Preacher introduced its cryptofascist archvillains The Grail early in this second season, only to essentially ignore them for several episodes. Our experience of the group was limited to a few goons in white suits, and the mysterious femme fatale Featherstone, all of whom have appeared a total of once thus far. Every episode since, more than a few fans have been wondering when the hell the Grail - the Preacher comics’ main antagonists - would return.
Now, is the answer. “Pig” is an episode devoted principally to one task: introducing the Grail, and specifically its head honcho Herr Starr (English actor Pip Torrens). Sure, it checks in with the three leads, but this is Herr Starr’s episode to shine - and shine he does, in one of the most delicious villain introductions I can remember.
Appearing at the site of a supposed miracle in Vietnam to a musical sting straight out of a Bond film, Starr immediately cuts a striking figure, in his crisp white suit, bald head, and scarred right eye. It’s unclear what he’s up to in Vietnam, and what it has to do with a mysteriously levitating pig, but it’s definitely something evil. Starr’s appearance almost immediately cues a flashback (by the way, can I just state for the record how much I love the attention-grabbing scene-setting text in this show?) to the German former antiterrorist expert’s induction into the Grail, and to one of the show’s best setpieces to date.
Introducing Starr via a Men In Black-style skills testing sequence is a terrific choice on the part of Preacher’s creators, made even better by how it - and Starr - subverts expectations. Torrens is a deadpan joy in this sequence, his physicality relaxed, confident, and upright, as he drily cheats and murders his way to the top of his class and eventually the top of the Grail itself. He has a ton of fun details to work with: his body jewelry, his status-play argument about validated parking, his onanistic method of distracting hand-to-hand opponents. This is a man who’s more comfortable getting his balls electrocuted than (he’d say) wasting his time seducing a woman, and it’s unsurprising that he doesn’t take well to wearing a tracksuit amongst his fellow Grail candidates. He’s great at what he does, up until the point where he just straight-up kills the people in his way - even the man who hires him. It’s a superlative introduction to a villain of whom I can’t wait to see more.
As for the Grail itself: it’s clearly a religious fascist organisation, with all its talk of “sweeping the streets clean of parasites,” and it’s probably a group that Hitler, who is a regular character on this show currently languishing in Hell, would be into. Their offices are all white columns and perpetual golden magic-hour light, evoking an evangelical atmosphere only heightened by the group’s true mission: to install a direct descendant of Jesus Christ as a kind of God-Emperor, and to kill any pretenders (“Charlemagne, Lincoln, Belushi”) along the way. This is some batshit crazy storytelling, and boy is the show killing it this season.
Back in the present day, the Vietnamese levitating pig becomes a global celebrity, but that only further motivates Starr to kill it and every human being associated with it. And his next target: one Jesse Custer. Dang.
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy make their way through the city’s comatose drunks (indistinguishable from corpses, as evidenced by the city’s hilariously ghoulish method of clearing them off the streets) to a bar called the Hurt Locker, having failed to find God in the last jazz club in town. The Hurt Locker is a place where you go to get shot in the chest (wearing Kevlar) and bet on your ability to take the shot - a true American pastime. True to the trio’s natures, they use Cassidy’s vampire invincibility to scam the staff and patrons out of their money, before going their separate ways for separate reasons.
Jesse’s separate way involves chatting up a manic street preacher about the end of the world - an activity more sensible in this show than in any other. Indeed, the uncollared of the two preachers seems fairly lucid, once he’s in a one-on-one conversation, admitting his doomsaying is mostly metaphor for a range of phenomena in the modern world (Trump gets a shout-out here, as does last season’s exploding Tom Cruise). He even acts as a confessor of sorts to Jesse, who’s grappling with the philosophical and possibly very real consequences of having sold a percent of his soul in last week’s episode. For a scene about the fractional sale of real, physical soul material, it feels surprisingly emotionally true.
Cassidy draws the short straw this episode, both in terms of screen time and onscreen luck. Mistaken for a dead body on the street, the drunken Cassidy is taken to the morgue, where he manages to get the attention of an orderly (“you’d be surprised how much this happens”) and escape. But not before he catches a glimpse of a dying old man surrounded by his family, reminding him of his elderly son Denis’ imminent mortality. Denis is dying, and he wants to be turned into a vampire in order to prevent that. It’s a tough moral quandary for a simple Irish vampire. I don’t envy Cassidy a bit.
Tulip’s scenes in “Pig” are some of the show’s most artfully directed, starting with a dream sequence involving a levitating Tulip, a shower of Cassidy’s fingers, and a silhouetted Saint of Killers (who Jesse somewhat dishonestly tells Tulip he sent to Hell). It’s followed by another dream sequence, simple and suspenseful, involving a gas stove, some bad electric lighting, and some first-rate sound design. And the Saint, whose appearance last week seems to have impacted Tulip more than expected. The only thing for Tulip to do, apparently, is to return to the Hurt Locker, apologise for the scam, and get shot over and over again. Sometimes you need to hurt to feel alive.
I’m having so much fun with this show this season, everyone. It’s going from strength to strength, wholly living up to its source material while cleverly altering and remixing it, even bettering it in some respects. Its cast is first-rate, developing their characters in unexpected directions, while the filmmaking is propulsive and giddily entertaining. It’s so good I’m actually terrified it can’t last. But boy, I’m here to enjoy it while it does.