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Preacher - Dirty Little Secret & Backdoors - Review: "The Messiah and Jesse Custer"

Apologies for the delay in getting these two episodes written up, I was abroad in France when they aired and was unable to watch them until when I returned.

Preacher 2.10 "Dirty Little Secret" - Review:
Directed by Steph Green & Written by Mary Laws

This episode was certainly an interesting one that will almost certainly be controversial for its depiction of the Messiah figure, and of Jesus Christ himself, but then the show itself has never shied away from tackling controversial subjects before and how Dirty Little Secret approached them was a new take that manages to certainly differ from previous portrayals of the whole religious angle from what we've seen in the past, including in shows like Supernatural. It took a big risk and for the most part, paid off, adopting a sacrilegious approach that has to be seen to be believed.

It turns out that nobody knows where God is, not just Jesse. Her Starr brings him into his organization with the intention of showing what can be accomplished if they work together, but Jesse is rather reluctant with Starr's methods. Unlike The Saint of Killers Starr is someone who can be manipulated by Jesse's Genesis power, and that presents a different dynamic entirely. However Starr makes up for the lack of being immune to the power by his cunning and strength, as he manipulated Jesse into showing what he wanted him to see whilst still making Jesse think that he was in control of the situation the whole time. I really enjoyed seeing Starr and Jesse's exchanges over the course of this episode as they certainly make for a good pair. The way they brought both the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury into fray as well as an oddball pair straight out of an unconventional buddy comedy movie waiting to happen. Their exchanges as they offered up a difference in opinion where The Pope believed that God had gone missing to create a higher being of people presents a question - is it just The Pope making a wild speculation or is that foreshadowing towards the end of the season?

The opening section of the episode played with the portrayal of time a bit by delivering an anachronistic portrayal of Jesus himself on the night that he lost his virginity, and it wasn't until later that it was revealed that it was on the night of the crucifixion itself. These flashbacks aren't unusual for Preacher to take, as we've had flashbacks from Cassidy in the past, but the way the show handled this reminded me a lot of Gotham in that there is no clear defining time period from when it's set. This approach works in its favour and the flashbacks set the tone for the episode to follow in a very effective way that continued to explore the themes and dynamic of the series.

The involvement of The Grail and the 25th great grandson of Jesus himself, Humperdoo, is something apparently ripped straight out of the comic. This is one thing that comic readers have the advantage in because they know what's coming, but for those like myself who didn't know, it was certainly an unexpected twist to see that Humperdoo, The Messiah, was not quite someone who Jesse expected, urinating on his face. The whole scheme by Starr to show Jesse that he was dissatisfied with serving someone as clueless as Humperdoo worked, even if it meant separating himself from Tulip and Cassidy for much of the episode as the trio continued to take their separate ways, exploring their story-arcs very much on their own. Jesse is starting to have doubts about working with his friends who are distracted with their own personal problems at the moment as the end of the episode was any indication to go by, no matter how much he told Starr that he was quite happy with working with his allies and not using The Grail.

Anyway, the dynamic between Tulip and Featherstone continued as Tulip helped Lara whilst struggle with her own PTSD. They sort of bonded over Guitar Hero, and Lara did her best to keep her cover, switching from ruthless Grail agent to innocent victim of abuse within seconds. Her strength in the art of manipulation could prove very effective in creating a divide between Tulip and Jesse in the future, pushing them away from each other, but the way we saw her call Hoover in so they could beat him up just to keep her cover certainly showed how powerful she could be.

Preacher 2.11 "Backdoors" - Review:
Directed Norberto Barba & Written by Sara Goodman

This episode continued to work to split up the dynamic of Jesse, Tulip and Custer, whilst also opening up the potential to bring the formidable Saint of Killers back into the game. It's television so of course as long as there's no body there's not going to be a permanent death for the character, and even if there's an actual death, as we've seen, Preacher is capable of bringing these characters back to life if it so wishes. It's only a matter of time before Eugene comes back into play, and potentially Hitler too, of whom we first got to see what he was capable of as we visited the last day he decided that he would be "good" in the restaurant, if they both manage to escape from the clutches of hell itself. It remains to be seen what Eugene will do once he's free, but for now, it's potentially hinting at a collision between himself and Jesse. As of writing this review I haven't seen 2.12 yet so I don't know what happens, but I'm excited to see where the series goes as we enter the final stages of its sophomore season.

The flashbacks that we got to see throughout this episode fleshed out Jesse's past a bit more exploring what it was like for him as a boy, in one particular scene, dealing with his harsh treatment at the hands of his grandmother L'Angelle who forces him into a pond locked inside a coffin. The scared boy is slowly broken down over the course of the episode and eventually decides to renounce the surname Custer, at least temporarily. This helped show that Jesse himself isn't invincible and of course, he does have a breaking point. He also has hidden demons of his past that come back to haunt him in more ways than one in this episode.

The Saint of Killers being missing from the van is a huge gamechanger. The relationship between Tulip and Jesse is on the verge of breaking again, as the two are manipulated further and further apart than ever by the Grail, with Lara playing her part to manipulate Tulip whilst Jesse pays another visit to Herr Starr, who has just orchestrated a plan for a coup having completely lost faith in the Messiah. The way he casually breaks the news to his two subordinates and forces them to pick between joining him or dying was admittedly an effective way to get them to join on board, even if Lara was a bit more enthusiastic about the plan, with Hoover not being Starr's good graces for the prostitute incident which is something that Starr will have to live for the rest of his life. He ends up receiving another painful memory from Jesse, who uses Genesis to make him insert every tape of Jesse's prayers that he's collected up his own ass, something that should be impossible, but only made so thanks to Jesse's power.

It seems that he isn't quite as willing to, at least yet, jump on board the casting himself as the Messiah train. But as this episode showed, his spirit can be broken, and Herr Starr believes that it'll only be a matter of time before he can break it completely. The way the conversation played out between Jesse and Herr Starr was an interesting one as well, with Heaven collecting all the prayers of everyone on Earth waiting to judge them, and although Jesse brushes off that people have done worse things than being forced into praying to kill his own father, Starr is convinced that Jesse has an evil side, a side that he can exploit, as is shown here. This episode didn't quite match up the heights of Dirty Little Secret but still managed to maintain the plenty of edginess and grit that the series is known for.

The time that we spent in Hell also managed to continue to flesh out Hitler's character a bit more. All this season we've seen him as the coward who will get beaten over and over again by his fellow inmates, but in doing so he's managed to trick and deceive Eugene into believing him that there is no out for people who shouldn't be in Hell. Hell doesn't like mistakes, it seems. But Eugene's storyline in Hell has always been the weakest one, and every time it showed up it never seemed quite as interesting as it should have done, feeling tired, worn out and repetitive. The scenes could have been dealt with in a shorter episode count than what we've already had and it just takes the action away from the far more engaging matter of Jesse's growing conflict with Herr Starr and The Grail.

The episodes themselves are well-written, of course, but this show is seemingly suffering from a case of having too many episodes and not having enough to do with them. It drags, and it would have been much better off had the series stuck to a shorter episode count, allowing for a more constrained and faster paced plot than what we've got, because there have been a couple of episodes this season that have just been plain slow and boring. I know slow and boring is kind of AMC's thing The Walking Dead suffers from a similiar fate, but I really don't want Preacher to sink into mediocrity. It has everything it needs to become great, it's just teetering on the edge at the moment. Consistency is the key here and this season has been one of ups and downs as the show has struggled to find its feet, still testing what works and what doesn't. Hopefully the team behind this show learn from their mistakes and give us a more consistent season next time around.

Backdoors wasn't entirely bad though. It did have some good moments. But the fact that we can probably already tell where the Jesse and Denis storyline is heading as it's hitting familiar beats with Denis continuing to abuse his newfound vampire powers and ignoring Cassidy's warnings, and it seems as though it's just killing time until later episodes at this point. For every one step forward the show takes in its story arc, it takes two steps back, and whilst this approach will probably work better when it's binge-watched, I can't help but think that it's probably a terrible idea to watch Preacher on a week to week basis. That's in part why I've had so many double reviews this season, these episodes worked so much better when watched closer together.

What did you think of Dirty Little Secret & Backdoors? Let me know in the comments section below and keep an eye out for my review of the next episode of Preacher, which will go live before the next episode of the series airs on AMC next Monday at 9pm.

About the Author - Milo MJ
Milo is an Arsenal FC supporter and loves TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, Justified, Black Sails, The Americans and Person of Interest. He reviews Preacher, The Mist, Star Wars Rebels, Silicon Valley and Veep for Spoiler TV and will be covering Castle Rock, Counterpart, Krypton, Marvel's New Warriors, Rise, Marvel's Runaways, Succession, Star Trek Discovery, and Trust. He also contributes to comic reviews on a weekly basis for All-Comic. He also regularly watches and reviews films on Letterboxd, and you can find his ever-changing list of 300 favourite movies here.
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