PREACHER Review: The Messiah Arises In “Dirty Little Secret”

And he’s a *very* naughty boy.

This season of Preacher has delved gleefully into the weird religious ideas that helped define its source material. This week's episode, "Dirty Little Secret" continues that dive through the bottom of the pool and into some seriously weird territory. If only the whole episode was as weird as its weirdest moments.

Opening cold, as the show's best episodes do, on new characters in a new situation, “Dirty Little Secret” introduces an adulterous young couple having what sounds like pretty great sex. At first, it’s just a comedy sequence, full of sexual positions shot in shadowplay, then it becomes clear something’s off. The guy has never had sex before; the building’s made of stone and lit with candles; the tryst is a big, big secret. It’s only once he dons robes and lets his hair down that we realise: this is Jesus, on his final night alive.

Casting Jesus and the apostles as chilled-out bros is a pretty hilarious move, fitting nicely with Preacher’s casual-as-fuck deconstructions of sacred religious icons. The script's understated cleverness - “You won’t stay for supper? - I already ate” - is even more wonderful on rewatch. But the scene’s significance is bigger than that: it confirms Herr Starr's earlier assertion that Jesus had spawned progeny.

Back in modern day, we return to where we last left Jesse and Starr. Starr’s on a recruitment drive this week, attempting to seduce Jesse to the Grail with the promise of power, information, and direct contact with the heavenly host. (He also closes out the mystery of who killed Mark Harelik: of course they did it.) Pip Torrens continues to do magnetic work as Starr, sneering his dialogue out with the darkest sense of humour on television. He gets Jesse - gets that he’s “not really a three-ring binder kind of man” - so he takes him on a field trip to witness the Grail’s power for himself.

Once at Grail HQ, Jesse is introduced to none other than the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, both of whom are privy to the secret of God’s disappearance. The Archbishop believes God is on the run from traitorous Seraphim, while the Pope predicts he’s away making a new, better successor to humankind. Their sectarian bickering is one of the episode’s more amusing highlights - especially the Pope’s gushing description of this new, honey-badger-inspired creation.

The two religious leaders also "accidentally" mention Jesus' sole living descendant, unsurprisingly sparking Jesse's curiosity. In flashback, we see the original holy offspring, taken from its summarily-murdered mother by the nascent Grail - the start of the organisation’s ruthless commitment to secrecy. They're not subtle.

It takes planes, trains, and automobiles, but Jesse is brought before the new Messiah, holed up in what looks like an abandoned subway complex. The Christ-child cuts an appropriately imposing figure, but a terrific one-two reveal of his chosen name - Humperdoo - and his chosen means of expression - pissing on people - cuts that image down to size somewhat.

This sure ain’t Jesus; it's his 25th great-grandson, and boy, generations of inbreeding do a number on the genes. Humperdoo’s bung-eyed, buck-toothed, cretinous demeanour - and Herr Starr’s withering, begrudging respect for him, even as he humps his leg - is perhaps the show’s most blasphemous undercutting of religious imagery yet. It’s not a sensitive portrayal, but given the multi-millennial timescale of the inbreeding, it's probably reasonable. And there’s a point, too. He might have drawn some lovely pictures of doggies, but Humperdoo is of no help to Jesse, flying into a panic when asked the location of God - and he’s certainly not an inspiring leader for Herr Starr.

Elsewhere in the show, Tulip’s PTSD continues to spin its wheels, now sparking waking flashbacks to the Saint of Killers’ attack from several weeks ago. Tulip finds her only comfort in neighbour (and secret Grail spy) Featherstone, who offers breakfast help and conversation in order to acquire more information about her quarry. Pancakes!

Tulip’s awfully chatty with her new BFF, spilling all manner of details about the soul trade, the Saint of Killers, and Jesse’s Genesis abilities. Julie Ann Emery is great in this episode, presenting a convincingly giggly, socially awkward “Jenny” for Tulip to confide in over video games. (Tulip being a Rock Band uber-pro is a surprising, fun touch.) Her character's smart, too: the moment an accidental crack appears in her facade, she calls partner Hoover over to play her alleged ex, causing a violent ruckus just in time. Between that incident, and Tulip’s discovery of the Saint’s pistols and sword buried under the bathroom tiles, it seems unlikely Tulip’s going to catch on to the lie anytime soon.

Elsewhere-elsewhere: Cassidy's overcome his issues about turning Denis into a vampire, cavorting with prostitutes alongside his elderly adult son. (On that note: it’s incredible what additional youth even small changes in wardrobe, makeup, and performance can lend a character.) Thanks to a fancy new translation gadget, they can even communicate, but Jesse’s lessons about vampire behaviour don’t seem to get through. Cass even has to give the vampire equivalent of “the puberty talk” to this new, pimp-swaggering, Shemp-tattooed Denis; that kid is trouble.

It’s at the episode's end that Starr makes his big play: asking Jesse outright to join the Grail and become its new future Earth-ruler. Why look for God when you can be him? And how do you find God without the Grail’s considerable resources? Jesse has a quick answer for one question, but not for the other. Quite the conundrum to ponder between episodes.

An uneven instalment, then, and surprisingly uneventful, given how much incident appears to take place, but - as usual - an entertaining hour. I've no idea what will happen next, so that's something. As long as it's got more of Pip Torrens' scenery-chewing, I'm happy.

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