Preacher tends to be at its best when it’s moving fast. After wallowing a little too long in Annville over the course of its first season, season two got an extra jolt of energy by taking the show on the road.
But Preacher has parked itself in New Orleans for the past three episodes, and the slower the story gets, the more glaring its flaws become. And so it is with “Dallas,” the weakest episode of the season and one that completely abandons the overarching God-finding mission in favor of a predictable morality play centered on Jesse Custer. When last week’s episode left off, Jesse has just discovered that Tulip was secretly married to a shady rich dude named Viktor. “Dallas” resumes at that moment, as Jesse — in a blind rage — uses Genesis to order Tulip away. He strings Viktor up in the torture room, takes a deep breath, and spends the rest of the episode debating whether or not to kill him.
If that sounds like a fairly thin premise for an episode, that’s because it is. Jesse certainly has his dark side — and the show’s moral code is all over the map — but there isn’t much suspense about whether or not he’s going to kill Viktor. He doesn’t, but even if he did, there’s no reason to care because we only learned Viktor existed a few episodes ago, and we know basically nothing about him.
Preacher knows this, which is why it tries to shift the stakes from Viktor’s death to Jesse and Tulip’s relationship, which she says will be over if Jesse murders her husband in cold blood. And though “Dallas” is primarily concerned with Jesse and Tulip’s future as a couple, much of the episode is spent on extended flashbacks to Jesse and Tulip’s troubled past. In the wake of Tulip’s miscarriage during a heist gone wrong — which sparked Tulip’s quest to find and kill Carlos, the getaway driver who betrayed them — Tulip and Jesse settled into a humdrum domestic partnership in Dallas. Tulip works in a real-estate office, Jesse spends a few nights per week tending bar, and both of them make a genuine effort to put their criminal pasts behind them.
But this lifestyle doesn’t suit either of them. Jesse is in a perpetual haze of depression, binge-watching John Wayne movies, chugging cheap beers, and hanging out with a stoned loser named Reggie. Jesse was never much of a preacher, but this is as godless as we’ve ever seen him. Just to make sure we get that, “Dallas” shows Jesse and Reggie casually ripping pages out of the Bible to use for rolling papers.
If Jesse does have a purpose in life, it’s getting Tulip pregnant again. On the rare moments when he leaves the apartment at all, he heads to a nearby convenience store, where he stocks up on beer, cigarettes, and pregnancy tests. Every night, he and Tulip engage in some uncharacteristically passionate sex; every morning, Tulip takes a test that reveals she still isn’t pregnant.
But Tulip is hiding a few secrets of her own. Jesse stumbles onto her private stash in an air-conditioning vent, where she’s hidden a sack of ill-gotten cash from the criminal life she secretly resumed without him. Most painful of all, there’s a cache of birth-control pills. It’s not that she can’t get pregnant; it’s that she doesn’t want to get pregnant. It’s the final blow in a relationship that was already in pretty fragile shape. When Jesse says he plans to return to Annville and take over his father’s church, she wishes him good luck and leaves.
So that’s the missing gap in Jesse and Tulip’s past. What I’m less clear on is why Preacher thought we needed an entire episode to understand it. I’m all for fleshing out these characters, but much of what we learn about Jesse and Tulip’s past in “Dallas” was either implied or explicitly stated in previous episodes.
Back in the present, Jesse makes the noble choice he was always clearly going to make: He cuts Viktor down and gets him to sign Tulip’s divorce papers. When he returns to Tulip and reveals that Viktor is still alive, they embrace, bringing them right back to the “till the end of the world” love story they were in before this odd little Viktor cul-de-sac.
Although Jesse and Tulip’s story spends a long time getting back to the place it was before Viktor reemerged, there’s an intriguing little subplot worth following — because the really important character development in “Dallas” comes for Cassidy. Everyone’s favorite third-wheel vampire has spent the season sullenly nursing his crush on Tulip. This could get old pretty fast, but fortunately, Preacher recognizes that Tulip is both smart enough and candid enough to confront Cassidy about it. “I’m not blind, Cassidy. I know what you want,” she sneers as they wait to see what Jesse will do about Viktor. Most important, she tells Cassidy that if Jesse kills Viktor, she’ll be done with him for good.
What does Cassidy do with that information? He confronts Jesse and nudges him, ever so slightly, toward killing Viktor. Even as Cassidy assures Jesse that Tulip is still in love with him (which is definitely true), he insists that her love for Jesse could never actually fade away (which is definitely in question). “If I was in your situation, I don’t think I’d be very restrained at all,” Cassidy tells Jesse. “No, I think I’d wanna hurt them really, really bad.”
Why would Jesse’s best friend deliberately work to sabotage the only relationship Jesse truly cares about? To paraphrase Maya Angelou: When someone tells you who they are, believe them. As Cassidy tells Jesse, he’s always trying to remind people that he’s a terrible person at heart, but no one ever believes him. “Greedy, selfish, destructive, jealous,” Cassidy says, rattling off his own negative qualities with practiced, confident ease.
And he should know! As a 119-year-old vampire, Cassidy has had all the time in the world to get to know himself. Even when we’ve seen him do selfless and heroic things over the course of Preacher’s brief run, his darker side is never too far from the surface. Cassidy wants Tulip, and while his better angels have kept him in check so far, there’s always the threat that his desires will eventually take over. Jesse keeps racking up new enemies — but he should also keep a closer eye on his friends.
• In the coda to the episode, the Saint of Killers finally arrives at Viktor’s mansion, killing everybody — including Viktor — but sparing Viktor’s daughter when she says she can take him to the preacher. A more clever version of this story might have had Jesse deliberately using Genesis at Viktor’s mansion, setting up the Saint to kill Viktor and his goons without getting his own hands dirty — but as far as I can tell, Viktor’s dark fate is an unintentional consequence.
• Why does Jesse stoically and methodically sharpen an ax that he only plans to use to cut Viktor down?
• Jesse’s obsession with John Wayne is a nod to the comics, where John Wayne routinely appears as a kind of guardian angel guiding Jesse on his journey.
• Jesse drinks Glue Rooster American Lager. Sounds tasty!
• The church Jesse repeatedly passes on the way to the convenience store bears a passage from Galatians 6:9: “Do not lose heart, for we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
• Cassidy’s theory that foreskin is a secret ingredient in everything extends to Viktor’s very fancy bed sheets.
• Tulip’s peanut-butter pot roast sounds awful, but if you want to give it a shot, here’s the closest thing I could find to a real-life recipe.