by Logan Cox
It's been a slow burn, but I think we're finally getting somewhere.
Though it's as disjointed and bewildering as everything we've seen so far, "South Will Rise Again" shows the dots connecting in a big way, plot-wise. Things are starting to come out into the open, the big picture becoming clearer and clearer.
The Saint vs. The Town of Ratwater
The opening of this episode picks up where the opening of See left off: The Saint of Killers riding into the town of Ratwater without his guns in 1881. Looking to buy medicine for his sickly child, he's forced to stay overnight at the town saloon. All travelers have to board at the saloon apparently, and it's here that the Saint witnesses the ugliness of the town. The owner buys a bag of Mexican scalps at half-price, a boy is forced to watch as his father is killed and his mother is raped in plain sight, and the town preacher is a vile degenerate who tells bestiality jokes.
The Saint almost escapes the town unscathed, but morality compels him to go back when he sees the kindly homesteader family he met earlier heading into Ratwater. In the process of his rescue, he discovers the family's cheerful patriarch is selling Indian scalps and runs afoul of the preacher and some Ratwater thugs, who submit the Saint to a harsh beating. The preacher, recognizing the Saint from the Battle of Gettysburg, kills his horse out of spite. After making the long journey home on foot, the Saint arrives only to discover his wife and daughter have been murdered and left to the crows. He gets his guns.
More Saint of Killers, please.
The Preacher vs. The Town of Annville
Annville's preacher may be a step above Ratwater's, but his influence is even more unsettling. Jesse is feeling pretty righteous after making a born-again Christian out of Odin Quincannon, the town's most notable atheist. Everyone's excited to hear what Jesse has to say now, and he says a lot, spreading his good word, putting that godlike superpower of his to work. It seems like he's giving the townsfolk sound wisdom (and fair commands)... but we've seen the very literal, mind-screwing nature of this ability. The most obvious example is its first victim, Ted, who "opened his heart" to his mother. Then there's Linus, who lost all memory of a girl on the school bus he drives (in addition to his creepy desires for her), and Tracy Loach who was able to open her eyes, but remains in a vegetative state.
Now we have our latest example, Odin. At first, it appears as if Jesse's plan worked. Odin seems like a much nicer, more agreeable guy looking to make amends for his ignorant ways. He reaches out to Mayor Miles and decides to meet with the Green Acre Group to make a deal for the benefit of Annville. When the environmentalists show up, Odin cordially invites them into his office... then he whips out a shotgun and murders them all in front of Miles. He followed through with his original plan after all and took care of his competition. Maybe the epiphany Jesse forced on him merely exacerbated his plans, making a potential problem an inevitable atrocity. I think I was right in assuming that Jesse's power did nothing more than instill in Odin an extreme religious fervor to apply to his own seedy business dealings.
Either way, Odin probably doesn't even realize what's been done to him, but his right-handless right-hand man Donnie does. He's still reeling from his last encounter with Jesse, wherein the preacher compelled him to put his own gun in his mouth. Poor ignorant Donnie's inability to comprehend what happened to him might have been my favorite part of the episode; comparing himself in that moment to livestock waiting to be slaughtered was rather poignant. On that note, I find it interesting that we had the Donnie & Betsy relationship all wrong in the beginning. Donnie's not a tyrant abusing his family; Betsy is the one wearing the pants and she just enjoys a little S&M from her husband.
The Angels vs. The Heavenly Phone
Once again, the Angels provide the least bit of development. After spending all of last episode in their motel room worrying about a phone call for heaven, they spend all of this episode preparing themselves to actually answer the phone when it rings. Just as they're about to near the end, it stops ringing, prompting them to bite the bullet and meet with Jesse. And they tell him what we already knew, that the force existing within him is not the power of God, but something else entirely.
The Plight of Arseface
Eugene "Arseface" Root continues to be the show's most endearing character, despite his gruesome mug. He's a young man who, even though he tries to be a kind and loving person, is made to be defined only by his disfigurement and the mistakes he made in the past. The waitress at the diner calls him "it", and everyone blames him for the tragedy that befell Tracy Loach (and I'm guessing the rest of her family). Even his own father is tired of enduring his presence. The only one who seems to care about ol' Arseface is Jesse Custer, who decides to take care of his problem by having him meet with Mrs. Loach. This turns violent very quickly, but Jesse uses his ability to diffuse the situation and compels Mrs. Loach to forgive Eugene for what he did.
And though he may be a tender-hearted, Eugene isn't stupid. He witnessed Jesse using his power and it freaked him out. So now he knows something is up with the preacher, just like Emily.
I'm still a bit peeved about how vague this backstory is. We still don't know what happened. Eugene clearly had something to do with what happened to Tracy, but her mother doesn't consider Tracy dead, so why does everyone including Mrs. Loach call him a "murderer?" I guess we'll find out.
The "Love" Triangle
Coming off the heels of the last episode, we rejoin Tulip and Cassidy. Another favorite part of this episode was the very to-the-point vampire Q&A between the two outlaws. This interaction leads to another critical element from the comics: the dark love triangle between Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy. After one kiss and only a few hours in each other's company, Cassidy admits to have fallen in love with Tulip. He's eager to join her in her revenge quest against Carlos and willing to steal her out from whatever boyfriend she's waiting on. Little does he know that that boyfriend is actually his best mate, Jesse. Tulip doesn't acknowledge him initially, but after meeting the smitten Emily and getting spurned by Jesse once again, she apparently has a change of heart. She robs a drug store to procure some opiates for Cassidy, then dispassionately offers herself to him. It seems like she's doing this in a last bid to get Jesse's full-attention. That will certainly complicate things in the future.
Bits & Pieces:
* While it could be seen as foreshadowing her loveless romp with Cassidy, I thought Tulip's story -- the one in which Jesse shot a guy's Komodo dragon in the face because the guy was checking her out -- was ridiculous. And not in this show's usual hilarious and audacious kind of "ridiculous." Just ridiculous. Their seriousness about it didn't help either.
* We briefly see a man curiously inspecting a pressure meter. I think this is related to the gas-spewing vents coming up from the ground around Annville. We see one of these vents near the hanging tree that the Saint of Killers kept passing in 1881.
* This is the second episode in a row where Emily was caught in an embarrassing moment that involved her using the toilet.
* Jesse is very nonchalant about damages to his vehicles.
* I seriously love how they keep drawing attention to that coffee can.
Saloon Keeper: A hundred for a brave, fifty for a squaw, ten for a child!
There's no such thing as "the good old days."
Preacher of Ratwater: (to The Saint of Killers) Gettysburg. Third day, Pickett's Charge. You were the 4th Virginian. I was with the 8th Ohio. I ain't never seen a man more in love with killin' than you.
Donnie: All them years I was a knocker, watchin' those cows wind their way through the maze, turnin', turnin', marchin' into the kill floor. But just at the last second, at the very last second, 'fore they get the bolt and drop, they get a look in their eyes. 'Cause they know what's comin'. And they're realizin' all the "don't wanna" in the world ain't gonna change this, 'cause they're "gonna."
Odin Quincannon: I got defensive. I pulled my pants down. And... I reacted.
Strip Club Sign: Thousands of Beautiful Girls and Three Fat Ones
Cassidy: Are we goin' steady now?
Tulip: Even better. We're in love.
That did not look like love.
This time around I found myself way more fascinated and emotionally invested in the supporting characters like Arseface, Quincannon, Donnie, and The Saint of Killers than the three main protagonists. With the meetings and murders toward the end, they've got the ball rolling a little faster now, at least. Next episode looks like it will be jam-packed with crazy, so I look forward to that. Three out of four bloody scalps.