Season 1 of Preacher wrapped up last Sunday (you can check out my recap here if you missed it), and it was a ride. We watched Jesse lose his faith, regain it after receiving Genesis, go false prophet in denial, and then discover that God was missing the whole time. Like I said, a ride. This show’s first outing was pretty solid. I wouldn’t say anything was bad, just not as good as everything else.
The biggest triumph is Tulip, who is a delightful, complicated piece of work. Jesse figures largely in Tulip’s story line, but ultimately she exists as her own person with her own relationships and life outside of him. I’ll never be sold on the clingy depiction of her at the start of the season, but they did manage to explain why she was the way she was in a way that isn’t completely offensive. That is a feat. They also touch on the classism that she and her family deal with without indulging in it, and she isn’t sexualized at all. It is so ridiculously rare to see this kind of writing and scripting for a black woman on TV when its not done by other black women that I’m almost in shock. How is this character real?
Cassidy is another success story. He’s a vampire with a mysterious, violent past who nowadays indulges in sex, drugs, and Coen Brothers movies. He’s a Bad Guy™ with decades of murder and mayhem under his belt, but spends a good portion of his screen time trying to keep Jesse from utterly destroying himself, and falls hopelessly in love with Tulip. The writers could have easily made Cass a sleazy asshole who’s only out for himself, but instead they decided to make him the heart of our three mains, and only tinge him with sleaze.
As for the rest of Annville, the writers did a good job inhabiting the town with interesting characters, in every sense of that word. Odin Quidcannon was creepy and quirky all at the same time, and the QM&P Qrew was hilarious when they weren’t being grossly male. Betsy and Donny Schenck were a great exercise in bait and switch characterization. Emily, Hugo Root, and Mrs. Loach were good portraits of dysfunctional parents. Eugene raised some great questions about morality once his past was revealed, and Fiore and DeBlanc… I just love them.
The cinematography was another win for this season. There were so many beautiful shots, and episode 9 was a stunner throughout. The set design was great as well. Annville looks like a town that exists in five different decades at once, but the anachronism stew doesn’t call attention to itself. You can almost see the dirt under the characters’ nails. All of this melded together to give us a show that is more grounded than its source material, but still distinct in its tone.
The emotional depth is the most surprising thing about this show. This season was about a man searching for purpose and meaning in a world that refused to give him any. Jesse’s false prophet turn brought up some really interesting questions about judgement and morality. Tulip is still coping with her miscarriage. Crises of faith affect every other person in Annville, and the whole town is forced to reckon with the fact that God is missing at the end of the season. This show actually offers us a lot of philosophical questions about faith, and displays many different modes of coping with grief. The fact that it does this without violating its light-ish tone is amazing.
Despite an excellent character arc, Jesse wasn’t nearly as interesting as Tulip or Cassidy. He was most compelling at his lowest point, justifying his bad actions by saying they were God’s will, because he was in denial about the lack of divine purpose in his life. He also started in an interesting place – losing faith in God until he is gifted a miraculous power. The space between those two points only becomes interesting in retrospect, once you fully grasp the depths of his misunderstanding. The acting might also be to blame, as Dominic Cooper is fine, but pales in comparison to Ruth Negga and Joe Gilgun.
Speaking of Jesse, his relationship with Tulip left me cold. This is partially because I didn’t realize Jesse still had feelings for her until the show told me so. They also waited all season to tell us why Tulip kept clinging to Jesse. In retrospect, I get why she hung around, but while watching I constantly wondered why she didn’t just leave his ass.
The love triangle they’ve set up between Tulip, Jesse, and Cassidy feels like a way to use Tulip to create tension between the boys. They’ve avoided doing once this season, so I’m cautiously optimistic about them keeping to that trend. At the same time, I question why it had to happen at all.
The Cowboy had absolutely no impact on the season despite the time they took out of it to tell his story. He’s interesting, but they didn’t tie him in until the very end. They should have waited until season 2 to introduce him fully.
This season also had a few tone-deaf moments regarding race. They never specified where that church in Africa was, just Africa. Considering that Africa is a whole ass continent, that’s not really helpful; it would be like if they said that Satanist church in Russia was just in Europe or Asia. We were also forced to look at the mutilated corpses of Native Americans up close multiple times. I found this a little weird after Lacy’s body was given a discretion shot in episode 4, but, you know, she’s white.
The show does pay lip service to some Native issues, like changing offensive mascots, but that’s used to set the scene in Annville, and no one discusses it. The way that Tulip’s race would play into the perception of her family is also missing. This is par for the course in mainstream media, so I’m not going to get my hopes up about them improving on these points, though I would sorely like to.
Lastly, who was the guy that Danny passed the map off to, and how does he factor into any of this? And what was that map for?
Preacher’s inaugural season was ten episodes of decent, fun television. We got a good story, great characters, blood, guts, and laughs. I’m still surprised at the depths this show managed to reach, while still being so silly. The slate has been wiped clean for next season. Hopefully the writers can stir up some new characters and settings that are just as good as, or better than, the denizens of Annville. I, for one, can’t wait.
Images courtesy of AMC