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 Seven: Hilter – *****
Part One: Bisexual Cannibal Vampires
This episode isn’t as spectacular as its star rating might imply; it doesn’t have any spectacular set pieces or anything quite like that, nor is it devoid of any minor gripes. Like several episodes this season, it has buildup for the next episode and ends on a cliffhanger. It’s mainly just a solid overall episode. My complaints are minor and there’s not much that I think could be cut without sacrificing plot or character content. Normally this would make it a solid four-star episode for me, but the gay stuff kind of wins me over. Be honest, you’re not surprised about that.
So, obviously the big thing in this episode is that Cassidy realizes his big gay love for Eccarius and they get to have sex in an oversized coffin that Eccarius not-so-subtly bought him as a present.
It’s nice, though. It’s nice to finally come across a series that doesn’t just endlessly tease the audience about whether it’ll actually do anything with its queer subtext. It’s nice for a series that isn’t exclusively about queer characters or queer romance to throw some in as a subplot, because why not? It’s nice to have an action horror comedy that doesn’t make a fuss about its characters being queer. It’s nice that the series doesn’t pull its punches about Cassidy being legitimately bisexual, rather than “secretly gay” as in so many portrayals of bisexual men. And, to boot, it comes across as a legitimately sweet, heartwarming relationship.
Okay, so the cannibalism means that it’s not going to last, which is a bit of a bummer, but in a weird way the cannibal vampire subplot still kind of works with the relationship subplot. Like, yeah, Eccarius is a dick, but he legitimately likes Cassidy and would never eat him. Surely that’s a step in the right direction at least? Granted, I am unfamiliar with how most people cope with secret vampire cannibalism in their significant others, so I’ll defer to the more experienced crowd. The important part of the subplot is that it’s the first legitimate romantic relationship Cassidy has been involved in at any point in the story (which makes it especially adorable) and Eccarius’ cannibalistic tendencies are likely to screw it up.
Let’s back up a bit. In the last episode, Cassidy decided to hang out with Eccarius and Les Infants du Sang out of curiosity about Eccarius and his special vampire powers. Turning people into vampires lets him do silly things like fly around, and he’s clearly bitten a lot of people in his time. We have no idea where they go. In this episode, we learn that the people Eccarius turns go away to the far corners of the globe to set up vampire safe houses. That’s what he tells his minions, anyway — as soon as he walks away with the newest vampire to “take him to the airport,” you know he’s actually eating them. This isn’t confirmed until the end of the episode, of course, but he’s definitely eating them for some reason. Apparently Eccarius doesn’t actually like vampires, or at least doesn’t want to send new ones out into the world willy-nilly. Given that we already have a pre-established means of killing vampires that Eccarius uses to dispose of the bodies (poorly, I might add — apparently he’s never heard of the concept of a rake or a leaf blower because he just leaves them out on some lawn in conspicuous people-shaped ash piles, complete with bits of clothing and everything), there’s a good chance he also gets something out of eating them.
Not Cassidy, though. Apparently Cassidy is special enough not to be eaten. He may just be special in the sense that Eccarius likes him, of course. I mean, sure he supposedly sprung for international plane tickets for the others, but he bought his prospective boy toy a whole coffin. A fancy double coffin, no less. Have you seen how expensive those things are?
Meanwhile, Starr is still trying to capture Cassidy to use as leverage over Jesse, and he’s assigned Hoover to the task. Hoover has recruited some Catholics (not vampire-hunters, necessarily — he only ever describes them as “Catholics”), who, despite having access to spotlights and being ripped from their time at the underground church gym, die almost immediately. Starr now has direct access to Jesse and leverage in the form of paying off his debts, so what he intends to do with Cassidy is a good question. Hold him for ransom, probably. Not that it worked out so well last time, but Starr is a determined man.
It’s not like the vampire subplot is especially deep or meaningful at its core. That I’m so chuffed about the series putting one of its main characters in a homosexual romance really speaks more to societal biases and the artificial limitations other series have put on LGBT+ characters. The subplot works for Cassidy and adds to his development over the course of the series, but the distance between it and the main plot or the other two protagonists prevents it from accruing much weight in the overall story. The inevitability of Cassidy falling out with Eccarius and Les Infants isn’t deal-breaking, but it likewise restricts the direction the subplot can go. The series jumping head-first into the silly vampire lore set up in the previous episode, and it continues to proclaim that Eccarius is hundreds of years old and that, yes, that is his real accent (I still don’t buy it). However, as far as fun little character asides go, especially ones that separate the main characters from one another, this one’s pretty engaging.
Part Two: 10/10 for Starr’s Silly Hats
In a further effort to disguise the phallic appearance of his head, Starr has opted for yet another hat, this one a tiny white knit cap. I cannot express how hopeful I am that this series continues to find increasingly silly hats for its main villain to wear — and ones that match his suit, no less!
On the topic of plot, we get more of the Hell subplot with the Saint of Killers, having rounded up Eugene in the last episode, detaining Hitler at an off-brand Subway. I’m genuinely surprised the series made it through this sequence with only one Trump joke, and a somewhat indirect one at that. The scene itself isn’t much to mention — Hitler is appropriately pathetic and racist, and there’s some humor to be gleaned by the absurdity of the scenario, particularly the idea that all it takes for Hitler to suitably disguise himself as “not Hitler” is a goatee and changing his name to “Hilter.” I mean, it’d probably be funnier if the world weren’t at a point where I could almost wonder if the show used random Republicans instead of actors for the Subway employees, but it maintains enough distance to be more amusing and less depressing. The series seems to have figured out exactly how much of the Hell subplot it can get away with, because keeping the Saint and other minor characters’ presence in the opening or ending forces the writing to remain fairly tight and prevents the minor characters from interrupting the plots the audience cares more about. The Saint’s exploits keep the character as relevant as he can be so he and Eugene can appear later, much like the Saint’s backstory in the first season.
The other characters spend most of their time talking and planning. The episode doesn’t have an especially complex or intricate plot, and much of it is spent building up to the next one.
While Cassidy’s off doing gay shit with Eccarius, Jesse has invited Starr back to Angelville, this time with his grandmother’s permission. Jesse’s grandmother just wants souls, and now that she’s no longer on the brink of death, Jesse’s back to finding a way to work out of his contract. Determining that Starr might have a solution and is likely to cooperate, Jesse calls him up to inquire after more souls. Soul Happy Go-Go, the Japanese transplant company from the episode Sokoasha, is a convenient subsidiary of the Grail. Starr is under close scrutiny by the Allfather, meaning he can’t simply take the souls for his own purposes, but he can orchestrate a heist.
After some negotiation, the characters agree that Tulip, Featherstone, and Jody should steal the souls while Jesse goes with Starr to resolve one of the latter’s issues. Jesse sees this as a good thing that can in no way go wrong, because he has the chance to get his own soul back (and by extension, Genesis — at least hypothetically). Even if that fails, should the heist succeed, they can simply pay off Jesse’s grandmother. Obviously nothing in this series can be that neat and simple. One or both of the plans is going to go wrong, and even if they each succeed, Jesse’s own dialogue throughout the episode suggests he isn’t so certain any of these souls will solve their problems. His grandmother doesn’t seem eager to give him up, and he asks Starr on the way to the Grail’s new headquarters, despite knowing the answer is baseless, whether getting his soul back will even make Genesis work.
The twist comes for Jesse at the end of the episode — Starr’s eagerness to borrow him is actually at the behest of the Allfather, whom Starr intends for Jesse to kill. The Allfather has dropped Jesse’s name on a few occasions, all in a vague, menacing context. Despite Starr’s attempts to throw him off, the Allfather wants Jesse for something, and if Starr bringing him in at gunpoint isn’t a sufficient tell, it’s probably not good for Jesse. At this point, we don’t know enough about the Allfather to guess at his intent — he’s scary, he likes food, and he’s more than willing to give Humperdoo the benefit of the doubt because of his religious views. He seems far more clever and capable than Starr credits him with being, but if he had discovered Starr’s plot to undermine him, it’s not Jesse he would want brought before him.
Whatever the case, we have a clear lead-in for the next episode — Tulip is going to rob a soul bank, Cassidy is going to find out about Eccarius eating other vampires, and Jesse is going to either succeed or fail to kill Starr’s boss.
Part Three: Tulip Goes to Osaka When Tulip Wants, Not When Some Man Tells Her To
What the episode lacks in strict plot it makes up for in the character interactions. Most of the episode is just various characters spending time with one another and engaged in conversations — often conversations about nearly anything other than the plot at hand. The Angelville scenes in particular toss together characters who would ordinarily have no reason to talk to one another, and the outcome is nothing short of magical. T.C. offers to repair Featherstone’s broken nose and offers as credentials a time he made a double-hearted chimera out of an unfortunate dog. He compliments Starr’s hat, then goes on to describe his own rotting possum hat, which Starr interrupts to listen to the dial tone of his phone for a good twenty seconds or more.
Tulip and Featherstone, roped into the Osaka heist with one another, exchange the banter of old mortal enemies who are desperately trying (and failing) to come up with new insults for one another. They frequently use their respective love interests (though in Featherstone’s case, love interest might be a stretch) to try to jab at one another, which is naturally hilarious, especially because Starr and Jesse remain more or less oblivious to it. Featherstone’s rampant enthusiasm for cosplay is also a nice touch that gives her character a bit of depth. I’m honestly surprised she’s not the source of Starr’s silly hats.
Jesse and Tulip have a deep conversation for the first time since the end of Episode Four or so, which as I indicated in my last review is sorely needed for the characters. Throwing Tulip into a foreign country with two people who have tried to kill her to steal something for a third person who has tried to kill her in the hope that person will make good on some vague promise and let her go doesn’t exactly aid Tulip’s mental health. Jesse’s plot to have them each working on a solution to their captivity isn’t a bad plan, but like so much he says to Tulip, his proclamation that it has to work feels hollow. He’s nervous and trying to convince himself as much as her. However, he finally starts to recognize some of Tulip’s insecurities that she’s been stressed about, and clumsy as his attempts to make her feel better are, they still sort of help. Tulip loves a good bank robbery, and Jesse’s depending on her. Between Starr and his grandmother, his actions are becoming more restricted and he lacks the humility to admit this outright, but he feels he can trust and rely on Tulip. She feels the pressure of the situation, especially in light of her recent mistakes, but she also recognizes (and asserts) that she’s the one who makes the choice in the end. She could still potentially walk away. Jesse can’t. She agrees to go because he’s worth it, and because he needs her — it’s not exactly selfless, but she’s doing it for Jesse because she wants to help.
Starr and Jesse’s grandmother also exchange pleasantries. Apparently Jesse also has an associate more than willing to pee on his frenemies. The dynamic between the three characters in the room — Starr, Jesse, and the grandmother — is loaded with the shorthand of the characters’ relationships built up over the rest of the series. Any writer struggling with how to imbue a shared history between their characters would do well to pay attention. Starr and Jesse are far from trusting of one another as they’ve clashed before, but they each have something the other wants and they can rely on their understanding of how the other thinks — Jesse knows that Starr will deceive to get what he wants and Starr knows that Jesse can be manipulated when he feels desperate. They both understand that Jesse’s grandmother is the real authority in the room because she holds the cards for what they both need, and while the men try to play down the urgency of the situation, Jesse’s grandmother recognizes that she has tremendous power over both of them. They’re vying for her favor, but she’s well-acquainted with Jesse’s escape attempts and Starr’s one of his associates, so her prodding about his business is a way to test Starr’s character. What she gets out of it is that Starr puts on a professional facade to make his capabilities ambiguous, either because he wants to downplay the authority he wields, or, more likely, because he’s bluffing. When she demonstrates how much control she exerts on Jesse, it’s a power play to justify her standing, but also a warning to Jesse that she knows what he’s planning and a reminder of how trying to outsmart her hasn’t worked well for him in the past.
Speaking of Jesse and his grandmother, they get an exceptionally poignant moment together before he leaves with Starr that casts a new light on their relationship. Jesse’s grandmother has been frail and vulnerable before on plenty of occasions, but this is the first time we’ve seen her emotionally distraught. She curls up in her grandson’s arms, begging him not to go even though she needs the souls, and talking to him like he’s a child. She’s mentioned before several times that she loves him and loved his mother, despite the horrible things she’s done to them, but this is the first time that expression seems genuine, at least from her perspective. She doesn’t just want Jesse to pay off his debt so she can live indefinitely — she wants him to stay at Angelville and take over for her. It’s not just out of spite or the desire for more manpower that she kidnapped him in the first place. She has Jody and T.C. for that, but they can’t carry on her legacy. She sacrificed her daughter for the chance at a new, moldable heir after Jesse’s mother became too rebellious, and Jesse’s proved to be everything she ever wanted in a child — he’s youthful and carries after Jody, who’s getting on in years himself, but he’s also attentive and studious enough to follow her voodoo practice, unlike either of the grunts. More importantly, he’s fearful, and she can use that fear to control him in a way she never could her daughter.
However, Jesse still resists and she’s still frail, so the thought of him winning the game, so to speak, terrifies her. It’s not that she can’t come up with some arbitrary new rule to keep him around, but she can only hold him hostage for so long before he breaks free, and she doesn’t want to hold him hostage, not really. She wants him to choose to stay. And the unsettling thing is, I’m not sure he’ll reject the idea outright. Jesse comforts her, as he has done a surprising number of times in the season so far, and reassures her that everything will be fine. He has every reason to hate this woman to his core, and he says outright to Tulip that if he gets the chance, he’ll kill her. This isn’t the first time he’s promised that, though, and as with declaring vengeance on God and the Grail, his isolated actions don’t necessarily support the same unmitigated negativity toward his grandmother that Tulip has. He’s never tried to kill her, and he goes along with her requests nearly every step of the way, only intervening when it means someone doesn’t have to die or suffer. While I kind of doubt Jesse’s behavior is rooted in any sort of mutual love for his grandmother, he’s certainly apprehensive about stepping out of line.
The scene calls back to the first time we see his grandmother in a flashback, when she takes child Jesse out of the Coffin for the second time and he meekly hugs her at her request. Now it’s her turn to be comforted, but this time she doesn’t have to ask. Jesse holds her when she tries irrationally to keep him at the house, reminding her that she wants the souls and that he promised to return — which he will, either way. There’s a disquieting sincerity to his reassurances, though. His grandmother isn’t going to let him off the hook so easily, and he has to know that. When the time comes, there’s a serious question about whether he’ll have the gall to face her.