Oh hey, a pretty good episode! One with a clear arc, some fine set-pieces, a decent sense of wackiness, and legitimate forward momentum. Last week, I went off on how the show has more or less buried itself, its various problems stemming from some basic misunderstandings on how stories are supposed to work—misunderstandings that aren’t going to fix themselves overnight. However, it’s still possible to have a decent hour or two from time to time, and “The Coffin” fits the bill. There are bits and pieces that don’t quite work, and the episode would’ve been stronger if the season had done a better job of getting us to this point, but still, this is solid, and largely free from the missteps that have come to dog the show overall.
The biggest point in the hour’s favor is that it finally finds a way to make the threat of Grandma and her boys something more than just idle. After T.C. and Jody realize that Cassidy has escaped the Tombs, Jesse gets put into the coffin we saw in flashback so many episodes ago, and Tulip gets chained up. While Jesse struggles to figure out a way to escape a narrow box in the river, Marie considers her options, and Tulip makes her own play. Meanwhile Starr is working on training the new Messiah, which is going about as well as you’d expect, and Cassidy is making friends via some sort of vampire dating app? Anyway, it’s goofy, but it all ends up going somewhere, which is a lovely change of pace.
What makes this work is that, at least for a few minutes, it allows characters that need to be dangerous to actually be dangerous. The show’s laid back approach to Angelville—oh, these people are all monsters, but they’re also kind of goofy and pathetic, isn’t that nice?—makes sense for a TV show that wants to drag things out a bit, but absolutely robs the narrative of any urgency or suspense. Angelville is supposed to be a prison of sorts, trapping Jesse and his friends (well, just Jesse and Tulip at this point), but while we’ve been told about the blood compact and Marie’s hold over her grandson, those ideas have surprisingly little dramatic weight. Exposition alone isn’t enough to make a situation feel dangerous.
So while it’s not much, it was still a relief to see T.C. be actually scary for once, and to see Jesse get punished in a way that reminds us of the abusive dynamic he grew up in. Marie spends too long dithering over what she should do about Tulip, but her decision to eat Tulip’s soul makes sense and is a necessary step towards bringing the conflict to a head. The fact that we’re five episodes into the season and just now getting something that feels like an actual battle (as opposed to Jesse’s bizarre, doomed attempt to get his powers back earlier on) is a little absurd, but it’s still good to finally get there, and it gives the whole hour some much needed urgency and focus.
That focus also helps the episode’s weirder touches from going completely off the rails. There’s a lot of strangeness here to unpack, much of it from the source material but a few ideas which (I think) are original to the show. We saw Jesse’s “FUCK COMMUNISM” lighter last week, I think (apologies for not mentioning it then), and it comes back into play here; we also get to spend some time in Jesse’s head, as he imagines himself in a black and white Western, gunning down bad guys alongside a guy doing a passable John Wayne imitation. The man is never directly identified, but it’s not unreasonable to assume he’s supposed to be John Wayne, or at least a version of him from the movies. It’s an odd moment which helps to build Jesse up to the point where he’s willing to try a daring escape; I’m curious how it reads to people unfamiliar with the comics.
“The Coffin” also has the first appearance of the Allfather, the leader of the Grail and Herr Starr’s boss. The Allfather looks about the same as he did in the comics—an enormous, grotesque man whose size serves as some really obvious symbolism for his rapacious greed and power. He’s introduced here via Facetime, giving orders to Starr about the Messiah and generally throwing his weight around (no, I’m not sorry). It’s not the most impressive introduction for a character, but it gets the job done, and, apart from allowing for one of the episode’s weirder moments (Humperdoo’s dance), serves to push Starr back into Jesse Custer’s orbit. The Allfather wants to speed up the schedule for the end of the world, but Starr has no real faith in Humperdoo’s ability to lead the future. Hence his willingness to go along with Featherstone’s plan to trap Cassidy and use him as bait.
This goes badly, for reasons that will have to wait until next week to get into (short version: Cassidy is “saved” by a cult of wannabe vampires). Suffice to say that “The Coffin” does a good job of checking in with events in New Orleans without ever losing sight of the episode’s main story—Jesse and Tulip fighting to stay alive. This main story also has a bit of weirdness that, as far as I know, is completely original to the show: Madame Marie and T.C. having a bit of Civil War sexplay. It’s a funny bit, and while normally I’d be frustrated that the show was stopping to humanize characters who we’ve spent way too much time humanizing, it works fairly well here because of the context; T.C. is trying to distract Marie from killing Tulip, and the distraction doesn’t work.
The episode also has Tulip managing to free herself and kill Marie just as Jesse is coming back from the coffin. Tulip dies when Marie does, which is an inevitable twist that would’ve worked a lot better if we’d known why it was going to happen beforehand. You’d think Marie, who is supposed to be a survivor above all else, might have mentioned that as a fail safe before getting into a fist fight with Tulip. Regardless, the entry ends with Cassidy in the hands of the goofy cultists and Tulip and Jesse fighting for their souls against T.C. and Jody. Let the wild rumpus continue.
- “Werewolves of London” for the opening fight scene is… well, it’s a choice, I guess. (Look, I get that they wanted something upbeat to contrast against the cartoony violence, but at a certain point, goofiness becomes as boring as making the obvious choice.)
- Not a huge fan of the John Wayne impersonation here. Feels like it needed to be a bit more aggressive with the mannerisms.
- God shows up again to condescend to Tulip after she dies. Dude needs a hobby.
- I like that Featherstone’s “plan” to catch Cassidy was apparently just “wait until he knocks himself out with drugs.”
- Man, the show is reaching late-season Angel levels of not-caring-about-vampires-in-sunlight, isn’t it.