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.
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.