Joseph Gilgun, coffin
Photo: Alfonso Bresciani (AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

Well, that was unexpected. It was clear the conflict with the Allfather and his plans for Genesis was going to have to come to a climax soon, but I didn’t think it would happen before the opening credits. And yet, in “Schwanzkopf,” Jesse manages to take care of the fat man and his plans handily. It’s a welcome burst of energy in an episode that has a fair bit of momentum behind it, and which builds to maybe the best cliffhanger of the season so far. Enjoying that cliffhanger means ignoring a lot of other problems, big and small, that are currently dogging the show, but beggars can’t be choosers, really, and there’s enough that works in the hour that it at least avoids becoming actively unpleasant.

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Weakest part first: the whole “Tulip tricks the Angel of Death but is undone by Eugene” thing is—well, it’s not terrible, exactly. The episode works extra hard this week to punch everything up with visual pizazz, and that means a lot of cute animated diagrams to explain Tulip’s big plans to escape the Hell Bus. (It also means a montage to set to Starr’s narration that shows how the Grail intends to bring about the Apocalypse, which is fine, but mostly seems to be giving us information we already had?) But the cuteness doesn’t entirely distract from all the weird convolutions of story required to get Tulip on the bus with Hitler, Eugene, the Saint, and Sydney. At this point, a key part of enjoying Preacher is not to ask too many questions. Unfortunately, that’s sort of my job, so I’m stuck with it.

Which means asking, again, why the hell Sydney didn’t even have a picture of Tulip when it came time to track her down. That may seem like a small point; obviously she didn’t have the picture so Tulip could trick her and betray Featherstone. Only given how quickly that betrayal gets reversed this week, with Tulip coming back to get the souls, having a minor change of heart (hopefully because the writers realized that “sending someone to Hell in your name” isn’t a great look for a character we’re supposed to like, even if she is an anti-hero), and getting called out by Eugene—well, if the mix-up accomplished nothing else but eating up a bit of screen time, was it really worth the effort?

There’s also the fact that bringing Eugene and Tulip together is a reminder, intentionally or not, that Jesse is responsible for Eugene being in Hell in the first place; and that Jesse has done fuck all to try and save the innocent (living) soul he damned to perdition way back in season one. That’s not a good look. The scenes on the bus are fun enough, if a bit strained, but the constant nagging sensation that none of this fits together the way it’s really supposed to makes it difficult to really enjoy. The end has the bus taken out by a group of Nazis and a tank, which is at least a pretty good “wait, what?” moment, even if I’m not sure “more Nazis” is something I really need on any show at this point.

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The hour’s other two storylines, which follow Jesse trying to get his soul back, and Cass trying to defeat Eccarius, are more effective, in part because they don’t require much in the way of mental gymnastics to appreciate. Cass’s decision to turn against his new friend is a strong moral choice, albeit one that maybe he should’ve made a little more effort to prepare for ahead of time. (That’s not a criticism of the episode, by the way; it’s entirely in character for Cass to leap before he looks.) Eccarius takes him out handily, and when Cass tries to convince the rest of the Children that their leader is an evil, murderous monster, it doesn’t go well for him. Eccarius decides that he isn’t worth convincing, and has him crucified to a pool table to await the sun.

It all checks out (of course the Children wouldn’t believe a relative stranger, especially one like Cass, who tells them what they don’t want to hear), and what I like especially about all of this is the way Eccarius so neatly fits into the Anne Rice vampire model: the gothic, pansexual, self-absorbed bastard. It works both as a parody of the idea and a sincere expression of it; while he initially appeared absurd, his commitment to the role made him likable, and the way that commitment inevitably leads to the real truth of his personality is pretty great. That it also does a good job of letting us know a bit more about Cass—namely that there are lines of selfishness that not even he is willing to cross—is just icing on the cake. Storylines like this are reminders of how effective the show can be when it stops trying to force the absurdity and just tells something relatively straightforward.

Jesse’s fight against the Grail doesn’t really have this depth. After all, I’m not sure Jesse has learned anything after briefly losing his soul, and getting it back doesn’t require some great epiphany or personal growth. But it’s still fun to watch, albeit gross as all hell. Jesse one-upping the Allfather is slightly contrived (the fact that he’s able to swap all the devices around as quickly as he does is a lot to accept, especially seeing as how he was handcuffed for so long), but it’s satisfying enough to have the conflict resolved that it’s worth accepting. Watching Jesse and Starr wrestle around in the Allfather’s organs was appropriately squicky, and the discovery moment of the soul was quite possibly the most unpleasant thing I’ve ever seen on television.

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There’s some good character stuff in this, too. The fact that Jesse finds a way to take the threat of Humperdoo off the table without murdering an innocent is a fine reminder of why he’s worthy of Genesis in the first place. Just as good, if not quite as obvious, is that Jesse’s “revenge” on Starr is purely cosmetic. After observing how the man’s head is starting to look like a penis, Jesse uses the Voice on him to forbid him from wearing hats. It’s a cute gag, which leads to a funny bit about wigs, and it’s also a relief that it’s fundamentally harmless. While Starr is an ass, a more egregious punishment at this point in the narrative would’ve been awkward and reflected badly on Jesse. As it is, it’s easy to root for the guy as he makes his (hopefully final) return to Angelville, determined to take care of his grandmother once and for all.

Stray observations

  • “Than he shall know my buttocks as few men ever have.” Goodbye, Allfather. You will be missed. (?)
  • “You’re this close to happiness.” “I’d rather be sad.” That is a fine bit of dialogue right there.
  • Marie is ready for Jesse, by the way. And she finally got her souls back. Here’s hoping it’s a grand fight.

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