We ended last night with Jesse in the path of the Saint; and tonight, we pick up pretty much exactly where we left off. It’s night, we’re outside a motel, and Jesse’s squinting into the darkness as Death strides towards him. Jesse tries using the Word, and it has no effect. The Saint, doing what he was pulled out of Hell to do, takes aim and fires.
The bullet hits the driver of a van; the now driverless van swerves and crushes the Saint into a streetlight, and Jesse is (temporarily at least) saved.
As cliffhanger resolutions go, it’s fine. There’s a chance that the sudden, hilariously convenient (at least for Jesse) arrival of Alsono’s Axle Grease van might have deeper ramifications—I’ll get into it in the Stray Observations to avoid spoiling anything—but as is, it’s funny but not much more than that. The show’s writers are good at absurdity, they’re developing strong character beats, and when everything comes together, as it does several times in “Mumbai Sky Tower,” it’s something special. But I’m not convinced that the writers know how to manage suspense tropes all that well. They have the basics (hero in danger = <bits nails>), but finding clever, satisfying ways out of conflict is a lot harder than creating that conflict.
Thankfully most of the episode focuses on the show’s strengths, tying up an old loose end, providing Jesse with a new direction for his quest, and reminding us that Tulip has her own history, and her own problems. The Saint’s arrival at the motel, which just happens to coincide with a Gun Aficionados conference, leads to an explosion of violence at once hilarious and, if not exactly terrifying, then at least a bit on the creepy side. The Saint butchers, mutilates, maims, and destroys without pause, and Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy have no way to stop him. Jesse’s one attempt (using the Word to order a bunch of gun nuts to open fire) is what kicks the chaos into gear, making him more than a little responsible for the carnage. But he does try to get everyone to run once it becomes clear the Saint is unstoppable, which is nice.
While the world is exploding around them, Tulip finally turns on a TV at the right time and learns about Annville. It’s an impressive piece of tone balancing, because while the context is funny enough—Tulip and then Jesse sitting down on the motel bed, frozen at the news, while gunshots and explosions fly around them—the actual reaction is played straight. One of the more frustrating aspects of the show’s first season finale is the way it seemed to reduce most of the characters and conflicts we’d spent weeks getting to know to a bad joke. Ha ha, you gave a shit about Annville, everyone just died in fart explosion.
Having Jesse and Tulip act like an actual tragedy happened helps to mitigate the sneer. It doesn’t mean we need to go back and mourn all those dead people—by and large this is a show with a lot of corpses, most of which we aren’t going to care about that much, which is totally fine. But it helps make the time spent seem less like a waste, and gives our heroes a little more depth without slowing the action or blocking their progress. Tulip realizes that losing Walter means she doesn’t have any family left, which inspires Jesse to propose. Jesse also gets reminder that Eugene is still stuck in Hell. It’s enough acknowledgement to make it feel like the past isn’t being erased, and that’s all we need to go forward.
I mentioned loose ends: the only other survivor (that we know about) left over after the first season who we haven’t checked in with is Fiore, one half of the angel duo who tried (and failed) to get Genesis out of Jesse. Fiore’s partner, deBlanc, is dead, shot and killed by the Saint when the two went to Hell to hire the Saint to get rid of Jesse. The death left Fiore at a bit of a loss, and, in a flashback that’s one of the episode’s best sequences, we see him trying to drown his sorrows at the titular casino and resort, gambling and drinking and whoring and killing himself over and over and over again. It’s a nifty montage that makes use of one of the first season’s best gags (the angels’ automatic reincarnations), and it does a swell job endearing Fiore to the audience again.
That’s important because apart from Jesse and Tulip’s near-wedding, Fiore does most of the emotional heavy lifting in “Mumbai Sky Tower.” Not every episode needs a tragedy, but this sort of dark comedy works best when it’s reinforced by empathy, and the perpetually suiciding angel is at once funny and oddly sweet. When Cassidy promises Jesse he can make Fiore change his mind, there’s a brief threat of violence which then gives way to another nifty montage: this time of Cassidy and Fiore galavanting through Fiore’s palatial hotel suite, drugged out of the minds. It’s, again, funny and sweet at the same time, in a way that wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining if Fiore wasn’t such a lovable dope. This in turn helps to make Cassidy more endearing, which is going to be useful going forward—he’s bound to stir up more shit down the road, and the more we like him in spite of himself, the more powerful it’ll be if (and when) he crosses the line.
While Cassidy and Fiore are debating Archie comics, Jesse and Tulip are getting intimate. Having Tulip run into an old frenemy while waiting in line at the wedding chapel is not the most organic way to move the story forward, but Gary has a good enough reason to be there (he checks casinos for Victor, the boss man). The fact that Jesse decides their next destination, New Orleans, will pretty much take Tulip right into the eye of the storm is also a nice touch, and the fight between her and Gary in the hotel room is well done. I’m not a huge fan of characters keeping secrets from each other, but it happens sometimes, and I doubt this is going to stay secret long.
Really, my biggest concern with the episode is what happens with the Saint. The reveal that he’s tracking Jesse’s use of the Word is brilliant, and it works much better as a deterrent than Tulip’s moral qualms. But when Fiore has a chance to call the Saint off, he doesn’t; and while his reasons make sense, the fact that the Saint now knows that Jesse is headed to New Orleans means the writers are going to have to find another way to deal with him, or else have him lose all potency as a threat. Unstoppable killing machines make great fictional enemies, but they also come with an inherent risk. If the Saint keeps plodding behind our heroes for too long, he’s going to turn into a joke, but he needs to be defeated or stalled in a way that isn’t overly convenient or a cheat. So far at least, I don’t have a huge amount of confidence that the writers can pull that off.
We’ll see, though. “Mumbai Sky Tower” is another sign that the show’s second season is on the right track, and the way it slightly expands it’s world without losing the focus that made the first episode back so promising has me optimistic. I’m sad to see Fiore leave so quickly, but his exit is perfectly fitting, if a little predictable. Jesse, still thinking he can use the Word for good, tells the angel to “Find peace.” Which Fiore does at the other end of the Saint’s gun. When Fiore decides to tell the Saint where to go next because he doesn’t trust the preacher, it’s something of a betrayal. But you have to admit he has a point.
- Speculation time: If God, or whatever, was part of what killed Tammy last week, maybe that same force is protecting Jesse for some reason. Which, now that I type it out, seems pretty ridiculous, but that van is just such a gory deus ex machina that I can’t help but wonder.
- The comics had a couple novel solutions for dealing with the Saint; there’s a mid-run storyline called “War In The Sun” which is still the high-point of the series for me, and I’m hoping the show will find some way to take on the material, although we’re still missing a key element.
- In the comics, the Word actually worked on the Saint. The first time they met, Jesse caught him off guard, but he stayed a danger down the road because once he knew what was coming, he could just draw faster than Jesse could talk.
- “I really don’t give a shit.” -Fiore