In “He So Loved,” Pernell’s one vision comes late, and doesn’t influence the plot of the episode, which allows Hand Of God some time to backfill nearly everyone’s stories. After the pell-mell plotting left Pernell (and the show) running ragged on a series of vision-directed tasks last episode, it’s really the first chance the show has given itself to take a breath, and, as a result, the episode boasts enough interesting character beats to hint at what a better Hand Of God might look like. Not everyone’s story was as interesting, but at least the show’s world filled out a bit.
For Emayatzy Corinealdi’s Tessie, that means seeing who she is other than Pernell’s prostitute mistress. Tessie gets a sympathetic friend (also a prostitute, but everyone makes workplace friends) to talk out her changing relationship with Pernell, and we also see her broken relationship with her judgmental mother (Vanessa Bell Calloway). Corinealdi’s a remarkably precise actress who’s made more out of her role as Pernell’s side-piece than one might expect, but here, given more to work with—she also confronts Andre Royo’s Bobo over the land deal forcing the city’s mostly black poor citizens (including her mom) out of their homes—she finally gets to do more than work to make Tessie’s “hooker with a heart of gold” conversations with the judge into something beyond cliché. Sure, she ends up giving Ron Perlman’s conflicted Pernell a handjob, but the episode up until then at least puts her relationship with Pernell—a client who she cares for but whose money she definitely needs—into more context.
Crystal, too, finally has it out, twice, with her husband, whose religious conversion is only the latest disappointment she’s had to endure in her marriage. And while it’s wearying that both halves of the Harris union have their own worldly-wise woman of color to advise them when not providing illegal comforts, Crystal’s scene tonight Erykah Badu’s pot dealer pal April continues the same natural interplay the two actresses brought to their first scene this season. (Their stoned banter about not alerting a jogger to her dropped keys is spot-on adorable.)
Apart from providing exposition about their life together (Pernell was a disappointment to his late father, just as he, in turn, wasn’t supportive of P.J., Crystal’s P.R. firm exists largely through Pernell’s cronyism), these scenes do some necessary work toward explaining exactly what these two characters mean to each other. In the first scene, Pernell’s not-inaccurate assessment of how everyone (including Crystal) is trying to use him to seal the land deal (“You’re trying to sedate me so you can trot me out to Brooks like a fucking show pony”) is trumped by Crystal calling Pernell on how his recent conversion is just another way for him to trample everyone around him (“Is this part of being born again? Pissing on everyone else around you? You’d better be fucking crazy because otherwise you’re just an asshole”). In their final scene, with Crystal attempting to make amends by making spaghetti and actually asking him about what his change means to him, Pernell starts to build up another steamroller speech before she cuts him off in exasperation. When they come together in an embrace and a little compromise, it’s the first opportunity Perlman and Dana Delany have had to play the relationship free from the plot machinations, and it’s affecting in how low-key it is. Pernell even makes her laugh, his fake-out about asking her to say grace giving Perlman his first relatable touch of humor so far.
Even the Jocelyn-Josh storyline evolves a bit beyond wondering when he’s going to put the moves on his best friend’s grieving wife, with them sharing a genuinely sweet time watching Josh’s home movies of P.J. rehearsing his marriage proposal. Some exposition gets squeezed in there, as we see P.J. squirreling away his computer program in a book of Yeats’ poetry after he and Josh have a fight about their company—introducing the possibility that Josh is in on the conspiracy somehow. But the scene is lovely in its unforced authenticity anyway. Alona Tal, as usual, is wonderful at maintaining Jocelyn’s integrity amidst the sentiment, her tearful enthusiasm as she asks Josh for more footage of her husband never crossing over into mawkishness. Even delivering the line, “Do you have any idea how much I just miss hearing his voice?” Tal avoids going soft while conveying so much about Joceyln’s relationship with P.J.’s memory.
It’s Garret Dillahunt’s K.D. who, unsurprisingly, benefits most from the episode’s downshift into character drama. (Honestly, it’s like Hand Of God realized in episode four that it needed to press pause and let the characters catch up.) Gifted a house by Pernell (Tessie’s his landlord, happy to get some revenue from a failed real estate investment), he takes up the judge’s offer to buy him some necessities with a desire for a front lawn. Through the episode, watching K.D. carefully prepare the ground for this one simple thing is the sort of wordlessly ambiguous storytelling the show has rarely had time for—there are metaphors to be had here if one digs hard enough, but Dillahunt’s silent diligence in his task says plenty about his deeply conflicted character. (The scene of him laying his head on the newly seeded soil says as much as any two pages of dialogue.)
It beautifully (sorry about this) lays the groundwork for the episode’s big reveal, when Pernell uses the fact of K.D.’s relocation (without telling his parole officer) to send him back to jail in order to get access to Jacob Vargas’ Julio, jailed for Shane Caldwell’s murder. (It also gets Pernell off the hook with the lawyer reporting him for misconduct). Dillahunt imbues K.D.’s zealotry with a terrifying implacability that coexists with a heartbreaking desire for approval and acceptance. His speech in court is stunning, layered with his pain and confusion at Pernell’s betrayal, his still-fervent belief that the judge speaks for the Lord, and his desire to hold on to this one, tiny good thing he’s brought into his life.
But, wait, hold on. I guess I thought I would never go back there, but if you say I made a mistake and have to go back there, I’m willing. But could we wait, just a couple weeks. I got grass growing in. I killed all the weeds. I prepared the ground. The seeds are laid down but they need water. If you send me back now all that grass is gonna die. Yeah…I get it. To most people this doesn’t make sense, but it makes sense to me. This grass matters to me. So if I could have just a little more time your honor. Just a little more time to water it. Please.
Dillahunt’s clenched cadence as K.D. emerges through the ex-con’s tangle of madness so that it’s always punctuated with strangled pauses and strange emphases, and practically every word of this speech crackles with meaning. Hand Of God’s been disappointing, but this is one of the best scenes I’ve seen on television all year.
As for Pernell himself? “He So Loved” gives him, too, some room to exist outside of the necessities of the plot, and it does him a world of good. Sure, he and K.D. continue to prove themselves especially lunkheaded vessels of divine wrath—tonight, Pernell is immediately caught impersonating Julio’s lawyer by Maximiliano Hernández’s police chief, and takes a swift and decisive sock to the gut for his trouble—but, freed for most of an episode from manically following voices, there are glimpses of how Pernell Harris became the feared and charismatic man he’s been presented as. When his late-episode visit to P.J.’s bedside elicits, like clockwork, the newest divine directive (“Sacrifice your son”), Pernell refuses. For one episode, anyway.
- Perlman makes a delicious meal out of Pernell’s contemptuous reading of his prescribed antidepressants’ side effects, especially his incredulous “Abnormal gait?”
- Bobo sums up his exasperation with Pernell succinctly: “We can’t have any more coffee visions and fish dreams!”
- Bobo, after hearing the long list of activists there to protest the land deal: “That’s it? Nobody from Greenpeace?”
- Bobo again, on the miracle of modern medicine: “I take a blue pill I’m hard in a second. Then I take a yellow one just to make sure I don’t have a stroke while fucking. It’s a wondrous thing.”
- “C’mon now, Tessie. We’re in the same line of work. We both get screwed by San Vicente’s rich and powerful. To see if we can have something to show for it.” “No, there’s a difference between us. I get paid up front. You suck a dick and hope for the best.”
- Hernández’s chief lays out a future plotline, excitedly brandishing the vomit Pernell left of Caldwell’s corpse: DNA tests on blood come back quick, but barf takes two weeks.
- The chief (and the rest of the San Vicente P.D.) aren’t especially admirable in their methods, but it’s always nice to see him stand up to Pernell, as with tonight’s sendoff: “You’re just a crazy fuckin’ judge. And, what I hear, after your hearing tomorrow, you’ll just be fuckin’ crazy.”
- While big name director Marc Forster isn’t around any longer, TV vet Sarah Pia Anderson does an outstanding job in “He So Loved,” lending the episode a striking, somber visual palette. In addition to the already-mentioned scene with K.D. and his lawn, I especially loved her choice to raise up at the start of the Tessie-Pernell sex scene, the combined hints of being observed from above and being caught on security footage presaging Pernell’s eventual decision to break the relationship off.