Series Breakdown Rating:
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 Two: Sonsabitches – ****
Part One: I’m Not So Sure This One Thing Will Solve Your Problems…
The second episode of the season rolls around and the series gives no indication of slowing down anytime soon. Jesse & Co. are still in Angelville, but now that Tulip’s alive again, they have their minds set on leaving. Jesse is stuck there because of his grandmother, meaning Tulip won’t leave, meaning Cassidy won’t leave either. The three get plenty of time to banter and plot, Jesse eventually reaching the conclusion that he needs Genesis in order to best his family. Genesis hasn’t been working for him lately because of the fraction of his soul he gave to the Saint of Killers — or so he believes, anyway — and as we learned in the last season’s finale, Starr now has it to use as a bargaining chip.
While Cassidy and Tulip keep Jesse’s family busy, he invites Starr to Angelville to negotiate the return of his soul. Starr is naturally well aware that his operatives are the reason for Tulip being shot, and by now, he has plenty reason to suspect Jesse is aware of this as well. They didn’t part on especially sour terms in the last season and presumably Jesse’s interest in replacing Humperdoo is not considerably diminished, despite what he says to Tulip and Cassidy. His main hangup on becoming the new Messiah is losing Genesis, though Starr’s recent actions can’t exactly make him look favorable at the moment. Starr holding his soul hostage is, in Starr’s mind, just one tool in his arsenal for coercing Jesse over to his side, but he seems to have underestimated Jesse’s desire to get it back. Under pressure from his grandmother and distraught over nearly losing Tulip, Jesse is desperate to regain control of his life, and he’s tied that idea to his soul and Genesis.
There’s a fair question about whether getting his soul back will actually do anything about Genesis, though. He lost his soul in Episode Six of the last season, but used it regularly and without trouble until Episode Eleven. The ability only started to falter when Starr reminded him of his torments in Angelville and his guilt about his father’s death, implying that his ability to use Genesis is tied to his emotional state. While a delayed loss in potency is still a possibility, if Genesis is uncoupled to the piece of Jesse’s soul, it’s likely that getting the soul fragment back will do nothing and that Jesse needs to grow as a character in order to use it again.
Either way, he’s not getting his soul back any time soon. A failed deceit sends Starr running off with Jesse’s soul without much reason to return for a while.
Despite his attempt to retrieve Genesis, Jesse’s interest in escaping Angelville isn’t as straightforward as it seems. We’ve seen plenty of indications that the Angelville characters are cruel and unforgiving, and each new episode indicates that the show has only explicitly shown us their superficial horrors. We know that the Angelville characters killed Jesse’s father, locked Jesse in the Coffin, regularly beat him, and cut open and presumably killed his mother.
In this episode, we learn that they steal people’s souls so that Jesse’s grandmother can eat them, and that they lock the remaining soulless people in the basement to wallow for years. We now also know that Jesse is complicit in the latter and has more of it to look forward to now that he’s under his grandmother’s lock and key. His participation in chasing people down for money is unsurprising — we’ve had reason to suspect based on his fighting style, imprisonment of the Saint, knowledge of voodoo, and familiarity with the Angelville characters that he picked quite a few things up from them during his childhood. Now we know his connection to the Angelville characters is not subconscious or a survival tactic, at least not exclusively; they’re the ones giving the orders, but he still pulls the trigger.
The longer Jesse stays in Angelville, the more he falls back into what seems to be an old routine — something he’s aware of, and so are the other two protagonists. The parallels to his time spent in Annville are notable, especially with regard to his desire to repent past crimes and apparent difficulty in doing so. Thinking back on the previous seasons, it seems likely that his religious epiphanies and associated guilt stem more from what he’s done at Angelville than his time as a petty criminal with Tulip.
Part Two: RACCOON JUICE!
With Tulip alive, the audience might hope that the golden trio might exchange some sort of group conversation unlike in the previous episode, and thankfully, the character dynamics are intact. Well, mostly. The characters get plenty of opportunity to quip at one another and engage in conversations ranging from “my grandmother has grounded me” to “Heaven is full of talking deer people” — and, of course, another lengthy rant about The Big Lebowski. Naturally, most of Jesse and Cassidy’s conversations concern them yelling at each other while actively avoiding the one thing they have reason to yell at each other about, and also avoiding talking to Tulip about it either because they’re socially incompetent manchildren.
The humor is back in full force as well, as you might have guessed, and it’s beautifully fulfilling. More than most episodes, I think this one hits the sweet spot of balancing all three main characters and their interactions with one another on top of all of the rest of the nonsense happening in the episode. Even excluding the Grail events, this episode is packed with plot points, but it nonetheless doesn’t feel rushed.
Beyond the characters’ interrelationships, they also each get a few moments to themselves, Tulip especially. Tulip and Cassidy spend most of their time getting to know Jody and T.C., respectively, as they orchestrate distractions to cover Jesse’s meeting with Starr. Despite everything we know about Angelville so far, these interactions are downright pleasant; Tulip finds something to respect in Jody by way of his weapons arsenal and T.C. wins Cassidy over almost immediately with the promise of homemade drugs that definitely aren’t just a canister of pesticide. That’s not to say there isn’t still an atmosphere of danger — if firing grenade launchers and huffing poison are what these people do for fun, it begs the question of what they’ll use if legitimately threatened. Adding to the Coffin and alligators, we now also have a soul-sucking machine and a suspicious meat grinder.
Tulip’s main quandary comes as an extension of God’s command to her, which we learn in this episode was for her to, “Get those sons of bitches.” A bit of an ask given the dog suit if you ask me, but regardless, it seems to refer to the Grail, or at least Starr’s coup within the Grail. Of course, Tulip has more reason than most to want revenge on the Grail, given they killed her, so it’s not like she’s going to hold back much. The full control this request has over Tulip is unclear, but it seems to be persistent given that it results in Jesse losing his chance at getting his soul back when she starts firing at random on Starr’s men. The main upshot of this, aside from giving Jesse more reason to pursue the Grail, seems to be that their attitudes toward the Grail — hypnotized by God or otherwise — put Jesse and Tulip at odds. Jesse’s promise to kill Starr sounds more like something he says to reassure Tulip than something he actually cares about, and freeing Featherstone and Hoover is a betrayal of her trust with little gain. Jesse knows Starr; I kind of doubt he thinks Starr regards his subordinates so highly.
Part Three: Dickhead
A lot of small things happen in this episode — arguably more so than in the previous seasons’ first few episodes. The buildup to Angelville and the continuation from the previous season is partly responsible for this episode’s ability to juggle so much material without feeling cluttered. The series has long relied on fine-tuning it’s buildup and payoff cycle, often establishing multiple storylines with varying lengths of buildup that span anywhere from an individual episode to multiple seasons. The first season was setting up key components of the Angelville subplot alongside the miscarriage subplot and Jesse dealing with a pedophile parishioner. The show is especially good at handling long-term buildup.
Foreshadowing those longer-term storylines contributes to much of this episode’s density. Starting with the Grail, we learn that Starr is back to his original job of killing off potential usurpers for Humperdoo. He mentions to Jesse having an Allfather who oversees his work and against whom he’s planning his coup. Ignoring the books for the moment, the increased pressure placed on Starr and his inclination to leave Jesse alone for a while suggests he might spend the next few episodes dealing with internal affairs, likely meeting said Allfather at some point. If Starr is removed from Jesse’s proximity long enough, Jesse’s desire to get his soul back will likely lead him to seek Starr out again, meaning he’ll have to escape from the Angelville characters before then.
On Jesse’s side of things, we’ve gotten more talk about these Tombs mentioned by a cop in the last episode of Season Two. The Tombs are a basement hidden in a shack in Angelville, apparently the storage space for the soulless victims of Jesse’s grandmother and disused in recent years. One of Jesse’s tasks is to get them up and running again, and like so much of Angelville, he knows exactly how to do this but doesn’t want to. After his failed attempt to negotiate for his soul, his grandmother makes use of the blood Jesse gave her to hint at her control over him, which is enough to force him back in line. I’m loathe to make assumptions based on trailers, but the teaser for the next episode suggests that the Tombs will play a significant role for Jesse’s character. The hat he wears in the trailer while presenting is hanging up in his room in this episode, while nearly every other reminder of his involvement in Angelville schemes is confined to the lower floor.
There are other hints of plot points soon to come, like mention of the Boyd’s feud with Jesse and a drawing foreshadowing Cassidy being strung upside-down and set on fire. These are more overt instances of foreshadowing, but the episode also introduces and propagates the buds of what could become much longer-term subplots based on the comic books.
At this point, it can be somewhat difficult to tell Easter eggs from foreshadowing given the show likes to implement both in often unpredictable ways. An Easter egg is generally a reference to something outside of a narrative’s confines, like Stan Lee’s cameos in Marvel movies or the names of characters who don’t actually appear in the films. Preacher loves Easter eggs, incorporating them as motifs, brands, and little details in the background, but usually ensuring that they don’t interrupt the plot. If you’ve never read the books, most of the Easter eggs will fly right over your head without you noticing. Occasionally, though, especially as of the second season, the series has found time to play with the expectations of the audience if they have read the books, building up anticipation for events referencing the comics but then turning around and delivering something unexpected. Even if the events are fulfilled, like Jesse meeting Starr, Cassidy killing Denis, Tulip dying, and the characters ending up in Angelville, the circumstances are dissimilar enough from the books that even if you think you know what’s going to happen, it still surprises you.
Recently, the series seems to be taken with the idea of turning Easter eggs into foreshadowing; it did this to some extent with the Angelville subplot in the first season, giving no concrete information about the characters until the second season where they became a plot point. Now, it’s doing that with the two major motifs that ran all the way up through the end of the book series: Starr getting mutilated and Cassidy’s sunglasses.
That’s right, the dick head is finally coming to the show! It’s all still pretty much speculation at this point, but the framing and recurrence of the motifs are prominent enough that I think they’re worth mentioning. Starr is concerned with appearing as a legitimate threat who emanates the sort of power he wields, but on several occasions now related to his attempts to win Jesse over, he’s been forced into humiliating, often emasculating, circumstances, like when Jesse forced him to shove film strips up his ass. In this episode, Tulip grazes his head with a bullet, leading to a wound that references an injury Starr sustains in the books. In the books, this leads his head to resemble a giant penis and starts him on a vengeful warpath to destroy Jesse for humiliating him.
The sunglasses are a bit more difficult to pin down, but this season seems to be using them more often than the others. There’s a moment in this episode while Tulip and Cassidy are arguing in the car and Cassidy avoids a question, shoving his sunglasses up in the process despite almost always wearing them low on his nose until now. It’s an ambiguous gesture that I wouldn’t want to read too much into, but the framing distinctly tries to obscure his eyes much like a similar scene at the end of the last season. The show seems to be leaning more heavily into the motif of eyes in general, actually, much like the books, which gets me excited to see how it uses them.