Jesse Custer has finally visited all 187 jazz bars in New Orleans … and he hasn’t found God at any of them.
The quest for God is, ostensibly, the primary arc of Preacher, but season two has made time for extended detours in Indian-themed casinos, rich-dude mansions, and Hell itself. Now that Jesse’s not-that-great plan for tracking down God has come up short, how will he and the rest of the game drown their sorrows? By going to yet another bar and getting shot, of course.
The whole “getting shot” thing turns out to be a lot more consensual than it sounds. As Cassidy mentioned in last week’s episode, there’s a shady bar in New Orleans where you wager on whether or not you can get up from a gunshot wound. You strap on a kevlar vest, select the caliber of firearm you’ll be shot with — the bigger the gun, the bigger the payout — and pray you survive in enough health to enjoy all that cash.
Fortunately, our gang has a ringer: Cassidy, whose curative vampirism makes it easy enough to shrug off a gunshot as soon as he can find a liter of blood to drink. Tulip pretends to be Cassidy’s loving girlfriend, and Jesse plays a kind-hearted preacher trying to talk them out of it. (This elaborate roleplay allows Jesse and Tulip to take a few digs at each other, and allows Cassidy to confess his genuine love for Tulip — even kissing her — without any major repercussions.) Cassidy “dies” from the gunshot and all the patrons flee, leaving a box full of money and a bar full of booze.
After availing themselves of both, the gang basically splits up. Cassidy goes on a solo bender; Jesse and Tulip spend the night at Denis’s place before yet another argument drives them apart again. As usual, their conflict is rooted in being not quite open enough about how they’re feeling. We’ve seen Tulip both cause and endure all kinds of violence — remember, she was introduced building a makeshift rocket launcher — but she’s having a hard time shaking her near-fatal standoff with the Saint of Killers, which she relives in a series of nesting-doll-style nightmares. Jesse, for his part, is trying to figure out what it means that he sold off one percent of his soul. He consults a street preacher who trades doomsday prophecies for money and booze, who theorizes that the consequences will turn out to be severe.
But while each of our protagonists spend the episode processing the baggage of a very busy half-season, the biggest impact in “Pig” comes from the introduction of Preacher’s big new villain: Herr Starr. We briefly met Herr Starr a few weeks ago, but “Pig” takes us squarely inside his chrome dome, and it’s a chilling (and admittedly entertaining) place to occupy. As the episode begins, Herr Starr has traveled to Vietnam to investigate the pig that gives the episode its title. The pig has inexplicably begun to float a few feet off the ground, and analysts are split on whether it’s a hoax or a miracle. When Herr Starr arrives at the small village, and sees the pig for himself, he’s displeased to discover that it looks like the latter.
What kind of person would object to an adorable and possibly miraculous flying pig? In a series of flashbacks, we travel back to 2004, where Herr Starr has been invited to audition for a key role in a top-secret organization called the Grail — as long as he can beat out a few dozen other candidates in a series of mental and physical challenges. Preacher has gotten very, very good at this kind of Über-stylish montage, and this one — set to “Blood on the Risers,” a profane variation on “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” — is one of the show’s best to date. Herr Starr races through an obstacle course, yawns through an elaborate torture in which his genitals are electrocuted, and defeats a fearsome wrestler via distraction by masturbating while stuck in a chokehold. (Herr Starr’s skills aren’t entirely James Bond worthy, though: Asked to demonstrate how he would seduce information out of a woman, he merely threatens to kill her and her family.)
In the end, Herr Starr and his sole surviving rival are asked to square off on a marksmanship contest. When his rival earns a near-perfect score, Herr Star simply turns and shoots him in the head. Just like that, Her Starr is the last man standing, so he’s invited to join the Grail and learn the secret behind its 2,000-year-old history.
And that secret turns out to be a big one. (Unless you’ve read The Da Vinci Code, then it’ll sound pretty familiar.) According to Herr Starr’s new boss, Jesus Christ had a secret child. Jesus’s lineage has been kept pure by the Grail for thousands of years, but when the world ends and Jesus returns — which seems likelier all the time — they’ll unveil the child to the world. Herr Starr’s job is to ensure that Jesus Christ remains the dominant spiritual figure by snuffing out anyone or anything that might attract its own religious following. It’s a task that the ruthless Herr Starr is perfectly suited to do, unfortunately to the detriment of his new boss. As soon as he gets all the information, Herr Starr simply tosses his boss off a balcony and takes his job instead.
Back in 2017, Herr Starr deals with the floating pig with the same mercilessness and casual disinterest in collateral damage. He poisons the water supply of the small Vietnamese village, ensuring that the pig and the dozens of residents die off at once. Offscreen, a scientist that certainly sounds like Stephen Hawking tells a newscaster a bunch of jargon-y, vaguely scientific-sounding nonsense about how the pig was able to float, ensuring that a cult won’t rise up to worship it.
So yeah, this Herr Starr guy is going to be a formidable opponent. Which is why it’s alarming to learn that his next target is none other than Jesse Custer.
• In a B-plot that doesn’t really go anywhere (but lays groundwork for future episodes), Denis tells Cassidy he’ll forgive him for everything if he turns him into a vampire, thereby preventing him from dying by heart disease. Cassidy refuses and goes on a bender that doesn’t end until the following morning, when he wakes up in the morgue. While he’s there, a nurse comments that she would rather be one of the grievers than one of the dead, which makes Cassidy contemplate whether he should turn Denis into a vampire after all.
• A few more details on Herr Starr, via his interrogator at the Grail: He was orphaned at age four when his parents died in a plane crash, and he used to be a lieutenant colonel in Germany’s Grenzschutzgruppe 9, which battles terrorism.
• The Grail’s previous victims include Charlemagne, Abraham Lincoln, and John Belushi.
• I love the idea that a couple of dudes ride golf carts around the streets of New Orleans every night, picking up the bodies in the street and sorting into piles marked “DRUNK” and “DEAD.”
• Jesse doesn’t tell Tulip and Cassidy that the Saint is still on earth (albeit trapped in an armored car at the bottom of a swamp), which will leave them completely defenseless if he reemerges. What’s the over/under on when that will happen, anyway?
• Preacher’s universe is infinitely bloodier and pulpier than ours, but it can’t be that different than our own: The Cubs still won the pennant and Donald Trump is still the president.
• At first, the name of Hurt Locker — the bar where Tulip and the gang go to get shot for money — feels like just another pop-cultural pun in a series that’s full of them. But as the episode ends, Tulip’s decision to choke down her PTSD by pursuing even more danger at Hurt Locker bears a striking similarity to Jeremy Renner’s arc in the Oscar-winning movie of the same name.
• Even 13 years ago, Herr Starr was still totally bald and blind in one eye. The comics have an explanation for how that happened, though it wouldn’t surprise me if the TV series writes its own version.
• What made that pig float, anyway?