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Review: Preacher 1×04 “Monster Swamp”

We’re almost midway through the season, and Preacher is drip-feeding us backstory and starting to connect the dots, while still maintaining the bizarro, disjointed tone and an air of mystery.

This week opened with a familiar horror movie trope, as a pretty young lady in skimpy attire was chased through the woods by a masked man with a gun. But all was not as it seemed, as the pursuit was revealed to be a kinky game played between the workers at the local brothel and the workers of Odin Quincannon’s Meat and Power plant. But this is Preacher, and there was a double twist when the girl met a sticky end anyway, due a sink hole opening up beneath her feet after she was shot will a harmless paintball.

It wasn’t clear what’s causing the earth to move beneath people’s feet (aside from the goings-on in Mosie’s cat-house, presumably), but it’s a safe bet it’s something to do with Quincannon (a quietly chilling Jackie Earle Haley). This is a man who manages to make playing Q*Bert and painting lead figures look sinister, and his speech to the townsfolk in light of the dead girl being dragged out of the earth was hilariously cold. Presumably that’s why Jesse wants to ‘save’ him so badly.

Having declared to Emily that he wanted to pack out the church, Jesse set about getting Quincannon to attend. He also had Emily pick up a flat screen TV for a raffle to lure more of his wayward flock into the fold. I said last week that Emily hadn’t had much to do thus far, and we had a couple of interesting glimpses into her possible motivations this week. The way in which she tried briefly to say ‘no’ to Jesse’s (actually pretty unreasonable) request that she drop everything to help with his plans, but caved after a charged moment between them, showed that she’s pretty gone for the preacher, even if she’s perfectly aware that his interest in her not quite what she desires.

But it was her scenes with Mayor Miles which were most revealing, showing how the misery of unrequited love is being played forward. It was both surprising and a little heart-breaking to realise that while making it clear she has no interest in ever ‘being with’ the mayor, she has obviously been sleeping with him on a casual basis for some time. This was unsettling, both because of the way Miles insisted he would take no payment for sitting her kids but then immediately set about getting her a little drunk to lower her inhibitions, and because of the clinical way she removed her clothes, as if it was indeed a business transaction. This was particularly resonant in an episode dealing with prostitution. But was hard not to feel a little bad for Miles, who it seems does have genuine feelings for Emily – or believes he does. Plus he’d already had his briefcase pissed on by Quincannon that day.

Over at the brothel, Tulip was out for justice for the dead girl, Lacey. We learnt, via Mosie, that Tulip’s mother worked there once upon a time, and was usually too busy with Johns to spend time with her daughter. Tulip, it seems, has always had anger management issues, and these came to the fore when she beat a man she believed to be responsible for Lacey’s death mid-coitus, and threw him out of a window.

Luckily for her, it wasn’t Clive but Cassidy she whaled on, and a panicked trip to the emergency room revealed that he wasn’t quite the innocent victim she at first thought. Having already swindled inept angels DeBlanc and Fiore out of wads of cash to spend on drugs and blow jobs, Cassidy used her guilt to persuade Tulip to kiss him. I initially thought she might be going the way of the cow in the pilot, but maybe this is the beginning of a love triangle?

Speaking of DeBlanc and Fiore, it transpired that this odd couple may be AWOL from Heaven, and are holed up in a seedy motel avoiding phone calls from their celestial superiors!

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The most compelling aspect of this episode for me, were the flashbacks to Jesse’s young life with his father. Having only seen the moments leading up to John Custer’s death until now, it was fascinating to see where Jesse’s ideology stems from. It also gave us an indication of just how long Jesse and Tulip’s lives have been entwined and also entrenched in violence and the notion of actions having immediate consequences, with John catching the pair smoking and taking his belt to Jesse in front of Tulip.

It was interesting to see John try – and fail – to bring Odin to Christianity, and declare that some people can’t be saved. Young Jesse obviously took this to be a gauntlet he needed to take up, and now with the loaded dice that is The Voice, he set about making sure Quincannon would attend his sermon by betting a strip of land that he could convert him. Indeed, Jesse seemed to be willing to round up his congregation by any means necessary, and delivered a blistering sermon to his captive audience. It’s starting to become clear that the preacher’s motives for bringing the people of Annsville to God might be more about fixing his own shortcomings and troubled memories, and not about ‘goodness’ at all. His lack of regard for the consequences of using his new talent to force people to his will was very apparent this episode, and I am looking forward to seeing what chaos is going to be unleashed upon the depraved town.

Final Grade: B+

+ Joseph Gilgun continues to be an absolute joy, bringing this lovable Irish bloodsucker vividly to life.

+ I’m enjoying the way in which the goal-posts keep shifting in terms of just how deep the corruption and decadence runs in Annville. There are absolute horrors hinted out but never explicitly marked out.

+ The scenes with young Jesse and John were standout for me this episode. There were definite ‘sins of the father’ implications at play here, and my interest is piqued.

– I hope Tulip’s backstory plays out in a slightly more interesting way than ‘she is angry with the world because her mother was a prostitute’. The temper seems to have been an existing childhood issue, so I hope her history doesn’t get a reductionist treatment.

–  I feel like perhaps we needed more insight into Odin’s character for his conversion to be as shocking to us as it was to the rest of Annsville. Aside from the slaughterhouse soundtrack, the banality of his evil has largely been played for comic effect so far.

Extra Thought:

The aesthetic of Preacher is interesting in terms of when it’s set. The flashbacks this week suggested Jesse was a kid a long time in the past, but in the present day they have flat screen TVs. This makes Annville feel like a kind of timeless, liminal space.

What did you think? Was “Monster Swamp” a stinking quagmire, or a breath of fresh air? Sound off in the comments or on Twitter!

About the author

Katie Young