Season 2 of “Preacher” has been built around the idea of the nightmare past: Eugene and his infamous cellmate across the hall have each been given a bit of backstory to help fill in the gaps between the broken people we see on screen and the life they enjoyed somewhere in their respective histories.
This week, it was Jesse and Tulip’s turn. After rekindling their affection for each other in the show’s casino detour, the doomed supercouple of “Preacher” has spent the past few episodes cruising right past each other. The opening shot of “Dallas” shows Jesse literally disoriented by Tulip’s revelation that Viktor, the owner of the house where she was being held against her wishes, is still technically her husband.
Consumed with a blinding rage, Jesse dispenses with most of the other inhabitants of the house (that he didn’t previously impale) before stringing up Viktor in a beat-down harness. (Credit to director Michael Morris and DP John Grillo for that on-board camera setup that follows Jesse dragging him down the hallway, one reminiscent of a certain shovel trick that fellow Season 2 director Michael Slovis whipped up on another AMC show.)
Jesse gets reckless with Genesis again, forcing Tulip from the room where her spouse dangles from the torture equivalent of a Babybjörn. (Her petrified expression as she staggers towards the door is one of Ruth Negga’s best performance showcases of the season so far.) While waiting to find out whether or not her current partner would be responsible for the death of her intermediary one, we see a glimpse of what life was like for Tulip and Jesse in Dallas months after the heist-gone-wrong that cost them so much.
We knew that the same woman who single-handedly took out a car full of criminals in the show’s pilot while winding through a cornfield would never find happiness behind a desk. That “Dallas” is able to resist that reveal for a handful of scenes shows how much it considers what this life becomes for the two of them (and Reggie, naturally).
In that way, the blunt/beer/bedroom montage is arguably a more effective rapid-fire montage than the chamberpot one that “Game of Thrones” unleashed on Sunday. Even in this more modest life, there’s still a velocity to their sadness and wheel-spinning that shows why Tulip would long to get back into the criminal chase.
It also underlines the way that “Preacher” treats repetition. Eugene constantly reliving his nightmare afternoon with Tracy Loach and this perpetual cycle of humble apartment living help to show how, in this world, staying in one place is the biggest punishment possible. In moments of grief and long after the dust settles, these are characters hardwired to keep moving, itching to be on to the next job.
Watching Jesse break out of that cycle, to see the life return behind his eyes is one of the most satisfying way that the series has integrated his faith into the story. Becoming a preacher and continuing his practice has always felt like a journey for fulfillment, even before that search became literal down in New Orleans. To see Jesse in a moment of prayer, hoping for something that he and Tulip can share, felt like a missing piece of a drive that’s been percolating on-screen for a season and a half. The collar isn’t just a costume anymore.
Back in the present, wearing the vestments of his profession, Jesse spares Viktor’s life. But that mercy seems to have come with some clarity as well. Faced with a no-win situation — kill Victor and Tulip leaves, spare him and he remains a bit of history looming over the couple’s future — Jesse opts to remove him from the harness. (The wordplay that marked Jesse’s first couple of Genesis usages had drifted away — it was nice to see “cut down” as a minor return to form and a tangential “Pulp Fiction” reference to boot.)
Even with an immortal cowboy assassin barreling down on this central trio’s hideout, the series’ biggest wild card is still Cassidy. His actions this season have felt like a hybrid between trying to get Jesse and Tulip some clarity while also incrementally trying to drive a wedge between them. Cassidy can call Jesse a “mate” all he wants, but these continuous tiny allusions to a hypothetical world where he had a girlfriend “like Tulip” are starting to add up. Even if those references prove to be harmless, his bedside mini-monologue about one of his past identities was a sweet capper to an episode filled with thoughtful gap-filling.
Perhaps the best moment of the episode is the promise it leaves the audience with. After Desmin Borges dropped in to “Preacher” for a single episode at the close of Season 1, there was the tacit understanding that that the series wasn’t finished with Carlos. Maybe that preemptively finished Monopoly game between Tulip and Viktor was just a way to set up another flashback down the road. But if the sudden arrival of the Saint of Killers means a parallel return to another of the show’s monsters, next week can’t come soon enough.
“Preacher” Season 2 airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. on AMC