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 Thirteen: The End of the Road – *****
Part One: Um… Hey, One of the Main Characters Is Dead… We Should Probably Get That Looked At…
Well. That was intense. Throughout my time watching this season, I’d been formulating ideas in my head for what I anticipated would happen. Come the second-to-last episode, there were about nine things I expected to land sooner or later: Tulip was going to find out about Jenny, Jesse’s ability was going to fail for Starr, and possibly in some more critical situation, Denis was going to die, Cassidy was going to be the one to do it, Jesse and Tulip (and possibly Cassidy as well) were going to end up in Angelville, Eugene and Hitler were going to escape from Hell, Hitler was going to turn on Eugene, and Tulip was going to die. Many of these (particularly the Denis-related ones) I’d been waiting on for some time, long enough that I figured at least some of these events might not actually happen this season.
I’m a little surprised that pretty much every one of them happened within this single episode. That’s uncommon. On the rare case when my expectations are met, the execution is even more rarely this clean. The particular circumstances of these events ended up playing out differently than I expected, and the show has still held out revealing much about any of the characters from Angelville, including their faces, but the events flow in a very natural way. Even the Hitler and Jesse-Jesus subplots have developments in this episode that feel conclusive but provide room for expansion into the next season.
The first season ended with the town blowing up. How does this season compete with the bar set that high? Well naturally it kills off one of the three main characters. This isn’t especially surprising because Tulip dies near the end of the first book and her death is foreshadowed in her nightmare about the Saint in the show. Even though the show suggests at the start of the episode that resurrection is possible in this series, and Jesse’s actions further support the notion, I was still impressed that the showrunners had the gall to end the season with her still dead. It’s not an empty death – clearly it affects both of the other leads intensely – and her dying isn’t even a temporary endpoint, really.
Tulip dying sets up an immediate problem to be solved (that of making her not dead), and a vaguely possible means of doing so (Angelville). The episode reveals no concrete information about how one resurrects a dead body, aside from a sacrifice has to be made for it. We still don’t know much about Angelville other than Jesse’s experience there wasn’t good and the person in charge is a voodoo practitioner. The question of whether Tulip will be revived – she will, obviously – is not the driving force behind the episode, nor is the question of how it will happen, nor what consequences it will have, nor what going to Angelville means. All of these questions are intriguing and make me eager for the third season. However, Tulip’s death, and the events leading up to it, are there to display intense character jousting between Jesse and Cassidy and Tulip and Featherstone.
Tulip’s story arc ends on a cliffhanger this season. She’s been struggling to recover from her near-death experience with the Saint and growing more distant with Jesse, but as of the start of this episode, she’s made peace with both of these conflicts. She confronted the Saint and now he’s gone for good, and she’s finally decided to let Jesse go. She’s ready to run off with Cassidy and leave this God nonsense behind, except early in the episode she discovers the Grail’s cameras and now has to contend with a new, albeit smaller, issue. She learns that she and the others have been manipulated by the Grail to isolate Jesse and make him easier to obtain. Initially, she waves this off as something she can’t change now, but in saying goodbye to Jenny, she discovers that Jenny has an instruction manual for the armored truck Jesse used to imprison the Saint – the one he later escaped from – and glue similar to that used on the hidden cameras, implicating her with the Grail. Tulip puts this together and grabs a screwdriver for defense, and when Jenny all but confirms her role in manipulating Tulip, she fires her gun and Tulip throws the screwdriver.
The episode doesn’t even confirm whether the screwdriver hit is mark, because that’s where Tulip’s story ends. She’s pretty darn likely to be revived in the next season, but her response to Jesse and Cassidy fighting over her dying body and bringing her back to life with voodoo, and her reaction to being betrayed and murdered by a person she thought of as a friend (hello, foreshadowing) remains unresolved.
She isn’t present as a conscious entity for her own death – that scene is all about the guys, who despite having dealt with dying and corpses on multiple occasions so far, both completely lose their shit over it. They deal with grief in different, but delusional ways. Cassidy runs around like a chicken with a missing head and eventually offers a grand total of one solution, promising this time he somehow won’t fuck it up and turn his dying loved one into a murderous monster he has to kill in cold blood himself. Jesse, meanwhile, seems entirely unconvinced that a direct shot to the chest, puncturing at least the lung if not heart vessels too, is even lethal, suggesting they’ll just glue it up, and when that fails, they’ll drive her to the hospital themselves. His solution is to just let her die. As you do. Basically, Cassidy does the same thing he did when Denis was dying, and Jesse does the same thing he did when he sent Eugene to Hell. While Tulip is in her death throes, they collect themselves enough get into a pathetic excuse for a fistfight over how to treat her – twice.
Part Two: JESUS FUCKING CHRIST
Tulip isn’t the only important character who dies this episode, either. Denis finally meets his inevitable fate, and despite anticipating it pretty much as soon as he appeared, and anticipating the way it would happen down to which character in the books Denis was an allusion to, I was still not prepared for it. I’d kind of steeled myself for the possibility that Denis might not die until the next season, or might run off and not die at all, the reason being because the show was taking time to establish his progressive downfall in each episode but never really providing ramifications for it. I figured Denis would have to do something truly horrible with what Cassidy was letting him get away with – surely by this point he knew Denis was a danger, to Jesse and Tulip especially, and that he was killing people. Yet, it seemed that the only thing Denis could possibly do to push him over the edge would be to kill or directly threaten the dog.
He does not kill the dog.
Cassidy seems disturbed but not overly upset to find that Denis is killing people without remorse, and at no point does Denis threaten Jesse or Tulip directly. Denis does take Tulip’s panties and refuses to give them back, but even that’s not what does him in. Cassidy’s been aware of what has to happen to Denis for about five episodes now, ever since he found out Denis likes attacking people, but he’s willing to let Denis go free, and even stick with them. Until, that is, Denis suggests that Cassidy isn’t so different from him – at which point Cassidy, agreeing, pushes Denis out the window to burn to death.
It’s horrifying, and so callous it feels out of character in the moment, until you remember the small things that have been leading up to it. The episode emphasizes that Cassidy is degenerating in the wake of losing Jesse and being confronted with the high probability of gaining the thing he really wants – Tulip – in an environment where he’s likely to damage or destroy her. This episode is building on his little character moments in all of the episodes since he turned Denis into a vampire. One could easily imagine this is simply the point where he realizes that if Denis comes with him, Denis is going to harm Tulip or encourage Cassidy himself to try to eat her, so he reconciles the situation.
But that’s not the whole story. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s just that stupid he didn’t realize what was happening until now, or so delusional that he thought Denis would get over it, Cassidy doesn’t just put Denis down. It would be one thing if he opened the window while Denis was sleeping, or just trapped him outside as the sun was coming up like his book counterpart does for Eccarius, or even if he sent Denis away and let him live, but he doesn’t do that. We’ve had almost a whole season of regret and guilt building up to him damning his son to a horrible life just to spend a few more weeks with him. We’ve seen him blatantly letting Denis overstep every boundary with nothing but light chastising and Cassidy’s own discomfort as consequences. And yet, after all of that, he pushes him violently out a window and holds it shut while his son’s clawing to get back inside and begging for mercy. That’s not something you do people you care about.
If you wanted to, you could try to disregard the details of how Denis dies as the unfortunate consequence of playing chicken at the railroad tracks; Cassidy waited too long to get it over with and missed the chance for Denis to have a clean death. Here’s the thing, though: he doesn’t seem to really regret it. He isn’t upset, he doesn’t apologize, and he doesn’t break down like he does when Tulip dies, despite being one of the more expressive characters in the show. He shows no remorse for even losing Denis, never mind killing him in such a horrible way. He even lies about it to Tulip, and not only that, it’s a credible lie. Tulip doesn’t question the response and Cassidy’s claim doesn’t waver even when asked point-blank – this, coming from a character who doesn’t even lie about liking Justin Bieber.
Denis doesn’t just die because he’s a liability; Denis dies because Cassidy is an asshole and desperately wants to hide this from other people and himself.
One of the book character’s most defining characteristics were his sunglasses, which never really came off until the last book in the series, the revelation of Cassidy having malformed eyes coinciding with the revelation of his true nature. That stylistic choice is impractical in a show for many reasons, so the character having grotesque eyes was cut. The show iteration of Cassidy still has sunglasses, but they’re just sort of a prop most of the time, used when the character is outside, and not even unique to him alone — both Tulip and Jesse also have sunglasses. In fact, one of the last shots of Season One features all of them sitting in the car wearing sunglasses, as though the show was aware that sunglasses were somehow important in its source material, but failed to grasp their full significance.
The show knows exactly what its sunglasses mean. There’s a shot in this episode where Cassidy is sitting in the car after he kills Denis where Tulip decides to go say goodbye to Jenny. In this shot, he’s wearing his sunglasses so that his eyes are completely obscured, looking uncannily like his book counterpart for almost the first time in the series. As soon as Tulip leaves, he stops smiling, opens the car door, and lets the dog run off into the street – a sort of half-assed gesture of kindness. He knows the dog will fare better on its own than with them, but the act is also kind of a means of eradicating every memory he has of Denis.
Maybe they won’t end up making the show version of Cassidy as despicable as he is in the books. If this episode is any indication, though, I doubt he’ll end up that far off the mark.
Part Three: Names
As exciting as most of the events in the main timeline are, it’s the flashback at the beginning of the episode that gives me chills.
We see Angelville for the first time, and contrary to what we know of it, it’s… a charming tourist trap. A younger version of Jesse, one who’s clearly lived there for several years and knows its inner workings, is introduced as a parking attendant and greeter to the variety of visitors who drive up to what appears to be an old plantation house. Its public attractions are exactly those laid out in the flyers and posters we’ve seen before – voodoo, mind-reading, fortune-telling, that sort of thing – and gator tours which depart from the place where the Coffin is stored. We know, from the Coffin and Jesse’s attitude toward Angelville that there’s more underlying the kitschy exterior, and one of the guests – an undercover cop – even mentions knowledge of something called the tombs.
The Angelville subplot diverged in some major way from the books’ version once it introduced voodoo, but there are clearly other things that are new here too. Madame L’Angelle, Jesse’s grandmother, is something of an expert in voodoo and able to bring people back to life, which is why Jesse decided to take Tulip to Angelville in the modern timeline. That itself is another startling thing, though, given the previous events in the show and the entirety of the books. The show has established that Jesse does not like Angelville, and that the people there – especially his grandmother – tortured and tried to brainwash him. They killed his father, kidnapped him, did god knows what to his mother, sent him down in the Coffin at least twice, and the mere reminder of what happened to him there is enough to scare him out of losing Genesis – something no one could willingly do in the first season. Make no mistake, Angelville is bad.
So why then does he have that tattoo?
Angelville has a crest, kind of like a brand ranches use, hanging over its entrance, and both Jesse and his grandmother’s goons have tattoos of the crest. Jesse has it on his back and understandably doesn’t like to talk about it. He says in the first season that “a mean old lady” gave it to him, and if his experience in Angelville was that awful, it wouldn’t out of place to imagine he was given that tattoo by force. But the thing is, tattoos aren’t like brands – you can’t exactly hold someone down against their will and carefully etch a detailed design that takes an hour or more to complete. Maybe Jesse was drugged for it, but then again, there are other indicators that maybe his relationship with Angelville isn’t just as simple as him being a helpless captive – for one, he goes back willingly.
In both the show and books’ versions of events, Jesse is kidnapped and lives in Angelville from a young age and at some point, escapes the place with no intention of returning. In the book, he’s kidnapped a total of three times – once when he’s a little kid, once after he runs away for the first time and meets Tulip, and a third time in the main timeline of the series when he and Tulip are captured simultaneously. In the show, we’re not even sure he runs away that first time. He wasn’t kidnapped in the interim after he and Tulip split up, and at the end of this episode, he’s driving up willingly to the front entrance. That’s a world of difference between the two versions.
Based on Episode Five, Jesse picked up information while at Angelville and perhaps even cultivated some skills while there – his one-on-one fighting skills, his understanding of souls and voodoo, and his knowledge that people can be brought back to life, at the very least. None of these precludes him acting pragmatically to survive torturous conditions and suppressing all thought of Angelville once free of it. That could still be the case. But the way he drives up to it, not just this time, but also when he dumped the Saint in the swamp without even trying another option, strongly implies that he’s not on the run from them and he has license to ask favors of his grandmother. Jesse is not tough, emotionally; he has a tendency to run away from things that are unbearably difficult to handle. The only way he ends up confronting his guilt about sending Eugene to Hell or the pain of the miscarriage and losing Tulip is by avoid these things until someone else literally shoves the issue in his face and forces him to confront it. Angelville, perplexingly, isn’t forced upon him; Jesse comes up with the idea to go there on his own when there’s still another option (albeit a bad one) available.
That doesn’t mean Angelville’s off the hook, only that Jesse might have a more complicated relationship with it. Aside from the Coffin, we get a hint about the place’s darker corners through Jody and T.C.
At this point, despite appearing in Season One, we’ve never seen their faces, never heard their voices, and only this episode have we even been given their names. They’re completely interchangeable for the moment, except in one way: when Jesse greets Jody in the flashback, he hesitates to say his name. Other than that, we have no indication of how these characters are different or whether Jesse’s relationship with both of them is the same. It isn’t in the books, though it would be accurate for me to say he doesn’t like either of them much. They’re the muscle to enact his grandmother’s cruelty: T.C. is depicted as a bumpkin — violent, perverted, and less predictable than the other, but ultimately less dangerous, not that that’s saying much; Jody, meanwhile, is smart, capable, and adept at using Jesse’s weaknesses against him, which is what makes him such a prominent threat. In the book, it is Jody who causes Jesse’s Genesis powers to fail him and Jody who has to be defeated personally before Jesse can move on from Angelville. Even after the Angelville characters are all dead, Jody haunts him in small ways, coming back in the peyote trip and as his amnesiac mother’s new name. The grandmother character in the show is intimidating, but she gets referenced, named, and voiced long before either of the other two.
As of the end of the episode, we’ve seen Jody and T.C. do all of three things to Jesse directly – they killed his father, they put him in the Coffin, and they took the wallet he stole from one of the guests. The rabbit hole goes far deeper than that, however, and perhaps even deeper than one might imagine through simple extrapolation of what they’ve done already. Whichever one of them grabs his arm as punishment for the wallet hurts him badly, but it doesn’t break bones and the act itself isn’t really that horrible compared to the other things they’ve done. However, after they leave, Jesse takes out his frustration on a nearby chicken. Remember, Jesse doesn’t normally hurt people or animals – he was apologetic about shooting the Komodo dragon, and as far as we know, he’s only directly killed one person ever, the security guard who attacked Tulip. In this flashback, his anger toward Jody and T. C. makes him violent enough to curb-stomp and kill a chicken. It’s something he regrets immediately, almost crying, and it makes him run to his grandmother to see if she can bring it back to life.
This is where that sudden violence we saw in Episode Five comes from – not just Angelville, but Jody and T.C. specifically. Whatever he’s gone through, it has long-lasting ramifications that have embedded themselves within his character. As with Cassidy and Tulip, those blemishes aren’t easily repaired and they’re ever-present no matter how well he tries to disguise or suppress them.
While the first season is fairly self-contained and doesn’t specifically need to be continued, now that the ball’s rolling, the show has too many juicy plot threads to leave dangling. Starr has that bit of Jesse’s soul he’s so worried about, Tulip is dead and needs to get revenge on Featherstone, Featherstone may or may not have screwdriver embedded in her sternum at the moment, Hitler is on the loose, Eugene is out of Hell (and, I might add, not even trying to retrieve Hitler), we still don’t know much about Angelville including what any of the characters there look like and what most of them sound like, we also don’t know how Jesse intends to revive Tulip, my ship is sinking, the Saint is in Hell and apparently wants to kill or make a deal with Satan, Cassidy in the books was never even aware of the existence of Angelville and so we need to find out how he’ll respond to it, oh, and God is in a motel somewhere, apparently with the ability to pee. These important issues must be resolved.
The show is now committed to being a full-on series, and with Season Three airing in just a few hours, I’m fairly confident it’ll have the momentum to keep going for a while at least. This is the point in most series’ lives where they finally start to turn a profit. The second season was less cohesive than the first, with more episodes that felt padded and a less complete seasonal arc than the first. However, the show has demonstrated its ability to push forward and raise the stakes. What were Easter eggs in the first season are now developing into fully realized story arcs with consequences for the characters and promises of payoff for the audience. The series knows how to handle buildup. Given its pedigree, and its curious state as an adaptation that both deeply respects and rejects its source material, the future could have pretty much anything in store for this series. It has the writing, cinematography, and story that could push it into the realm of quality of something like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, provided it improves as it progresses. I kind of doubt it would ever reach that level of mass appeal, but then again, I wouldn’t have expected these shows to gain the popularity they have either. Maybe Season Three will be a complete dud. Probably not. Whatever it is, we’ll find out soon enough.