If Preacher were a higher-profile show, I suspect “Dirty Little Secret” is the type of episode that might inspire angry denunciations from Christians around the globe. This season is playing to the already-converted, so I suspect it’ll pass without much mainstream infamy — but even if a cultural backlash doesn’t follow, it’s pretty audacious to open a TV episode with an extended, porny sexy scene starring none other than Jesus Christ.
In its second season, Preacher has mastered the art of the stand-alone cold open, and this is one of its best. As this mysterious, handsome, long-haired man indulges in a lengthy one-night stand with a married woman, the scene cleverly lets the viewer add up the details and figure it out for themselves. Why does this scene seem to be taking place … I don’t know, around 2,000 years ago? Why does this guy keep talking about needing to do something for his dad? Why does he have all these friends lined up at the door waiting for him? And why are they talking about rounding up some getaway donkeys?
This, of course, is the secret that the Grail was organized to protect. In the Preacher-verse, Jesus Christ didn’t spend the night before the crucifixion praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He spent it getting a woman pregnant, creating a secret earthly heir, and spawning a bloodline that the Grail has obsessively protected ever since. When the apocalypse happens, the Grail will finally reveal Jesus’ heir. Until then, they’ll keep the bloodline secret and safe.
Cut back to the present, as Herr Starr — having promised to help Jesse at the end of last week’s episode — takes Jesse Custer all the way around the world so he can meet Jesus’s 25th great-grandson, Humperdido. Jesse is understandably awestruck to be in the presence of the sole heir to God’s own bloodline, and he drops to his knees in reverence. At which point Humperdido starts to pee all over Jesse’s face.
As it turns out, the Grail has an unforeseen problem. Centuries of attempting to keep Jesus’s bloodline pure have backfired. Due to inbreeding — “like a royal family or a Maltese puppy,” Starr says — Humperdido is physically and intellectually disabled. His greatest talent seems to be drawing pictures of dogs; other than that, he’s mostly into peeing and humping things.
It must be difficult for a 2,000-year-old organization to change course, but Starr, unsentimental to a fault, recognizes that Humperdido is probably not the man who can save the world. And so he unspools his own pitch: Jesse should take Humperdido’s place as the messiah. “God is God, and nature abhors a vacuum,” Starr says. “Sooner or later, someone will fill it. So I ask you, why go on looking for God when you can just be him?”
There’s a cold logic to Starr’s argument that I hope Preacher continues to explore in the episodes to come. If Jesus was God’s only son, and Humperdido is his only heir, Humperdido is the rightful heir to the Kingdom of Heaven in a traditional patrilineal way. But if Jesse’s superpower is, essentially, the word of God … well, doesn’t that kind of make him God?
For now, Jesse rejects Starr’s proposal as blasphemous, vowing that he’ll continue to hunt for the real God with the help of his friends. But having traveled all the way around the world over a course of a single episode, Jesse doesn’t recognize the storm that’s brewing in his own New Orleans apartment.
Tulip has been haunted by PTSD ever since her standoff with the Saint of Killers. When she sleeps, she has horrible nightmares, and when she’s awake, she chases adrenaline and pain to tamp down her own anxiety. What she doesn’t know is that she’s been living right on top of the relics from that horrific standoff. Jesse lied about banishing the Saint to Hell — as far as we know, he’s still in the back of an armored truck at the bottom of a swamp — and hid his guns and saber under a loose tile in the bathroom.
In Jesse’s single-minded absence, Tulip has become increasingly reliant on “Jenny,” the friendly woman who lives down the hall. Unfortunately, “Jenny” is actually Lara Featherstone, the Grail operative who has dedicated herself to undermining Jesse and Tulip’s relationship. The Grail has been monitoring Denis’s apartment for weeks, and Lara is well aware that Jesse hid the Saint’s weapons in the bathroom. She just needs to coerce Tulip into finding them.
In the process, Lara almost gives herself away. As they play Guitar Hero, Lara absentmindedly makes a reference to Tulip’s days as a bank robber in Dallas — something she knows from her Grail intel files, but not something Tulip has ever actually told her about. Tulip is immediately suspicious, but Lara exploits Tulip’s fragile mental state by convincing her that she mentioned it earlier and then forgot. (She also enlists fellow Grail operative Hoover to play her drunk, abusive ex Rodney — and kicks the shit out of him — which helps to sell the whole “Jenny” story.)
In the end, Lara’s plan works. Tulip digs up the bathroom tile and finds the Saint’s relics, laying them out on the table as she prepares to question Jesse about his lives. And here’s the trickiest thing of all: Lara may have sinister motives about Jesse and Tulip’s relationship, but she’s not wrong. Jesse is lying. His relationship with Tulip is, by any traditional standard, irredeemably dysfunctional. The whole season has been building up to this moment, and I’m sure we’re in for one hell of a confrontation next week.
• Throughout the episode, Cassidy makes up for lost time with Denis by treating him to a day with a prostitute. Denis promptly tries to suck the blood from her neck. How many more episodes until Cassidy will be forced to sacrifice his son to stop the carnage?
• Denis also indulges in an appropriately outdated tattoo: a massive portrait of Shemp, the third of the Three Stooges.
• Lara comments on how cute Cassidy is, presumably in an effort to exacerbate the Jesse-Tulip-Cassidy love triangle and get Jesse and Tulip to split up even faster.
• There’s still no sign of God, though theories abound about why He vacated heaven in the first place. The Archbishop of Canterbury theorizes that God vacated heaven to flee from a group of traitorous seraphim. The Pope scoffs, arguing instead that God got sick of humans and left to create a new species: They’re ten feet tall, with “the prowess of a lion, the flight of an eagle, and the honey badger’s sense of smell.” Both of them seem to be full of it.
• Jesus tells his disciples, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” which will eventually turn up in the Bible as Matthew 5:10.
• Lara is a more traditional chef than Tulip, but when she whips up a stack of chocolate-chip pancakes, Tulip promptly makes them into bread for a whipped-cream sandwich.