Now that the Saint of Killers has been taken care of, we need to set up the next adversary for Jesse Custer and his crew. Let’s just ignore for a little while that the Saint isn’t truly taken care of, but is instead lying in wait for the plot to circle back to having him blasting his way through the world. As far as Jesse is concerned, he doesn’t have anything to worry about with regards to the cowboy right now, and the audience needs to get some more information about something we’ve seen the barest of glimpses of thus far.
That’s where this episode fits in. We spend some time looking at the three members of our primary trio separately, as they all move forward with some recent revelations. More importantly, we get to learn a little more about The Grail, and how they tie in to the proceedings. This is all unspooled through watching the machinations of Herr Starr, who strikes an imposing figure with his all-white suit and bold red tie. This is the man who took the map that Dany had received from Tulip. His injection into the story begins in Vietnam, but, by the end of the episode, it is clear that he is en route to New Orleans, to cause trouble for our favorite “false prophet”. A “Pig” flying may seem like a silly way to bring us up to speed, but it had more than a snowball’s chance with Eugene of shedding some light into the darkness pressing against the trio.
This week’s episode begins with the very porcine plot device in question. It’s Vietnam, and we witness a couple going about their lives casually, until something out the window disturbs the wife. The family pig is floating off of the ground, and what started out for the family as a terrifying moment is quickly turned to prophet, as nearby villagers and tourists come out to pay homage, clearly feeling a little high on the hog. It is this near-worship that brings Herr Starr to the village, as one of The Grail’s Samson Unit, and he needs to eradicate those false prophets. It’s a messy job, but someone has to do it, but we’ll get to more about that in a little bit.
For now, we check on the heroes of our story. Tulip is clearly suffering from her run-in with the Saint of Killers. Was it simply knowing that Jesse’s lack of timeliness almost caused her to lose her life, or is there something even more sinister in his touch alone that has shaken her to the core? It seems more likely that it’s the first, and not the second, but we can’t be certain, with the heavy dose of supernatural running through the show. What we do know is that Tulip is not herself, and is displaying vulnerability that we haven’t seen before. The nightmare she experiences shows us that, even though she believes Jesse has dealt with the problem, her subconscious cannot let the Saint go, and she fears him being around every corner. It was also a scene that really dove into horror tropes, and handled them well, given the general vibe of the show itself. Tulip finds a way to battle with her own demons, and it all revolves around her going to the Hurt Locker, to be used as target practice. Maybe the idea of getting shot, in a relatively safe fashion, will help her shake free of her fears. It clearly isn’t going to be Jesse, as he’s far too focused on his own mission. While her interaction with Cassidy showed a potential thawing in what was becoming an icy relationship, she can’t rely on his assistance, either, for fear of him getting too strongly attached. This is something that Tulip can only deal with on her own, but it could very easily spin to a far more dangerous path than she could have anticipated.
Our Irish vampire has a lot to deal with, but, once again, shows that he is the necessary emotional core to the show right now. He allows himself to get a little too involved in his moment with Tulip the first time the trio head to the Hurt Locker, but very quickly, his plight with Denis takes the forefront. Thanks to a very convenient French professor, Cassidy is able to learn just how angry Denis is at him, and the one thing that would allow the son to forgive the father. It just so happens that the one thing in question, eternal life through vampirism, is something that Cassidy sees as a curse, and he doesn’t want to burden his son with it. It’s interesting that, in an episode that plays with horror tropes, the standard vampire trope about whether it is a gift or a curse is poked at. This story is left hanging somewhat after Cassidy spends the night in the morgue, but his resolve to not bring Denis into his world seems to be weakened by watching a family say goodbye to a loved one. Clearly, he has some questions that only he can answer, but for now, the biggest seems to be whether or not he can let his own son pass with some level of dignity, or if he grants Denis the one thing that could repair their relationship.
Speaking of broken relationships, that moves us to Jesse Custer. Even though he and Tulip recently reconnected, after the events at Viktor’s mansion, Jesse is still so caught up in his search for God that he isn’t really able to see how much Tulip needs him. Instead, he brushes off her concerns about the Saints, even lying through omission that the whole thing has been taken care of, and continues his search for God. It becomes clear, however, that this isn’t the only search Jesse is on. This comes to a head when Jesse encounters the street corner preacher, spreading the word about the end of days. He and Jesse converse, complete with the striking visual of Jesse shrouded in shadow, and the other preacher bathed in light. Jesse is a man who is not above doing evil deeds for what he feels is the greater good, and it cannot be stressed enough that the “greater good” in question is one that serves Jesse Custer first and foremost. There may be benefits for the rest of civilization, but Jesse is looking for his own answers and salvation, merely dragging everyone else along behind him. Meanwhile, the street corner preacher, through his proclamations about the end of the world, is doing more for others by helping them take their minds somewhat off of their own darknesses, looking for ways to avert the end times. His words may actually help people make the world somewhat better, and, when he and Jesse converse about the notion of selling even a small portion of one’s soul, it is clear where he stands. This could spark a revelation in Jesse’s mind, and it also presents a way for the Saint to be looped back in, with Jesse being both the item of disposal and the means of retrieval. Can Genesis help him get the missing part of his soul back, and is that a risk Jesse is willing to take, knowing what the Saint can do without any soul to restrain him? Jesse wants to find God, but it’s clear after his conversation with the doomsday preacher that he may need something else even more. Never mind that Jesse also now has to deal with his emotions regarding how Tulip and Cassidy interact, either with or without him.
Those three stories could have all been expanded, and filled the entire episode. Many other shows would have done just that, slowing the pace of the entire story down even further, and getting a little self-indulgent with moments that didn’t need more than a passing glance. For Preacher, those were all actually B-story, as the main thrust of the episode had us following Herr Starr, from the moment he first learned of The Grail through to him beginning the search for Jesse. Starr is a cold, calculating man, one who views everyone and everything as being beneath him. His initial meeting with Saltonstall, from The Grail, convinced them that Starr would be a good candidate. After making his way through most of their tests, including an interesting take on “seduction”, Starr brutally takes out his opposition to join the organization, and has some of the secrets of what they do opened to him. Starr is told about the lineage of Jesus, and how The Grail protects that lineage from “false prophets”, including Abraham Lincoln. It ties in perfectly to the vision of the world that the show has displayed, and Starr’s brutal removal of both Jimmy in the testing, and Saltonstall after being inducted into the Samson Unit, shows just how unrelenting this particular villain can be. It’s safe to assume that the rest of The Grail know about Starr’s actions, but he is the exact type of person that they need in the Samson Unit, and they can’t really argue with his efficacy. He handles the situation with the pig in Vietnam, and we know that he is headed to New Orleans, where Jesse has become his new prey.
In many ways, this episode served as filler, but of a good sort. It pushed the stories of our primary three forward, showing us both how effective they are when together and on top of their games, as the first scene at the Hurt Locker shows, and how broken they are when apart. But it did a lot more, and in a more deft way than the initial introduction to the Saint’s backstory. With the Saint, we knew he was a man who had traveled a dark path, but we didn’t see the imminent threat to our heroes. Through Herr Starr, we see a man almost as dark, but with a cold calculation to him, as opposed to brutal revenge. We also know exactly how much of a threat he and his organization could pose. Keep in mind that Lara is also part of The Grail, and has already encountered Jesse Custer. It’s clear that her tactic towards seduction was not quite as succinct as Starr’s, and it gives the entire Grail organization an extra leg up when dealing with the preacher. It’s time to bring home the bacon, and Preacher is just getting that pan sizzling.