Jesse's icy to his friends and his flock while everything around him burns
Credit: Lewis Jacobs/AMC
S1 E7
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Serious question: Jesse's supposed to be the hero of Preacher, right? Because there are heroes struggling with right and wrong, and then there are mean-spirited, power-tripping, self-righteous cowards.

In other words, this week isn't kind to Jesse.

We pick up in the church immediately after Eugene's disappearance, as the bulletin he was holding floats to the floor. Jesse stares at the empty space in shock, and you can see the moment he convinces himself to just move forward. Do the service, convert the masses, don't look back.

But you know who is looking? Cassidy, with a front-row seat from the balcony.

The congregants converge, singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" while a bored Tulip props her legs on the pew in front of her and Sheriff Root looks anxiously at the empty seat next to him, wondering where on earth his son is. NOT ON EARTH, AMIRITE?

Jesse's clearly rattled, because when he urges his flock to serve God, he opts not to use the Word, despite the presence of the loudspeaker to share it with those seated on the front lawn.

After the service, Jesse walks back into the church and pauses over the spot where Eugene disappeared as the camera pans down, down, down to the floorboards. Then we hear odd, rumbling noises, almost like cries, which reveal themselves to be the poor, doomed cattle on Quincannon Meat & Power's killing floors. Geez, what a depressing work environment.

Then come the flashbacks. Ten-year-old Jesse and Tulip sit outside the principal's office after putting three bullies in the infirmary (Tulip bit off one of their nipples). Jesse covers for her as best he can, and Papa Custer agrees to take her home with them because her mom's in jail and her uncle's drunk.

That night, Jesse's kneeling by the bed saying his prayers, asking God to take care of his mom — wherever she is — and promising he's trying really, really hard not to be bad. So he's been struggling with that for a while, then.

In the present, Tulip kicks off her fantastic orange heels to chase down the youths who stole her drunk uncle's trousers, then tries to move him inside from the front stoop where he passed out. But she only succeeds in drawing hostile stares from the good folks of Annville, one of whom is the prairie-dog mascot walking a dog (which is interesting if you subscribe to this so-bonkers-it-must-be-true theory).

Across town, Eugene's room sits empty.

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In the parsonage, Cassidy corners Jesse to tell him he saw what happened to Eugene, but Jesse blows it off and leaves for Bible study. Then Tulip breezes through the back door with dinner fixings, which Cass mocks. He also taunts her for not getting out of town to rain down hell on Carlos, and assures her he didn't tell Jesse that he and Tulip hooked up.

"Well that's good. He'd probably kill ya," she says. But would he? Have we seen any signs Jesse actually loves Tulip and could be provoked into a jealous rage? She seems to be an embarrassing irritant to him, rather than the great love of his life she is in the comics. For my money, this is the worst change from page to screen. (The best? Ditching Jesse's white jeans.)

NEXT: So THAT'S what Eugene did

Anyway, Cass wants to know why Tulip slept with him if she's Jesse's girlfriend. Actually, he says "made love," and we all join Tulip in laughing. Tulip then turns the tables, asking if Cass has actually used the v-word to tell Jesse about his blood-friendly, UV-averse condition. Cass admits he hasn't, but says he trusts Jesse not to pass judgment on him. Um, has he met Jesse?

Then the duo has a preacher-off as Tulip grills Cass on Jesse's favorite actor — obviously the indicator you know another person down to the bottom of his soul. Cass randomly and hilariously suggests Ryan Philippe, but of course, it's John Wayne, pilgrim.

Cass gets her back by asking if she knows Jesse can make you do things just by telling you to.

"Not me," Tulip says. But Cass warns her, "You'd be surprised."

And now we cut to kid Jesse and kid Tulip wrestling around the parsonage. Later that night, Tulip overhears Papa Custer speaking quietly on the phone.

She climbs into bed with Jesse, waking him up, and asks, "To the end of the world, right?" She shakes him when he doesn't say his part. "To the end of the world," replies a sleepy, grumpy Jesse.

Next thing we know, the state Department of Children and Family Services is there taking Tulip away, despite Jesse trying to physically stop them. He confronts his father, who admits he called them because she's an O'Hare, and O'Hares are trouble. Yikes. That's not very Christian, preacher.

That night, Jesse prays again, this time for God to kill his dad and send him straight to hell. Yikes. That's not very Christian, preacher-to-be.

In the present, Jesse's yelling at parishioners rehearsing a play and generally being a nightmare. Look, I get he's guilty and shell-shocked for accidentally damning Eugene, but dang, man, even Walter White would tell you to pump your antihero brakes at this point. And his mood gets worse when Quincannon shows up with a deed to transfer the church and land, per their bet from episode 4. Quincannon says he may have come to church, but he's certainly not a Christian, which means Jesse lost.

Jesse refuses to sign, and Quincannon promises he'll be back, quoting the famous letter William Barrett Travis wrote during the siege on the Alamo: "Victory or death."

Then we endure one hella-awkward dinner with Jesse, Tulip, Emily, Cassidy, and their messy, messy feelings. Jesse eats silently as Cass prattles on about movies by the Cohen brothers and Emily throws amazing church-lady shade at Tulip's culinary efforts.

Tulip's finally had enough of silent Jesse and asks (well, yells — she yells a lot) what's going on. Jesse's non-answer is interrupted when a concerned Sheriff Root shows up to ask if Eugene came to church that morning. Cass glares at Jesse across the table as Jesse looks blank, and the good preacher remains unflinching as the smoke detector goes off and Emily pulls a flaming pan from the oven. Jesse's basically the "this is fine" dog here, as they douse the flames and Emily lords her homemaking skills over Tulip.

Once the fire's extinguished, Jesse lies and says he didn't see Eugene that morning. Cass doesn't call him out, but Emily sure does, and now the sheriff's interested. Then Emily "remembers" she saw Eugene leave afterwards. Love means lying to the local sheriff about the whereabouts of his missing, disfigured son, apparently.

Outside, Jesse bids Root farewell, then gets smacked in the face by a fire extinguisher courtesy of Cassidy, who has had it with Jesse's lies, both to himself and to others.

And that's when Jesse breaks. "I didn't mean to. I said the words, and he was gone."

Cass, who feels a lot more like the hero tonight, says everybody makes mistakes and they can work together to fix it. But Jesse's washed his hands of Eugene.

Cass doesn't understand. "You just sent an innocent kid to be forever poked by piping-hot pitchforks. I think acting like you give a damn might be a good start, man."

And then we finally get Eugene's backstory: He loved Tracey Loach, but she rejected him. Instead of sulking, Eugene shot her, then turned the shotgun on himself. "So Eugene is not that innocent," Jesse concludes.

Woof. That's brutal. Cass, bless him, still argues hell isn't what Eugene deserves — and furthermore, Jesse needs to give Genesis back because he's lost control of it and it's messing with his head.

But Jesse says it was God's plan to send one more sinner into the fires of hell, so it's Jesse's job to stand aside and let Eugene burn. It takes a…what's the word…bold man to confidently interpret God's will like that, no?

NEXT: Cassidy gets crispy

At this point, Cassidy decides to put Jesse's trust in God to the test. He recites a litany of his own sins ("lazy, lying, self-obsessed, drug-abusing, cheating fornicator with a filthy mouth and no ambition"), then tosses Jesse the fire extinguisher, steps into the sun, and bursts into flames. Will Jesse cast judgment and let him burn? And if not, can he get over his shock at seeing Cassidy's true nature to act in time?

In the end, we don't know; the next scene is Jesse slamming the extinguisher down at Cass's empty spot at the table, then retreating into surly silence.

When Tulip asks after the vampire, Jesse realizes she knew what Cass is (was?). She senses something's off and tells Jesse his father would be proud of him for rejecting someone who didn't live up to his "uptight, redneck, Christian standards." Jesse punches back, sneering at Tulip's frozen vegetables and vanilla hash browns, asking, "What are you even doing here?"

Tulip, his former girlfriend. Tulip, his childhood friend. Tulip, who clings to Jesse as the most important family she has.

I'm sorry, but no. We didn't get enough of moral, good-guy, humble-servant-of-God Jesse in early episodes for there to be a contrast, if this is indeed Genesis making him selfish and mean. Even if he's dying inside because of what he did to Eugene, it doesn't excuse 80 percent of his actions this week.

Apparently feeling the way I do, Tulip walks out. Emily tries to reason with Jesse her own way, saying that from the moment he returned to Annville, she believed in him.

"Well, that was stupid," Jesse spits, succeeding in chasing everyone away so he's alone at the table, the extinguisher dominating the foreground of the shot.

The final flashback of the night shows two men breaking into the parsonage, beating Papa Custer with a bat, and dragging him and Jesse outside. We see his father's murder again and hear his final words: Be one of the good guys, because there's way too many of the bad — and Custers don't cry, they fight. As the shot rings out, Jesse wails that he prayed for this, and it's his fault. That's twice he's wished someone to hell, and it ended badly both times.

We now cut to Jesse tearing up the church floorboards, using the Word to command Eugene to come back. It doesn't seem to work.

The episode ends with Quincannon on a bulldozer, leading an army of Quincannon Meat & Power employees (including Donnie in Confederate garb, arm in a sling) as they march toward the church — just like Santa Anna's men did in the Alamo model Quincannon just completed.

Good thing Jesse's got that loudspeaker; he may need it next week.

Meditation points:

  • Cass is just sleeping it off in the van, regrowing his skin, right? RIGHT?
  • Quick Q: Is vanilla extract in hash browns a thing in certain corners of the world? Because that is the weirdest thing I've seen on this show yet.
  • Forgive me, non-readers, because now I'm going to focus on changes from the comic, starting with Eugene's backstory. The kid went from abused, angry, and selfish to downright evil. Comic Eugene was suicidal. TV Eugene is an attempted murderer. That's…just…it changes things, is all.
  • The "end of the world" exchange. Oh, the "end of the world" exchange. Comic Tulip and Jesse's love is white hot, the beating heart at the center of the story, and this phrase is their touchstone. Prompting a 10-year-old Jesse to grudgingly utter it is the opposite of that. The show is weaker for this lack of emotional grounding, and I don't know if it can ever be fixed based on how they've written these characters. But Genesis knows I hope they'll try.
  • So two men murdered Jesse's dad, and I swear one's in overalls. Between that and this familiar tattoo, dare we hope for season 2?

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