly to understand what she’s been through.
She has good reason for it, as bad an idea as it seems; we know from what we’ve seen of Tulip that she has a penchant for getting in trouble and committing small crimes, and that it’s impulsive, something she might be able to control a little, but not for long and certainly not long enough to raise a child. Especially after what happened with Carlos, she’s not willing to take the risk of another miscarriage or worse concerning her future offspring, and even if she did stave off a criminal life, it’s not unreasonable to imagine that the thought of losing another child by any means would be enough to put her off trying to have one, at least for a while. Three months isn’t a long time, and miscarriage, especially violent miscarriage, is traumatic. As much as she clearly loves him, Tulip wouldn’t expect Jesse to understand partly because he’s not the one who was pregnant, and partly because he clearly wants a child badly enough that he can’t see how having a child so soon after losing their last one would hurt her.
This conversation only cements that judgement, but then it takes an unexpected turn when Jesse suddenly takes out his anger on poor pothead Reggie, who was the unfortunate witness to the whole conversation and repeatedly tried to duck out before it got heated, only to be stopped by Jesse. He beats Reggie half to death simply because he’s there, revealing the ruthlessly violent side of him Tulip has been hinting about to Cassidy in the present timeline. It’s also probably why we haven’t seen Reggie before now. The sequence ends after a brief time skip with Jesse deciding to leave Tulip and return to Annville, leaving Tulip to her own devices.
Part Two: Priorities
The episode doesn’t open with any of this – it opens with Jesse grabbing Viktor, taking him to the torture lab, and ordering Tulip out of it with his Genesis voice, the second time he’s used it on her, and the first time against her will. The camerawork and editing is apt, instilling a sense of dread and sudden disconnect between the audience and Jesse as a character. For the first time in the show, we have no real idea what he’s going to do, because we’ve never seen him this infuriated. We’ve seen hints in the first season, like when he breaks into the pedophile’s house, but in nearly all other instances, the character has been fairly expressionless or else expresses his anger through words. We don’t think of Jesse as a torturer, but everything he does in the opening, and especially Tulip’s reaction, tells us we don’t know him as well as we thought. In fact, in the few moments while he’s still conscious, Viktor jabs at his captor and tells him that he’s just a hurtful asshole Tulip ran away from.
Much of the rest of the episode is centered around Tulip worrying about what her boyfriend is going to do to her husband, and also the flashbacks. The flashbacks continue to follow Tulip’s plotline after the birth control pills incident. She’s reintroduced to the life of a criminal through Danni, her contact in the first season for finding Carlos, and earlier in the episode while trying to convince Tulip and Jesse to come back and work for her, she reveals she’s in contact with Viktor. Presumably this is how Tulip meets Viktor, and some unspecified time later, perhaps a year, Tulip is happily married in a sort of idyllic life.
Viktor is wealthy and as we see in the flashback, affectionate, considerate, and has a good sense of humor, and because of his line of work, Tulip doesn’t have to give up petty crime to be with him. The difference between her state of being with Viktor compared to when she’s with Jesse is stark – from what we can tell, once they’re married, she doesn’t even choose to do jobs anymore. The relationship, from what little we see of it, is healthy. Tulip has a family, a home, a caring lover, even a child in the form of Viktor’s daughter. In other words, this life is everything she could have wanted, and yet as soon as Danni tells her she’s found Carlos, Tulip abandons her life with Viktor to find Jesse and get revenge.
I think this speaks to something crucial about Tulip’s character – not only that she loves Jesse enough to forgo all else for him, but also that she holds tightly onto certain things more than is probably good for her. I still stand by my interpretation of her actions in the first season. Even though she leaves Viktor immediately and is therefore not likely thinking of her next step after killing Carlos, I don’t think she’s running straight back into Jesse’s arms or that she meant to abandon Viktor entirely. I think that revenge is the first thing on her mind, and her going to Annville is more out of courtesy for Jesse’s own desire to get revenge than a genuine desire to jump-start their relationship, at least until she sees him in person. There’s probably some subconscious part of her that wants him back, but I don’t get the impression from these flashbacks that she always intended Viktor to be a rebound temporary boyfriend – they did get married after all, and she seems legitimately happy with him. The events in the first season, especially Jesse’s unwillingness to immediately go kill Carlos, change her plans from “go kill Carlos, make amends with Jesse, and return to Viktor” to “go kill Carlos, test the waters with Jesse, and then…” Her nature is impulsive, and just like how in order to get catharsis for her miscarriage she feels she has to get back at Carlos, as soon as she has Jesse back in her life, she feels the need to hold onto him. I wouldn’t be surprised if she legitimately forgot about Viktor through most of the first season.
Tulip struggles to let go of things from her past, even if doing so is important for her happiness and wellbeing. Maybe getting married to Viktor in the first place was an impulsive action itself, and she even confesses to Jesse that she never really loved Viktor, at least not as much as she did him. But from the flashbacks, it seems to me that her statement is more of a lie for Jesse’s sake to try to calm him down. I don’t think it’s out of character for her to have been happy with both men for different reasons, nor do I think it’s out of character for her to swing from one to the other with sufficient motivation. This character trait could have interesting consequences.
Part Three: Ya Dun Fucked Up… Again
So, with all of the talk of lovers, manipulation, flashbacks, and torture, you might be wondering (or might not — I wouldn’t blame you), how does this play into the main love triangle of the story? Well, Cassidy comes along to fuck things up a bit, first by offering to listen to Tulip about who Viktor is and promising to keep it a secret from Jesse, then telling Jesse outright and leading him to go attack Viktor. Tulip is understandably upset at him for this, so she forces him to talk Jesse down, and not only does Cassidy not do that at all, he basically gives Jesse the go-ahead to kill the guy.
The question then becomes, did he do this on purpose or is he actually that incompetent, and the answer I think is a solid “both.” Throughout the last few episodes, we’ve seen Cassidy support Tulip in the matter concerning Viktor without judgement, first helping her dispose of Gary’s body, then encouraging her to talk about it in a way she’s comfortable with, and checking in on her when he realizes where she’s gone. He holds out for most of the fourth episode before his concern for her wellbeing wins out and he tells Jesse about Viktor. This could easily be construed as him trying to do the right thing, and I don’t doubt that’s the character’s conscious reasoning for it. He even explains in the first episode of the season that he doesn’t like to lie, and for the most part, up until now that’s been true.
Cassidy’s not only bad at lying, he usually doesn’t even bother – he confesses to being a vampire in one of his first conversations with Jesse back in Season One, he’s constantly upfront about his addiction issues, and he tends to speak his mind about incredibly inane things like how people look and sound. Even when he promises to go talk Jesse down from killing Viktor, he says outright to Jesse that he isn’t the sort of person who would talk him down, so he won’t even try.
Ultimately, Jesse’s decision to not kill Viktor comes despite Cassidy’s attempt to convince him otherwise. Most of Cassidy’s penchant for deception comes through omission, rather than direct lies, and crucial to this whole discussion is his part in the main trio love-friendship triangle. Him actively wanting to get together with Tulip is a major contribution to his actions, and even though he hasn’t recently pushed the subject outright other than as a desire to express his guilt to Jesse, his actions in this and previous episodes seem to speak to an underlying attempt to sabotage Jesse and Tulip’s relationship.
From that angle, he acts supportive of Tulip, pretending (at least on some level) to show his trustworthiness, to be a shoulder to cry on and a comparatively better friend than Jesse because from Tulip’s perspective, he seems to understand and sympathize with her plight. He betrays her secret, but again from her perspective, that’s just because he’s weak-willed and bad at lying, and after all, he did it out of concern for her. Jesse is the one who goes off his rocker, he’s the one who goes to kill Viktor, who pushes her out of the room by invading her mind, by taking away her free will, and if he kills Viktor, it’s not really Cassidy’s fault, because Jesse’s the one wielding the weapon. By comparison, Cassidy is put in an innocent light, a dumb fool with his heart in the right place. If Jesse kills Viktor, both he and Tulip believe it would break Tulip and Jesse’s relationship beyond repair.
This sort of manipulation is the type of thing Cassidy’s character displayed, often to horrific effect, in the books, and it falls in beautifully with this iteration of the character’s development. Putting Jesse in position to kill Viktor and ruin his relationship with Tulip, while Cassidy’s image remains more or less untainted would put Cassidy in exactly the position he wants to be in, and his disappointment that Jesse doesn’t kill Viktor at the end of the episode seems to be the final nail in the coffin (no pun intended) for his character.
But I don’t think it’s that simple, either. For one, this is far from the first time Cassidy has failed to do things he promised to do (he never did get around to fixing that air conditioner, and let’s not forget his unsuccessful attempt to get Fiore to stop the Saint of Killers). He also makes decisions that would sabotage his sabotage – he seems unconvinced that Jesse killing Viktor would break apart their relationship, and even goes so far as to say this to Tulip. His conversation with Jesse, while in line with the sort of manipulation that could be used to hurt him and Tulip, doesn’t come across that way. In fact, the conversation is a moment of bonding for him and Jesse – he explains who he is, how he himself is a terrible person who would do terrible things in the same position, that he can’t hold promises, and that he tries to warn people about what he’s like, but that they never listen. He basically opens the conversation with a big warning sign saying, “I’m a bad person, ignore my advice.” He then proceeds to offer support to Jesse regardless of his decision, and whether he is willing to hurt Jesse or not, that support seems genuine. There may be some subconscious, or perhaps even conscious manipulation, but Cassidy is also making an effort, if even a small one, to be a good friend, and that acts in direct opposition to his long-term goals in the love triangle.
All three main characters get excellent character moments that reveal more complex parts of their internal personas, and this event as a whole helps to solidify who they are in the eyes of the audience – that Jesse can be unrelentingly cruel but ultimately has a moral center, that Tulip has difficulty dealing with trauma and impulses she can’t control, and that Cassidy tries to be a good person but is constantly struggling with a darker, destructive side – and all of these developments promise to have an impact on future events.