On Ghost Stories

I’ve been thinking a lot about ghost stories recently. Part of that is due to the fact that we’re completely in the throes of October. Part of it is being prompted by the incredible story flowing out of @moby_dickhead’s Twitter feed. Part of it is being carried forward by still bouncing elements of the new version of It around in my head. And part of it is simply caused by the fact that I have a love of horror, even in it’s most basic elements.

But why ghost stories? Why do they stick with me, and why are they lingering? I think it’s ultimately really very basic, and I’m going to try and pick about what I think makes them work, and why they linger. At the core, a ghost story has three basic elements, and everything else is garnish and individualization added. Those three elements are a narrator, an audience, and a familiar, if slightly “off” scene. Let’s start with the first, and work our way through.

The Narrator

Obviously, every story needs a narrator. Someone needs to be telling the story. In many ghost stories, that narrator ends up being cast in the first-person, but that isn’t a requirement by any means. After all, a story like Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box is a ghost story presented in the third person, and it’s an effective one. The narrator’s job is incredibly important, as they are the one to control every aspect of the story itself.

The one key thing that a good narrator needs, especially in a ghost story, is that they need to be believable. If the story doesn’t fit into the internal logic of the setting, it is going to fail, and a narrator that cannot be trusted is one that isn’t going to get any sort of result. Looking back at the Twitter thread I mentioned above, he has positioned himself as a sympathetic character. This isn’t to say whether the story is a real set of occurrences or just a carefully crafted tale delivered with a good sense of timing. With regards to the tale, you want to believe HIM. The narrator hasn’t given you reason to suspect his personal motives. Yes, there is often a “gotcha” moment contained in a ghost story, but the narrator controls that every step of the way. In fact, the most effective ghost stories don’t ever have a “gotcha”, but instead leave things somewhat open-ended, with a sense of foreboding carrying through. Think back to stories you may have heard around a campfire. Someone telling the story and peppering it with “boo” scares lessened the impact, and made the journey back to the sleeping bag an easy one. A trustworthy narrator not only pushed the sense of dread, but left the story in such a way that even assurances that it was “just a story” made the desire to hide under the pillow continue until morning’s light.

If the narrator of a ghost story cannot prove trustworthy, and connect to the audience, they’ve already lost at their intended goal. There are plenty of examples of narrators carrying their audience along for the ride, and even more where the narrative was poked full of so many holes, there was no way it was going to hold water, even for the most willing of audiences.

The Audience

The narrator’s role, aside from telling the tale, is to get the audience to trust them. The audience also has an important job for any ghost story, and that is to be willing to set aside their disbelief. The audience has to be willing to go along for the ride. It’s an almost sacred contract between the two roles; the audience gives themselves over to the storyteller, who, in turn, promises not to betray that trust.

Again, think back to campfire stories. Even the most effective storyteller can have their narrative destroyed by an overly skeptical or questioning audience. This isn’t to say that the audience isn’t allowed to question things. Pieces of the tale that break through the illusion SHOULD be questioned, as they stick out too much to make sense. But, by accepting their role as audience, especially for a ghost story, the audience fully agrees to go along with what is presented, as long as it is presented with care.

Not every story will work for every audience. And they shouldn’t. That’s attempting to cast a net too broadly, and only serves to lessen the impact along the way. It is also not the audience’s job to make a story work for them. Speaking personally, I can watch the Saw movies because of the way I accept the narrative, both contained within the individual installments, and the overarching story that expands with each tale. The Hostel movies, in a similar vein, are not movies I can buy in to. I am not the audience for those films, and I can’t try to be. Does it mean that they aren’t effective for others? No. But they don’t work for me, and that highlights the role that the audience has to play. It isn’t even a situation where the narrator for one is more trustworthy or deceitful than the other; the audience just isn’t right for it.

The Scene

As important as the narrator and the audience are, perhaps the most important aspect of a ghost story is the scene. The scene for a good ghost story needs to be something familiar; something that resonates with the audience, and provides hooks for the narrator. It also needs to be just “off” enough to provide a sense of discomfort. There should be a tickling at the “fight or flight” impulse, but not too much, as the narrator doesn’t want the audience to abandon the tale part-way through.

Thinking on It, part of the reason that the story resonates, at least for me (again, I’m the right audience for it) is that the setting is so familiar, which makes the elements that are set askew that much sharper. The Losers’ Club is something that hits close to home for a lot of people, because, while their roles as somewhat of social outcasts is important, their connection as friends going through the awkward teenage transition carries more weight. We’ve all been there. The updated version of the film brings the action into the late 80s, which provides a giant pile of cultural touchstones for people around my age. Trying to navigate through that part of life, while dealing with all of the fears (visceral or not) is something that so many of us can understand. Yes, the story makes those fears much more dangerous, providing that aspect of “off” that is needed to really bring the “ghost” into a ghost story, but the roots of it all are familiar.

The setting of a ghost story really works best when it’s rooted in a slightly darker version of our own reality, but a darker version that has clear rules, with a definite path to victory. The Upside Down of Stranger Things, the world presented by Edgar Allen Poe, and even your campfire stories, all of them are rooted in reality with a twist. When the twist gets too big, too out of control, the audience starts to step out, and the narrator has to grasp at straws to maintain the story. In skilled hands, it can shift a ghost story into a larger, broader horror narrative. In less-skilled hands, the threads all fall apart, and the end result is just a sloppy mess.

The Big Picture

Ghost stories are, at their root, more personal than other aspects of horror. They aren’t about creating a world full of evil; they are about presenting a lurking dread that may or may not be just around the corner, hiding in the shadows. Because of this personal nature, all three aspects listed above really have to be in cohesion with each other. The narrator and the audience can be on the same page, but if the setting is too unfamiliar, the story suffers for it. If the audience recognizes the setting but doesn’t trust the narrator, there’s nothing to be done to keep the story from being something that will be mocked. And if the narrator and the setting cannot get the audience on board, then there’s no point in spilling the words.

Part of the reason that ghost stories survive, and thrive, is because of that sense of the personal. When there is a personal investment, even subconsciously, it breathes a new life into a creation. It’s a sort of Frankentstein-esque scenario, where the story is given legs simply by connecting with it on that very personal level. The pacing and delivery of the tale, all in hands of the narrator, help give the story the means to try and find that personal connection, but, without it, it won’t survive. It will be chased out by the villagers, and burned away, never to be spoken of again.

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Preach On: Season 2, Episode 13 – The End of the Road

That’s all she wrote, folks. That is how the second season comes to a close. It was a season that started off with a bang, quite literally, and then at some point, the breakneck pace was slowed down, and we almost got introspective. Overall, the second season was stronger than the first, even if it didn’t have the same level of frenetic energy. It helped round out characters, giving us more insights into who they are. It also presented us villains and problems that Jesse Custer couldn’t immediately overcome.

So how did this season finale compare to last year’s? Well, it had some of those beautiful moments that we’ve come to long for between our heroes, and it left things in a pretty rough space, much like the first season’s conclusion did. However, “The End of the Road” felt like it came by it’s ending a lot more honestly than “Call and Response” did. The first season gave us the opportunity to meet all of the characters populating Annville, and then unceremoniously wiped them off the planet so that we could focus on a much smaller group. This second season has been building new stories and new interactions, and it wraps up by entwining Jesse even more deeply with the rest of the world that has been unfolding before him. That doesn’t mean that the episode was even throughout, or that the season didn’t veer into strange territory that maybe could have been left behind. Instead, because of the more honest way of wrapping up loose threads, the show has a stronger reason to come back. Audiences won’t just be looking for whatever crazy situation is presented, but also now for a deeper connection to the characters, and how they navigate these situations. Season one was fun. Season two was a journey.

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Via AMC

Digging into the elements of this final episode in particular, we see it seem to veer all over the place. The opening scene feels disjointed and disconnected overall, as any connection isn’t made clear until near the end of the running time. It’s one thing to have these weird non-sequitur openings, but they have traditionally had an implicit, if not explicit, connection examined before too much time passes. This week, however, we spend a long time between seeing young Jesse’s encounters with T.C. and Jody at Angelville before we understand why that scene was placed where it was. There’s an obvious logic behind these opening sequences, and while there really wasn’t any way to jump start this particular through line, it did linger in the back of the mind while everything else was happening. The pay-off at the end, however, definitely sets up a serious confrontation for Jesse and his friends moving into a third season. Custer is going to find himself once again owing someone he doesn’t want to be in debt to, and clearly his bills are going to come due at some point.

Jesse goes on a little voyage of his own this week, which draws him away from his friends, and ever deeper into Herr Starr’s tangled web. The preacher is being presented as the new Messiah, at least in small moments, and his first speech to a group of Catholic school children is derailed by attacking “Armenians”. Using his physical prowess to defeat the attackers, Jesse also realizes that they were carrying blanks, and therefore a set-up by Starr. Starr tries to explain that Jesse needs to get confidence from the people quickly, and Jesse responds that he didn’t sign up for this. No surprise that Starr takes this moment to point out that Jesse trying to deny his “calling” is the most Messiah-like thing he has done yet. In fact, despite knowing he’s being set up, Jesse is still largely willing to go along with Starr’s plans, until he gets the fateful phone call that draws him back to Cassidy and Tulip. Starr taunting Jesse with the piece of his soul, regathered from the Saint of Killers, assures us that, even though Jesse is getting away from the Grail for now, he clearly has to go back. To make matters worse for Custer, Genesis seems to be on the fritz, for reasons that have not been explained as of yet. Has aligning with Starr caused God, on Earth, to enact some level of control over His own voice? Was Jesse’s control shaken by not having his complete soul? Or is it simply a matter of Genesis itself showing restraint, and not allowing Jesse to use it without more serious thought? Ironically, the time Jesse could use Genesis for the true benefit of another is one of the times it fails him, and it sets him on the path towards Marie L’Angelle.

Tulip is the one who needs the assistance, as everything seems to go a little south for her in this episode. She is still somewhat mechanical in her movements, although definitely in better shape than she was before the Saint returned. We see her gather supplies for the trip to Bimini, and, after some very insensitive comments from the local shop clerk, Tulip not only gets to exert some of her personal strength, but she does so for the benefit of another. After that brief exchange, she returns to Denis’s apartment, determined to get on the road with Cassidy. Tulip finds the camera, and that seems to spur her both to leaving New Orleans behind, and, simultaneously, to say farewell to her friend, “Jenny”. Things of course go sideways, as Featherstone isn’t about to let Tulip get the drop on her, and isn’t the type to leave loose ends behind, and it is her gun that brings Tulip to a bloody end. The ensuing battle over how to try and save Tulip, conducted between Cassidy and Jesse, is both heartbreaking and enlightening, and they are forced to let her go. Does this mean that we won’t see her again? No, of course not. After all, we were shown in the opening sequence that Marie L’Angelle apparently has some power over death, and that’s right where Jesse is going to bring his true love. Grandma is going to make sure that the price is paid, but Jesse has no other options.

As for Cassidy, he’s struggling with his own choices. The reality of who Denis has become, as well as his own feelings for Tulip, are weighing heavily on him, and Cassidy even has a moment of fantasy where he succumbs to his own blood lust. It finally took Cassidy seeing the blood stains and internet searches for the vampire cult for him to truly accept the truth about his son. Left with no real choices, and knowing that he had already failed Denis twice, Cassidy performed one of the hardest tasks he’s yet had to, shoving Denis into the sunlight. In an odd way, Cassidy destroying Denis is the most parental thing he’s ever done towards his son. He’s finally making sure that Denis is safe, and that means from others and himself. It’s also fitting that Cassidy is the one to do it. We knew that lingering too much with Denis moving forward would add strain to the relationship between our trio, so allowing Cassidy to experience that incredibly difficult moment of closure sets him up nicely for the scene after Tulip is shot. Experiencing the loss of Denis gave Cassidy even more to fight for with regards to Tulip, not that he was searching for more. The weight of his words, as he tells Jesse “I hate you”, is palpable, and that also makes Jesse’s response of “just you wait” that much more foreboding. Plus, let’s not forget that Cassidy knows that, as long as Denis is around, it is that much harder for Cassidy to maintain his own control, and that’s something that’s become critical to him as time has gone by.

The primary trio is in dire straights. Jesse is already in the pocket of the Grail, and, if Tulip can be resurrected, that puts him in debt to his family at Angelville. Cassidy has experienced loss compounded by loss, and even his trust in the preacher has been shaken. And, of course, Tulip is currently dead in the back seat of a car, with all hope resting on external forces to bring her back, with the constant wonder of what comes back. That wasn’t all this final episode presented us, though, as we had more loose ends to tie up. For the most part, the Grail was able to work into the supporting role, with Starr ushering Jesse from location to location, miracle to miracle, while Featherstone and Hoover closed up their operation in New Orleans. It wasn’t at all shocking that Hoover was the one to ultimately shatter the illusion Featherstone created for Tulip, but it wasn’t like it was holding a lot of sway any longer anyway, and it gave a tense moment a needed breath of levity.

And what about the final thread, the one that draws us back to Eugene? We get to see the result of the two escaping from the Hell prison, and we get to see the Christian Hell butt up against the Greco-Roman concept. Eugene is given a quick lesson by Hitler, to prepare him for his meeting with Charon. The boatman, in true Preacher fashion, is much more relaxed than we might have originally expected, but things turn bad when Superintendent Mannering shows up to retrieve Eugene. Charon points out that Eugene doesn’t belong, and Mannering doesn’t care, since nobody has ever escaped, and, besides, the rules have changed. Things look bad for Eugene until Hitler comes to the rescue, knocking out Mannering and helping Eugene board the boat. Thanks to Eugene’s urging, Hitler eventually accompanies him back to the surface, and the two men are dropped off by a van, at which point Hitler promptly runs away. Eugene has a quick panic moment, before turning and walking off in the other direction. It’s a nice visual gag, and a reminder that, no matter what we say from Hitler in Hell, this was really a gambit for him to get back onto Earth, but it still ultimately felt like it cheapened everything that happened with Eugene’s story this year. Also, will Hitler remain a recurring character in future seasons, or is he going to be relegated to a background newsfeed type of role? If it’s foreground, what more can really be done with that particular character in the spotlight? If background, why spend so much time with him over Eugene’s story? It seems initially that the experiences in Hell didn’t really change anyone who has spent time there, but that remains to be seen.

All told, it was finale that maybe didn’t fulfill the frenetic pace set forward by the first couple of episodes this season, but didn’t cheapen any of the important moments. The fist fight between Jesse and the Armenians reminded us how capable Jesse can really be when push comes to shove. Seeing the later fight between him and Cassidy was more brutal, but the stakes were so much higher, with Jesse trying to save her in his fashion, and Cassidy begging for the opportunity to make her a vampire. Jesse is indebted to too many corners, and is only adding more debts, and the fact that he can’t presently rely on Genesis as he wishes makes every step that much more treacherous. Season one wrapped up everything with a disaster, an act of God that really only served to wipe away almost everything that happened in that span of episodes. It’s only fitting that the last real moments we see of season two are the blinding light of God, as he steps out of the bathroom, reminding us all about the driving force behind Jesse’s quest and, potentially, everything that has happened to the preacher since Genesis came to visit. It wasn’t necessarily as satisfying of a conclusion, but it was honest, and it sets up the next challenges to face Jesse and his crew as they move towards season three.

Preach On: Season 2, Episode 12 – On Your Knees

For the first twenty minutes or so of this week’s episode, I was seriously concerned that it was just going to end up being yet another in a line of “filler episodes”. You know, the kind of episode that barely touches the plot, and doesn’t even really do much for the characters. The episodes where something kind of happens, but you’re ultimately left unfulfilled. That concern was pushed aside once we were reunited with the core trio of Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy.

Don’t get me wrong, being given those glimpses into the Saint’s back story once again were nice color for a character that had largely been relegated to unstoppable killing machine with no redeeming factors, and the performance this week by Graham McTavish gave those extra scenes added depth and remorse. Plus, seeing more glimpses of Eugene and Hitler’s escape helped bring that story forward as well, since it had largely been languishing in Hell. The second half of the episode didn’t only bring momentum back to the show while setting up what should be a satisfying conclusion, but it served to remind us of some of the stakes, and who is actually pulling the strings.

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Via AMC

The opening segment this week focused entirely on Eugene and Hitler’s escape. Hitler has to remind Eugene that he needs to prove himself stronger than the scenario he is thrust into, in order to access the “back door” escape hatch, and it gives Eugene some incredibly satisfying moments. Is this going to turn Eugene into a more confident soul overall? How will his confrontations with Tracy, his father, and his troop leader, at least in the projected scenario, help inform his inevitable confrontation with Jesse? After all, the Eugene that we’d gotten to know through most of these two seasons has been one who practically bent over backwards to let others trample him and his feelings. It’s partially how he ended up with his disfigurement, and it certainly is what caused him to end up under Jesse’s scorn. Now that we’ve seen Eugene stand up for himself, this could (and hopefully will) lead to a much stronger exchange, and even give Eugene the chance to win one against Jesse. It’s still weird to think that Hitler has been the one largely responsible for helping Eugene make it to this point, but there’s got to be something deeper that the dictator is planning. As I’ve said before, it’s one thing to show one of the most evil men in history as someone charismatic and manipulative; it’s another thing entirely to humanize that same person to where they become sympathetic and someone audiences want to identify with. So far, Preacher has been dancing the second side of that line, but it seems like a stretch to assume that they will continue down that path. This is Hitler, and we need to see Hitler actually BE the Hitler that we know from history.

Much of the rest of the episode focused on the Saint of Killers, his escape, and his subsequent confrontation with the man who buried him in the swamp. The Saint was initially chasing after Jesse because of a contract, and now he has vengeance on his mind. While the escape itself was a bit too drawn out, it gave us a chance to see that Hoover is not quite as incompetent as we’ve been lead to believe, even if he is in over his head. It also gave us the opportunity to revisit some of the Saint’s time with his family, before the events of Ratwater changed his course permanently. Seeing McTavish inhabit the character as “William” helped give his moments again as “The Saint” that much more gravity. It all set up for the second half of the episode, when the somewhat meandering pace was pushed aside for something reminiscent of other madcap moments from episodes past.

That second half of the episode is where the true meat of the story all lies. It’s no surprise that we don’t even really spend any time with Jesse, Tulip, or Cassidy until we reach the midpoint, as the heart of the show was pushed aside to give us time to flesh out some of the supporting characters better. Once everyone is reunited on screen, things really come together. We get to see, or more specifically hear, Cassidy return to form as someone caught up with his own ideas, and speaking rapid-fire to try and convince others to see the world in the same way that he does. The barely-heard conversation with Jesse over the “reserve stock”, the chat with Tulip about who is in charge, the tail end of the conversation at the diner. All of these remind us part of why Cassidy is so important to the story, and why his unique perspective honestly benefits the others. When Cassidy is able to engage in his rambling diatribes, the other characters can loosen up and be more of themselves. By the same token, Cassidy’s plain manner of speaking is necessary to get Jesse to admit about his dealings with the Grail. Tulip might have taken a more roundabout approach to getting Jesse to admit what he had done, and Jesse was clearly not going to do so without prompting. Cassidy was able to simply pose the question, without any worry about receiving pushback, and it’s exactly the right way to handle things. The fact that it was done in a scene meant to make us recall the end of the first season just makes that moment carry more weight.

Seeing Cassidy return to form also means that we get to see Tulip largely step back into the role that we are accustomed for her. Sure, she still has her PTSD from her first encounter with the Saint, and her fixation on Cassidy’s finger in the kitchen gives her an external focus for that, but, when Cassidy starts poking at her about who’s in charge with Jesse gone, we get the reminder that it truly is Tulip that drives them. Cassidy may be the heart, but Tulip is the brains. She gets overrun far too often by the others, but she is the one who is the best equipped to actually deal with the stuff being thrown at them. Whether it was Cassidy’s conversation reminding Tulip of who she is, or simply her fighting beyond her trauma on her own, the way her direct confrontation with the Saint goes is satisfying, and it really gives Ruth Negga a chance to dig into some more meaty aspects of her character. The terror on her face when the Saint comes out of the stairwell is plain as day, and yet Tulip refuses to back down, and even gets to tell the Saint that she’s pulled a fast one on him. This seems to have served to break his spell over her, as the old Tulip, the one who would fight despite the odds, gets brought back to the surface, and she gets a few good moments going toe-to-toe against the Saint. We’re later reminded of her role as the brains of the team when she is brought to the Grail, along with Cassidy, and she makes a point of hearing out Herr Starr. She’s also the one to ask Jesse why he needs them, and his lack of an answer gives her all the motivation she needs to move on without him, at least for now.

As for the titular preacher, Jesse is lost, having realized that he let God slip through his fingers. He’s also questioning if he even wants to deal with a God who is a pervert, even though, as Cassidy points out later, it isn’t like Jesse is terribly better along the moral compass. Jesse is keeping secrets, and certainly isn’t above engaging in violence for the sake of violence, pursuing lustful actions, or chasing drink. Above all, Jesse is a creature full of pride, and that pride not only gets him in trouble with his friends, but it almost costs him his scalp at the hands of the Saint. Jesse seemed to believe that, just because Genesis worked once, it would always work again, but the Saint is able to derail that, and that sets up the fistfight with some good action, and a couple of comedic moments. At the end of the episode, Jesse has had everything taken from him, and he’s left with no options than to turn to the Grail, accepting Herr Starr’s offer.

The Grail are the clear winners when it comes to this episode, and it’s important that we see them take the advantage as often as we see them humiliated. Starr and his minions can’t consistently lose; they have to win sometimes to be a palpable threat. If they don’t win, then there’s no real danger from them, and their presence is just a dead weight on the show. Yes, seeing Hoover lead the team that retrieved the Saint reminds us of their reach, but it doesn’t necessarily set them up as a true threat. However, when it becomes clear that Herr Starr is the one who informed Hell about the Saint of Killers, thereby saving Jesse from his fate, it helps secure the Grail’s power. Starr is moving pieces around the chess board, and he’s trying to position himself as a king-maker, or Messiah-maker in this case. In a couple of relatively simple moves for the Grail, Starr presents them as the only alternative for Jesse, and he effectively separates the preacher from his friends. How telling is it that Jesse ends up asking “what’s next”, and Starr is the one to not only kneel, but place Jesse’s hand upon his own head? Sure, it’s am image of subservience, but Starr is the one in control the entire time.

All of this sets us up for the season finale, which should tie up a number of these loose ends. Eugene’s time in Hell should be finished, and that means Hitler appears to be back on Earth. Jesse is now working with the Grail, but is completely separated from Tulip and Cassidy, who have been shown that he doesn’t presently need them. Even the Saint, who has been placed back in his personal Hell, remains a threat, as he is looking forward to his conversations with Satan. We even got to see a glimpse of the Pope hinting to the people of the world the absence of God, and the existence of Humperdoo. It’s a lot, and clearly some things need to be shelved for next season, but right now, Preacher has all of the momentum on its side as it careens towards the season finale.

Preach On: Season 2, Episode 11 – Backdoors

It’s not like I specifically set out to delay writing about this week’s episode. I was excited about doing so, and giving my analysis of what’s going on. After all, last season we only had 10 episodes, so we’re already past that point this year. I even watched the episode relatively shortly after airing, and cobbled together notes.

Then I got to thinking about the episode. And I’m starting to wonder if maybe 10 episodes is where each season of this show should be landing. That isn’t to say that “Backdoors” was a bad episode. It’s just that, like a few episodes that have come before, nothing really is happening. The show seems to be somewhat stuck in a place where they can’t do too much without giving away the big set pieces that will hopefully be part of the finale, and that’s frustrating. This season kicked off in such a completely bonkers fashion that it seemed almost inevitable that we would just be hurtled along at a breakneck pace, maybe having a breather episode in there once in a while. Unfortunately, the story has stalled out, and we’re let spinning our wheels.

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Via AMC

The most interesting parts of this episode were in the opening scenes, and the call-back later in the episode. Within those scenes, we get to see hints of what Jesse went through as a child, and experience some real glimpses into Angelville, and the L’Angells. Jesse’s punishment for not turning away from his father and the Custer line is meant to draw comparisons to what Jesse did to the Saint of Killers, and, clearly, it’s something that Jesse feels may be as close as he can get to condemning someone to Hell without actually taking that extra step. Given that Jesse has given the Saint a part of his own soul, this punishment carries extra weight, at least in his own eyes. The way the scenes are shot help establish the L’Angells as dark, foreboding characters, and ones that should cause issues for Jesse Custer and his friends, but they’re clearly being teased out this season so that they can be a focus for next. Unless the plan is to quickly move through them, but that doesn’t seem likely, given how much time we’ve spent stuck in Denis’s apartment, with Jesse searching for God in futility.

Make no mistake, this episode is entirely about Jesse. Yes, we get a couple of sidetracks with Tulip’s journey to dispose of the Saint’s weapons, and a diversion into Hell to check up on Eugene and his new buddy Adolf, but this entire episode belongs to Jesse Custer and his search. That’s honestly part of the problem, as Jesse has been completely single-minded in his search for God this season, and he isn’t really making any headway. We’re getting more characterization for the character we know the best, which is fine, but there just isn’t a lot of movement that happens. Practically everything Jesse has learned about God thus far has been through pure luck, and he’s actually stood in his own way more often than not. Take his revelation about the man in the dog suit. If Cassidy hadn’t gifted Denis with a dog, Jesse wouldn’t have put the pieces together regarding Humperdoo’s artwork, and the first night in New Orleans. Jesse had the means to discover the Grail on his own, but instead only lucked into Herr Starr taking an extra interest in him. Jesse has done a terrible job moving forward his own investigation, and that means that more time spent with him slows down everything. That doesn’t mean that Jesse’s scenes aren’t entertaining. Seeing him work through how to process his prayers being played back to him is intense, and Jesse’s command to Herr Starr regarding what to do with the tapes afterwards is cathartic, but it’s time to move the plot forward. Jesse of course is too late in his revelation with the dog suit, and, while it is nice to see him humiliate Starr yet again, it ultimately is merely shifting pieces around the board, as neither side has really made a move to start the endgame. That may be shifting at the end of the episode, but we’ll see. Especially given how Jesse has already been able to successfully one-up every obstacle he’s come across, as long as that obstacle isn’t his traveling companions.

Tulip does get some screen time, which shifts her from being traumatized by her interactions with the Saint to taking direct action, knowing that he’s still out there some where. Frustratingly, Tulip’s best scene is one that we will probably never see. We’ve witnessed Tulip strike out on her own, albeit this time she has Lara in tow. What we’re seeing unfold for Tulip isn’t really that different from what we’ve already been exposed to. As for the plot to get rid of the Saint’s weapons, sure, learning that they’re unable to be destroyed, or even fired, by most natural means is nice, but why then include the seemingly random one-off of Tulip mailing them off? At worst, it’s a quick joke that will have no pay off, and at best, it will lead the Saint on a wild goose chase, maybe with a bloody confrontation at the post office, before he is back for the finale. There was more potential in the trio playing some level of keep-away, but maintaining the possession of those implements of destruction. As for that “best scene” referenced above, we were reminded of Tulip finding the Saint’s weapons. We watched as she and Jesse lifted the Soul Happy Go Go vehicle out of the swamp. Where was the scene where Tulip unleashed her righteous anger and fury on Jesse for not only lying to them, but keeping them in danger? Including that scene would have helped give Tulip that motivation to shift her focus, and, if it would have resulted in Jesse tapping into Genesis, it would have helped show us how far he still is from being the good man that his father always implored him to be. Instead of seeing her lash out, we just watch her methodical in her attempts, but it feels like there’s a giant, disconnected hole in the narrative that helps move her from fear to action.

Cassidy actually fares worse in this episode. Because so much time is once again devoted to Jesse and his interactions with the Grail, Cassidy really only appears in the episode to let us know he got Denis a dog, and to join voices with Tulip in telling Jesse “no”. The character who has provided the most heart to this season is pushed onto the shelf in this episode, and it’s honestly probably for the best. Each character has been dealing with their own thing for much of this season, and we don’t really need to get a stronger indication that Cassidy’s choice regarding Denis was the wrong one. He needs to be reconnected to the plot, and this episode was clearly not the one for that to happen. He still ultimately has Jesse’s back when push comes to shove, but, for right now, he is stuck on the sidelines, and clearly the unresolved issues between Tulip and Cassidy are going to be brought into focus soon.

The Grail itself continues to be entertaining, and engaging, if only because we’re continuing to see how the primary three from that group truly work. Starr leads them, but is dispassionate and sometimes blinded by his own convictions. Hoover is clearly being kept around because both Starr and Lara need a scapegoat when things go badly, and even he is aware of his own limitations. The most capable of the three is Lara, although her mask is slipping a bit around Tulip when she is interacting as Jenny. Clearly, Lara excelled in the seduction classes the Grail offered, and she is able to manipulate a situation as close to in her favor as possible. Despite failing Starr a number of times, he still relies on her to get things done, and gives her more leniency than he might others. The way she played the smelter was a thing of beauty, although it could be another indication for Tulip that she is more than she seems. For right now, though, she’s largely worked the situation to her benefit, and the Grail remains a thoroughly engaging aspect of the story. Let’s not forget that, while Starr is susceptible to Genesis, as we’ve seen before, his receptionists apparently aren’t. This little wrinkle could mean nothing, or it could be a small thing to give Jesse headaches.

As for the remainder of the episode, we spend it in Hell. Mannering is conducting her testing, trying to determine who is the one who doesn’t belong in the home for eternal punishment. After being “cleared”, Tyler runs into Eugene, who tells him that the “wrong soul” won’t be freed. After all, Hitler said so. Tyler laughs at Eugene for trusting Hitler, and later concocts a plan to see Hitler’s personal Hell, so both can witness the despot’s “worst day”. That allows us to witness the “last day (Hitler) was good”, which is an interesting take, humanizing one of the worst men in history. Obviously, this particular version of Hitler is someone troubled by the man they could have been, but it still feels like there’s a long con being played here. Is Hitler being set up as someone we sympathize with, so that we can have the rug pulled out from under us? Or is there something else in his particular time in Hell that caused him to become the kindler, gentler soul we’re witnessing? Preacher has already given us an inbred Messiah, so maybe a good Hitler isn’t that much of a stretch, but there has to be something more. At least now Hitler is helping Eugene escape the testing, and potentially the entirety of Hell, and they both have to go through the Hole to get there.

That’s where things are left with two episodes remaining in this season. Jesse is making enemies out of allies wherever he goes, although, with regards to the Grail, making them an enemy isn’t a bad idea. Tulip and Cassidy are disconnected, but being pushed towards each other by outside forces. The Saint of Killers is out there, ready to bring his vengeance straight to the preacher, and Eugene and Hitler are engaging in a trek through the bowels of Hell. That feels like an awful lot to get wrapped up in two episodes, but that’s because the last few episodes have largely been running in place. It’s time for Preacher to hit the gas again, and propel us into a finale that makes us hungry for a third season.

Preach On: Season 2, Episode 10 – Dirty Little Secret

The end is coming. It isn’t completely clear as of yet, but we are definitely stepping closer to the end, at least for this season. Of course, things are looking pretty rough for our heroes, as they’re all firmly entrenched in their own things, and not connecting with each other. They all have their own reasons for it, and they all firmly believe that they are making the correct choices. It’s even hard to fault any of them for diving headlong into their own stuff, because each of those issues is monumentally important for the character at the heart of it. Unfortunately for our trio, this is just spreading them further apart in a time when they need to be more united than ever. They’re ultimately playing right into The Grail’s hands, and that just isn’t going to go well.

This week’s episode was entitled “Dirty Little Secret”, and, once again, it was a title that worked on multiple levels. We’ve got Jesse’s secrets regarding The Saint and the weapons stash. We’ve got the secrets being kept concealed by The Grail. Even Tulip and Cassidy have their own secrets, even if they aren’t of quite the same amount of earth-shaking importance, at least right now. These secrets are dividing the group, and, as they are being revealed, it’s going to create a big mess behind them.

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Via AMC

Our show opens this week with a raucous sex scene. The two are not identified immediately, although it isn’t like the show is keeping a really big secret. Sure, there’s set dressing to make it clear that the sex is happening in ancient times. The dialogue, however, is very much stuck in the modern day. Again, it isn’t much of a shock to learn that this is Jesus, the night before his crucifixion, and that this was the moment that really started the wheels turning regarding the creation of The Grail. In fact, the language almost makes it appear that this is simply how The Grail tells their own origin story now. We’re clearly not meant to believe that this manner of speech was accurate for the time, and it’s actually a subtly brilliant move by the writers. It isn’t explicitly underlined as to why the language was so modern, but it oddly helps set up a more accessible Jesus, and, by extension, God, for Jesse and his friends to chase down. When we return later to the scene, with Thaddeus taking the baby into his care by eliminating the mother, the language again helps the scene not stick out and interrupt the narrative we’re already embroiled in.

As for our primary three, things have gone from bad to worse, at least when it comes to them connecting with each other. Jesse’s story continued where it left off last week, with Herr Starr coming into the bar Jesse was sitting in. In fact, his entire story is disconnected from Tulip and Cassidy, which serves to remind us through physical staging how the overall friendship has become strained. Starr proposes an exchange of aid to Jesse, as there is no way the preacher can find God on his own. This leads Jesse on what largely amounts to a wild goose chase, at least for tracking down the Almighty. He is brought to a meeting with the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who both have their own suspicions behind the reasons God departed Heaven. After that goes poorly, Jesse is brought to meet the Messiah, only after tapping into Genesis to get Starr to do his bidding. Unfortunately, Jesse is sorely disappointed when he meets the descendant from the line of Jesus, as the audience recalls Starr’s comments about “inbred simpletons” from previously. Humperdoo is definitely an example of that, and Starr is clearly only using The Grail to protect him until he finds something better. Given that Jesse has the power of The Word, Starr thinks that he has found his answer. Jesse bounces from disappointment to disappointment yet again, although Humperdoo’s drawings should remind Jesse that he may have already met God on his first night in New Orleans, possibly inside the dog suit. The end of the episode leaves a disheartened Jesse still convinced that he can find God, and that he has the friends to help him do it. However, Starr has effectively planted the seed, and seeing Denis walk home should help that seed grow. Jesse has isolated himself from Tulip and Cassidy through his desperate search for God, and through the secrets he created to try and cover his own side of the story.

One of those secrets has been unearthed, and by the person Jesse would least want to come to that discovery. Tulip’s tale in this episode is again largely isolated from the others, although she does cross paths with Cassidy a few times. Ultimately, the only person Tulip truly connects with is Lara, in her meek “Jenny” guise. Lara continues to connect with Tulip as a fellow abuse victim, and, while the story Lara spins is much more mundane that what Tulip recently went through, Tulip clearly sees a kindred spirit. It’s also Lara’s moments of kindness that cause Tulip to completely fall apart, weeping and opening up about seemingly everything, or at least everything since Annville. Lara is working the Grail’s angle of breaking the bond that ties the three together, and, even though she slips up about Dallas, she is able to quickly recover by having Hoover step in as “Rodney”. Tulip had almost figured out that she was being lured into a trap, but Lara’s quick thinking helped keep her plot from being exposed. Craving someone to listen to her and show a moment of care, Tulip has given The Grail the opening that the need, and it gets further solidified when Lara convinces her to repair the broken tile in the bathroom. Tulip discovers the stashed weapons Jesse took off of the Saint, and their presence should immediately bring Jesse under Tulip’s rage. This is all the indication Tulip needs that perhaps Jesse hasn’t been as forthcoming with the truth as he should be, and his secret will endanger them all.

For his part, Cassidy isn’t really actively keeping secrets from the others, but he isn’t really connecting with them, either. Yes, he crosses paths with Tulip, but it seems that bringing Denis over to the vampiric side of things is allowing Cassidy to act as a father figure to the man for the first time in his life. And yet, there’s practically nothing “fatherly” about what Cassidy is doing. He is setting up orgies, going out boozing and philandering, and spending his time away looking to get high to take his mind off of the problems that are coming up. The only time that Cassidy really seems to take a parental role is in the discussion with Denis at the bar, clearly comparing becoming a vampire to puberty. Even that, though, isn’t enough. Cassidy doesn’t really give Denis the tools to be better, and suppress his new urges; instead, he tells him what he shouldn’t do (which is almost assuredly what Cassidy would be inclined to do, short of feeding), and then goes about his own business. We knew Cassidy was unfit to be a parent, and any hope that this second chance would result in total redemption is quickly being dashed. While it isn’t secrets keeping Cassidy apart, he is still separate, because he has to spend far too much of his energy attempting to keep Denis on the side of right, and cleaning up for his son after things go wrong.

All of this is clearly playing into the wishes of The Grail. Starr wants Jesse to abandon the search for God, and instead use Genesis to act as God himself. Jesse calls it blasphemy, but it does seem to be something that perks at the back of his mind. After all, it is really blasphemy when Jesse already holds one of God’s powers, and the Almighty Himself has abandoned His throne? However, there is no way that Jesse will accept Starr’s offer as long as he still has his connections to Tulip and Cassidy, and that’s where Lara and Hoover fit in. Lara is clearly working actively to separate Tulip from both, as she not only pointed out the loose tile for Tulip, but she made a few passing mentions of Cassidy’s “attributes”, a topic Tulip is still not terribly comfortable with. Hoover, so far, seems to be just a back-up to be called in when things are about to go sour, but eventually someone is going to have to step in to work directly on Cassidy, and he is the one who may be the best suited to do that. If the Grail can take away Jesse’s support system, they may just get their wish with regards to the preacher, and no longer be burdened by their inbred simpleton, lineage be damned.

With this episode, we reached the same length of the action from season one, and we’ve still got three episodes to go. It feels like there’s an awful lot of loose ends to tie up before the end of that thirteenth episode, and it’s pretty clear that they can’t simply go the same route they did at the end of the first season. The stakes are getting higher, and Jesse and his friends will need to find a way to reunite and regain trust in each other if they’re coming to come through to the other side while maintaining any real semblance of hope for the future.

Preach On: Season 2, Episode 9 – Puzzle Piece

This week, Preacher decides to go a little more esoteric than it has in the past. That isn’t to say that the episode was bogged down in weighty subject matter. That would be a huge departure from the world that has been created. Instead, the episode delves into the concept of the missing puzzle piece, the one thing that would bring out lives happiness and meaning. It is presented as an elusive thing, and yet, thanks to the conversation between Herr Starr and his date, we see it can exist in the small moments. Of course Starr brushes it off completely, in his traditional course manner, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

This episode is yet another strong outing for Preacher, which is working quite purposefully through it’s second season. The conceit of there being a cross country voyage to find God was an interesting one, but isn’t terribly feasible for the standard budget of a show at this particular level. Setting so much of this season in New Orleans, and having the weirdness come to Jesse, instead of the other way around, helps give the show some grounding. In many ways, the show has found its own puzzle piece, at least for this season, and the city of New Orleans has enough mystique around it that it doesn’t even feel like a ridiculous stretch for what we’re seeing to exist in Jesse Custer’s version of America. The city is a background character, and doesn’t get focused on much, but it has provided a stable base from which to expand out.

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Via AMC

The opening segment of this week’s episode show just how wrapped up in their own problems our three heroes truly are. Jesse hasn’t really been there for Cassidy, in his struggles over what to do with regards to Denis, and he’s completely missed the boat for Tulip, as her repeated trips to the Hurt Locker show. All three share the scene for what feels like the first time in a long time, but they aren’t really swirling in each other’s worlds. Seeing Jesse remembering his father’s death brings a moment of hope for the viewer. He even shows concern for Tulip, urging her to rest, but the moment his desire to help shifts to him utilizing Genesis against her, that hope for a kinder, gentler preacher goes out the window. Cassidy disapproves, but is too wrapped up in his own problems, as evidenced by his defrosting of a bag of blood, to be able to weigh in too much. The three are together, but not, as each has their own problems. When we flash to The Grail and Herr Starr, we see that he also isn’t terribly connected, watching the video, but dispassionately ordering the deaths of the others. It’s just another thing for the Samson Unit to clear off of the table, and there’s no reason to worry further. The puzzle pieces are all set out, but they are not being connected.

When it comes to our three, Tulip is the one who most needs assistance, and yet she’s the one who’s most being forced to strike out on her own. She isn’t really involved with Jesse’s voyage at present, and she’s intentionally holding Cassidy at arm’s length due to their previous conversations. It consequently leaves her listless and alone. The nightmares have continued to the point where, even with her Hurt Locker visits, she’s refusing to sleep. Jesse using Genesis on her to get her to fall asleep is a huge betrayal, even if the preacher honestly felt he was doing it for the right reasons, and Tulip’s hurt is evident when she wakes the next morning, having missed the entire raid from the night before. She agrees to assist with Jesse’s stake-out, but it’s not like she’s actually trying to help Jesse. In fact, the stake-out could be seen as a higher stakes version of the Hurt Locker, and it gives Tulip a convenient excuse to avoid further slumber. She ends up shooting the cleaner sent by the police to take care of the mess caused during the first raid, because she thought, incorrectly, that he was “one of them”. Tulip may end up eventually being right, as it seems like Grail Industries might want to find an easy way to sneak one more person in close to the group, but for right now, it showcases just how easy it is for Tulip to see demons around every corner. Jesse has been so focused on his search for God that he hasn’t helped pull Tulip out of her personal spiral, and it’s getting nearer to the point where he may need to use Genesis on her again to help her break free.

Cassidy is also dealing with his own problems, although he is more invested in Jesse’s stake-out and plans than Tulip is. We were left with the cliffhanger last week of Cassidy singing once again to Denis, and we see the result this week. Apparently, the Irish vampire likes to sing to mark moments of birth, and we see Denis embracing his new vampiric nature. Cassidy also gets to unleash his talents during the raid by the Samson Unit, and he suffers quite a bit for it. Ultimately, though, even though Cassidy gets badly hurt, he seems to be largely at peace. His decision regarding Denis was obviously the wrong one, and was motivated by Cassidy’s selfish desire to make amends for how bad of a father he was, but there’s something pure in the joy Denis shows to his father, and the tender way Cassidy tries to instruct his son about the change in existence. It’s obviously going to go wrong, and end badly, because that’s the path that just about every vampire story needs to take, but they get some joy with each other right now. Tulip may still be out in the cold, but Cassidy, thanks to what he gave to Denis, is coming back around. By the same token, his disdain for the way that Jesse has abandoned everything around him to search for God shows through strongly in the opening scene. Jesse tries to tell him how there needs to be meaning, but Cassidy slams the frozen blood loudly. Cassidy still can’t bring himself to truly call out the preacher for the missteps that he’s made, partially because he’s caught up in his own mistakes right now, but he can make it harder for Jesse to get his point across.

Jesse himself is searching for the illusive puzzle piece that will bring his search for God to the next step. When he uses Genesis against Tulip, he’s trying to help, but it’s to further his own cause. When he learns about Cassidy turning Denis, he realizes that he can’t really say anything to the other about making such a choice. Jesse WANTS to be a good guy, as the memory of his father’s death proves, but he hasn’t really figured out how to at this point. The raid by the Samson Unit allows us to see Jesse fighting against a physical opponent yet again, and shows how effective he can be. Contrast that with the way he’s struggling against his more personal demons, and we see how ineffective he is. Jesse bends the police to his will, which is a logical choice after the raid, but it again fills him with a singular purpose, and one that shuts everything else out. When Jesse believes that the police have discovered the next part of the raid (an excellent swerve of the audience’s expectations for Brad, by the way), he throws caution to the wind to try and chase down the answers he’s so desperately looking for. Jesse can’t see the forest for the trees, but his tunnel vision means that he’s missing the correct trees far too often. The episode ends with Jesse coming face to face with Herr Starr, and it’s easy to see how Jesse will be coerced by the Grail, and how plausible it is that Jesse will probably once again miss the connection to his search.

If any characters in this episode come closest to their own puzzle pieces, it is the members of Grail Industries. Lara and Hoover have been working together, keeping up surveillance on Custer for Herr Starr, and the botched raid against Jesse almost leads to their demise. While Hoover has been proven to be somewhat ineffectual, and perhaps a little consumed with his partner, Lara deftly disassembles Starr’s gun, clearing the jam and presenting it back to him, all while explaining how much more she could do for him. She is the one to suggest Brad, and clearly shows herself to be a capable ally to Starr in his pursuits. Starr himself spends much of the episode trying to keep himself from getting directly involved in Jesse’s world, in direct contrast to the previous moment with the pig. His disdain for interacting with other humans is apparent in his every interaction, and he brushes off the concept of the puzzle piece to the woman he goes on a date with, brushing off her heart-warming story with commentary about how “indigent half-wits” smile all the time. And yet, after Hoover’s mistake (or was it?) regarding Starr’s need for prostitutes, the man leading the Samson Unit not only goes along, in his usual dispassionate fashion, but it give him a moment of clarity. He discovers what he believes to be his particular puzzle piece, and it sends him to Jesse Custer. These two men couldn’t be dissimilar, and yet it’s obvious that they’re going to find themselves walking a similar path in the future. Also, both Grail computers we see get plagued by pop-ups about cats, which certainly opens the door to a certain absent deity continuing to work in mysterious ways.

Much of this season of Preacher has been spent breaking apart the bonds that were strengthened through the course of season one. The stakes are higher, and, while we know how effective the three can be when they’re truly on the same page with each other, they need to be dismantled a bit so that we can remember what brought us to them all individually, as well. Obviously, the three will reconnect, and be stronger for their troubles, but this is the best time to put some cracks into their foundation. Too early, and we don’t have any reason to really care. Too late, and the increased stakes necessary for a story like this would easily overwhelm them all. We’re seeing a giant pile of puzzle pieces being scattered around right now, but the picture that awaits us on the other side is still just a vague outline. We’ll get there, and Preacher just needs to keep up its steady, and strong, pace to help us get to that particular finish line. Too bad Harry Connick, Jr. won’t be there to see it.

Preach On: Season 2, Episode 8 – Holes

It’s so nice when a serialized television program can take time out of their own story to spend an entire episode paying homage to possibly the greatest moment in the cinematic career of Shia LeBeouf. The way that a treasure hunt is buried under the veil of a detention center is truly profound, and not many shows would be able to tie a similar sequence of events in so closely. The cameos from Tim Blake Nelson and Sigourney Weaver really helped– wait a minute. That isn’t at ALL what happened in Preacher this week. Oh, the perils of things being named in a similar fashion, and making early assumptions about what is going to be contained.

No, the “Holes” that Preacher dealt with were somehow both more physical, and more metaphysical, in nature. The episode was all about holes, whether they were in need of patching, simply glaring openings, or new gaps created. It was an episode that further showed the divide currently existing between our three main characters,  creating opportunities for other, potentially nefarious influences to exert some control. It was also a chance to add some greater illumination for all of the characters, especially how they dealt with the holes in their lives this episode worked through. Some were self-imposed, some were thrust upon them by others, but all of these missing pieces add up to a precarious whole, especially moving forward.

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Via AMC

There was an awful lot packed into this week’s episode, and there was some serious deftness displayed in transitioning from character to character. We were reminded up front about Eugene’s predicament, and see how he’s been trying to modify his own behaviors to fit in with the rest of the prisoners in Hell. We were also reminded about Mannering’s words regarding being “nice”, and the consequences of that particular course. Eugene needs to hide his true nature, lest he find himself a target for the other inmates. It’s a hole in his self that Eugene is trying to create, but, as later scenes show, he isn’t always successful. When Eugene learns that Hell knows one of the inmates doesn’t belong, he almost admits the truth, but defers, a motion not unnoticed by Hitler. In a continued defying of expectations, Hitler is the nicest person in Hell, and he actually wants to help Eugene out. At least, that is what is being presented, even if he uses somewhat underhanded means to get his point across. After all, if it wasn’t for Hitler bringing out Eugene’s good nature by tripping another inmate, he wouldn’t have been sent to The Hole, which also wouldn’t have pointed out the necessity for escape, not admission. Sure, Hitler clearly has ulterior motives, but with what we’ve been shown, it isn’t unnatural to wonder if Hitler himself was broken by Hell, and has turned a page. More likely, Preacher is setting Eugene, and, by proxy, all of us, up for a big turn, tucking Hitler back into the persona that we know from our own history. Right now, though, Eugene needs a friend, and it somehow oddly works for one of the most evil men in history to team up with this incredibly good-natured soul. Of course given the events of Eugene’s personal Hell as viewed through the extrapolator of The Hole makes us wonder what will happen to that good nature when Eugene reconnects with Jesse Custer.

While Eugene’s hole is much more real, and definitely carries trauma with it, it isn’t the only one dealt with in this episode. Going to a more esoteric thought, we first look at the holes around Jesse. These are ones that he has created for himself, as he’s been so intent on his search for God that he’s ignored things going on around him with Cassidy and Tulip. That gets underscored once again in this episode, which really doesn’t have a lot for Jesse to do, allowing him to take a back seat to the others. It was refreshing to see an episode where Jesse was able to prevent using Genesis, even if his answer to Cassidy regarding such rings hollow with his own selfish uses. Jesse may be starting to notice that there is something wrong, but he isn’t allowing himself to act on any of it, because his mission takes precedence in his own mind. Consequently, instead of helping either of his companions through their problems, Jesse spends the bulk of the episode waiting for the “Dork Docs” to perform their analysis of the audition video, just like “on the cop shows”. These exchanges add some levity to the episode, and showcase once again how myopic Jesse is. After all, the legend printed on the edge of the DVD wasn’t terribly small, or discreet, but it was something missed by all. Yes, Jesse once again has a moment of introspection, and offers a prayer to a missing God, but it doesn’t seem to lead to much widening of his perspective. In fact, it’s telling that the Jesse we meet in Eugene’s altered personal Hell is also completely focused on his own needs and desires. Eugene seems to know a little something about the preacher that he has been loathe to admit, and it’s the very same thing that fuels Jesse, while alienating his friends. Our man of the cloth has work to do if he wants to bridge the gaps he has created, and he’s clearly going to need to, since his narrowed vision has continuously caused him to miss the clues he’s so hungry for. This trait clearly hasn’t been missed by the members of The Grail, in their observations of him.

That brings us to Tulip, who we know has now encountered Lara, albeit in a different guise than the one shown to Jesse. In contrast with Herr Starr’s “seduction” last week, we instead are reminded that Lara clearly has an understanding of what could work to bring someone closer. Casting herself as someone suffering from abuse clearly brings Tulip to her side initially, so much so that Tulip invites the other woman along to the Hurt Locker some time. This is all part of Tulip’s attempts to patch up the holes around her. Yes, she’s working on the physical holes, starting by replacing the fridge, but she’s also clearly trying to figure out how to navigate around the deeper ones she’s experienced, thanks to the Saint of Killers. While Jesse may be aware of some of the holes opening around him, he isn’t terribly inclined to try and make things better right now, all in pursuit of a loftier goal. Tulip, on the other hand, is trying to fix what’s outwardly broken, while hoping to find an answer that works as spackle for everything inward. She isn’t sleeping, and she isn’t connecting, all until she encounters Lara. While Jesse is allowing his mission to get in the way of any connection to his friends, and may not even be fully aware of how distant he’s grown, Tulip is fully aware. She’s holding the men at arm’s length, and, while she may reach out tentatively, she certainly isn’t going to push the issue. In some ways, her presence around them is only out of habit right now. Tulip is being forced into self-reliance yet again, and Jesse is clearly going to have a high price to pay. It makes it all easier for The Grail to infiltrate, even if it wasn’t on their initial timeline. Tulip feels the drive to do something, and she clearly feels that tying herself too closely to Jesse’s mission is the exact opposite of something. Her purpose is being subsumed, and, while she is clearly integral to our trio, she needs them to see it just as much as she does.

Meanwhile, once again, the heart of the episode rests with Cassidy. The writers have done an impressive job turning this potentially one-note character into the connecting thread that finds something true to hang on to. Sure, he’s still got some of the cartoonish quality that we were first shown, but we’re learning that there’s an awful lot of depth to Cassidy. It’s very telling that these last few episodes, with Cassidy more focused on Denis than the others, have also shown the fracturing of our trio. Through “Holes”, we’re given a quick glimpse of some of Cassidy’s backstory, specifically shortly after the birth of Denis, and the rest of episode displays the vampire trying to get advice from those closest to him about how to deal with his son’s dying wish. A lot of credit also has to be given to the show for handling this issue in a way that we’ve seen before, but for allowing Joseph Gilgun to breathe enough new life into the moments to make it feel new. A vampire laboring over the choice of creating a new one of his kind is nothing new, and even adding the wrinkle of the two being blood relatives is well-worn territory. However, Cassidy’s words, through Gilgun’s portrayal, carry a depth that is all-too-often averted. It’s even more heartbreaking when you realize he is baring his soul regarding it all to Tulip, who is so wrapped up in her own head that she isn’t really hearing him. Cassidy eventually reaches out to Seamus to give him advice, and, to contrast with Denis’s repeated please of “Bite Me”, Seamus simply tells him not to do it. The final image of Cassidy in the episode is at Denis’s bedside, echoing the moment at his crib, with the same song slipping from the Irishman’s lips. It’s clear that Cassidy has made a decision, and the parallels between the two scenes certainly up the stakes. After all, this could be Cassidy tragically providing book ends to his son’s life, or he could be intentionally recreating that moment shortly after birth, as a way of ushering in a new life. Cassidy is left with a heartbreaking moment, as even the knowledge that he could save his son fights against his knowledge that he doesn’t actually know much of anything about the man. Their connection is familial, and nothing more. Cassidy could justify making either choice, and, unfortunately, Jesse and Tulip are not really able to help when he needs it the most.

This episode is clearly another one setting up bigger things moving forward, as pieces keep being put on the table. Eugene now has an (unlikely) ally to help him try and escape from the clutches of Hell. Jesse sees his hopes dashed towards finding God, while simultaneously losing the connections to those closest to him who could actually assist. Tulip is now open to The Grail’s machinations, largely because of her own self-imposed distance. And Cassidy, who is the glue that holds the other two together right now, is incapable of doing so because of a larger concern. Meanwhile, we know that Herr Starr is on his way, the Saint is still out there, and Eugene’s altered hell may turn him against Jesse and his crew. It may not have been an action-filled episode, but it was a needed one, and one where these character beats were handled deftly. This particular trio hasn’t been quite this broken before, and they’ve always been able to reconnect. It isn’t going to be easy, but we’re being set up for a pay off that is hopefully satisfying, and earned.