PREACHER Review: “Dallas” Gets Dark

Jesse Custer has some anger management issues.

“He’s my husband,” said Tulip of mob boss Viktor at the end of last week’s Preacher, puzzling both Jesse and the audience. Tulip's big reveal was one of the few moments of character or narrative movement in that episode. If you were hoping “Dallas” would pick up the pace a little? Well, keep hoping, I guess.

“Dallas” is the first episode of this season that truly harkens back to last year's Annville-centric trudge, and it does so in almost every way it could. Its flashback-heavy structure; its darker, more serious tone; even its muddy colour grade takes us right back to Season One. Earlier, in fact. But luckily, "Dallas" is a feel-bad episode with a purpose.

Some time ago, in a Dallas whose exterior shots are precisely the right shade of beige-grey, Jesse and Tulip hung up their criminal hats to live lives of domesticity: Jesse as a bartender, and Tulip as a realtor. Sorry - realtor’s assistant. That’s unsatisfactory to their former handler Dany (guest Julie Dretzin), who dangles the evergreen carrot of dirty deeds in front of them one last time. While Jesse quickly sinks into a depressing routine of beer, John Wayne movies, loveless sex, and chatting with gender-studies-educated stoner pal Reggie, Tulip can’t sit so still, so she starts working for Dany again in secret.

It’s when Jesse discovers Tulip’s stash of ill-gotten gains that the flashback’s intent becomes clear: this is all meant to reinforce Jesse’s dark side. Jesse and Tulip argue vociferously over Tulip’s resumed criminal career, but when it comes to blows, Jesse takes his rage out on Reggie, bloodying the poor guy's face because he can’t bring himself to hit Tulip. It’s an ugly, “see what you made me do” moment, filled with unspoken threat. Such uncontrolled, violent anger is frightening coming from the show’s protagonist, and given everything that happens, it’s easy to see why Jesse takes up his churchy inheritance. It's an act of penance.

What impact do the Dallas flashbacks have on the in-progress story? It sort of explains Tulip’s situation with Viktor: though the episode's surprisingly light on details, their marriage appears to have been a relatively decent one, and Viktor a relatively decent fellow (at least, when it comes to his family - he’s still got that torture room, after all). More pertinently, it sets Viktor up as the latest victim of Jesse’s lack of self-control. Jesse strings up the gangster in his own torture harness, as Tulip begs him to stop, and even uses the Word to force Tulip to leave him to his own devices (and, more literally, to Viktor's). It’s super uncomfortable, a tragic mirror to the previous episode's triumphant "Uptown Girl" action setpiece, the show rubbing our faces in the violence we’d been celebrating a week earlier. You like this shit? Have some more, you monsters.

Also noteworthy here: Cassidy’s attempts to talk Jesse down from the edge - or rather, his subliminal attempts to push him over it. Cassidy’s been trying to break them up this whole time, for his own purposes, and his self-identification as “greedy, selfish, and jealous” is completely accurate. He doesn’t succeed in Iago-ing Jesse into killing Viktor, but he’s going to fuck things up eventually. He’s a ticking, blood-drinking time bomb.

I complained last week that “Viktor” put the story on hold a little, and “Dallas” literally puts it in reverse, spending most of its time in the past. But while “Viktor” was just spinning its wheels and making jokes, “Dallas” has a point: Jesse is not above his worst qualities simply because he’s a preacher now. In fact, he’s kind of an asshole, as Viktor accurately points out. Ultimately, he backs down from killing Viktor, but that violence will always be in his heart, threatening to burst out again. The episode’s brooding, genuine darkness comes from within Jesse, not from the screenwriters forcing a tone onto everything, and that’s important.

At the end of the episode, divorce papers come out, but they hardly matter, as the Saint of Killers shows up (as he does at the end of episodes nowadays) and guns Viktor down. The mansion’s only survivor is Viktor’s daughter, who sells Jesse out to the gunslinger. And why not? In her eyes, Jesse’s responsible only for suffering. And depending on her view of the episode’s central question - whether or not people can change - she might well believe she’s doing an act of good.