‘Preacher’ Meets Its Next Big Bad In ‘Pig’

A review of tonight’s Preacher coming up just as soon as you validate parking…

Preacher first introduced Herr Starr in silhouette back in season one’s “The Possibilities,” then showed us his face briefly in this season’s “Damsels,” but “Pig” is the first time we really get to know him and the secretive organization he works for, the Grail.

It’s a memorable introduction for both. Starr — so well-played by Pip Torrens, who seems like he just stepped off the comic book page — is both a fanatic and a pragmatist, doing whatever it takes (telling the Grail interviewer that he’s a Christian, murdering his final competition) to get into an organization that can help him with his quest to create a society “based on the principles of absolute order and discipline.” He’s also a frequenter of prostitutes, has a chain connecting his pierced nipples (an image we’ve seen throughout this season’s opening credits), and is apparently so conditioned to genital abuse that he shrugs off getting shocked by them while his competitors all scream in pain.

He’s a colorful, ruthless(*) man, and he and the Grail — dedicating to preserving Christ’s secret descendants(**) while stamping out anyone who might be competition for their Messiah — make for a more sustainable adversary for Jesse and company than the Saint of Killers. I expect the Saint to come back, but there are only so many times your hero can stop an unstoppable killing machine before it all seems silly. The Grail has much more manpower, and Starr shows in the Vietnam scenes that he’s just as willing as the Saint to kill whomever he must to achieve an objective, but there’s simply more wiggle room with real, flawed human opponents, and we’ll see how they respond if and when Starr gets to directly witness just how real Jesse’s powers are.

(*) Maybe a bit too ruthless? I can perhaps see the Grail shrugging off the murder of the other candidate, but killing his superior on his first day of work — even if Starr claims it was an accident, everyone’s going to know based on the earlier shooting — seems a bit much for whatever the Grail hierarchy is to ignore. Starr pulls similar stunts in the comics, but from the position of seniority that we see him in during the present-day Vietnam scenes here.

(**) The descendants of Christ idea is the piece of the comics I was most skeptical about any adaptation actually being able to do. There are still many ways the show can go with this — for the moment, we hear about but don’t actually see the would-be savior — but it’s not flinching yet.

Starr and the Grail come into focus at a very welcome point in the series. Whatever momentum the new season seemed to possess has mostly fizzled since the gang arrived in New Orleans. There have been some good episodes, but no real sense of urgency about the mission to find God, which here seems to hit a dead end as they visit the last of the city’s many jazz clubs without finding Him. The Saint had to be dealt with, and I appreciated that the experience would be so traumatizing — even to a hardened killer like Tulip — that “Pig” needed to devote some time to the PTSD aftermath. Recent installments have also filled in some gaps in the backstories of all three leads, but it’s time to get moving again — narratively, if not geographically, and I’m hopeful that this full introduction of Starr makes that happen.

Some other thoughts:

* There are enough French speakers in New Orleans that Cassidy finally runs into one who can translate Denis for him, which reveals his son wants to be made an immortal vampire like his old man. Cassidy’s a pretty miserable fellow, so you can understand why he wouldn’t wish this on his offspring, but the trip to the morgue to see the grieving children seems to be giving him second thoughts.

* Jesse is unsurprisingly concerned about the impact of giving up even one percent of his soul to stop the Saint, and I’m glad the show didn’t instantly forget that. It’s a big deal, particularly for a man of the cloth.

* I’m glad we got to actually visit the bulletproof vest bar — dubbed, of course, the Hurt Locker — rather than just hear about it last week, and the scene where the trio scammed the patrons by pretending to kill Cassidy was a rare and welcome moment of all three having a good time at the same time. Last week, I joked about the parallels between them and the Burn Notice leads, and when I watch how relaxed and fun Cooper, Negga, and Gilgun are in light moments like this, I don’t think I’d much mind a full USA “blue skies” version of the show.

* Cassidy’s mostly too distracted by Denis’ request to really think about Tulip kissing him during the Hurt Locker scam, but there’s no way that improves things in this love triangle of which she is blissfully unaware.

* The song playing during the Grail audition montage is “Blood On the Risers,” a “Battle Hymn of the Republic” parody (the chorus is “Gory, gory, what a helluva way to die!”) that became an unofficial American paratrooper anthem during World War II. The 101st memorably sings it in one of the final episodes of Band of Brothers:

* Jesse’s conversation with the doomsday prophet not only calls back to Tom Cruise’s explosive death in the series premiere, but points out how events from our own reality (the Cubs finally winning a World Series, Donald Trump being elected President) could be perceived as signs of the end times by some.

* I love that the Grail allegedly took out both Abraham Lincoln and John Belushi as threats to their plan.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com