This review contains spoilers.
The idea of selling one’s soul is as old as literature. In 1587, a German chapbook called Historia von D. Johann Fausten by an author named Johann Spies caused a sensation. It was reprinted dozens of times, it inspired one of the first English language plays in the form of The Tragical History Of The Life And Death Of Doctor Faustus, and it was even one of the first movies filmed by Edison Studios, 1900’s Faust And Marguerite. Long story short, as long as there has been media of any type, and presumably as long as people have been gathering around fires to tell tales, someone’s been selling his soul to the Devil and eventually regretting it. However, would you regret selling a small fraction of your soul to the Happy Soul Go Go company?
As it turns out, for a hefty fee, you can sell a small fraction of your soul, say… 10 per cent, to a well-dressed Japanese businessman who pockets the small vial of weird goo and gives you a cheque for your troubles. For the poverty-stricken couple shown in the cold opening, the money they make from selling a portion of a soul will keep them from losing their home and get them out of debt. For other people, the purchase of a small percentage of soul will give them a new lease on life, restoring the health and mental vitality of an older woman with only a few little chewable tablets. It’s a miracle cure, quite literally, and it may be the only thing that saves Jesse Custer’s life, because the Saint of Killers is on his trail.
Preacher has a very interesting antagonist in the Saint, and while we’ve seen his back story, there’s not all that much explanation as to why he is such a feared killer and why Genesis doesn’t work on him. That requires Jesse, Tulip, and Cas to go to the library and do some research. It’s a fun little bit of character work; Tulip goes right to the book on tape section, Cassidy gets his hands on a View-master with some microfilm, and Jesse cracks open a book. The combination of the three—text, voice-over, and visual images—makes for a wonderful method of providing back story. It’s all things that have been seen before, but Preacher manages to cram a whole lot of art styles into a very short segment. Comic books, pen and ink, painting, paragraphs of words, all meshed together by a dry British voice-over. In a show that’s had some very good montages, David Evans’ use of mixed media in this particular one works wonderfully as a salute to the character’s comic book origins.
It’s an interesting take on what a lack of soul can do. The Saint is soulless, for the most part, but Jesse is able to figure out that his strength is also his weakness. He doesn’t want his family back as much as he wants to be with his family in Heaven, rather than banished to Hell. That the soul is a physical thing, able to be extracted by talented surgeons or high-tech Japanese machinery, is another clever thing. The soul seems an awful lot like stem cells, as far as it functions in the Preacher universe. The injection of a small bit of Jesse’s soul is enough to make the Saint unable to resist the voice, even if it provides him an immediate bit of relief from his own torment. (Of course, Jesse immediately starts to torment him using the voice, forcing him to kneel and give up his weapons before disposing of him temporarily.)
It’s nice to see the characters working together, even if Cassidy and Tulip serve as hostages while Jesse does all the running around. Apparently, Jesse’s mother’s side of the family is involved in the voodoo business, which has fallen on hard times thanks to the Happy Soul folks (and apparently Jesse robbing their truck will create more problems for him down the road). It will take the Saint out of the picture for awhile, and give him a real reason to come after Jesse later on, while giving Jesse a weapon to use against him, assuming he can talk faster than the Saint can slap iron.
The opening scene of the episode, in which the three characters have two very different conversations—Jesse and Tulip about the singing saloon girl Jesse saved previously and Jesse and Cassidy about how they might track down God—in what has to be an homage to Robert Altman. Mary Laws has the three talking over one another, in a very funny scene. Tulip’s jealous of a Grail agent and Cas is obsessed with reptilians wearing human skin and cryptofascists.
The Saint might have been taken out of the picture for the moment, but there’s always the issue of Jesse’s family. Clearly, there’s something going on there if the L’Angelle family continues to inspire something akin to fear in a voodoo soul-dealer. The Saint is buried on the road to Angelville, and Jesse might have hidden the Saint’s Walker Colt revolvers, but a hidden gun is still a gun, and those guns will make an appearance before this season is over.
One issue has been tabled; other issues will now rise to replace it. Issues that might be stopped via bullet and saber.