If I have an overarching criticism of Preacher’s second season, it’s that the plot got a little thin as soon as the gang arrived in New Orleans. Jesse’s search for God at least delivers crazy twists and weird characters, but Tulip and Cassidy’s adventures over the past few episodes just keep hitting the same beats: Tulip is mired in PTSD and looking for ways to combat it, while Cassidy is in love with Tulip and troubled about his reckless vampire son.
That’s basically all we get for Tulip and Cassidy in “Backdoors.” Tulip takes Lara Featherstone on a trip to get the Saint of Killers’ guns and saber melted down. She quickly discovers that they’re indestructible, and that no one but the Saint can fire the guns, while Lara tries to push her toward dumping Jesse. Meanwhile, Cassidy fulfills Denis’s request for the dog he never had growing up, but grows increasingly suspicious that Denis just wants to sink his fangs into it.
These are interesting little side stories, and if they don’t change much about the status quo, it’s at least fun to hang out with these characters. But the season is nearly over, which means it’s also time for some forward momentum — cue Jesse’s story. Having discovered that the descendant of Jesus Christ is, as Jesse delicately puts it, an “imbecile,” Jesse’s drive to find God has only been renewed. And after a sudden epiphany, Jesse realizes he’s been missing clues from the universe. God has been right under his nose the whole time.
I have to respect Preacher for making Jesse’s search for God an actual shaggy-dog story, with an actual shaggy dog waiting at the end. Remember way back in episode three — right after the gang first arrived in New Orleans — when Jesse asked to meet God, and was promptly taken to a weird backroom sex thing centered on a dude in a full-body dalmatian costume? Well, it turns out that dalmatian was God, testing to see if Jesse would recognize Him. And Jesse failed. Having solved the mystery, Jesse rushes back to the backroom, but God is gone.
Jesse goes back to Herr Starr’s office and grills him about whether he knew God’s location all along. The answer is no, but Herr Starr still wants Jesse to take over as the Messiah. He also thinks he’s cracked the reason why Jesse is so obsessed with finding God: forgiveness for his own sins. With help from his connections at the Grail, which has a direct pipeline to Heaven, Starr has acquired the backup tapes of every single prayer Jesse has ever made.
Jesse and Starr sit in Starr’s office and listen to all of them — every time he reached out to God to ask for a blessing or beg for forgiveness. It’s weirdly moving to hear Jesse’s young voice change along with his litany of sins, as “not doing my chores” becomes “touching myself” becomes “keeping hate in my heart” becomes “killing a security guard.” It’s the private history of an entire life, told solely through the worst things a person has done — including the dark moment when young Jesse impulsively asked God to kill his father and send him to Hell, which still haunts him. Worst of all, there’s a flashback to a moment in Angelville when an adolescent Jesse was essentially tortured into thanking God for killing his father. (I’ll address that enigmatic moment in more detail in the “confessions” section below.)
Starr says his goal in collecting all of Jesse’s private prayers isn’t merely blackmail. By making Jesse reflect on all his sins, he wants to convince Jesse to make a grand heroic gesture that might actually save his soul. If he takes over for the unfit Messiah for the greater good of humanity, it might be enough to wipe Jesse’s slate clean. It’s probably worth noting that this version of Christian forgiveness isn’t what most sects of Christianity preach — genuine prayerful contrition generally leads to unconditional forgiveness, which is why Jesus died for everyone’s sins in the first place — and it’s a little weird that Jesse, our resident preacher, doesn’t say that.
But whatever Starr’s motives, the plan backfires. Jesse has no intention of allying with Starr: Before he leaves, Jesse uses Genesis to make Herr Starr shove every ream of the prayer tapes into his own ass.
Butt stuff has been big in Preacher’s second season — a theme that echoes, weirdly enough, down in Hell. The jail keepers are busily testing all the inmates as they look for the person who’s not supposed to be in Hell. Adolf Hitler knows it’s Eugene, and he says he wants to help him escape. But first, Eugene and a fellow inmate named Tyler join Hitler in his cell — using a key that Hitler hid in his anus — to witness Hitler’s worst memory, back in Munich in 1919.
We saw the first part of this memory way back in episode four, but this time we get the whole thing. Hitler is a timid artist in a little café. He brings his paintings over to a prominent gallery owner, who politely says his work “lacks conviction.” He gets the opportunity to intervene when a couple of violent communists come into the café, and meekly rejects it. That leads his disgusted girlfriend to reveal that she’s chosen another man. Finally, he watches as the plum cake he ordered gets delivered to a Jewish customer instead, and is asked if he’ll settle for strudel.
And … that’s it. When Eugene and Tyler emerge from the memory, they’re understandably baffled. “Because you looked like a bitch in front of that art guy and your girlfriend, you blew up Europe?” Tyler asks. Later, Eugene corners Hitler and asks, “Did you really start World War II because they were out of plum cake?”
The answer is a little more complicated than that. When Eugene presses Hitler on why that day, of all the horrible days he lived, was his worst memory, Hitler finally answers. “That was the day,” Hitler explains. “The last day that I was good. That was the moment I lost myself.”
It’s an unexpectedly poignant answer, and there’s an interesting idea at play here: that the worst thing to relive over and over again is the moment when your life started heading in the wrong direction, knowing that you’ll always be powerless to change it. It’s just weird that this redemptive arc has been told through, you know, Adolf Hitler.
Of course, there’s a good chance that Preacher is just working a long con — that Hitler is exactly as terrible as we would rightly expect him to be, and that this “redemptive arc” is just a cover to enlist Eugene’s aid in his own escape from Hell. As the duo slip away from the jail keepers and jump into the hole — which Hitler promises contains a backdoor exit — it’s entirely possible that he’s tricking Eugene into an even worse fate. It’s more than a little weird that the defining question of Eugene’s season-two arc has been “Should I trust Hitler?” — but hey, that’s the kind of show Preacher is.
With just two episodes left in season two, here’s where we stand. Jesse has gone rogue again, and probably made a mortal enemy in Herr Starr in the process. Tulip’s closest “friend” is a double agent who would rather just kill Tulip outright. Cassidy is stuck with a vampire son who’s teetering on the brink of pure evil. Eugene is on the verge of busting out of Hell, and Hitler might be joining him. And with the help of the Grail, the Saint of Killers is on the loose. It’s a lot to resolve in two weeks, but when has Preacher ever shied away from overstuffing its narrative?
• I’m not going to get into Jesse’s Angelville flashback in too much detail (because that drifts into spoilers straight out of the comics), but with so much to wrap up in the last two episodes, it’s probably safe to assume Preacher will save the rest of this very memorable arc for season three.
• Jesse’s roster of prayers includes asking for forgiveness for hitting Donnie on the playground “even though he deserved it” — a clear reference to Donnie Schenck (Derek Wilson), the bully and Quincannon employee who grew up with Jesse and Tulip, and who died in the Angelville explosion of the season-one finale.
• Other Jesse Custer sins include not eating broccoli, falling asleep in church, shooting a Komodo dragon, and a colorful array of robberies, including a convenience store, a gas station, a pawnbroker, and a zoo. (Gonna guess that’s where he shot the Komodo dragon.)
• Tulip doesn’t cite the U.S. president by name, but she does call him an imbecile.
• The “do you belong in Hell?” test consists of quickly flashing images in front of an inmate’s face — including a picture of Tom Brady — and measuring their emotional reactions.
• The song Hitler goads his fellow inmates into singing is the old spiritual “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” which is a solid choice if you want to piss off some Hell demons.
• Personally, I’d take the strudel over the plum cake anyway.