So this was frustrating. “The End Of The Road” opens with a strong flashback to Jesse’s days outside Angelville; the teenage Custer working as a low-fi parking lot attendant and pickpocket. When a pair of assholes in a pick-up truck come to take his money (which is the job) and torture him a little, Jesse is upset enough to kill a chicken. But then he feels bad about it, and brings the chicken to the mysterious Madame L’Angell—ie, the lady who used to lock him in a crate and drop the crate in the river—to beg her to bring the animal back to life.

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I’m not sure about that last development (although it’s crucial for the season cliffhanger), but putting that aside for a second, that first scene has style in spades. The few flashbacks we’ve had of Jesse’s younger days these seasons have all been solid, full of creepy mood setting and portent without belaboring the point and this is no exception. It means the episode’s final next to last scene, with Jesse and Cassidy heading to Angelville with Tulip’s dead body lying in the back seat, works; we’ve been waiting for the L’Angells to come back into Jesse’s life for a while, and there’s a sense of history and immediate stakes that could, at least in theory, make for some strong storytelling next year.

The problem is, so much of this season as a whole has been a series of repeated examples of how little the writers of this show understand how to build and conclude story arcs. There are good scenes in “The End Of The Road,” and a few good payoffs, but even the best bits are undermined by the lousy pacing that built up to them. What it all really comes down to is that this is a show with tremendous potential that still doesn’t really understand how to be a TV show. It can do great things, but it lacks the consistency necessary to create more than just a collection of interesting moments. Which, like I said, is frustrating; I can’t write this off as bad, but I can’t just relax and enjoy it.

Take, say, the end of Cassidy and Denis’ relationship. The actual conclusion is a good one: Cassidy, terrified he’ll give into his worst impulses and kill Tulip, decides that he can no longer afford to have Denis around as a constant reminder of his bad self. So he throws Denis out into the sun to burn alive. After spending so much time setting up Denis as a mysterious potential threat, this a great subversion of expectations, once again reminding us that Cassidy is a weak and selfish asshole even when he’s trying not to murder his friends.

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The problem is the “so much time” part. Denis has been wandering around the background of scenes for weeks now, and we’ve never learned more about him than the fact that he’s happier as a vampire, and he’s probably kind of a dick. While a bit of extra time does make the resolution more unexpected, this was far too drawn out, especially for something that ends so abruptly. Both Cassidy and Tulip were essentially stuck in holding pattern storylines for what feels like half the season, to the point where everything came to a screeching halt every time they showed up on screen. Which is doubly frustrating considering how good the actors are in their respective roles. They both deserve more interesting material to work with.

At least Jesse’s relationship with the Grail has developed over time. Starr setting him up to go viral is a decent way to modernize the story, and I snickered at the repeated mentions of Jimmy Kimmel, if not very loudly. Right now, the Grail is the closest thing the show has to a Big Bad, and while not every series needs a major villain to hold everything together, it’s at least nice to have a persistent threat. The fight scene in the classroom is fun, and there’s some thrill out of Jesse abandoning the plane before flying to California when he gets word from Cassidy that Tulip’s been shot. A character getting temporarily seduced into a bad situation, only to make the right call when someone he loves is in danger is a good, reliable narrative—and while no one wants this show to turn completely conventional, it could definitely use more basic storytelling building framework to give all its lunacy context.

Unfortunately, it’s gotten to the point where I no longer automatically trust creative decisions to pay off down the line. The fact that Madame L’Angell can apparently resurrect the dead gives supernatural powers to a character who, so far as I can remember, didn’t have any such thing in the source material. That power is what’s ultimately used to force Jesse to go back to Angelville, but as much as it feels necessary to bring that story into the show (it’s critically important in understanding who Jesse is and why he’s so driven to find God), this is a clumsy, forced way to manage it. It could still work, but so many of the deviations that the show’s made have failed that it’s difficult to be optimistic about, well, any of this.

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They’ve also managed to bungle the connections between the three leads. After some interesting efforts to both strengthen the bonds between Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy, as well as showing how those bonds might well be doomed (remember when Tulip was married?), everything’s back to being kind of ill-defined and annoying again. Tulip is a damsel in distress, and the fight scene between Jesse and Cassidy, which should’ve played like the inevitable, horrifying result of their arc, just sort of happens. It works in the moment, but by the time Cassidy’s telling Jesse “I hate you,” it’s more than a little reverse-engineered and arbitrary.

There are questions left for next season: Will Tulip survive? (I mean, probably.) Why is the Word not working? (I thought this was something Starr had done, but it looks like I was wrong—he’s as surprised as Jesse in that classroom.) Why does it mean that Starr has some of Jesse’s soul? And what’s Hitler going to do in the real world? I’m vaguely curious about all of it, except for the Hitler thing which just makes me tired; I’m not looking forward to The Further Adventures Of Eugene And Hitler next year. I can’t quit this show yet, but man, I wish it would stop giving me reasons why I should.

Stray observations

  • The absence of God means the leadership in Hell feels like they don’t have to follow the rules anymore. Which at least connects Eugene’s story to the main plot a little.
  • That last scene with God in a hotel room was fine.
  • The two assholes in the truck are J.C. and Jody, both important figures in the comic’s L’Angell story arc.
  • “You’re out of moisturizer… bitch.” Hoover remains a delight.

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