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 Six: Les Infants du Sang – ****
Part One: Jesse is Unconscious on the Floor. Again.
This is a weird fucking episode. Possibly the strangest yet, for reasons I’ll go into. I can completely understand why a person watching it might consider this one of the worst episodes of the series; it makes many decisions that are difficult to justify, and those moments stick out. According to my rating system, the series’ worst episode so far is Viktor, which is mainly just underwhelming. Viktor lacks any particularly stand-out scenes, mostly being a series of moderately enjoyable or moderately cringe-worthy moments. This episode, Les Infants du Sang, is anything but moderate. It has some of the most bizarre moments of the entire series, and by this point you ought to know how much weight that phrase carries. I say it fairly often, but this series loves to outdo the oddities of its earlier episodes. It’ll have a hard time besting this one.
That said, I just can’t find myself hating it. I totally understand if another person despises it to their core, but I kind of like it in a way. The stranger moments are perplexing, but they don’t deliver the same sort of disappointment as the Hitler subplot (or worse, that fucking zoom-and-enhance sequence), and they have a sort of a charm to them in their oddness, like a dog carrying around a stick that’s way to big to serve any use. If I’d never seen this episode and someone told me there was a show in which a character at one point swallows a live owl, I’d probably think of this series before most others. Flying pig. Random vampire. God in a dog costume on a motorcycle. Owl-swallowing. Sure. It fits.
There are plenty of things to like about the episode, though, and as I’m finding with most of them, after the initial shock of, for instance, the owl-swallowing, the genuinely solid moments start to stand out. And some of them are really solid.
For one, this episode is genuinely funny. Part of the bizarre or excessive elements I feel come from failed jokes and references, but these are only a handful in a near-constant slew of humor. Some of it works to a better degree than the rest, but the delivery and content of certain lines crosses all the ranges of humor the series has sported so far. You miss maybe a third of the jokes the first time through because several of them are staggered, a punchline occasionally interrupting buildup of another. Normally I would find this pace too quick, even for this series, but the upshot is that the interrupted jokes become buildup for the payoff that interrupts them, and their punchline becomes buildup for a different joke, and so on. It’s like certain scenes have doubled the amount of jokes they can produce in the same span of time by telling them simultaneously. It’s a bit much to handle when you try to parse out the individual jokes and realize how interconnected they are, but when you’re actually watching a scene, it remains focused enough that this staggering of information is subliminal. Basically, it’s doing with humor what previous episodes have done with folding character development into short spans of time, so that one thing comes across immediately, another comes across when you digest that information, another comes across when you re-watch the scene with further context, and so forth. It’s something this series does more effectively than most, and I don’t think I can fully comprehend how difficult it must be to accomplish successfully.
The plot of the episode is fairly basic as this series goes — jumping off from the end of the last episode, Tulip and Jesse need to find souls for Jesse’s grandmother to keep her (and by extension, Tulip) alive, and Cassidy has been kidnapped by a fancy group of wannabe vampires called Les Infants du Sang. The Angelville crew spend most of the episode planning and executing a heist on Madame Boyd’s soul bank, and Cassidy gets to know the legitimate vampire leader of the vampire fanclub. Eugene pops up at the start of the episode in an orphanage before being adopted by the Saint of Killers, and Starr has a meal with his boss, but neither of these subplots has much effect on the main characters.
The simplicity of the narrative events is part of what allows the episode to spend more time on the humor, for better or worse. Sometimes this acts in the episode’s favor — the elevator scene shared between Starr and Hoover is perhaps the most delightfully awkward elevator scene since Spider-Man 2, and Jesse pointing out how often Tulip has died is a fun bit of meta-commentary (by my count, the three protagonists have died or been presumed dead a total of eighteen times already). The episode also points at the frequency of the characters becoming imperiled by knocking Jesse out twice in the exact same spot. The creators of the episode usually have a good understanding of when to cut and what to cut to for maximum effect, showing just what’s needed to deliver necessary information. A lot of key events happen off-camera — the bank robbery that Jesse and Tulip are building up to, for instance, is filmed in about three shots from outside the building, but those shots get the job done. Every part of the robbery has been sufficiently established in the planning phase and that it goes so smoothly is a reflection on the competence of the characters.
There aren’t a lot of exclusively serious moments in the episode, but those few are worth discussion. The big one is Jesse killing Sabina. The scene’s editing and cinematography leaves something to be desired; it opens with close-ups of Tulip strapped in a chair and the machine the Angelville characters use to extract souls being switched on like at the beginning of the episode. Unlike in the beginning, though, where Jesse intervenes, the soul is successfully extracted and Jesse’s grandmother eats it (well, drinks it, but you get what I mean). Only then does the camera cut to a wider shot to reveal that it was actually Sabina whose soul was eaten, and Tulip was tied up in a different chair. That sort of film trick feels cheap, even if it’s brief, and while the episode did technically establish a means for Sabina to be there through Jody’s side plot, the whole thing feels very rushed.
However, character-wise, Jesse shooting her when he finds out comes with a fair bit of baggage to unpack. For one, his motivation for doing so is unclear; he mentions at the start of the episode that Sabina’s involvement in imperiling Tulip makes her yet another adversary, but of course he says that more for Tulip’s benefit than his own and is still more than willing to kiss her to get the saliva sample they need to break into the bank. He’s indirectly responsible for Sabina losing her soul because he blamed her to get Tulip off the hook for killing his grandmother, thereby sicking Jody on her for revenge. Beyond that, he knows firsthand how bad the Tombs are and probably doesn’t want to be responsible for anyone else ending up there. Killing her could easily be something he views as an act of mercy.
All this in mind, it’s still an abnormally callous thing for Jesse to do. Jesse had been somehow responsible for several hundred people’s deaths by this point in the story, but aside from Kenny and that security guard, he hasn’t killed anyone directly on his own, at least not anyone who can actually die. He’s shown he isn’t averse to it, but he does make a concerted effort not to kill people when he can avoid it in the present timeline. This is a rapid, unceremonious way to break that streak. Even if we were to say that Jesse’s no-kill philosophy is a fluke of coincidence, the casual manner he adopts and the comparison between Sabina and Tulip bears some disturbing implications. If it had been Tulip in the chair, what then? However bad the Tombs may be, he knows people can get their souls back via transplants and the like. Merciful as it may sound, his actions don’t suggest he’s doing Sabina a favor. He knows from the previous season that even if she were going to Hell already, by killing her as she is, he’s damning her to it either way. There’s also what he says as explanation — that a person isn’t anything without a soul, which he knows isn’t fucking true, but also kind of seems to believe. He’s been awfully preoccupied with getting the little fragment of his own soul restored, but aside from a vague idea that it might bring Genesis back, there’s nothing to suggest retrieving it will affect much of anything. Jesse’s thoughts on souls seem to have less to do with how he understands them to work and more to do with his religious views.
Tulip and Cassidy get their own impactful moments as well via a phone conversation, and it’s easily the most emotionally charged scene in the episode. For context, Cassidy is mulling over whether to continue spending time with Eccarius despite his moral opposition to Eccarius turning other people into vampires. Tulip is dealing with her own completely unrelated issues. She and Jesse were successful at getting Jesse’s grandmother some souls, but now they’re left in a catch-22 where if the souls don’t work, she and Tulip are going to die permanently, and if they do work, she and Jesse are going to suffer the consequences of their betrayal. Tulip has just gotten over dying a second time, and on top of that, Jesse’s acting strange. He’s been acting strange since they came to Angelville, but even with the Tombs closed down and Tulip trying to find a way to free them, Jesse’s actions seem to do anything but get them away from his grandmother. He’s more than willing to go along with her requests, and in this particular episode, shows regular indifference to Tulip’s interests. Tulip is under duress, and she needs someone to talk to other than Jesse. At this point, remember, Tulip doesn’t really have very many people in her life. Most of her family’s been dead for years and since Annville blew up, she’s lost anyone she knew from there aside from Jesse. Viktor and all of his men are dead, and the only other contact we know she’s kept in touch with is Danni, who isn’t exactly a people person. Of the people Tulip knows who aren’t dead or antagonists, the only people she’s close to are Jesse and Cassidy.
The conversation is mostly one-sided, with Tulip updating Cassidy about what she and Jesse have been doing while he listens on the other end. She frames their recent brushes with death the same way you might describe your work week to your mother, casually mentioning killing Jesse’s grandmother and dying a second time as though hoping for a concerned reaction. She’s pacing the whole time, stumbling and losing her train of thought, and going on without a clear idea of where her rambling is going. While I loathe unnecessary use of the shaky-cam filming technique, this is one of about the only three ways it can be used for narrative effect, and it is brilliant. The camera conveys the sense of unease and tension that Tulip demonstrates with her body language and that’s at the core of what she’s actually trying to communicate. She’s on a knife’s edge and about to completely lose her composure, and needs comforting from a friend more than anything else right now. Because her persona is that of a no-nonsense badass bitch and she feels deeply uncomfortable expressing her vulnerabilities, she can’t say outright say what she needs. However, Cassidy has consistently been the one person throughout the series Tulip can talk to about anything. It’s kind of what he does for people. She knows she can tell him secrets and reflect on things that Jesse just wouldn’t get, and even if Cassidy doesn’t have anything especially useful to say, his inane rants could be good for a laugh to take her mind off things.
Except, Cassidy’s not really a friend, he’s just an asshole. He’s silent through the whole conversation, reacting little to anything she says when the camera cuts back to him (the camera, by the way, is completely still to juxtapose the shaky-cam in Tulip’s sequence). He seems apprehensive about answering the phone and at no point shows any interest in the conversation, barely even listening to what Tulip has to say. At no point does he ever come close to figuring out what Tulip wants, instead opting to leave her rambling while she tries to elicit some sort of response. To twist the knife just that much further, at the end of it, he basically says, “Fuck you, I have better friends now.”
Obviously, Cassidy is dealing with his own problems, as evidenced by him receiving the phone call while in a crack house. Eccarius has brought up vampire-related issues and memories of Denis that he doesn’t want to deal with, but he also likes Eccarius and wants to get closer to him. Like Tulip, he’s feeling isolated after basically being forcibly removed from her and Jesse’s presence, and he’s naturally still stinging from Tulip’s romantic rejection. He’s the sort of petty that would make him want to cut off all ties with Tulip and Jesse out of spite, but he still answers his phone and he still hears Tulip out, suggesting he’s not determined enough to sever that connection permanently. He still cares for Tulip, and probably Jesse too, in some capacity. Given what he nearly did to Tulip at the end of The Tombs, though, he’s probably well aware of the dangers he puts people in and that Jesse and Tulip would be better off leaving him be. Him claiming disinterest in rejoining them is a combination insult, affirmation of his interest in Eccarius, and misguided attempt to keep them away from him.
Cassidy’s blatant disregard for Tulip’s feelings, though, and his overall unpleasant demeanor throughout the conversation reflects that even if there is any selflessness to his response, it’s not driven by his own intent. He likes Jesse and Tulip because they make him feel better, not out of an empathic desire to see them do well. He ultimately does not care about their feelings or their wellbeing. He seeks people for emotional closeness the same way that he seeks drugs and sex, and when something new comes around, he’ll abandon those people at the drop of a hat. And the end of the conversation reveals that bit of him to Tulip for the first time, ensuring that she now has no other person she can rely on, especially not Jesse or Cassidy.
So yeah, this is a pretty fucking good scene.
Part Two: You Know You Have an Amazing Series On Your Hands When One of Your Main Characters Could Hypothetically Just Turn into a Cat at Any Moment
Okay, so, the owl-swallowing. Again, the show both taking inspiration from the books and diverging from them at a ninety-degree angle, apparently vampires can do a lot of shit we were previously unaware of. So much so that we might as well use that convenient checklist Cassidy gave us in the first season for what vampires don’t do as a definitive list of things he was lying about. Fangs? Yes. Bats? Yes. Coffin? At the very least, Cassidy would probably fare in one a lot better than Jesse in one. Silver bullets? Probably work on vampires too somehow. Crosses? At this point it wouldn’t make sense, but we could probably find a way for it to work. Blood craving? Abso-fucking-lutely.
But seriously, there’s a scene with Eccarius Peter Panning all over the city carrying his new boy toy. This was in the trailer for the episode. The trailer.
Obviously the vampire nonsense is the most unnecessary, ridiculous, off-beat, what-the-fuckery of the episode, and it comes out of fucking nowhere. It’s amazing for so many reasons. I can’t say that I unabashedly love it, but let’s be clear, the Peter Pan scene is easily the second gayest moment in this series, and they’re going full-out on the bisexual vampires at this point, which I can’t complain about. We are well beyond subtext here, people. Of course Eccarius swings both ways too; if the outfit wasn’t enough to demonstrate that, the episode also offers a protracted kissing scene with him and another man to make Cassidy jealous.
Much as I’m all for the vambire subplot (I apologize for nothing), the choice of which vampire powers to go with is a bit hard to fully accept at this point. It certainly offers some unique potential for later seasons if they decide to do anything with it. Like, oh yeah, didn’t you know, Cassidy can just, like, fly and shit. I’m sure the show could find situations where that will be in no way useful but still fun to use anyway, and this is the sort of series that would take full advantage of a dumb new thing to play with like that. Some of the powers are in reference to the book, when Cassidy asks Eccarius about the various vampire abilities from folklore he’s tried to use and found fictitious. Well, apparently in this series they’re all legitimate. Specifically, flying, controlling people’s minds, turning into animals, and super speed. And swallowing owls. I don’t know what specific myth that one is from, but there you go.
There is actually some legitimate utility to the idea that vampires, and Cassidy specifically, have more to them than the series has led us to think. For one, the show decided to omit two of the handful of vampire capabilities from the books for what I assume are practical reasons — the super strength and Cassidy’s unsettling eyes. Making the character an ordinary human in the show aside from being ageless, able to heal, and burning up in the sun makes him more relatable and more vulnerable than the book character. This version of Cassidy doesn’t have anything obvious to hide and is pretty useless in a fight, both of which work off the show’s iteration of Jesse, who’s a legitimate religious preacher and less outwardly prone to violence than his book counterpart. However, the series wants to go a darker route much like the books and does so by making its two male leads in particular more monstrous. As their pasts are revealed, Jesse starts to drop his religious pretense and Cassidy likewise reveals more of his indifference. While not all of the new vampire powers revealed in this episode are, shall we say, intimidating (again, owl-swallowing), some of them, like the super speed and especially the Genesis-like mind control, are probably not good things to let Cassidy know he can do.
Even if the series decides to just immediately ret-con the silly vampire powers (and I really would not blame them either way), the Les Infant du Sang scenes serve a few other purposes. First, they’re fucking hilarious. As in the books, Les Infants du Sang is the end product of a bunch of twenty-somethings forming a pretentious fanclub after watching Interview with a Vampire one too many times. The members all dress up in the ponciest outfits they can find and wear fake fangs, each of them trying desperately to impress Eccarius so he’ll turn them into the real deal. He gives them orders like breaking into other people’s houses to find friends for him, doing laundry, making cookies, that sort of thing. You know, what you would probably do if you had a bunch of idiots willing to wait on you night and day. Did I mention their clubhouse is in one of the twenty-somethings’ mother’s basement?
The ridiculous setup pretty damn near justifies the Les Infants du Sang subplot’s existence on its own, but Eccarius in particular also offers a foil for Cassidy, and a potential bang buddy. Eccarius is more of what you might expect a traditional Dracula-esque vampire to be — formal, powerful, and respectable, with a legion of loyal minions and a gothic hideout. He turns people into vampires with few reservations and if he suffers from half of the internal vampire-induced conflict that Cassidy does, he does a good job of hiding it. Eccarius revels in being a vampire, spouting bullshit about the Ways of the Night, vampire culture and heritage, and plenty of other pretentious nonsense. His willingness to haphazardly turn people into vampires is morally reprehensible to Cassidy, whose own experience with being a vampire has basically been immortality is good, everything else is really, really bad.
While Cassidy does come around to him eventually because of loneliness, curiosity about Eccarius’ powers, sexual attraction to him, or a combination of three, his skepticism is probably not unwarranted. In the books, Eccarius’ vampire bullshit is just bullshit, Cassidy being the much more experienced of the two while Eccarius takes his notes from movies and mythology. The show doesn’t give much information that would suggest its version of Eccarius is just as delusional, though the little old lady’s basement, the outfits, and his lofty claims about being royalty and knowing nineteen languages certainly seem suspect. Much more suspicious is the fish tank full of fake teeth from members of Les Infants du Sang whom he’s already turned into vampires. The tank is only on-screen for a few moments and it’s meant as a sort of right-of-passage for the vampire nerds, but there are a lot of fake teeth in it — at least forty sets. A previous scene indicates that the people in the clubhouse all have yet to be turned into vampires (if that’s even what Eccarius is doing to them), so that begs the question, what happened to the others? Is he just releasing baby vampires onto the streets of New Orleans, or are they dying horrifically? It’s not necessarily an important question to answer for broader plot purposes, but it sets up a moment where the other shoe has to drop. Something about Eccarius is bullshit, and that’s going to cause problems for Cassidy.
Part Three: Okay. Okay, I Have Questions. Mainly Questions About the Goat.
While I’ve pointed out the merits of the episode, I can’t ethically ignore that this episode is kind of a mess. For me, the better moments are worth the additional baggage of sloppy storytelling and some truly distracting visuals, as they have been for the rest of the series. That doesn’t mean the oddball moments go away just because I can overlook them, though.
This episode contains the single worst line in the series and it comes in a sequence of utter stupidity that probably wouldn’t have much effect on the plot if it were cut almost entirely. After the vampire Peter Pan scene, Eccarius and Cassidy land, Cassidy says, “There are other ways of getting high, you know,” (that’s it — that right there is the worst drug-related pun you could ever write), and they immediately walk into a bar. They could have just started in the bar. None of that was really important, as much as I can appreciate how lovably stupid it is.
And then there’s still the owl scene, which I’m not going to let off the hook so easily. Why does Eccarius swallow his owl? Surely it takes a long time to acquire an owl for dress-up purposes, doesn’t it? Why would you just eat it? How does this prove you’re a vampire? Moreover, why does Cassidy decide to hear him out after he eats the owl? If someone kidnapped me then ate an entire owl, that would make me the opposite of inclined to spend any amount of time with them.
The tone is disjointed and the pacing suffers because of it — the scene with the Allfather, for instance, while it sometimes delivers the sense of unease that clarifies why Starr is so afraid of him, disrupts the tension its own tension several times with unnecessary odd visuals. The scene is introduced with a comedic zoom of the camera on Starr’s face, then the Allfather’s face, both of which are more reminiscent of that dramatic prairie dog gif than anything else. The roasted horse the Allfather brings in to torment Starr psychologically bleeds with a disgusting squelching noise for no reason, and in a similar line of gross visuals, we have the Allfather’s vomit bucket. Both of these latter visuals are references to the graphic novels, the horse an allusion to the chapter at the start of Book Six where a frenchman steals ranch horses to sell for their meat, and the vomiting characteristic of the Allfather’s bulimia. Both are meant to make the scene more disquieting, which they do, but the almost comedic nature to them in the delivery of the effects makes them feel more excessive than what the show has tended toward in the past.
There’s also some incompletely blurred full-frontal male nudity. Involving a goat.
Moments like these aren’t individually game-breaking, but they serve to exacerbate problems with the episode’s tone, and they come in waves. I’ve addressed the tonal discontinuity of this particular season before, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t noticed it in previous seasons as well, but it stands out here because of the excess of absurdity. Some of these moments come at the cost of what the series does well and what viewers really want out of it. We’ve seen the series incorporate odd moments into the plot and character arcs like with Man-Dog and the Mumbai Sky Hotel episode. Here, though, those moments don’t seem to be building to anything particularly important, which makes some of the more important moments in the episode, like Jesse killing Sabina or Tulip dealing with dying a second time, feel rushed.