AMC’s Preacher, Season 2, Episode 9: “Puzzle Piece”
Preacher brings a bit of something familiar and a dash something new to the table in “Puzzle Piece.” While the latter half of this season has been dedicated to building of tension between our trio, this episode harkens back to the first half of the season while continuing to build that tension. The result is an episode that is fighting an internal battle with itself to subdue its baser instincts in the service of showcasing the fractures between the three leads, the dynamic of which is pretty great. The events that unfold this episode with The Grail’s assault are a particularly strong way to demonstrate how these tensions can’t go undealt with for much longer, and the more these relationships start to crumble, the more unpredictable things become. “Puzzle Piece” really illustrates the strength of the character work done here, and I can’t wait to see how things turn out as we make our way to the finale.
The episode starts with Jesse remembering the death of his father. He opens a laptop to search YouTube for sightings of God, indicating that he’s hit rock bottom in his search. Cassidy doesn’t shy away from mentioning this to Jesse as he heats up a bag of blood on the stove. Jesse starts to explain the importance of finding God as Tulip enters the room fresh off a round at the Hurt Locker. Failing to get through to Tulip, Jesse uses Genesis to force her to get some sleep, an act that Cassidy shames him for.
At The Grail compound, Herr Starr watches the footage of Jesse using Genesis on Tulip and declares that he’s not impressed. He states that he has a date and simply wants the whole group killed as he departs. Operating on Starr’s orders, a black ops-esque team (well more like white ops, am I right?) swarms Denis’s home and launches a full strike in which Cassidy heads off. One of the member The Grail forces enters into Jesse’s room, where he finds Tulip asleep just before Jesse beats him senseless and commands him to kill his friends. After he follows his command, Jesse starts to question him until Denis (now a vampire) bursts out of the room and kills the man by biting his neck.
Reporting to Herr Starr, The Grail operatives explain their failure. While preparing to execute the operatives, the female Grail operative explains the strength of Jesse Custer’s ability and implores that BRAD be used, to which Starr agrees, sparing their lives (which is honestly the more surprising event of the night.)
Convinced that The Grail will attack again, Jesse starts to garrison Denis’s house with police officers he’s used Genesis on. Obsessed with the idea that members of The Grail will return, Jesse gets Cassidy and Tulip ready to help in the defense. Jesse reminds Tulip of a time when she had an awful earache that couldn’t be eased until she was fighting for her life, insinuating that a another fight is just what she needs to get better (because of course, anyone with PTSD just needs another life or death situation in order to get over their disorder.) Tulip agrees to help and borrows a gun from the female Grail operative in disguise from the room down the hall. Waiting on the arrival of The Grail, a drunkard shows up and attacks the police officers guarding Denis’s house and Tulip accidentally shoots the cleaner in the ensuing chaos. Ultimately, BRAD is revealed to be a drone that targets Jesse, but in the midst of mock-raping, Herr Starr decides to call off the attack.
A week later, Jesse finally releases the police officers from his control and goes out for a drink when Herr Starr shows up to join him. Starr assures Jesse that he’s come alone and that he’s aware that Jesse has been looking for God and that he believes he can help him.
The recipe for “Puzzle Piece” is simple: take a lot of the elements that our principal characters have been working through this season; whip up a destructive cohort of villains to take out, and just let the tensions simmer throughout. Jesse desperately trying to pull the team back to normalcy around a good ole fashioned Preacher beat ‘em up sequence just doesn’t work this time because of where everyone is mentally at this stage. I know I have been critical before on the pacing on the back half of the season, but the time spent building these dilemmas pays off tremendously in this episode.
Herr Starr continues to impress as a villain who just might have more than one note to play. My greatest fear with his character (having not read the comics) is that he would just be a carbon copy of your garden variety bad guy who’s over the top ruthlessness only slight overtakes his largely sociopathic demeanor. Starr, however, seems to be fighting against that familiarity in this episode much like our main characters fight against what’s been familiar to this show. And the ‘no means yes scene’…wrong in so many ways, but definitely trope subverting. I can’t really imagine why he decided to spare Jesse’s life in that particular moment, though whatever it is, I’m sure it can’t be good.
The meat and potatoes of the episode is truly Jesse’s selfishness that is at the heart of the now boiling tensions within our group. The relationship between Jesse and Cassidy at this point is toxic. There seems to be an intense level of discontent emanating from Cassidy specifically that Jesse is just completely unaware of, and that more than anything is exacerbating his growing resentment. Similarly with Tulip, Jesse is so focused on finding God and following his purpose that things with them are starting to disintegrate. What she clearly needs is someone to help her deal with what is obviously PTSD, but she finds herself with a group especially ill-suited for the job.
“Puzzle Piece” continues a positive trend in Preacher’s trajectory; somehow building off of plots that have been pretty thin (except with Cassidy’s.) The real success of this episode is the acting, which does most of the heavy lifting here. The thematic concept of a puzzle piece seems a little forced but, since it clicks things into place for Starr, I guess it works. All my nits being picked, I think this is a great episode and sets up for what will certainly be an interesting conversation between our protagonist and antagonist next week.