All right, that’s better. “Monster Swamp” isn’t a masterpiece of cohesion; there are maybe half a dozen different storylines going on, some of them more obviously relevant than others. But each of those storylines basically make sense, and a few of them end up going in surprising, and satisfying, directions. The show still feels like it’s trying to build up too much at once, throwing in character work about unrequited love in with the same emphasis and attention as a plot about a dead woman, or the one about two incompetent angels. That sort of democratic approach is noble in its idealism, but results in an uneven hour.
Thankfully there are fewer downs than ups, and even the downs more ebbs in energy than outright doldrums. The cold open fits in with the show’s self-consciously desperate need to grab audience attention (at some point, I wonder if things are going to calm down a bit; but then maybe that self-consciousness is part of the charm), with a lady in a T-shirt and her underwear running from someone in a truck. It starts off like a familiar horror movie riff and gets weirder as it goes until we finally realize that it’s all part of some big game, guys with paint guns chasing after girls from the local brothel. Then the woman we’ve been following falls into a sinkhole and dies.
It’s a scene that plays like a mean-spirited joke, but to the episode’s credit, there’s a bit more going on. Lacey, the dead woman, never exactly gets a character (during a memorial service at the brothel, she’s described as someone who liked television and other things), but her death pisses Tulip off; whatever Tulip’s problems with anger management, there’s something trustworthy about her, and when she’s bothered by something, it’s a good sign that we should be bothered too. Lacey dies because of something to do with Quincannon Meat & Power, a fact that Odin covers with a (hilariously) quick speech—Annville is a town that doesn’t spare much effort to protect its own, which makes Jesse’s determination to save everyone at once more important, and more doomed.
But what makes Tulip’s story really work is that her wrath is arguably just a means to an end: namely, when she finally snaps and tries to beat a guy up, she ends up accidentally throwing Cassidy out a window, and in the process of trying to save him, finds out he’s a vampire. Or at least she finds out he can survive a lot of punishment and drinks blood, so let’s assume she’ll do the math herself. (I don’t Cassidy would lie, anyway.) Given that we already have a strong relationship built up between Jesse and Cassidy, and between Jesse and Tulip, this means the core trio is getting closer to being on the same level, which is good. Tulip still doesn’t know about Jesse’s powers, but that’s something to look forward to.
“Monster Swamp” shows Jesse still working on the best way to use his newfound ability. He’s decided to go proactive; apparently his (modest) success with coma girl has inspired him to broaden his scope. He convinces Emily to help him set up a raffle (and the way he takes advantage her of feelings for him here, whether conscious of it or not, is a huge dick move) to pull in the locals, and then makes a deal with Odin Quincannon himself to ensure his attendance: if Odin shows up, Jesse promises to hand over his father’s land. So Odin shows up, and Jesse singles him out in the crowd, asking him to serve God. When Odin understandably says no, Jesse uses the Voice on him.
This does not seem like a good idea. Given how things have gone in the past, and given that Odin is an odd, creepily determined man already, there are all sorts of ways this could backfire, and it’s hard to tell exactly what Jesse’s trying to accomplish. His notion of “good” appears to be nothing more than “go with God,” and that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Presumably this is intentional, and the season is building towards him having to face some kind of reckoning for the shallowness of his presumptions. Jesse wants to do good, but mindfucking a man into obeying the Lord shows arrogance without responsibility, and it’s not going to end well. Tulip’s rage is arguably just as dangerous, but at least she owns up to it. Jesse, thanks to some heavy-handed parenting from Dad (Happy Father’s Day!), is still operating under the delusion that he’s walking the path of the righteous.
He’s going to need to wise up soon, though. We learn a bit more about the men who want to take the Voice out of him: they’re angels, but they aren’t very good at their job, and they’re on Earth without official supervision from Heaven. (There’s also an implication here, but I’m not sure if it’s one that I would’ve made if I hadn’t read the comics, so I’ll save it for Stray observations.) Their incompetence, and Cassidy’s ability to take advantage of that incompetence, has kept Jesse safe until now, but the phone call at the end of the episode suggests that other forces are going to come into play soon, and things are going to get a lot more dangerous.
It’s hard to judge without seeing the rest of the season, and things could easily fall apart next week, but “Monster Swamp” manages to create a sense of rising action again, which is something this show needs to hold together. Not everything clicks (the scene of Emily and the mayor hanging out was sort of charming, but not much more), but that sense that we’re actually going somewhere, and not just throwing ideas out until the idea box is empty, is stronger than it was last week. The show has a great cast and style to spare (the opening titles really are terrific). If it can stick to a story, it’ll do just fine.
- We don’t get a clear idea of where Jesse’s head is at, but in a good way: there are a handful of flashbacks to his childhood (him setting up church before his dad preached, his dad using a belt on him for smoking [while Tulip watches], his dad getting up in the middle of the night to preach to Odin) that offer suggestions, but he doesn’t give a speech about what he’s trying to do. Which makes his decision to use the Voice on Odin that much more powerful. It’s not a shock when it happens, but it helps to clarify that Jesse is operating under the assumption that he has the power for a reason, and he’s decided that reason is to bring God to Annville, whether they want it or not.
- “The world is turning to shit. And you know what? It’s all your fault. You’ve turned your back on the Lord.” Jesse’s going Old Testament, it seems.
- Possibly spoiler-ish theory that’s maybe just really obvious to everybody: the two angels let the Voice escape from Heaven, and are trying to recapture it before anyone finds out. I mean, I know this because I know what the Voice is, but I wonder if people who are unfamiliar with the source material would make the same assumption.