Jesse Custer was a lot of things before he was a preacher: a hell-raiser, a preacher’s son, and a career criminal. But there’s one chapter in his past that has only been hinted at: the time he spent living in his grandmother’s care at a creepy tourist trap called the Angelville plantation.
The flashback that opens Preacher’s season-two finale changes all that. Finally, we see Jesse the adolescent huckster as he screws with tourists, chases off cops, lifts wallets, and gets abused by a couple of henchmen. But this younger, more cynical Jesse clearly hasn’t forgotten the promise he made to be one of the good guys. When he impulsively stomps on a chicken that has been bothering him all day, he immediately takes the body to his grandmother, begging her to bring it back to life. “Everything has a price. You understand?” she asks. And he agrees.
That warning could serve as a tagline for Preacher itself, which is obsessed with the prices people pay for the things they do. Back in the present day (and with the help of Herr Starr), Jesse is beginning a massive PR campaign to promote himself as the Messiah by addressing a classroom full of young Catholic kids. “Messiah” is a role that fits Jesse awkwardly when he’s reading a speech prepared by Starr, reluctantly decrying the “murder, rape, sedition, incest, and lesbianism” that exists throughout the world. It’s a role that fits a lot better when a group of Armenian terrorists bursts into the classroom and Jesse single-handedly disarms them.
It’s a fix, of course; Starr planned the whole “attack,” filmed it, and leaked it onto the internet, where it promptly goes viral. Just like that, Jesse is booked on Jimmy Kimmel Live, ready to spread his gospel to the masses.
Back in New Orleans, things aren’t going quite so smoothly as Tulip and Cassidy prepare to head off to Bimini. Tulip, being Tulip, runs out to buy some vodka and sunscreen and ends up attacking the chauvinistic clerk and robbing the joint. Cassidy, being Cassidy, sits around smoking crack and fantasizing about Tulip.
And then there’s the Denis, the awkward third wheel on the big trip to Bimini. We’ve been seeing the warning signs about Denis for weeks: the nonexistent impulse control, the bloody clothes, the obvious desire to drain the blood out of his own dog. Even if Denis never really emerged as a compelling character in his own right, there’s poignancy in Cassidy’s recognition that he literally turned his son into a monster. Cassidy — who, just a single episode ago, rolled his eyes at the promise Jesse made to his father to be “one of the good guys” — throws the same request at his own son. “Promise me you’ll be good,” he pleads with Denis, who has given every indication that he is bad and will only get worse. Denis is quick to turn Cassidy’s question back on him. “Can you be a good lad, papa? Can you be good?” he mocks, holding a pair of Tulip’s underwear that Cassidy creepily stole for himself.
With that, the father-son conflict reaches the conclusion we all saw coming way back when Cassidy turned Denis into a vampire. Cassidy pushes Denis out a window, and then refuses to let him back inside as the sun exposure burns him to death. Cassidy has committed many, many sins in his 119 years, but you’d have to imagine that murdering his own son will haunt him for the rest of his life. This is, after all, a show that’s all about sin and the baggage that follows it — and nowhere is that more obvious than in the Hell subplot. In last week’s episode, Eugene and Hitler managed to slip out of their Hell prison together. Now, they’ve arrived on the outer shores of Hell for the last phase of their big escape.
And this time, the twist I’ve been predicting all season never came. Hitler wasn’t planning to double-cross Eugene after all; he genuinely wanted to atone for his crimes by helping an innocent man break out of Hell. Although I can see what Preacher is going for, I’ll be honest: Even at the best of times, I don’t need a redemptive arc for Adolf Hitler … and these are not the best of times. A soft, cuddly version of one of the worst monsters in human history is neither funny nor subversive nor interesting.
At the very least, the finale could have discarded this misbegotten Hitler subplot by leaving him on the shoreline of Hell. But Eugene doubles back for his prison buddy, and the two of them make it back to the real world. Hitler promptly takes off, gets hit by a car, and limps off down an alleyway. Here’s hoping we never see him again.
Back in New Orleans, Tulip and Cassidy are preparing to head to Bimini without Jesse. But after they pile into the car, Tulip decides to go back inside so she can say good-bye to “Jenny.” But in Jesse’s absence, the Grail operatives have grown careless. When Tulip enters the apartment, she finds reams of evidence that “Jenny” is actually Lara Featherstone. “God, I wish I could have killed her,” Lara complained about Tulip a few episodes ago — and this week, she finally gets her chance. As soon as Tulip discovers the truth, Lara pulls a gun on her and shoots.
Suddenly, it’s a race against time with Tulip’s life in the balance. Starr, in his indifferent cruelty, cancels the ambulance that might save her life. Jesse rushes in, unsuccessfully ordering Tulip to breathe before confessing that Genesis isn’t working anymore. When Cassidy resolves to make her a vampire, Jesse literally holds him back until she dies.
Why? Because he still has one last trick up his sleeve. As they drive to Angelville with Tulip’s corpse in the backseat, Cassidy turns to Jesse and delivers the best line of the season: “There’s something I want to say. Something I’ve been meaning to tell you for a long time. I hate you.” They haven’t quite reached Angelville yet, but we catch sight of that “dead” chicken from Jesse’s childhood crossing the road behind them. If Jesse’s grandma is capable of reviving a dead chicken, can Tulip be far behind?
This is a haunting, promising note on which to end the season. Jesse and Cassidy are openly quarreling, which should be a lot more interesting than the passive-aggressive cycle they’ve been locked into all season. Tulip is dead — for now, at least — and her resurrection will come at a heavy and unspecified cost. Eugene is back in the real world again. Whatever happens next, season three is clearly poised to adapt one of the all-time great arcs of the Preacher comic. It bothers me that two full seasons of Preacher essentially feel like a long preamble leading up to this moment —but I’ve never been more excited for this show than I am right now.
• The coda to the episode finally gives us a brief glimpse of God. Kind of. When He walks out of the bathroom in his cheap motel room, the light He gives off is so bright that the entire screen dissolves into pure whiteness.
• Herr Starr casually reveals that he possesses the one percent of Jesse’s soul that previously belonged to the Saint of Killers. I guess that’s one way to coerce a dude into being your Messiah.
• Great music choices in this episode: George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” Lefty Frizzell’s “I’ve Got the Money (If You’ve Got the Time),” Jake Bugg’s “On My One,” and James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James,” which Tulip sings to herself as she sits in the car.
• Cassidy and Tulip’s reaction to realizing the Grail has spent weeks monitoring their living room via a secret camera: “God, I might have masturbated in here.” “Yeah, me too.”
• Eugene and Hitler arrive back on Earth on a Distant Vistas–brand charter bus — the same kind that transported DeBlanc and Fiore to Hell in season one’s “Finish the Song.”
• Poor Eugene still has no idea that Annville was destroyed in a massive explosion at the end of season one. Once he discovers everyone and everything he knew is dead, where will he go?
• The hooded figure standing on the beaches of Hell is Charon, adding Greek mythology to Preacher’s grab bag of religious references.
• When it comes to Jimmy Kimmel Live, even the Messiah gets bumped for Kylie Jenner.