It took me a while to realize the cold open was about a man buying a percentage of another man’s soul. It was such a striking, odd way to begin an episode: a couple bargaining with someone, worriedly asking for terms and after-effects before signing on because they desperately need the money. We don’t see any characters we recognize, and while it’s possible the soul-measuring machine showed up in the first season (it’s been a while), there’s no immediate thread of story connecting this to the adventures of Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy. And yet it’s such an evocative, familiar image that it never becomes indulgent. The poor being forced to give up something precious to help the rich isn’t a new idea, even if the actual material exchange is bizarre. The straight-faced patience helps, too. There’s an inherent suspense in seeing something seemingly random in a well-made show. You know it will pay off eventually. You just don’t know when.

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“Sokosha” has one hell of a payoff, actually, finally giving us a confrontation between Jesse and the Saint that doesn’t end in a draw. The showdown happens earlier than I would’ve expected, given that we’re just past the halfway mark of the season—there are various threats floating about right now, but after tonight’s episode, there’s nothing that’s pressing down on the heroes directly, which leaves the story in a risky, exciting place as it moves through the season’s back half.

That would be more concerning if this episode wasn’t so strong. I have a few reservations about it, but I suspect at least some of those reservations come from what I remember of the comics. Because unless I’m grossly mistaken, none of this came up in the source material. There was a Saint, there was a confrontation (of sorts), but Jesse didn’t have to find a soul to help the Saint get into heaven, and his family wasn’t into soul selling, so far as I can remember. I’m torn between finding this all terribly clever and unexpected, and being a little confused at how suddenly it all happened. And yet that latter reaction is almost certainly my brain just coping with having its expectations subverted.

So for now at least, I’m going to put those reservations aside and just appreciate how everything plays out. Viktor’s daughter leads the Saint to Dennis’s house, just in time to interrupt a friendly breakfast (Tulip made really sugary pancakes). Our heroes, realizing they’re up shit creek, go do a little research at the local library, where they find out the Saint’s backstory, and Jesse comes up with a plan. He makes a deal with the Saint: one hour, and he’ll find the Saint a soul so the Saint can get into heaven and be reunited with his family. The Saint keeps Tulip, Cassidy, and Dennis as hostages, which gives us a chance to find out that Dennis is actually Cassidy’s son.

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Here’s where the men and the van from the cold open come in; it seems things have changed in the local soul business since Jesse’s time, and a Japanese company has figured out a way to sell souls in fractions, turning the procedure into something less occult and more techno-capitalist. Jesse tries to steal a soul from Soul Happy Go Go, but finds out that you can’t just mix and match—the souls need to match, like blood types, or the body will reject the donation. Turns out Jesse and the Saint match, so Jesse gives up one percent of his soul to save his friends; it’s a hard price to pay, but on the plus side, an ensouled Saint is now vulnerable to the Word.

All of this is very cool. I do worry that a lot happens very quickly, but it’s all done with the sort of style we’ve come to expect that it goes down easy enough. The heroes doing research at a local library is ridiculous, but such a time-honored tradition of genre storytelling that it’s not that hard to buy into—and the fact that it’s so clearly tongue in cheek, with Cassidy reading sections from a comic book spun off from the source material the show is based on, makes us in on the joke. It’s a tonal balance between self-parody and sincerity that the show manages quite well; we realize it’s absurd that Tulip could listen to an audiobook on the Saint that talks about how he was refused entrance into Heaven, while at the same time accepting the information as true and necessary for whatever happens next.

This could tip over into catastrophe fairly easily. If the show veers too hard into who-gives-a-fuck humor, the jokes will get old and the story will die; but if it gets too grim, it’ll lose what makes it unique and vital. So maybe the speed is an asset, really. Most everything in “Sokosha” plays out in a way that’s easy to follow, but it never lingers on much of anything. Last week’s episode slowed down for a sad flashback, but this week picks up with life or death once again on the line, and gives Jesse a chance to show he’s actually determined and smart enough to maybe pull off this whole “search for God” thing.

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There’s something a little off-putting about his victory as well. The Saint deserves to go down, but Jesse’s self-righteousness makes for an odd fit. Nothing he says is exactly wrong, but there’s a satisfaction to his behavior, a holier-than-thou attitude that is almost certainly going to bite him in the ass down the line. Like Cassidy, and like Tulip, he’s a complicated character. But unlike either of them, Jesse needs to believe that he’s a good man. It’s that need that sent him back to church, and that has him seeking God—it’s questionable whether or not this is a job that needs doing, but like all self-motivated protagonists, Jesse is willing to put himself and everyone around him at risk to do what he thinks needs doing. What remains to be seen is how much this will cost him and the others in the end.

Stray observations

  • Enough happened this week that Cassidy’s revelation about Dennis almost gets dropped. It has potential to be fascinating, but right now, it mostly just serves to remind us how old Cassidy is, and make you wonder how badly he’s fucked up his life that he has a son who speaks a language he doesn’t understand and despises him. It’s also possible that Cassidy is lying to try and get some sympathy from Tulip, though it’ll be more interesting if he’s telling the truth. Regardless, I hope we get a flashback episode for him eventually, because there’s a story there.
  • Viktor’s daughter leads the Saint to room 19. Dennis’ place is actually room 14—it’s an easy make to mistake, though I guess you could argue the kid did it on purpose.
  • Tulip tries to negotiate with the Saint. It doesn’t go well.
  • Jesse burying the Saint’s guns under the floor in Dennis’ bathroom seems like a bad idea. I doubt the Saint is gone for good, and he’s going to want those back.
  • I appreciate the clarification on why the Word didn’t work on the Saint, and why it now does. There’s a cleverness at work that makes me less worried about the other adaptive changes—namely, the idea that Jesse’s family, the L’Angelles, are (or were) in the soul-selling business. I have very clear memories of that storyline from the comics; it was a good one, and I’m really hoping that if the show does decide to adapt it, they don’t fuck it up.

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