This Preacher review contains spoilers.
While I enjoy cartoonish violence just as much as the next person, sometimes it’s good to indulge in some good character-driven drama. And in the case of this week’s Preacher, the drama isn’t just good in “Dallas,” it’s great. While a lot of credit goes to writer Philip Buiser and director Michael Morris, this episode is truly elevated by standout performances from Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, and Joseph Gilgun. They are the heart and soul of this show, even as their characters break hearts and damn souls.
Last season, we learned that partner-in-crime Carlos ruined Jesse and Tulip’s lives by abandoning them after a job gone bad. (And, if you’ll recall, the reason he turned on them in the first place was because he was jealous of their happiness.) Tulip eventually tracks him down and she and Jesse finally find closure and catharsis. So it’s interesting that Carlos pops again this season in “Dallas,” albeit in spirit. Indeed, his very specter hangs over Tulip and Jesse three months after they’ve decided to go the straight and narrow. But as we find out, only one of them is truly trying to make a legitimate go at a legitimate life. Domestic tranquility isn’t Tulip’s strong suit. It isn’t Jesse’s, either, but he’s too stuck in a rut to see the pain behind Tulip’s empty stares. We know they eventually wind up together again, but that doesn’t mitigate how painful it is to see them come undone. It’s a break-up by degrees, a slow-motion implosion caused by the mundanity of everyday life. It feels voyeuristic, too, this intimate look at their lack of intimacy. Their relationship is over—they just don’t know it yet. Until then, there’s all manner of loss and betrayal and grief to wade through, one stinging rebuke and emptied bottle of beer at a time.
It’s a vicious cycle, presented as a loop of trying and failing to conceive. This montage bears a striking resemblance to the personal hells we’ve seen play out for the Saint of Killers and for Eugene—their worst memories, on repeat, driving them mad. But, as we learn, this isn’t so much Jesse’s living hell as it is Tulip’s. When Jesse kneels to pray, she knows no miracle is forthcoming. And yet, you can see the fear flickering across Ruth Negga’s face in this scene, even as she draws back from him. It’s not a grand gesture, or an emotionally overwrought moment, but Negga conveys months of doubt and resignation and even hardened resilience in the span of several seconds. Jesse’s prayer has broken her heart, and we’re watching Tulip blindly put the pieces back together. This alone makes “Dallas” worthy of five stars.
As for Cooper, he gives his best performance of the season so far. When he confronts Tulip about what’s hidden in the duct, we see an ugly side to Jesse Custer. His anger in the face of betrayal is understandable, and we can be sympathetic up to a point. But as the scene unfolds (and as he and Tulip unfold), the emotional savagery of this episode calls to mind Edward Albee’s dark and darkly witty 1962 stage play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Cooper isn’t afraid to wallow in Jesse’s rage and misery. We may recoil from him in this moment, but we’re invested in him—and in what is being lost with Tulip.
Gilgun has his moment to shine, too, when he tries to talk some sense into Jesse. There’s a strange beauty to Gilgun’s performance in this moment. He’s self-deprecating and witty and dead serious all at the same time. He hasn’t done good things, but he’s nonetheless a good sort who wants to make things right. This doesn’t stop Jesse from cutting Cassidy down to size. “Why should I trust a lying junkie vampire who thinks everything’s a joke?” says Cooper, delivering the line in a way that could have undermined the drama, but doesn’t. Cassidy mulls over this barbed assessment and can’t find fault with it. But this isn’t about him—it’s about his best mates. He wants to see them reunited just as everyone else does. Everyone, except Viktor.
It’s odd to think of a mobster as being the innocent in all of this, but it’s true. If anyone’s the victim, it’s Viktor. No matter how lucky he feels to be married to such a tough, independent woman, at the end of the day, he knows Tulip doesn’t love him. Morris and Buiser don’t hit us over the head about it, as Preacher is sometimes wont to do. No, Viktor’s reservations about his unrequited love are played close to the vest. When he repeatedly calls Jesse an asshole, he means it. He doesn’t know the preacher from Adam, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t hate the man who not only broke Tulip’s heart, but stole it, too. I have to give Paul Ben-Victor a lot of credit for making me care about Viktor—a person who we know is capable of monstrous deeds. But at the end of the day, he can have his heart broken just like anybody else. He’s capable of great tenderness and affection, too, as we see with his daughter. Once the Saint of Killer starts raising hell in the mansion, we know no good can come out of this for Viktor. And I’ll admit a small part of me hoped he’d survive his encounter with the Saint, knowing full well he was already dead inside.
Ultimately, the entire episode hinges on Jesse making the right choice. He faced a similar moral quandary with Carlos, stepping back at the last moment from the abyss. He manages to do the same thing with Viktor. It’s a wonderful moment in that kitchen, when Tulip and Cassidy realize all is not lost. In this episode we may have seen Jesse Custer at his worst, but we also see Preacher at its best.
Some closing thoughts:
We never see the violence unleashed by the Saint of Killers upon Viktor’s goons. Which makes Reggie’s unexpected beating that much more startling and brutal. He’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, and because of this he bears the brunt of Jesse’s rage. It’s when the violence carries weight that makes it that much harder to watch.
For all of its drama, “Dallas” still manages to trot out references to foreskins, Bob Ross, and Boo-Berry cereal, in no particular order.