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 Eight: Holes – ****
Part One: Ow. My Feels.
I’m going to start this review by talking about the one really good subplot this episode follows. If not for this one important element, I would probably give this episode three stars, and it would easily be my most disliked episode of the series to date. But it’s not.
Of the main leads, Cassidy is easily the most entertaining, and potentially the most complex as well. As in the books, this character is designed to be likable; he’s often the funniest part of a series that already has a good sense of humor, and his laid-back nature means that he generally has very low stakes in anything, so the common problems in his life tend to be things like, “Where are the nearest prostitutes?” Cassidy wears his character flaws on his sleeve, simultaneously aware that he’s unreliable, impulsive, and weak-willed, and mostly disinterested in bettering himself. That means his actions are extremely predictable, and makes him look like an incompetent but harmless idiot. The occasional moments of moral clarity where he at least tries to do the right thing endear him to the audience and the other characters, making him a bad friend but one you still love to have around. In other words, he’s a fuck-up, but a relatable fuck-up.
The image the character puts up makes it easy to dismiss the warning signs about how dangerous he really is. Pretty much the first thing we see the character do in the series is murder a plane full of people, and we know that violence and similar crimes have been part of his repertoire for a while. He’s an addict who will readily take advantage of his friends to get alcohol and drugs. It’s easy to assume his childish personality is at the root of any trouble he causes the other characters, but that can only be excused up until a point, and he’s demonstrated an aptitude for manipulation. Despite being apparently honest about most things, there’s clearly a lot about this character that neither the audience nor the other characters know. Cassidy even explains this much himself on multiple occasions.
Even with all of that, it’s really hard to hate this character. He’s at the very least entertaining, and his negative qualities feel like reasonable character flaws. He might accidentally stab someone in the back in trying to get what he wants, but the audience and other protagonists know he would never do it intentionally.
The consequences of his actions are amplified as the first season progresses, developing beyond what he likely could have foreseen, while still remaining his fault. I didn’t talk much about Cassidy’s character aside from his interaction with other characters and introduction for the first season, because frankly, he didn’t really get much character growth. The most significant thing he does arc-wise in the first season is admit to being a monster, first when he lets himself get burned, and then when he makes amends with Jesse during his recovery. Both of these moments reveal something of his character that is generally deeper than what we’ve seen of him before and after, but it’s still linked to him being a literal mythical creature, not who he is as a person. Him bursting into flames and killing the mayor, while horrific, are beyond his control. It’s something he’s ashamed of, but the first season only briefly hints about how, if at all, his being a vampire is related to his personality.
The second season explores his character in more depth, slowly revealing that his flaws go deeper, and that maybe his conscious actions and him being a literal monster aren’t really separate entities. Mainly, this has been revealed through how he interacts with Denis. In this episode, the Denis subplot comes to the first of what I would anticipate are two critical points in how the subplot relates to Cassidy’s character. As established in the previous episode, Denis is dying. That’s sad. In fact, it’s unusually sad considering it centers around the character the series usually uses as comic relief. Through the Denis-is-dying subplot, we see glimpses of how Cassidy’s penchant for drugs and alcohol is perhaps more than just a consequence of partying all the time – he practically drinks himself to death when confronted with the unpleasant choice of watching his son die or condemning him to a life that he personally knows is terrible.
For a character who normally won’t shut up and rarely shows reservations in getting involved in other people’s deep personal problems, he seems to have a particularly hard time articulating his own dilemma to the other characters. We see something close to that in this episode for the first time I can really recall. He asks Tulip if she would want to live forever if she had the choice. Initially, she thinks it wouldn’t be so bad, until Cassidy starts to list the things he doesn’t like about it – boredom, loss of interest in life, and especially seeing people die. Implicit in this conversation is a paradox: Cassidy is not, as far as we can tell, suicidal, but he doesn’t like living forever. He has a way to die and can do so whenever he wishes, but his self-preservation instinct ensures he does everything he can to avoid it. However, living long enough to see his friends and family die around him is horrible, even unbearable at times. It’s not even just them dying that seems to bother him – in the previous episode when he passed a grieving family sitting beside the bed of a dying loved one, there was an obvious connection to him grieving for Denis, but also a subtler suggestion that he envied the old person for being able to live out a complete life.
Throughout this episode, Cassidy’s dilemma of whether or not to turn Denis into a vampire becomes forefront in his mind even more so than in the previous episode as Denis starts to die. He goes around weighing his options, arriving repeatedly at the conclusion that no, he really shouldn’t do it. Tulip agrees he shouldn’t, his vampire contact Seamus tells him not to do it, and even Cassidy himself seems well aware that it’s a bad idea. At one point he asks Jesse if he can just make Denis die more quickly and painlessly. In the end, though, his lack of self-control and desire to have just a few good memories with his son wins out.
What is the upshot of this, other than Denis becoming a vampire? I think it shows that Cassidy’s impulses are self-destructive. He knows the likely consequences, and almost manages to avoid them by keeping his distance, but is ultimately too weak-willed to do the right thing long enough. For him, brief moments of happiness are worth the shitstorm that’ll inevitably follow and make his life considerably more miserable. If the show follows Cassidy’s character arc in the same way as the books, which it looks like it’s going to, then his self-destructive tendencies should make for a delightfully awful downward spiral.
Part Two: Buddy Bonding with Hitler – Probably Not a Good Idea
Now that the interesting subplot has been covered, let’s rant a little. The Hell subplot has returned, and somehow it continues to increase in absurdity. Eugene’s cell block is now communal, which means Hitler’s back, and we get to learn more about the other people in the cell block. The worst of them as depicted is an infuriating little prick who plays the stereotype of a rich, probably racist, fraternity jock who as it turns out is also a date rapist. I don’t have a problem with the show framing this character as an enormous malevolent asshole, but I still have difficulty swallowing its attempt to shove Hitler down the audience’s throat. Date rape is horrible to be sure, but I’m not convinced it’s on the same level as the Holocaust.
Thankfully the show seems to be establishing that Hitler is indeed as despicable as most people would imagine him to be by gradually having him manipulate Eugene. Despite all signs pointing elsewhere, Eugene continues to trust him and ends up in something called the “hold.” This is where things get weird. Now, let me explain that I don’t have an issue with a new part of Hell that shows a positive or fabricated outcome of a person’s bad memories – suffering is relative, and it reveals a little bit more about Eugene’s character.
I do have a problem with singing. I don’t really like singing. I especially don’t like singing when it comes out of nowhere and has nothing to do with the plot or characters and goes on for far too long. And then we have the portion where Jesse comes in and starts making out with Tracy in front of Eugene, which is as confusing and unpleasant to the audience as it is to the character. I know the cast and crew had to film this sequence because, well, it exists, but I cannot for the love of me imagine how they managed to film it without someone breaking character, looking around, and saying, “Hey, is this really going in the show? Like, with these lines and everything?”
I haven’t even gotten to the Hitler-based Hell prison break subplot. There’s a Hitler-based Hell prison break subplot, for those who are curious.
Part Three: FUCK YOU, ZOOM-AND-ENHANCE CLICHÉ!
As much as I sound like I hate the Hell subplot in its totality, I do appreciate it as a vessel for creativity while the other subplots become slowly more sober, and I also like how it manages to keep me guessing about what bizarre element it will bring to the fold next. No, the Hell subplot is not the thing I dislike most in this episode; that honor goes to the fucking acting reel DVD.
I should backtrack a bit and explain that, unlike the previous season, this season has thirteen episodes instead of ten. Now those three extra episodes are in some ways good things – more time to establish plots and explore characters in a narrative with numerous independent plot threads is always welcome, provided it manages to fit between crucial moments in the story. The only issue is that I get the sense the show was unprepared to having to deal with the extra runtime, so the result is several extra scenes and tangents that have nothing to do with the main plotlines and lead nowhere. The acting reel DVD is one of them.
For obvious reasons, Episode Four seems like it was another episode where the showrunners needed to fill time, but at least the DVD’s presence there was somewhat funny. The DVD also comes back later to explain to the Saint of Killers that God is missing, despite the former probably not knowing how a TV works or what it even is. The DVD would be fine as a plot point if it stopped being important after Episode Six.
A little while back in his pursuit of God, Jesse learned that he might be able to take the DVD into a tech facility to have the people there zoom in on the gun barrel and digitally enhance the image so he could read the serial number and track it down. Who gave him this idea? Was it perchance someone who knows anything about guns or computers in the slightest? It was not. Cassidy, because of course it was Cassidy, got the idea from “the cop shows.” I didn’t mind this, actually, because it provides setup for a really funny and much-needed joke.
Anyone with the slightest bit of knowledge about how pixels work knows that zooming in on a low-resolution image is about as far as you can get with zoom-and-enhance technology for logical reasons. A low-resolution image does not somehow store high-resolution information that can be accessed if only a person knew what buttons to press. A high-resolution image can be blurred or stored at a lower quality, but a low-resolution image can only be re-made at a higher quality through artistic license (i.e., making shit up as you go). This isn’t something most CSI-style crime dramas seem to realize, and it’s become such a common cliché that it appears in almost any film or show involving security camera feeds.
By making the source of the idea someone who watches a lot of TV but who’d be unaware that zoom-and-enhancing isn’t even possible, and by making the person who’s listening equally uninformed about computers and slightly gullible, Preacher is expertly set up to subvert the cliché. It could easily make a joke wherein Jesse takes the DVD to the tech store, asks one of the people there to zoom and enhance the image, gets some weird stares, is politely told that such a thing is not physically possible, and that asking that is like asking them if they could maybe teleport the DVD up to the ISS, at which point Jesse realizes he should probably consider his sources of information more carefully in the future.
I’d be fine with that, except that’s not what happens. Instead, Jesse takes the DVD to the fake Geek Squad, and they say, “Yeah, sure we can do that!” FOR FUCK’S SAKE, SHOW! IT’S BAD ENOUGH YOU TEASE A GOOD JOKE AND DON’T DELIVER, BUT THEN YOU JUST JUMP RIGHT IN LINE AND PARTICIPATE IN THE VERY CLICHÉ YOU HAD THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY TO SUBVERT? WHY? WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME?
And it’s not even enough that they do it one time, oh no, they do it twice, just to show that, no, the Geek Squad guys weren’t just messing with him. And I hear you, readers, I hear you saying, “Well, it’s a DVD, not a video tape. Maybe it wasn’t properly buffered in the shots they chose, or maybe it had HD resolution that wouldn’t show up on Jesse’s low-res DVD player, or something,” to which I say, I’m not an expert, but I know that’s not how DVDs work. And besides, at no point does anyone, other than Tulip, express any concern that what they’re planning to do isn’t possible. The Geek Squad guys even come up with their own fake processes for what they plan on doing, which is some bullshit.
In the end, it doesn’t even work! Oh, not because the technology doesn’t exist or the Geek Squad guys were playing a prank or anything – oh no, the actual zooming and enhancing works fine, it’s just that the people behind the tape, the people who shot Fake God (the Grail, as it turns out), are just that good at covering their tracks. So I’m really fucking happy that the show decided to spend a lot of time setting up a joke that it not only never delivered but also kicked in the shins by doubling back on its subversion and adopting the cliché, to little comedic effect and a lot of frustration, only to have it also come out completely irrelevant to the plot or characters. So thanks for that, show, I appreciate it dearly.