Cassidy might be the real hero of ‘Preacher.’ And that might be okay.

“The End of the Road,” the season 2 finale of Preacher, is fabulous. The show has always suffered from some ups and downs, particularly with pacing. But I’ll watch a hundred slow episodes to get to the intensity of those final eight minutes.

There are some serious spoilers ahead, so stop reading now if you have yet to see the episode.

Preacher Jesse School

Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper)

Have you already seen it?

Good.

Tulip’s death is shocking, but if you’ve read the books, it’s expected. The wheres and the whys are different, but the event itself is the one I was speculating about two weeks ago. What’s much more moving, as far as I’m concerned, is the reaction it causes. A mild resentment has been simmering under the surface for a long time, and in Jesse and Cassidy’s fight, we see it come out in wild and desperate physicality. It’s gratifying to see it finally happen, but it’s also gut-wrenching in a way we’ve come not to expect from this show. And it brings up an interesting question:

Is Cassidy the real hero of Preacher?

Jesse’s coolness as Tulip is dying isn’t bad—it’s actually incredibly useful. But it can’t help but feel a little flat against Cassidy’s frantic, lovelorn desperation. Cassidy can’t stand the thought of losing Tulip, and he fights tooth and nail to try to save her. His disbelief when Jesse tells him to let her die is heartbreaking.

Cassidy’s motives have always been a little unclear—his conversation with Jesse in “Dallas” certainly brought things into question. But this episode seems to cement a love and a selflessness that make it hard not to empathize with him. He could have bitten Tulip the moment she was shot—it would have saved her life and effectively bound her to him forever. Instead, he calls Jesse, both giving his biting idea an audience and saving it as a last resort.

He wants Tulip to survive as herself.

Cassidy Tulip Preacher

Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga)

This is especially impressive given the way he’s been thinking about her lately, thanks to Denis. While Denis’ trajectory has been more or less predictable, it takes a slight turn at the end that’s both surprising and powerful. He was never destined to be a good vampire, and Cassidy was always destined to stop him. Cassidy’s reasoning, however, came as a real shock to me. Cassidy doesn’t kill Denis to dole out justice.

He does it to protect himself.

Denis’ newfound bloodlust gets to Cassidy, making him see the world as he hasn’t in who knows how long. It even derails his fantasy about Tulip finally falling for him, his Holy Grail for two seasons that’s finally within reach. Cassidy’s murder of Denis isn’t an act of judgment—it’s one of self-preservation.

By killing Denis, Cassidy hopes to kill the part of himself that Denis represents. And he does it, one might argue, for Tulip.

This decision is repeated, in a different way, in the following scene. Cassidy sits alone in the car in his reflective glasses, looking more like his illustrated counterpart than ever, and he lets Banjo the chihuahua go. For a few episodes now, Banjo has represented the tension between Cassidy and Denis, between Cassidy’s humanity and Denis’ lack of it. In releasing Banjo, Cassidy acknowledges his own lack of humanity, while at the same time rejecting it. It achieves the same goal as Denis’ murder, but in a different way.

First Cassidy disavows his bloodlust through death. Then he does it again through life.

And in trying to save Tulip, he redeems himself completely. The part of him that’s drawn to blood is trumped, when it comes down to it, by the part of him that loves her. And it shows itself in a panicked misery that’s more human and touching than anything we’ve seen in the past two seasons.

Cassidy Preacher

Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun)

Of course, Cassidy’s isn’t the only story. Tulip herself has a beautiful moment alone in the car, delivering an episode’s worth of emotion in a quiet, reflective song. And Jesse, while he may not have the emotional depth that Cassidy does, is just as fascinating a participant in the fight over Tulip’s life. His desperation not to let Cassidy bite (or even touch) Tulip is very telling. As is his final decision to take her to Angelville—it’s never clear just when he realizes that death doesn’t have to be the end.

But with or without the prospect of resurrection, it’s a hell of a thing to watch two men who love the same woman fight over whether she should live or die.

The last major storyline—Eugene’s escape from Hell—is a lovely bit of levity in an otherwise very heavy episode. The awkward confusion over Charon’s horn and Eugene’s pre-existing condition make for a very distinct brand of comedy Preacher doesn’t usually employ, and its use is refreshing if a little odd.

More in the show’s wheelhouse is the uncomfortable small talk as Eugene and Hitler ride the Distant Vistas bus. The whole sequence from start to finish is a lovely and funny open ending to Eugene’s story. And while I was rooting for a truly reformed Hitler simply for the novelty and irreverence of it, this turn of events is satisfying, too.

It may be worth it simply for poor Eugene’s face as he realizes his mistake.

Hitler And Eugene

Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor), Eugene Root (Ian Colletti)

“The End of the Road” is fantastic—it’s the best episode of the season and possibly the series. The payoff is outrageous, unexpected, and genuinely heartbreaking. By killing Tulip, Preacher has likely managed to shock all of its fans who haven’t read the source material. By setting her death as the catalyst for a showdown between Jesse and Cassidy, it’s still managed to seriously move those of us who have.

The third season of Preacher has yet to be announced, though AMC has apparently already filed to shoot in Louisiana in January. This is a good, if not surefire sign that Cassidy and Jesse will get to Angelville sometime next summer. If any powers that be are on still on the fence, this episode ought to convince them of the kind of punch the show can deliver. I came to Preacher for the sacrilege, but I stayed for the storytelling.

And you should, too.

More to Read: