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 Nine: Puzzle Piece – ****
Part One: Starr Does Not Like Cats
Like much of the previous episode, this one feels like large parts of it were shoved in at the last minute to pad the runtime of the series. The episode centers around the Grail characters and their exploits, catching the audience up on their roles and capabilities as they try and fail to kill Jesse.
The protagonists spend most of their time in the house. Jesse and Cassidy are growing increasingly aware of Tulip’s strange obsession with the Hurt Locker — the bar where one dons a bulletproof vest to get shot and win money, as opposed to the Jeremy Renner film — and her budding paranoia, but they have their own problems to deal with. With the DVD a failure, Jesse has no more leads on God and resorts to futile attempts to look for traces of Him on the internet. Cassidy cares for Denis after turning him into a vampire, trying to ignore the indications that Denis now poses a threat Jesse and Tulip. The trio argue about each other’s priorities, but the episode has little time to spend on any of them because their arguments are constantly interrupted by the Grail’s exploits.
With the pig out of the way, Starr’s new task is to get rid of Jesse because his Genesis powers threaten the legitimacy of the Grail’s Jesus. Featherstone and Hoover have been in New Orleans for a while, verifying that Jesse’s power is real and bugging the apartment to keep an eye on him and the others. Ideally, with the Grail’s resources, killing him should be a cut-and-dry task, but Jesse’s ability proves to be more adaptable than the Grail anticipated. When he uses one of Starr’s covert assassins to kill the others, Starr doubles down on his efforts and sends a drone to blow up the apartment. While the drone is being prepared, however, the German megalomaniac starts to look into the Grail’s information on Jesse and realizes that they share a common worldview. He calls off the drone strike, and begins to plan a way he can use Jesse to his advantage.
Part Two: The Antagonidiots
The Grail characters themselves are a sort of antagonistic trio to foil the protagonists. Starr is Jesse’s main foil in the graphic novels and it appears that he’ll be filling that role in the show as well. While the two minor Grail characters, Featherstone and Hoover, haven’t had much direct interaction with Jesse and none with the other protagonists, they likewise foil Tulip and Cassidy as backup to Starr’s intentions. The major difference between the antagonist and protagonist dynamic is the militaristic order of the Grail; Featherstone and Hoover are underlings, and Starr has no emotional connection to either of them (or anyone else, really).
Like the main characters, the show is concerned with portraying these characters much like they are in the books, at least in terms of personality. However, one could argue that Featherstone and Hoover don’t really get much character in Preacher graphic novels, especially considering one of them ends up counting sand grains for most of the series. The show opts to take what character traits each has and expand upon them. For Hoover, it’s unreciprocated adoration for Featherstone, chastity and religious qualities well beyond what the other two main Grail character show, willingness to serve the other two but general incompetence in doing so, and a tendency to receive the short stick in almost every situation. Featherstone, meanwhile, is skilled and tactical, admiring of Starr but basically in the same position of authority as Hoover — able to direct resources, but still an underling without a personal investment in the plan to kill Jesse other than winning Starr’s approval. Featherstone is the more capable of the underlings and interacts directly with Tulip by way of a disguise, but like the other Grail characters, she remains relatively simple compared to the characters the series has delivered in the past.
The Grail characters are not especially nuanced. They’re fun and engaging, but we’re not really meant to care about their unique problems — they’re more like caricatures whose personas are their personalities outright. The organization itself is like this too. It’s an utterly powerful, far-reaching society that goes back thousands of years like so many other fictional organizations, a sort of quasi-religion itself, and it’s goals are cartoonish. In how many films, books, shows, and video games have we seen some sort of secret organization or society with tremendous means, far-reaching and possibly world-destroying ideals, and big black SUVs? Almost every one of these entities blends together into a pile of conspiratorial sludge. The Grail, therefore, isn’t here to be legitimately threatening. Jesse’s accidental success in beating them back without even knowing who they are shows that.
The Grail is here for comedy, pure and simple. No one’s going to remember the bureaucratic, spy satellite-building fake Apple that’s trying to create a world-dominating AI network. However, people are going to remember the pan-national, Pope-wielding religious society that has the power to summon military drones and Stephen Hawking, but struggles to struggles to contain one guy who thinks he can track down God via DVDs and YouTube. The Grail is a jab at secret societies as much as it’s a functional secret society itself.
Part Three: Oh Yeah, He’s Religious, Isn’t He?
Although the Grail’s function and characters are basically taken straight out of the books, its role in the plot has to be changed in order to flow with the show’s iteration of events, especially in how it’s introduced to the main characters. The Grail characters have been showing up for about seven episodes now, but they’ve only been background players. Until the end of this episode, all three main characters have been blissfully unaware of the Grail’s existence – the most any of them has acknowledged it was Tulip’s brief reference to the name printed on the map back at the start of the first season.
In the books, the Grail is introduced officially like any other minor subplot. It appears in and occupies the bulk of Book Two. The main characters become aware of the Grail only once one of them is kidnapped, at which point the Grail becomes a much more central part of the overarching plot.
However, in the show we can’t just have Cassidy get up and kidnapped by the Grail, partly because with modern technology it doesn’t really make sense that the Grail wouldn’t know what Jesse looks like, and also partly because we have other plots to contend, namely regarding Denis, the Saint of Killers, and the search for God. It’s difficult to throw in yet another subplot, particularly one that would separate the characters and take them to another continent. I also suspect this is why the Angelville subplot has been relegated to backstory and references – imagine the chaos that would result if all three main characters were independently kidnapped by different people.
So, to compensate, the show alters Starr’s job slightly. By making Jesse a target and only introducing him as a potential solution to Starr’s problem after several attempts on his life, the Grail is introduced to the audience before the characters know about it. The first time Jesse and Starr meet is in a bar with Starr offering the former resources for finding God – as opposed to them meeting in a death-circle knife-fight like in the books. The audience knows them to be antagonistic by this point in both iterations, but the show version of Jesse has reason to listen to them. This Jesse is religious and the search for God is high enough on his list of priorities that he might be willing to overlook a suspicious lead if it promised him something he wanted. The Grail’s religious associations are a bonus rather than a drawback, and Jesse at least tries to be reserved when making snap judgments. Being less prone to bar fights than his graphic novel counterpart, it seems reasonable that he would at least give Starr a chance to speak.