At this point, halfway into the first season of a new show, we should have a solid idea of who the players are, what their motivations and goals are, and generally where the main arc is headed. Suffice it to say, Preacher is no ordinary show, for good and bad. It’s shit-kicking fun, but could seriously use some focus pull on the plot.
On a meta level, Preacher is aiming at some very complex targets. Jesse claims to be a good man now, that people can change, and that he can be an agent for change on the Lord’s behalf. Tulip ain’t buying it for reasons that go beyond romance. She needs Jesse to still be bad because that gives her cause to mete out revenge on Carlos. On a deeper level, if he can’t change, then there’s no point in her trying to, either. His bad behavior is her excuse to continue to live a life of cowboy justice and moral apathy. Change bores Cassidy. On the surface, he loves the life he leads. We still haven’t had enough shading in on Cassidy’s personality, but if the comics are anything to go by, the audience would do well to hold onto that notion of change and “We are who we are.”
Tulip is right, Jesse is a bad man and no amount of holy collars and tight black jeans can change that. He uses the Voice to force his will much like he and Tulip once used guns. He cares more about the gold star of being a savior than of actually taking time to save people. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether the Voice is God or not (it’s not). Jesse isn’t interested in the will of God any more than he cares about the fate of the church. Jesse Custer cares about himself and satisfying his ego. Talking Odin Quincannon into “believing” in God is a power trip dressed up in sacramental cloth. if Jesse truly cared about the fate of his flock, he’d stick around long enough to see the results of his will. He uses the Voice with increasingly reckless abandon, giving vague commands with no consideration to how those orders will be enacted or what the consequences will be.
Preacher is a gorgeous, powerfully acted show with a gonzo script and hyper stylized, pulpy tone. It’s also absolute anarchy on the storytelling front, often sacrificing key character development moments or much needed explication for monologues and shocks. Not that those monologues aren’t haunting and vivid, or the shocks chilling and rife with gallows humor. The chainsaw murder scene in the church as Cassidy and the Heavenly choirboys battle over a passed-out Jesse will go down as one of the best scenes in the show’s (hopefully long) history. I’ve gone back to rewatch that scene several times now and it gets funnier each time. And Ruth Negga is the queen of devastating speeches. Despite the weak Texas accent (a crime the main trio are all guilty of), she nails the emotional core of every line. Listening to her recount a darkly funny story about Jesse shooting a komodo dragon because a guy ogled her, you can almost see the scene play out in real time. Problem is, the story doesn’t actually tell us anything we don’t already know.
By episode 5, nearly every scene with Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy interacting with each other hits the same beats with no new rhythm. The story keeps circling the plot instead of pushing it forward. And as much as I love the trips down flashback lane with the Saint and Ratwater, until they find a way to connect back to Jesse in a way that’s more meaningful than our preacher man watching the sunrise under the hanging tree, the digression is more or less pointless to everyone not familiar with the comics. Same goes for the Man in the White Hat and Suit.
All this has me worried about the future of the show. There is an over-reliance on titillation, to the point where the storytelling is starting to suffer. With every new, seemingly unconnected side story thrown into the mix with no foundation or focus, the confusion gets deeper. I know where the Ratwater story is going, but even I was getting a bit bored by the end of it because I knew we still wouldn’t get any tie into the main plot. I know why they’re showing these history lessons and I know how they will eventually connect back to Jesse, but without actually building up the connective tissue, it’s time stolen from the main characters.
This is what comes of trying to cram in too many stories and characters too soon. Preacher is strong enough on other fronts that I don’t think the writers’ scattershot approach is a death knell, but here’s hoping it’s first season jitters rather than a plan for the future. If Preacher is going to use seemingly unrelated flashbacks every season à la Arrow, the show and I might have to have some words.
- “I know you, Jesse Custer. I know that deep down, you’re a bad, bad man.”
- “Now, there’s three possible explanations here. Number one: John Travolta. You know the movie where he gets his power from a brain tumor. Number two: Jason Bourne. Gets his power from a secret government agency. Or, aye, it’s least likely, but it’s my favorite: you’re a Jedi.”
- I’m also a bit worried about Dominic Cooper. Jesse Custer should be the most interesting person in the trio, but he’s vastly outcharmed and outacted by Negga and Gilgun. Cooper is obviously capable of more than what he’s putting out in Preacher, but heaven help me, I’d kinda rather have a spinoff with Tulip kicking Cassidy’s ass from sea to shining sea.
- Out of all the things they chose to keep from the comics, fridging the Saint’s wife and daughter should not have been it. And to add the rape of a nice woman to his motivations doesn’t make me any more confident in Preacher’s writers’ room.
- Donny’s B-plot has become much more intriguing. He starts off as a redneck bruiser and ends up weeping and helpless.
- If the hanging tree is so close to Annville, does that mean Annville is built over Ratwater, or is it a neighboring town? The former would make for a more fascinating tangle, for reasons I won’t get into for comics spoilers…
- I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do with Emily. She hasn’t done much but pine over Jesse and sit still while he exploits the hell outta her. If she plans on getting some comeuppance on him, she better hurry up and get to it.
- Speaking of feminism and wasting perfectly good female characters, I very much do not care for turning Emily and Tulip into harpies bickering over a man. I get that the writers think they’re playing at the women vying to be Jesse’s moral compass, but it comes off as two women doing battle over a dude who doesn’t deserve either of them, which ugh.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.