Monday, July 31, 2017

REVIEW: 'Preacher' - Herr Starr's Backstory is Explored as Jesse Reflects on Losing His Soul in 'Pig'

AMC's Preacher - Episode 2.07 "Pig"

Tulip confronts her near-death experience. Denis asks Cassidy for a favor. Jesse questions the price of saving Cassidy and Tulip.

Preacher has fallen into a predictable pattern. Each season starts strong and in a very exciting place. But then, it starts losing momentum halfway through. The second season has been a step up from the first. It's been more consistent in tone. It's the show it wanted to be but didn't have the courage to do so in its first season. But it's suffered from some weird pacing problems as well. Jesse, Cassidy and Tulip are the leads of the show. Their stories are always at the forefront of the narrative. That means their stories have consistency to them in a way where it's easy to emotionally connect and understand each of their actions. But the supporting characters and stories have been incredibly scattered and erratic. There have been lots of starts and stops. The show is possibly trying to do too much this season. It has a clear main narrative of the trio looking for God in New Orleans. That's a simple premise. But it's made complicated by all of these various threats that are hunting them down and getting in the way of their search. It's made it so they haven't had any significant progress on their main objective in a long time. Meanwhile, the characters causing problems are only loosely defined because they don't appear in every episode to make their actions have weight. It's a weird problem the show is having at the moment. In one episode, Eugene and Hitler are important to the narrative. In another, The Saint is important. In another, Tulip has to deal with her former husband, Viktor. And now, The Grail is seemingly getting more important. But it's also difficult to trust what the show is doing because there is no certainty that it will have anything to do with what the next episode will be about.

The Grail was introduced in the third episode of the season. Pip Torrens and Julie Ann Emery are new series regulars this season. And yet, their characters - Herr Starr and Lara Featherstone - haven't been important at all. They've just been people to be aware of for now. They work for a shadowy organization that has a religious foundation. But that's about all that the audience was aware of going into "Pig." The Grail also has surveillance on the apartment where Jesse and his friends are staying. And yet, they haven't had any reactions to the crazy things happening there. They didn't feel the need to jump in and try to save lives when The Saint was attacking Denis' neighbors. They weren't even seen during that whole confrontation. So what is even the point of this surveillance? Is it just gathering information about these people because they deem them to be a threat? If so, that hasn't been adequately explained yet. But again, there just hasn't been a reason to care about all of this because it still feels like the show is only teasing a story that may one day get a full explanation. Sure, this episode features Torrens more than any previous hour this season. He actually gets lines of dialogues this week! But it's largely just character backstory.

Of course, all of this is important information to have once The Grail does become relevant in the main story. Torrens has a commanding presence. It's a really interesting character. He speaks in this dry and blunt way. He doesn't see the point of flourishing any encounter. He'll do whatever it takes to win. He proves himself to be a capable assassin throughout the various tests. He's a recruit for this organization. They are testing individuals for how well they are trained. Are they good fighters? Can they seduce someone for information? Will they follow the rules or break them? Do they have a devout belief in Christianity? All of these things are required to be a part of this organization. It's not clear if Herr actually believes in any kind of religion. When asked if he's a believer, he simply wants to know what's the correct answer for the job. When he beats out all of the other recruits by using deception and brutality, he seems disappointed that Jesus Christ is the answer for everything this organization does. He has a much more practical approach. He has a very tactical mind that will serve him well in the field. He doesn't have any personal connections as well. He can kill his new boss with no remorse whatsoever because now he gets to lead the organization. It's just all presented in a matter-of-fact way. It's a style that works for the story. But Herr Starr still comes across as a bit of a mystery. Is there more to him than this personality of being blunt and dry? It's unclear but that's a personality that suits him very well in this business.

"Pig" also ends with it being clear that The Grail will be coming for Jesse in the immediate future. So all of my concerns about the starts and stops being so wildly inconsistent could vanish by the next episode. This one is all about the setup so that the audience has an understanding of Herr by the time he arrives in New Orleans to kill Jesse. It's this organization's belief that they need to eliminate any popular false prophet because it would get in the way of theirs being regarded as the true savior when the apocalypse finally arrives. Worrying about the apocalypse proves to be a major concern throughout this episode as well. It's certainly on Jesse's mind as he's facing the aftermath of selling his soul in order to eliminate the threat from The Saint. Jesse's personal story of morality has been a very intriguing thing this season. Last year he believed he was the good guy trying to get everyone to believe in God. He refused the urge to return to his life of crime. But now, he has hit the road embracing that life once more. It's still for a righteous purpose of finding God and asking him questions. But he hasn't made much progress in that endeavor. It's been much more important to see just how far he is willing to go to hurt the people who wish him and his friends harm. He didn't kill Viktor. He didn't give The Saint what he wanted. He instead made them both suffer. Viktor was on the rack and The Saint is at the bottom of the swamp. Both are cruel punishments that show he's not as moral as he used to be. Now, he seems to have regrets because he has the time to think about what he has done. Perhaps he'll take his frustrations out on the Japanese corporation taking portions of soul for sale. Or perhaps he'll only hurt the people he loves more.

Everyone is seemingly dealing with the recent encounter with The Saint in their own ways. Jesse doesn't seem too affected by it. He's right back on his mission to find God. Even though he's visited every jazz club in the city, he is still determined to figure out where God is in this city. Meanwhile, Tulip is very traumatized by it. She's internalizing it for the most part though. She's having nightmares about that night. She believes that The Saint could return to kill her at any moment. She shares some of these details with Jesse. But she doesn't open up in a way that is truly honest. Instead, she chooses to pull a Nora Durst and go to a seedy part of the city to get shot at in the chest while wearing a bulletproof vest. It's such a visceral story. She's starring down death from a bullet once more. But she's doing it with the confidence that she'll get back up again. It's still a horrifying coping mechanism though. Meanwhile, Denis took the experience as a way to tell Cassidy that he's dying and wants to be made immortal just like him. Of course, Cassidy is just in the right position to actually hear him now. They find a translator to help them communicate. But Cassidy has such a big reaction. He doesn't want to turn his son into the kind of creature he is. That's a curious detail that is worthy of exploring in the future. How does one become a vampire? 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pig" was written by Olivia Dufault and directed by Wayne Yip.
  • There's also randomly a floating pig in Vietnam. It's an outrageous and amazing sight to everyone who sees it. It goes viral right away. That's what leads to Herr arriving to kill it and all the people there. It's a false prophet that needed to be eliminated. Of course, there's no explanation for how the pig was able to float. The contaminated water story was just a lie given to the media to help explain it.
  • According to the man on the side of the road preaching about the apocalypse and asking for beer money, the signs that the apocalypse is nigh are as followed: Tom Cruise exploding for no reason, pigs being able to fly, the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series and Donald Trump being elected President of the United States. That's quite an entertaining list though it veers too much into reality to be anything but depressing in the end.
  • The way the show depicts the city employees who go around collecting up the drunk and dead people after a night of partying is just so casual and commonplace. To them, this is their every day job. And yet, they are potentially carrying dead people away. Cassidy even gets mistaken for one. It's not the first time it has happened either.
  • The first time Tulip goes to the underground gun location, she's accompanied by Jesse and Cassidy. They are conning the place. Getting them to use the biggest gun on Cassidy. They make them believe they killed him just so they could steal all of the money. And then, Tulip confesses to all of that when she returns. Yes, they are frustrated but also go along with what she ultimately wants.
  • In 2004, The Grail only had one opening for a new operative. As such, it was a competition seemingly to the death. Herr isn't afraid to be cruel or lethal in order to win in the end. He's just so smug and confident about it as well. It's underplayed which makes him even more terrifying as well. He has no reaction after pushing his new boss off the balcony.