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 Seven: Pig – *****
Part One: Stove Fingers
This is a good episode, and trying to fit everything I liked about it into one review is going to be difficult, but here it goes. While Jesse was running around trying to find a soul in the last episode, Tulip was stuck in the apartment with Cassidy and Denis as hostages. Sitting around waiting for inevitable doom isn’t Tulip’s way of dealing with things, so at one point she went up to the Saint to yell at him and he grabbed her by the throat, then tossed her against the wall. She suffered no physical injuries, but she said something peculiar that didn’t make sense until now: “He touched me.” He also very nearly sliced her in two when Jesse was a few minutes late with the soul. She seemed pretty well and alert despite both of these incidents, but in this episode she’s plagued by nightmares of similar moments in which the Saint kills her.
The realization that he could have killed her any number of ways and with no difficulty disturbs Tulip, and it took me a while to figure out why, but I think have an answer. Tulip has never been in danger in this show until now – not in any way in which she couldn’t defend herself. The closest she ever came was probably her introduction in the first season, but she was fighting back that whole time and never restrained or vulnerable. In fact, Tulip has only been physically vulnerable on three other occasions, none of which threatened her life directly – first, when the guard attacked her in Dallas, and then the two times Jesse used Genesis on her. Tulip has been emotionally vulnerable plenty of times, and the two male leads have been physically and emotionally vulnerable on several occasions, but physical vulnerability is more important, and clearly more detrimental, to Tulip than it is to the other two.
Tulip puts up an air of capability, which the other two generally lack – Jesse’s only confidence is in his religion and tough guy skills, both of which are in conflict and routinely falter, and Cassidy is played mainly as incompetent in all but a very few select areas, most of which seem to be coincidental to any given scenario. Tulip deals with other people’s shit up to a point, and she always knows where her boundaries are. No one drives Tulip’s car but Tulip, especially not the two idiots she hangs around with. She has the skills and knowledge to back up her assertions if need be, unlike Cassidy, but she isn’t driven by confused, self-righteous ideals, unlike Jesse. Despite character flaws like being argumentative and occasionally petty, Tulip is easily the most mature of the main trio. Losing control of her own actions is something foreign and disturbing to her – we know this from what she says about Genesis. Being placed in a vulnerable, potentially lethal situation, by someone she doesn’t know, without her having any say in the matter, violates her control of her physical body. Hence, the first phrase that comes to mind to try to explain it is one a person might use if violated sexually.
She spends most of the episode trying to ignore the lingering discomfort from her experience by getting drunk, and when that doesn’t work, by putting herself in simulated danger and being shot for fun. Reminders of the event in the form of the nonfunctional refrigerator and holes in the wall caused by the Saint’s guns continue to bring the unpleasant memory back, though. Her unwillingness to talk deeply about the matter with the other two, as well as their apparent disinterest in what she’s dealing with, implies that this subplot is far from over.
Part Two: And the Worst Dad Award Goes to…
This is far from the first time the Denis subplot has come into play, but since the revelation in the last episode and a new one in this one have come to the forefront for Cassidy’s personal character arc in this season, it’s worth discussing in detail.
Denis was introduced in Episode Three, and in two short scenes we learned a lot of important information about him: 1) he’s old, implying that Cassidy probably knew him when he was a lot younger; 2) he only speaks French, a language none of the main trio, Cassidy included, understands; 3) he doesn’t seem to particularly like Cassidy – the latter can’t even say his name properly, calling him “Dennis,” even when corrected; 4) despite quite clearly not liking Cassidy, he’s still for some reason willing to let him and two other friends stay at his apartment indefinitely; 5) whatever Cassidy did to earn his hatred, he feels bad about it but only offers the barest apology in the form of M&Ms, suggesting Denis probably has a valid reason for disliking him.
Already this is a good setup for drama and emotional conflict, because straight out the gate, we know there’s no fucking way Denis is getting out of this season alive. Even if he weren’t a frail old man, so far the main characters have left few places with minimal casualties. All of Annville is destroyed, the gas station’s two occupants are presumed dead, Mike’s house no longer has inhabitants, the Mumbai Sky Hotel lost its main act because of them, Viktor’s house is emptied, and let’s not forget the bloodbath at the gun convention. Until they arrived in New Orleans, nearly everywhere they stopped resulted in at least one dead body. Even Denis’ neighbors haven’t gotten off without some casualties. Tying him to one of the main characters, especially by way of a complex relationship that promises to bring out a deluge of backstory, is essentially a death knell in any story.
My initial thoughts on the character’s role, considering we meet Denis right after the Mumbai Sky Hotel episode, were that he wasn’t just one of Cassidy’s former friends or roommates, but maybe a boyfriend. The M&Ms nixed that idea, though, and I got to wondering, why would candy be important? I mean, aside from Cassidy clearly not understanding that old people don’t necessarily like candy, and especially not candies with hard things like peanuts in them, remembering a person’s favorite candy is a little strange. Then the clues start piling up – if Denis and Cassidy don’t even speak the same language, how could they have been close at any point? Most people don’t just completely forget how to speak a language, and it’s pretty clear from Cassidy’s pronunciation of “L’Angelle” in the first episode that he’s not faking his inability to speak French. The way Cassidy talks to him, too, regardless of whether Denis can understand, is simple, even condescending at times – he points out obvious things and makes broad comments about them, usually positive ones, and then just sits sadly while Denis ignores him. This is the same character, remember, that usually won’t shut up about the most inane nonsense, and who loves to criticize and defend television, films, and conspiracy theories until everyone else in the room loses touch with the conversation. Not for Denis, though. Then the sixth episode comes around and everything clicks into place: Denis is his estranged son.
So that’s kind of a terrible existential issue for Cassidy, but it provides a delightful new layer to the already precarious relationship established. Does Cassidy seem like he would be a particularly good father to anyone? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say no. This is basically the first time immortality is brought up as a character point for Cassidy — we know from the last season that he’s over a hundred years old, as vampires are wont to be, but obviously he doesn’t come across as wizened or experienced, really. Basically, immortality has been an excuse for the character to party nonstop without consequence, unable to die from an overdose and perpetually in his prime without any worry about wasting time. Now, though, we get the inevitable flip side to that power, and it has more of an impact on the character than we might have expected.
In this episode, Cassidy learns by way of an oddly open-minded French professor that Denis is not only old, but dying of a heart condition, and that Denis is well-aware of the one thing Cassidy can do to keep him from dying. Cassidy has been up-front about being a vampire to almost everyone he meets, but from the last season we know that there are plenty of things about it he doesn’t like, and probably more than a few he hides from himself as much as other people. I mentioned earlier that he generally doesn’t lie about things. Most of what we know about the vampire lore within the show comes from what we see in his introduction, what he confesses to Tulip when she asks him about it, and what he does during his recovery from getting burned. The last of these scenes in particular seems to contradict some of what he explains to Tulip – that he doesn’t crave blood and only kills people who deserve it. Until now, the consequences of being ageless and undying are things the show has only hinted about. From the way Cassidy responds to the news that his son’s dying of old age and wants the same thing he has – by drinking so much he ends up in a morgue – it would seem the character isn’t anywhere near ready to deal with these particular drawbacks.
Part Three: I Suppose That’s One Way to Win a Competition…
Deep emotional character growth is all well and good, but it doesn’t even compare to the best part of this episode: Herr Starr. Similarities to the graphic novel depiction aside, we’re talking Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man levels of perfection here. The show has generally been good about character introductions and building up anticipation for major narrative elements – we don’t even know how many people are involved in the Angelville subplot yet, and that’s been hinted about for a season and a half already. Starr’s introduction is appropriately weird, unsettling, stylized, and hilarious.
It’s the reason for the episode’s unusual title; a floating pig has appeared in Vietnam. Why has a floating pig appeared? The show doesn’t seem to care. It’s just a thing that can happen, apparently. The more pressing issue is that the floating pig now threatens to steal the limelight of a substitute Jesus, a figure we don’t know much about, but who’s apparently the main reason for the existence of a secret society known as the Grail. Starr’s duty is to absolve threats to the Jesus, and Jesse Custer is on his docket right under the floating pig. His solution? Kill everyone. Including the pig.
Already we can see from the dry way the character talks to his red-trimmed white suit, which he wears even in the depths of the Vietnamese jungle, that he’s more than just a typical Bond-style villain. Him personally travelling halfway around the world to cover up a floating pig story in a tiny village also speaks to his role; this is a guy who takes himself very seriously and yet is stuck in a maddeningly ridiculous world and a job that grants him unlimited power to deal with silly, pointless things. He’s fully aware of this situation, and not especially happy about it.
The episode also delves into his backstory, revealed with exposition about the Grail and a training montage that succinctly encapsulates why this character is so goddamn weird. The man whose position he assumes by the end of the backstory provides an explanation of the Grail. They’re an Illuminati-like Christian organization with aspirations of world-domination via staging an apocalypse and revealing a new Jesus as their figurehead. Starr, of course, is about as religious as a thimble, but he admires the influence the society offers and seeks to use it for his own purposes.
The part of his character that makes him a delight to see on-screen, however, is his methods for rising to the top. He’s pragmatic, utilitarian, and apathetic toward other people, as we see in the training montage that picks him out of a group of twenty or so other men. He’s adequate at the physical challenges, and when required to use brute strength against a more formidable opponent, he opts to fight dirty, beating his opponent senseless even after he’s won the match. He shows a high tolerance for pain, little tolerance for humiliation, a complete inability to be even slightly charming, plenty of ability to be intimidating, and no regard for human life even in what is supposed to be a non-lethal exercise, so long as it gets him what he wants. He also has nipple clamps. The Grail trial sequence is one of the more ridiculous things in the entire series, and readers who’ve gotten this far will know I don’t say that lightly.