Up to this point, Preacher has always served up liberal helpings of humour and craziness alongside the violence and drama, but this week, things took an altogether darker turn. Eschewing big set pieces and gore for a more character-driven offering gave the show some much-needed emotional heft. But the lack of diverting spectacle also shone a light on some areas in which Preacher is sorely lacking.
“He’s Gone” clearly refers to Eugene Root, whom Jesse condemned to a fiery fate last week, albeit in the heat of the moment (sorry), but it’s a nicely nuanced title, which picks up on many of the show’s key themes and story-points. Jesse, convinced any events he’s a conduit for must be God’s will, stubbornly refused to acknowledge the wrongness of Eugene’s banishment, even when he was he confronted by Cassidy who, as it turned out, had witnessed the entire debacle. We finally found out what went on between Eugene and comatose Tracy Loach, with Jesse refuting Cassidy’s claims that an innocent teen had been sent to the inferno by revealing that an infatuated Eugene had blasted Tracy in the head before turning a shotgun on himself when she rebuffed his advances. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of the straightforward, spoken exposition as a way of filling the long-teased blanks. Last week, it felt like a bit of cheat move when, after their attempts to lure and then hack Genesis out of Jesse, DeBlanc and Fiore simply filled the preacher in on the entire origins story over a table in a diner. And here again, after weeks of hinting and insinuation, it seemed as if Eugene’s tale was too easily given up.
More successful were the flashback scenes, with young Tulip and Jesse fighting at school and generally rabble-rousing, much to the chagrin of Jesse’s preacher pa. Although he let Tulip stay in the Custer home for a short spell while her mother was in jail and her uncle three sheets to the wind, it wasn’t long before love’s young dream was interrupted by a visit from the child welfare authorities, and Jesse was praying for his father’s death, a prayer that was answered the very same night. So now we know why Jesse is so determined to do right by the late preacher. Because of the nature of the show, it’s hard to know whether Jesse’s childish wish actually had some bearing on events, or whether his guilt is misplaced, especially when the flashbacks were viewed alongside scenes from the present day, such as the one where Tulip accidentally set the oven on fire when Sheriff Root came looking for his son, temporarily turning the kitchen into a vision of Hell.
But Jesse’s hitherto unshakable faith in the Voice was tested not just by Eugene’s disappearance, but the seeming imperviousness of Odin Quincannon to its power. Having bet his daddy’s land that he could make the packing magnate a Christian if he stepped foot inside the church, Jesse was flummoxed to learn that Odin was certainly no well-meaning servant of God. If we’ve learnt anything over the last six weeks, it’s that it’s probably not a good idea to welch on a bet with a man who listens to slaughterhouse cacophonies for fun and thinks nothing of blowing business rivals away mid-meeting! Indeed, the sight of Quincannon and his employees dressed in their Civil War re-enactment garb, heading for the church was pretty chilling. Jesse is going to be glad of that loudhailer come next week, I’m sure.
The final nail in the coffin of Jesse’s certainty was the revelation that his best friend was a vampire. While Tulip seemed singularly unfussed about the whole bloodsucking thing when she found out, Jesse found the whole thing rather hard to swallow. Cassidy took a gamble by listing his numerous sins, tossing Jesse a fire extinguisher, and stepping into the sunlight, and we don’t actually know what’s become of him at this point. Tulip seemed to think he’d been sent away. Emily’s expression suggested she feared worse. But what was clear was that Jesse may at last have seen the light as far as Genesis is concerned, and may be on track to try and redeem himself if his feverish tearing up of the church floorboards where Eugene vapourised was anything to go by.
Some interesting character development here. For the first time, I really felt for Emily as she confessed her belief in Jesse only to be told she was stupid for it. Tulip too cut a sad figure as we saw her as a little girl for whom Jesse was a life raft to cling to when no one else was there for her, trying to be a ‘good’ woman for her lost love by attending sermons and cooking dinner (badly) and, for all her strength, being unable to drag her paralytic and pants-less uncle back inside his house under the cold scrutiny of the neighbours. Eugene fared less well. He’s been a hugely sympathetic character until now, and the idea of him as the kind of kid who would murder someone for knocking him back requires quite a stretch. Cassidy too, largely a comedic character all along, risked his life on a hunch that Jesse is a good man. Based on what? He started out as someone fairly passive and ineffectual, and most of the preacher’s actions post-Genesis have been pretty deplorable.
Here’s the problem – and it’s a big one. Without the dazzling strangeness and the bloody fights and the one-liners, Preacher hinges on its central characters – principally on Jesse Custer. The dinner scene underscored how pivotal he is, not just to the community, but to Emily, Tulip, and Cassidy personally. BUT, I’m starting to doubt that he’s a rounded or charismatic enough character to inspire the kind of cataclysmic love they all have for him. The nature of their feelings seems excessive for the amount of return. He’s done very little for Cassidy really, short of letting him stay in the church attic – arguably an act of Christian charity. He’s actively quite disrespectful to Emily, using her unrequited crush to get her to run errands for him. And he has blown hot and cold with Tulip since childhood, grudgingly returning her declaration of undying love one minute and then howling when she’s taken away. Similarly, Cassidy’s feelings for Tulip are based on a joyless bang in the backseat of her car after she’d thrown him out of a window. There was a lot to love in this episode, but we need to see something more from our linchpin.
Final Grade: B
+ “I’m going to lick your eyeball!” Tulip out-kinks everyone! Also, she bit off Donnie’s nipple. No wonder the guy has serious issues!
+ Hooray for Tulip calling Jesse a dick and walking away. She’s been defined by her obsession with him so far, but maybe this marks a turning point for her? We can but hope.
+ I really enjoyed the quieter, darker tone of the episode. Despite some ‘gaps’, there were also some really nice emotional punches.
– It’s not a good sign when you are kind of secretly rooting for Quincannon over your anti-hero!
– Cassidy’s rants about The Big Lebowski were initially funny, but are now in danger of highlighting the show’s own flaws – and not in an intentional, meta way!
– Preacher, by its nature, is problematic in terms of shock character deaths because of the supernatural elements. The stakes never feel that high when you know someone can be brought back by angels or regenerate because they’re a vampire – especially when they’re a series regular!
It seems likely that Jesse will need to bargain with Heaven to get Eugene back, but what will a swim in the lake of fire have done to the unfortunate arse-faced boy?!
What did you think? Was this moody, brooding installment just the change of pace you needed, or did the clunky exposition make you rage like Quincannon at a corporate team-building weekend? Sound off in the comments or tell us on Twitter!