To me, Preacher’s constant drawing of parallels between the past and the present is like catnip — that is to say, I’ve loved the two episodes we’ve gotten so far, at least where that mirroring is concerned. Every glimpse into the past has had some corollary in the events unfolding now, and the flashback that opens “Sonsabitches” is no exception to the rule.
As a teenager, Jesse fulfilled essentially the same role that his mother used to, i.e., rounding up folks to do business with Gran’ma. This includes a local teacher who’s been carrying on an affair with one of his students and wants help when the girl starts, in his words, getting “obsessed.” Though the magic works — the girl won’t even look at him anymore — it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire when he fails to pay up. Jesse, TC, and Jody catch him and bring him back to Gran’ma, who proceeds to use an extremely unpleasant-looking machine to suck out and consume his soul. To quote Jody, “How do you think she stays so young?”
The machine, as it turns out, is still in Angelville, though it hasn’t seen that much use since Jesse skipped town. And the reason that Gran’ma wants Jesse to stay has less to do with the powers he’s been toting for the past two seasons than it is a desire to restore Angelville, with Jesse back in his ancestral home — and role. Without the piece of his soul that Starr has in his possession, it’s a wish that Jesse doesn’t have much power to fight back against, as evidenced by the episode’s end, in which he descends into the Tombs to start cleaning it up. While he’s down there, a battered figure emerges from the shadows; it’s the teacher, looking no older than he was when we last saw him, if significantly dirtier and worse for wear. When he begs for Jesse’s help, Jesse’s apology — “I can’t, I’m sorry” — is a direct echo of his mother when we saw her in the same situation.
This isn’t to say that Jesse hasn’t tried to escape. Almost all of “Sonsabitches” is devoted to Jesse’s attempt to get his soul back and thereby breaking any command that Gran’ma and the Grail have over him. As far as “convoluted plots hatched to be executed within a single episode” go, it’s a pretty good one. Jesse calls Starr in from shooting up a Krishna temple (to the tune of the Youngbloods’ “Get Together”) to talk about being the Messiah again. In order to get Starr into Angelville without Gran’ma (or Jody or TC) noticing, Cassidy and Tulip stage a battle with the local gang.
Unfortunately, the tensions between our heroes mean that things don’t quite go as they’re supposed to. Cassidy and Jesse are ever more at odds, with Jesse trying to wheedle Cassidy into leaving him and Tulip at Angelville, and Cassidy trying to wheedle Tulip into running away with him. Though neither man mans up to explain what’s going on to Tulip, she knows something’s wrong, and that bad juju is enough for her to think that Jesse’s abandoning her when she sees him leaving the house with Starr, and an empty vial on the table behind him.
You can’t really blame her, given all the shit that she’s been through, especially when Jesse lets her murderer go earlier in the episode in order to get word back to Starr. But when she opens fire on the Grail just as Starr is about to give Jesse his soul back (the vial on the table was for a placebo), she scraps any present chance Jesse has of restoring his powers. It’s crushing for Jesse, but perhaps more so for Tulip, if her reaction is any indication. Once again, there’s an echo — Tulip’s regret is intercut with that of her father, as they both murmur, “Why can’t I do one right thing?”
Though she’s not the kind of woman who needs anyone’s sympathy, if there’s one character I feel bad for, it’s Tulip. She’s just as trapped in the loop of her familial past as Jesse is, and she has to deal with having died and come back to life to boot. (Throughout the episode, multiple characters ask her what it was like. To quote Jody, who is growing on me by the episode, “You died and then you came back, what else is there to ask about?” They do a little bonding over firearms, too, as Jody shows off his collection as proudly as a fisherman showing off his catch of the day.) It takes the whole episode for her to piece together what happened to her right before she was resurrected, but in a split-second sequence that I can only describe as glorious, Tulip remembers her missive from God: “I’m counting on you to get those sons of bitches!”
• Starr is pedantic in a way that I find delightful. (It doesn’t hurt that Pip Torrens has some of the best deadpan delivery I’ve ever seen.) The moment he sees Jesse again, despite the violence that we’ve seen him capable of, what he suggests is talking out their feelings. Naturally, it’s off the table once it turns out that Jesse has no intentions of coming along quietly — he effectively puts Jesse in Angelville time-out by leaving with his soul until he learns his lesson.
• TC and Cassidy get in a little bonding time, as TC manages to win the vampire over with the promise of drugs. (He tries enticing him with backgammon and gummy bears, too — “I only eat the red ones” — but no dice.) Their talk quickly veers into extremely strange territory, as TC details a dream about Lucy Liu that Cassidy is quick to deduce is a rape fantasy. “TC, please tell me you’re the worst person here.” “Definitely not.”
• Speaking of left field pop-cultural references, besides the reference to Liu, Cassidy also gets into an argument with Tulip about which of the Coen brothers’ movies are good. He likes Miller’s Crossing but hates The Big Lebowski, which Tulip (rightly) says is an insane opinion.
There’s a further (semi-)reference to the Coens when Jody fires up a Fargo-eqsue meat grinder with the intention of turning Lara and Hoover into pulp. It’ll grind up pretty much anything, he tells them, including a rather unfortunate turtle that he throws in to prove a point. (And for those of you wondering what was in TC’s swamp consommé, well — it’s just blood.)