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 Six: Sokoasha – *****
Part One: The Airbenders Are Stealing People’s Leg Fat
The opening to this episode is perplexing, even for a series in which the opening before the credits, and during the credits, and also after the credits, is often perplexing. It begins with unfamiliar characters undergoing and performing some sort of medical extraction and transplant via a device that wouldn’t look out of place in the film Inception. The material extracted looks almost like a tumor inside one man’s leg, but clues don’t add up to the transplant being a regular tissue donation. Aside from the in-house extraction, the recipient is a half-naked woman who can’t talk, whose compatibility with the donor substance is determined by her wedding ring, and who accepts the substance by swallowing it in pill form. As one would hope, the mystery established in the opening is resolved about halfway through the episode, tying the characters and their Japanese in-house partial transplant service to the goals of the protagonists with one phrase: fractional soul donation.
Over the course of the episode, souls suddenly become an important subject, namely because the protagonists need to find a way to obtain one for their undead immortal cowboy friend within the hour, and coincidentally, New Orleans has plenty of them for sale. Or, at least it would if the Japanese company “Soul Happy Go Go” weren’t selling them so cheaply. As it turns out, the Japanese armored truck seen at the start of the episode is sort of like a mobile blood bank but for souls, and instead of selling complete souls like most of the voodoo shops in town, they specialize in extracting percentages of souls and selling these instead.
I should explain at this point that I don’t especially like the concept of souls in most fiction, not just because of the inherently religious baggage, but because they so often come up in stories where souls make no sense as a concept. The Harry Potter series is a good example – at no point does it suggest a Christian or Abrahamic religion’s version of Heaven and Hell and God and whatnot, and the only thing to indicate a person lives on after they die is ghosts and moving pictures, but souls aren’t really explained with regard to that lore. Why the fuck are dementors scary, then? The third book rolls around and talks about how dementors will suck the soul out of you, but you don’t die, so to someone who wasn’t brought up religiously and doesn’t have a preset concept of what a soul is, how on earth could that be worse than dying? How do souls work in the series? Are they like the ghost versions of you, or are they immaterial impressions of your personality and character?
And I know what you’re going to say – “Well, Hat, what if you imagined dementors sucking away your emotions and thoughts and memories until you were left a hollow, empty shell like someone with depression?” And I would say that’s valid, except the soul concept comes up later in the series as something that makes the decision to stay on earth as a ghost or “move on,” except when it comes out of someone’s wand for some reason, or is retrieved with a magical stone, even though for some reason it can’t be recovered if a dementor eats it – or maybe it can, I’m still unsure about that – and let’s not forget the stupidity regarding splitting one’s soul into multiple parts for the sake of immortality… somehow. How the fuck do souls work in the Harry Potter universe? It’s infuriating when a series establishes something vague and religiousy like this but pretends it needs no explanation when it becomes a major plot point. I can understand people wanting to believe in the Abrahamic religions’ concept of a soul as a person’s consciousness living indefinitely in an afterlife, but when the creator of a fictional series expects the audience to accept the soul concept as a very real part of a fictional world, especially one where concepts like gods and afterlives are belief-driven like in reality, then I expect some indication of how souls are supposed to work.
Now, I wanted to clarify that because obviously in series where a Christian version of God and all that guff is real within the fictional world’s confines, souls make at least a modicum of sense – if you don’t understand what a soul is, it’s not going to matter much because you’ll also be confused about things like the Holy Trinity and judgement and why people think eternal anything is worthwhile, especially considering how most people won’t even wait the full two-and-a-half minutes to warm up a Hot Pocket. That’s part of why I don’t normally like series that take Judeo-Christian mythology in a literal sense – they’re often written more for people who already accept everything about those religions to be a part of their reality, isolating people who don’t follow one of the Abrahamic religions.
I like that Preacher really doesn’t do that – it seems like it would be equally confusing to Christians as it is to people who have no familiarity with the religion’s lore, and as such it has to carefully explain the parameters of its universe as they pertain to the plot. There are angels and demons. There’s a Heaven and Hell. There’s a God. Heaven is located somewhere past Neptune. God is missing and likes jazz. Angels wear cowboy hats and eat tea bags. Angels and demons can have sex and reproduce, and the angel-demon baby that results exists as an ethereal entity that can possess humans on earth and make them explode. Vampires exist. That has seemingly nothing to do with the whole Christian portion of the lore, but they exist nonetheless. Angels can be killed by immortal cowboys. Hell works like an overcrowded prison. Hell is entered by way of a bus route and travel agent. Humans on earth can call either Heaven or Hell by way of telephones. In order to operate these telephones, one needs angel hands – not like, a spirit, or a soul, or even angel DNA, but literal hands, which can be used to trick the phone keypad in the same way a severed thumb can trick a thumb scanner. Disembodied angel hands can be surprisingly easy to obtain, because when an angel is killed, unless by an immortal cowboy, it just pops back into existence someplace else, leaving its corpse where it was when it died. Literally no one knows why this happens, it just does. This is the sort of lore the series provides, and now that we have souls in the mix, the show offers probably one of my favorite explanations of how souls work.
Everyone has 100% of a soul, except this immortal cowboy for some reason. You can retain your thoughts and memory and personality even if you don’t have a soul, and you can get into Hell. Souls apparently have nothing to do with you or your immortal self. In fact, you can die, your immortal self can end up in Hell, and then it can be sprung from Hell, all without a soul. For some reason, Genesis only works on people with souls, which by extension means that vampires, angels, and dogs have souls. In fact, if you only have 1% of a soul, it will work on you. You can donate your soul or have it removed, and as long as you have a partial soul, you basically have the same perks as if you had a full one. Souls have what I would assume are antigens or other markers because donors must be compatible or else they’ll be rejected by the body, somehow. The soul is located in a tumor-like protrusion in the leg and can be turned into a pill. Souls seem to be an important thing in Christian-based lore components, but they’re also used by voodoo practitioners. Jesse seems to think that giving away part of his soul will have ramifications later, but the show doesn’t indicate what, if any, consequence giving part of his soul away will have. It makes the naked lady talk, but couldn’t that also be part of a placebo effect? The Saint certainly doesn’t have trouble talking and doesn’t seem to undergo much change after receiving part of a soul.
So what does a soul do in this show, exactly? Well, as far as I can tell, it’s sort of a ticket to get into Heaven. That’s it. In order to get into Heaven, you need a soul. Maybe it has other functions, but clearly those functions are not intuitive or the same as most Christians would probably imagine them to be. It’s not even like having a soul is the only thing you need to get into Heaven, because clearly most of the people we see in Hell, particularly Eugene, have souls, and the Saint nearly ends up in Hell too after he gets his new soul, so there must be some sort of vetting process where a soul is like a passport or ID. In other words, the lore of fantastical elements in this show is ridiculous and very much its own thing, regardless of what inspired it.
Part Two: You Know What’s an Awesome Idea for a Children’s Picture Book? The Story of a Mass Murdering Cowboy from the 1880s. Be sure to Include the Ravens Pecking Out His Dead Daughter’s Eyes!
Why should the main characters have to get the Saint of Killers a soul? Well as expected from the end of the last episode, which concluded with a bloodbath in Viktor’s house after Jesse used Genesis to freeze the guards, the Saint of Killers is hot on the trail of the main characters. They have just enough time to learn about his backstory with a trip to the library before they realize they left Denis at home and have to rush back to negotiate with the vengeful cowboy.
The library research section of the episode is certainly its low point, giving the audience little information they couldn’t have figured out from the flashbacks in the first season, and shuffling off exposition via audiotape that makes little sense within the realm of the established universe. From what we learned in the first season, the Saint killed everyone in the town of Ratwater, and before then lived on a tiny remote farm with two other people, both of whom died before the town was massacred. Presumably the Saint could have survived and wandered around, thus spreading his story, but that’s not what happened – the audiobook explicitly states that he died in a tornado immediately afterward. So who is it, exactly, that’s writing down all of these stories and folk tales? And more importantly, why is it a popular enough story that it gets audiobooks, Viewfinder slides, graphic novels, and even illustrated children’s books?
I like the homage to the Preacher graphic novels, in that the third book appears at one point in the sequence, but other than that, the hint about him not having a soul (again, who figured that out?), and one Dick Cheney joke, I don’t see why the sequence has to be so long, or even exist as it does, really. Couldn’t Fiore have mentioned he didn’t have a soul if that information is so important? Or, if the character is well-known and Annville used to be Ratwater, couldn’t Jesse have known enough to guess that a soul was what he wanted? I suppose it clarifies the Saint’s backstory for anyone who forgot or didn’t quite understand the flashbacks in the first season, but I have to think there are ways it could have been handled so that it doesn’t feel unnecessary.
However, outside of the backstory, the Saint gets plenty of engaging moments in this episode. He shows for the first time that he can be reasoned with, and once he gets a soul and Jesse can use Genesis on him, the audience can start to show a little sympathy for him because A) he was dealt a shit hand in the first place with his wife and child dying, even if his response was egregious, B) all he wants is to get to Heaven with his wife and daughter so he can see them again, and C) Jesse stabbed him in the back for selfish reasons and then trapped him in a truck at the bottom of a lake. The Saint is a terrifying character, but like most of the characters in the series, he still has some complexities, and the show is starting to indicate that Jesse in particular might not have a much cleaner record.
Part Three: Wait, Where Did You Learn That?
Speaking of Jesse, he continues to show some wildly different colors when he readily accepts the Saint’s ultimatum of finding a soul in one hour or losing his friends. I was immediately perplexed about this decision, because he doesn’t even try to negotiate the time as though he’s bullshitting his way through finding the Saint a soul; no, he’s actually confident that he can find a suitable soul within the hour and within walking or cab distance of the apartment.
The reason for his confidence becomes apparent when he steps into a voodoo shop right after they make the deal, but this only raises more questions — namely how and when did he become so familiar with voodoo practices, and why has it never come up before — until the show enlightens us with that lovely little word: Angelville. The penny drops, but this just fuels our curiosity.
This season leans much more directly into the Angelville references than the previous one. Those unfamiliar with the books now know a few key things about Angelville: that it’s some sort of fortune-telling voodoo shop thing, that it uses the same symbol Jesse has for a tattoo, that Jesse knows what it is, and that Jesse’s terrified of it for some reason. One might reasonably assume that Angelville and the L’Angelles are also somehow linked given the similarities in their names and the reluctance with which Jesse broaches either subject. Based on his tattoo, we can imagine that whatever Angelville is, Jesse spent enough time there to pick up a few tricks. He not only knows where to go to find a soul, but recognizes equipment used to extract them, knows of more secretive equipment, remembers the names of specific voodoo trade houses, and immediately knows what to do with the weird transplant souls once he finds one that’s suitable.
By this point, book fans are also thrown for a loop because Jesse’s experience with Angelville can’t have been the same in the show as it was in the books. Aside from the book Angelville characters having nothing to do with voodoo, with Jesse’s religious upbringing, his grandmother wouldn’t have to push very hard to get him to want to be a minister. As we saw in the previous episode, his decision to become a preacher was his own, not influenced by crazy swamp-dwelling relations or threats to his girlfriend. He still clearly has apprehensions about Angelville and doesn’t even want to mention it to his friends, but at the end of the episode, he takes the Saint right past, if not almost to, that very place and dumps him in the swamp. In fact, the way he drives the armored truck with the Saint inside, banging away on the locked doors, unable to drown or otherwise die, is reminiscent of the Coffin from the graphic novels. While the similarity is mainly conceptual, if the Coffin is still canonical, then Jesse using a similar torture himself suggests that while traumatized from his experience at Angelville, either he thinks he’s gotten over it or he didn’t leave on such a sour note as he did in the books. Regardless, I love the way this subplot has been slowly unfolding over the course of these past two seasons and I can’t wait to see what comes of it.