As a teen in the ’90s, Garth Ennis’ Preacher was near and dear to my heart. Filled with irreverent humor and a level of ultra violence that was not commonplace, at the time, and it was the type of rebellious rag that all of the cool, grunge kids read. Having said that, as much I adored Ennis’ original work, it was very much a product of its time, and I’m not what you would call a Preacher purist.
As such, I greatly enjoyed AMC’s Preacher series. Given the bizarre nature of the series, I greatly supported the decision to ease new fans into the series gradually, by presenting Jesse Custer’s attempts at preacher-hood; it was backstory as main story, and I think it worked pretty well, overall. They managed to shed a lot of the ’90s pop culture commentary, and bring the series into the 21st century rather nicely. Plus, they cast Anatol Yusef as one of Genesis’ guardians, and that right there is a surefire win, for me.
There has been a lot said about the season 1 finale for Preacher, and rightfully so. Not only is the finale one of the weakest episodes in the entire season, story-wise, it also manages to establish a few key elements and facts that are very necessary to Jesse’s, Tulip’s, and Cassidy’s adventures going forward. Namely, that God is missing, and an entire town was wiped off the face of the Earth. OK, let’s break down the episode, character-by-character, shall we?
Cassidy has, arguably, had the least character development the entire series, and for good reason. It’s hard to have life changing/altering experiences when you’ve been alive for more than one hundred years. Although, it was nice to see that Sheriff Root (played by W. Earl Brown, aka One of My Favorite Deadwood Alums) was both able to dig into Cassidy and suss out what he is. Some people have argued that this was far too large a leap in logic, and I disagree entirely. It’s nice to find characters that — unlike the majority of movies and TV shows — live in a world that exists within pop culture. That is, he has both heard of vampires, and understands that, as crazy as it might sound, a man doesn’t commit crimes 90 years ago and still look like a young man for any reason. I’m good with it.
Cassidy seems to have accepted Jesse’s power and misdeeds as easily as anything else. Mostly because at his core, Cassidy has always struck me as a terribly lonely character. The drugs, alcohol and other distractions are all a way of coping with his immortality, which has left him stranded, alone. He finally has a friend who, while probably not immortal, has a dark, supernatural power, in the same vein as his own. Plus, there’s the lovely Tulip, in whom he seems to recognize a kindred spirit. He may not be on board with tracking down God, per se, but he’s definitely down for an adventure, filled with violence that Jesse and Tulip seem to court.
So, let’s get this out of the way, right now: yes, it was heavy-handed and cheesy to have Tulip miscarry as a result of Carlos’ treachery. But it also explained a lot about why she was so torn and hurt by Jesse leaving her, and why she was so desperate to get him back. I was good with all of that. I didn’t love how much exposition was spent on them being childhood friends. Those parts felt particularly heavy-handed, and it’s hard to notice that much like Jesus, both Tulip and Jesse seemingly only existed in two states: childhood and adulthood.
I like how the show ended the Carlos arc, as well. Tulip’s rage at killing him was tempered only by Jesse’s willingness to do so. For most of the series she has craved this man’s death, though she, herself, seems unable to do it. After screaming at Jesse to be the one to pull the trigger, she realizes that there are some lines they don’t want to cross. It’s one thing to kill a man fighting for your life, or in the heat of a battle, but executing someone in cold blood was the step too far for her. In the end, just realizing that Jesse — her Jesse, the one she’s been in love with all these years — was still the man she knew, and willing to go so far for her was enough.
Special kudos to the writers for making her unimpressed with Genesis’ powers, btw.
Jesse, of course, has the most transformative arc of the series, while seemingly moving nowhere. He starts the story a lost man, trying to absolve himself from misdeeds and find answers through his father’s teachings. Throughout the story he realizes that you can’t just magically “fix” people, despite having the power to force his will upon them. I’d argue that Jesse’s finest episode was two episodes back, in which he hits his nadir of the series. He learns his BFF is a vampire, and he lashes out at Tulip for her continued faith in him having not changed.
Tulip’s miscarriage also explains a bit about why he may have been so desperate, now, to honor his promise to his father. It took him several years, but that was probably the closest he had to a moment of crisis, the type of which needed answers from a higher power.
Jesse has waffled with Genesis, throughout the season, looking at it first as a blessing, then as a curse, and now he seems to have made peace with it. In some respects, Genesis was his hero’s call, though his journey is a bit darker than his initial (false) calling. My only hope for next season is that we don’t have to wallow back into the blessing-curse-peace cycle again, for dramatic purpose.
The Saint of Killers
The Saint of Killers, aka The Cowboy, was one of the main antagonists from the comics, and I’m glad to see he is now positioned to be the Big Bad in Season 2. Frankly, with everything going on in Season 1, I think he would have felt like overkill; the Sandman to Spiderman 3’s Hobgoblin and Venom, if you will. This season did just enough background on him to establish him as a very, very dangerous man (it appears death by his hand is permanent, as Deblanc and the Seraphim have not regenerated), but without bogging us down too heavily with the details. Given that this man was so mean he was kicked out of Hell itself — a story that the TV show may very well throw on the cutting room floor, from the looks of it — it’s nice to know he’s lurking out there.
As an aside, can we discuss, briefly, how horrifying, yet delightful the depiction of his Hell is? Or whatever other-worldly location he inhabits? Reliving your worst moment for eternity? Yeeeeeaaaaaaaah, that’s not a pleasant thought.
Oh, Annville. It would be easy to be angry at the writers for getting us so involved in and attached to an entire city’s denizens and stories, only to wipe them from the face of the Earth. Let’s answer the first question people seem to have: Why did the whole town need to be erased? Well, in the comic, Jesse Custer is hosting Sunday service when Genesis takes him over, and if you recall the intro to the series, in which two preachers exploded when Genesis entered them? That’s basically what happens to Jesse, except energy explodes from him, vaporizing the town. To be honest, I never loved this as a plot device.
Yes, you could argue that a methane explosion under the town felt a little deus ex machina (or would that be excrement ex machina? or deus ex excrement?), but if you think about it, it’s a little darker than the comic’s origin. Consider that in the comics, Jesse essentially had no part in the destruction of the town, he was merely an unwitting bystander and survivor. You could argue, quite easily, that Jesse is wholly (although indirectly) responsible for Annville’s destruction, this go-around. By calling down God, thus revealing that God does exist, but is AWOL, Jesse started a chain of events that proved disastrous.
Through the season we learned that the citizens were, by in large, already lost, which may have made God’s status all the more alarming. It’s a shame, though, given as much interesting character development as we saw over the season, to just have it all wiped away. Emily’s desperation and ultimate acceptance of everything; Root’s grief over both the loss of Eugene and his lack of grief over the loss of Eugene; Donny’s acceptance of the preacher; Odin’s ultimate satisfaction at being right, it is all essentially flushed away. Which is kind of a bummer, but it also adds some real gravitas to Jesse’s seeming lack of foresight.
OK, so what was with the dude in the seat? What was with his freak out at the end? Well, that, my dears, is the central conceit of Garth Ennis’ series: God is missing. As is explained early on in the comics, God essentially went for a walk one day, and hasn’t come back. From the episode, it’s hard to discern how long he’s been missing, only that he has, and the angels are starting to panic, as they attempt to maintain the status quo.
One key concept that I always liked from the comics was very lightly touched upon in the final episode, and that is that while God is omnipresent and omnipotent, the angels are most assuredly not. In fact, depending on their rank and job, the angels barely know what is going on in Heaven, much less outside of their own little bubbles. Which is why, to answer some concerns I’ve seen online, the citizens of Annville panic, too. Yes, you have confirmation that God exists, but he’s also missing, and those running the show in his stead seem as confused and terrified as we mortals. That’s not a comforting thought.
God is out there, somewhere, and Jesse Custer has questions. It might not be as dramatic as was meeting the non-God, but now that the baseline of weird has been established, AMC is free to take viewers all the way down the rabbit hole. Albeit a rabbit hole that might lead straight to Hell.