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 Ten: Dirty Little Secret – ****
Part One: You Hear That, Mister Anderson?
I said he was “less prone” to bar fights, not “immune.”
At this point, the show has settled into a bit of a lull in developing the individual plotlines surrounding each of the main characters – Jesse with his search for God, Tulip getting over the Saint of Killers, and Cassidy dealing with Denis. The lull isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it allows the show to take the time it needs to set the tone and prepare for plotlines’ conclusions. I wanted to talk about one particular narrative element the show often uses for plotting – inevitability.
In general, most writers receive advice from their peers and teachers to not reveal their plot too early. If the plot hinges on some element of surprise, like an unexpected betrayal or turn of events or a revelation that directs the plot down a new path, the story can only use these events to dramatic effect if the audience doesn’t really expect them. If the character who dies is the one whose death is heavily foreshadowed, or they just seem like the most likely character to die, when they finally kick the bucket, no one in the audience will be surprised or shocked. The emotional weight of the scene can backfire to the point of being melodramatic.
There’s an exception to this rule of advice, as with all rules, and it comes from the dread the audience feels knowing what will eventually happen, especially if the characters remain largely unaware of their impending doom. Inevitability is tricky to maneuver, because a story can’t rely solely that sense of dread to maintain tension for very long; eventually the tension has to snap, and the expected fallout must be somehow interesting or have unpredictable elements to it.
The Carlos subplot in Preacher, Season One is established as Tulip’s main drive throughout much of the first season – she wants revenge on Carlos, and Jesse’s going to be there to help, one way or another. Tulip’s personality and Jesse’s later interest in also getting revenge signals to the audience that eventually Carlos is going to be on the opposite end of a gun barrel from one or both of these two characters. This promise still holds true even when Jesse refuses to go kill him; the plot bends to ensure the inevitability is fulfilled. However, the consequences of capturing Carlos are less predictable; Jesse agrees to kill him, Tulip stops him, then both of them beat the crap out of Carlos in a cathartic but non-lethal moment of bonding. The payoff is cohesive with the initial setup but not easily predictable despite its inevitability. The audience knows from the start that Carlos won’t get away, but whether Jesse will compromise his morals or Tulip will abandon him to do it herself is unclear until events play out. The same could be said of Cassidy revealing to Jesse that he’s a vampire, Quincannon winning the church, people finding out what happened to Eugene, and Jesse’s loss of faith at the end of the first season.
The use of inevitability is even more prevalent now, though I think the longer structure of the season makes some of those inevitable moments drag just a bit too long. Tulip is of course going to find out about Jesse not sending the Saint to Hell, and that Jenny is working with the Grail. Jesse’s going to find out that God is an asshole or just incompetent, and he’s also going to have to face the Angelville characters sooner or later. Cassidy’s going to have to come to terms with Denis dying, and now that he’s gone and made Denis nearly immortal and murderous, he’s probably going to have to be the one to do it himself.
I think that some of these subplots, particularly the Denis one, are taking their sweet time, but on the other hand, the one that comes to a crux here — Tulip finding the Saint’s weapons and realizing that Jesse was lying when he said he got rid of him — is pretty succinct. She of course doesn’t know the whole truth, not that it would really matter much, but her finding the weapons is important to her character and her relationship with Jesse for several reasons. First, she’s the one with the strongest negative connection to the Saint, so she feels more betrayed by this action than, for instance, Cassidy would. She’s also already had enough trouble coping with her encounter even while under the impression that the Saint was gone for good, and now that she knows he’s not, things could easily get much worse for her. The weapons themselves are a physical reminder of her near-death experience, and not something she was expecting to find under her bathroom floor. Jesse hiding the weapons, and especially her having to find them herself, is yet another indicator of how closed their relationship is, especially when it comes to communication. Never mind that Jesse is already in hot water for nearly killing her husband and using Genesis on her multiple times without her consent. The reason she even finds the weapons in the first place is that Featherstone (under the alias of the next door neighbor Jenny) suggests it after manipulating her into thinking Jesse is lying, so not only is Tulip is a suspicious state of mind already, but she also has someone she can go to whom she trusts more than Jesse. Because Jenny’s identity is part of a separate subplot with an inevitable ending, when Tulip learns about the Grail pushing her away from Jesse, she’s going to lose that lifeline too. So, the inevitability of her finding out about the Saint leads to more inevitability related to the Grail, and also more interesting branching paths the story can take depending on which of these elements related to Tulip’s character its wants to emphasize in the wake of her discovery.
Part Two: The Jebus
The Denis subplot only develops a little here, so I’ll talk about that when it reaches its conclusion, but aside from Tulip discovering the weapons, most of the episode revolves around Jesse learning about the Grail and getting to know Starr. It’s something spectacular, particularly the moment when he introduces Jesse to the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury and they proceed to spout their rather creative interpretations for why God is missing. I was particularly surprised when Starr just decided to up and take Jesse to Masada about two-thirds of the way through the episode. In the books, Jesse never even met the Christ Child, not that it likely would have mattered given his apathetic stance toward religion. This Jesse, however, as mentioned before, is religious, and more than that, he wants to be religious.
Meeting the Christ Child is kind of perfect for him in many ways. On the one hand, he gets to meet his childhood hero. On the other hand, his childhood hero pees on him. You can laugh and feel bad for him all at once. The Christ Child, Humperdoo, purported 25th great-grandson of Jesus himself, is little changed from the graphic novels. He’s different mainly in being slightly older, a twenty-something rather than an actual child, an alteration that is done primarily for the sake of his introductory shot, which is lit from behind and gives him a classic European Jesusy silhouette. One can only see his unibrow if one knows where to look. The Grail has been inbreeding Jesus’ descendants for about two thousand years, so the end result is an apparently kind-hearted but completely incompetent figurehead with a doglike mentality.
Starr’s interest in Jesse becomes apparent; the Grail’s whole reason for existence is to get Humperdoo to rule the world. Only the highest heads in the Grail know that he’s barely capable of controlling his bladder much less saving humanity, and most seem content to “leave it to faith” to ensure their plan goes well. Starr is not so optimistic. He plans to have Jesse supplant the Christ Child as someone who can make it through a speech. His supernatural ability to bend people to his will is a bonus.
As an aside, this episode invites the curious question of historical accuracy. The historical Jesus would almost certainly have been least somewhat dark-skinned and probably looked very little like his typical European portrayal with pasty white skin and wavy brown hair. However, Humperdoo, as well as the flashback depiction of Jesus when he’s doing the nasty, clearly aren’t going for historical accuracy. In fact, the show seems so unconcerned about historical accuracy at this point that not only does Jesus speak with an American accent, but he and his compatriots use terminology like “cool” and “it’s been real.” At one point, Jesus wears a man bun. Honestly, though, it’s a bit of a change from the typical depiction, so I’m not going to complain.
Part Three: Honey Badgers: Made in God’s Own Image
Something tells me that Jesse isn’t overly fond of either Man Bun Jesus (despite him presumably being unaware of the glory of the man bun, on Jesus or anyone else at this point) or of his great-somethingth grandson. Being peed on by a fellow human being, particularly one of supposed divine origin, has a habit of doing that to a person.
On a more serious note, because Jesse is religious in the show, and because he’s introduced to the Grail as a non-exclusively antagonistic force, his take on what Starr reveals to him is somewhat loaded. He’s willing to go along with him, and though skeptical about Starr’s motives at first, once he meets the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, he’s eager to hear what they say. The show doesn’t generally seem to take a particularly respectful view of devout Christians, often portraying them as naïve, cowardly, or selfish in the first season. The few times they appear in the second season (largely in association with the Grail), the characters are often put in positions where they seem somewhere between blissfully ignorant and actively delusional.
Jesse is more skeptical than the unwaveringly religious characters in the story, however. When the Pope starts going off about how God’s run off to create a new type of being with wings and honey badger noses, he puts the pieces together and realizes that neither of the prominent religious figures in the room with him is particularly grounded in reality, at least not where their understanding of God being missing is concerned. See, Jesse is in the peculiar situation of wanting to be religious, but only being able to believe in things that he sees or witnesses directly. In most realities, this would be a problem, as religion is fundamentally faith-based and often requires complex or convoluted workarounds for its believers to accept any contradictions to their faith that they witness (many religions foster some amount of questioning or contemplation for this very reason, or in some cases may just offer a blanket explanation like “it’s beyond human understanding”).
Jesse, luckily, can go to various figures from his religion directly and ask them point-blank what he wants to know. The only issue is, as in the case of Humperdoo, the answer is often not what he wants to hear. Like the townsfolk prior to the Fake God teleconference, Jesse wants to believe that his religion is exactly like he’s always been told, that God is loving and merciful and totally knows what He’s doing. Jesse does not want to be told that God is a neglectful asshole, that the second coming of Jesus is about half a step removed from a Golden Retriever, and that everything he’s believed growing up is either untrue, or probably not all that important. Unfortunately for Jesse, that’s the world he lives in.
At the moment, he’s kind of stuck in his own delusional stupor of clinging onto whatever remains of his faith. His cycles of being faithful and being faithless are important to his character, as we saw in Annville and in the Houston flashbacks. Based on what we know of him so far, it takes some considerable effort for him to abandon his religion entirely, either by way of long bouts of time without evidence of God, or by grand events that make his life miserable. Losing Tulip seems to be a big part of him swinging from one end of the spectrum to the other. Crucially to his character, and I think a large part of the reason he doesn’t stay permanently faithless even after everything he’s seen, is that it takes very little for him to adopt religion again.
He tends to stick to more of a personal philosophy that’s guided by his religious upbringing rather than a practiced doctrine. Over the course of the show, this has generally been a problem more than a solution. It’s what made him go mad with power in the first season, and it’s part of what keeps him hunting God so avidly despite neither of the other main characters caring much about it. Jesse’s hold on his religion is strong enough to make him insist that Starr’s plan to turn him into the new Jesus is sacrilegious. However, his personal beliefs could easily sway him into agreeing to it eventually, or even going after the Grail itself for trying to start the apocalypse.