Are You There God? It’s Me, Jesse. Or, Deconstructing Preacher Season 1

If you looked up “uneven” in the dictionary, Preacher would be one of the first entries, right next to The Walking Dead. Developments that feel organic to one viewer come off as forced plot necessities to another. Where one character moment may seem powerful and heartbreaking, someone else only sees a sudden out of character shift lacking prior groundwork. Sure, there’s a lot of great work coming out of the writers’ room, but there’s also an increasing number of troublesome issues bogging down the story. No one seems to have figured out what sort of show Preacher is supposed to be, to the detriment of the characters, narrative, and series arc.

Spoilers ahead.

As a fan of the comics, I’m not entirely sold on many of the changes from page to screen. Jesse, Tulip, Cassidy, and the Saint are all lesser creations in the hands of Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg than Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, and most of the plot shifts don’t mesh well with the original storylines despite futile attempts to wedge them in. At this point, the show and its characters are so different from the comics that whenever the new plot veers back around to the old one it feels jarring and disconnected. It’s not that I want a literal remaking of the comics live on television, just the opposite, in fact. I like that the show is doing something drastically different, I just wish it made more interesting choices, or at least established stronger foundations to build on those choices.

New Jesse doesn’t work with old Jesse’s plot anymore than Tulip, Cassidy, the Cowboy/Saint, or Quincannon do. Making Jesse Custer a preacher who desperately wants to be a good Christian instead of a modern day John Wayne meting out frontier justice makes his battle against Odin Quincannon and the Saint (or should I say the Cowboy, for that is all he apparently is now) less powerful, less meaningful, and less fraught. It’s not that this new Jesse isn’t inherently interesting, but he isn’t quite interesting enough as long as the show keeps wandering down the general direction of the comic books.

One of the reasons the Annville explosion works in the comics is that Jesse directly causes it just as the Saint personally slaughters everyone in Ratwater. This puts him parallel to the Saint, thus showing they’re two sides of the same brutal coin. Here, though, he’s only an indirect causality which strips him of any and all responsibility. Moreover, the Saint of Killers isn’t anything but some rando who lost his family and got beat up by a dickish preacher then killed a bunch of barflies. He isn’t the epitome of Jesse’s cowboy justice philosophy. He is nothing but a guy with a gun and an endless supply of bullets. The writers doused the fire of a potentially powerful plot before it even got going. Catlin, Rogen, and Goldberg’s absurd, surreal tone clashes a little too much with the enforced gradual pacing and eventual payoffs they ported over from the comics. I don’t need the show to live up to or best the comics, but it has to earn its accolades and so far it hasn’t.

PreacherS1Fin_1

Setting aside the doom and gloom whinging about beloved pop culture things being immutable to my whims and desires, there’s still a lot to like about the show. Although the season as a whole is weaker than it should be given its credentials, each individual episode is comprised of parts greater than their sum. Preacher is stylish as hell, and every episode features at least one standout scene that makes it worth the whole rest of the hour. I liked spending time with the show even if I wasn’t always happy with the fruits of my labor.

The main cast is effervescently cool and charming. I want to be BFFs with Tulip immediately and forever. She is just the best. Ruth Negga’s Tulip is a lot closer to the comic book Jesse than Dominic Cooper’s Jesse. She’s the cowboy justice fanatic, the one pushing for an eye for an eye and settling the score even if it means cold blooded murder. The main trio are so intensely awesome—even if Jesse is the weakest of the bunch—that everyone not them sucks the life out of their scenes. Eugene was about as fun as drywall until he went through the chipper that is Jesse’s psyche. Sheriff Root, who was a caricature of a caricature of a caricature in the comics, here is an endearing albeit ignorant man who loves his son even as he despises what Eugene did. That is in large part due to the fantasticness of W. Earl Brown, a man who lights up a show simply by his presence.

But the one I’m most impressed with is Emily. She was hardly more than a damp dishrag in the premiere, but by the finale she had some fire in her belly. Murdering Mayor Miles was the best and worst thing she could’ve ever done and for the first time I actually cared about her. She is the theme of this season personified. For all that Jesse preaches about doing good, he still cheats to get the results he wants without putting in the work to change. Emily, like Jesse, lives a life built on the lie that doing good is the same as being good but when faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity she leaps on it with ruthless abandon. She doesn’t kill Miles with her own two hands but she shoves him into a situation she knows neither he nor Cassidy can walk away from. Miles was no saint—he claimed to be a good Christian but sided with Quincannon over desecrating a house of God and killing innocent do-gooders—but Emily didn’t kill him to balance the scales but because she wanted to. Her future was bound up in him whether he was alive or dead so she chose option number two. Emily was the beacon of light in Annville, the one person with moral backbone and spiritual determination, but all that was just as much of a costume as Donny’s Confederate grays or Jesse’s collar.

PreacherS1Fin_2

Of course all this philosophizing means jack all with the finale. Last spring’s abrupt end of The Walking Dead was infuriating in its disrespect for its audience, but with Preacher… I dunno, man, but it wasn’t good. Establishing the series themes around the town and its inhabitants only to blow it all up. Why? Jesse, Tulip, and Cass drive off into the sunset without even knowing the town is gone, so there’s no emotional follow through. He wasted how many years of his life determined to save them, used Genesis to force them to be better, then summoned God into his church all for the benefit of his flock, then, what, he just walks off without a second thought? The town is gone, done and dusted. And? What do we as an audience gain from that? More to the point, what do the trio gain from it?

If none of what happened in Annville mattered, if all we ultimately needed out of the town was for Jesse to get Genesis and he, Tulip, and Cassidy to become friends enough to roadtrip, why spend ten hours on it? Don’t mire the script in ten episodes when one or two would’ve sufficed. Get in, get out, get on with the story. Catlin, Rogen, and Goldberg insisted on using the first season as a semi-prequel to the comics. They built a world, shook its foundation, exposed its true nature, then dropped it in the trash like it was nothing. To quote Cassidy, “What’s the bloody point?”

Back when I covered the premiere episode, I praised the show’s frenetic nature. Not knowing what the frak was going on was thrilling and new. Midway through the season, that excitement had dulled to a looming sense of dread as style and bloody bombast began to overtake substance and structure. So now we’re at the finale of the first season and I’m not sure where to go from here.

Final Thoughts

  • “Till the end of the world, right?” Every time Tulip or Jesse say that line, my heart grows three sizes.
  • “Which is my daughter, and which is the cow?”
  • It’d be nice if Miss Oatlash got more to do than just being Quincannon’s voiceless secretary. I mean, she doesn’t have to be a BDSM Nazi lawyer with a Jesse Custer fetish, but some personality would be nice.
  • Punching Jesse for using Genesis to get Tulip to kiss him is the closest TV Tulip has gotten to Comic Book Tulip. More of that please.
  • Speaking of Tulip, her having a miscarriage because Carlos drove off with all her cash was awful and stupid. No more of that, show. And maybe get some more women involved in the writers’ room to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
  • That was possibly the least offensive way to give Quincannon a meat idol.
  • I actually teared up when Fiore came back from Hell alone, especially after that “Darling” line DeBlanc said when Fiore was pining over leaving his comics behind.
  • Those who don’t know what the deal is with the Saint, I mean the Cowboy, are probably royally confused right now…
  • Desmond Borges, the dude who played Carlos, gives me a chance to grab you by the lapels and demand that you go watch You’re The Worst right now.
  • Donny reading Gorillas in the Mist in bed was the best thing the show ever put on screen.

Alex Brown is a teen 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.

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