I am who I am, I guess.
Preacher is AMC’s current Sunday night show (taking the spot from The Walking Dead for the summer), a religious horror/dark comedy based on the comic of the same name by Garth Ennis. The show centers on Jesse Custer, a preacher in the small town of Annville, Texas. He wasn’t always a preacher, though – we learn pretty quickly after his introduction that he has a Past, and before he came back to Annville he used to “do things” to people. However, Jesse made a promise to his father as a boy (right before said father was killed in front of him, no less) that he would be “one of the good guys”, and so he put down the guns, picked up the Bible, and returned to Annville to preach at the local All Saints’ Church.
But things aren’t all good. In Jesse’s first few scenes, it is established that he’s not very good at his job, though not for lack of trying. The town he serves is full of… interesting characters that he struggles to help with their problems. Jesse’s right hand, Emily Woodrow, is forced to pick up the slack of running the church, along with balancing her three kids (who she raises on her own after the death of her husband) and her job as a waitress. It is no surprise, after seeing the state of things, that All Saints’ is losing attendants to a nearby megachurch, so fancy that it has a Starbucks in the lobby.
If all that isn’t enough, Jesse’s ex-girlfriend and former partner in crime Tulip O’Hare shows up and keeps trying to get Jesse to go on one last job with her. There’s also Cassidy, an Irish vampire on the run from some fanatically religious vampire hunters. They’re like Jesse’s shoulder angels, if both shoulder angels were bad, repeatedly tempting toward a life of crime and (more) hedonism respectively.
Since I’m starting these a little late (episode 3 aired this past Sunday), I feel obligated to outline what happened in the first two episodes.
The pilot (listed as episode 0 by AMC) is an introduction to all of our major characters, as well as the situation in Annville. Jesse is approached by Chris, the son of the Donny and Betsy Schenck, who asks him to hurt his dad because he is beating his mom. Jesse first goes to Sheriff Root, who refuses to do anything unless Betsy files a complaint. Jesse then speaks to her, and learns that, surprisingly, she’s totally into it. Donny is established to be an asshole multiple times throughout the episode though (he is also pretty racist, has anger issues, and is a misogynist). He gets angry when he learns that Jesse spoke to Betsy without speaking to him first, and when he threatens to beat his son for going to Jesse in the first place, he gets his ass thoroughly kicked in that bar fight I mentioned, which ends with him squealing as one of his bones sticks out of his arm.
There is also Ted, who continuously comes to Jesse for help with how to deal with his overbearing and naggy mother; Jesse tells him repeatedly to be honest with her, but it seems he can’t bring himself to tell her how he really feels. I’ll mention how this issue is resolved in a bit. Jesse has more success with Eugene Root (called Arseface due to a disfigurement, but I refuse to call him that), the son of Sheriff Hugo Root, who survived a suicide attempt and wants to turn his life around. He says that, after he tried to kill himself, he stopped hearing God when he prayed. This resonates with Jesse, who is experiencing a similar crisis of faith.
Tulip shows back up in Annville with a map that she acquired after biting off a man’s ear and shooting down a helicopter with a bazooka she made with the help of two little kids in Kansas. She tries to get Jesse into it, but is unsuccessful, as Jesse wants to keep his promise to his dad. Cassidy murders a bunch of guys he was partying with on a plane after finding a creepily vandalized bible and realizing they were some of the vampire hunters. He jumps out of the plane as its crashing and lands in town, taking up at the church after helping Jesse in that bar fight with Donny.
We are also introduced to a mysterious, as of yet unnamed entity that, after traveling through space, inhabits preachers and pastors around the world, giving them the ability to make people do whatever they say, and then causing them to spontaneously combust. A pair of mysterious men usually show up in the place soon after this. After possessing a Christian preacher in Africa (an exact location isn’t given, but Wikipedia says it’s Nairobe, Kenya), a Satanist magister (I don’t know if that’s even a thing) in Russia, and Tom Cruise (because Scientology, lol), it lands in Annville and merges with Jesse, who had just decided to quit preaching after getting no answer when he asked for forgiveness.
Unlike the others, he doesn’t explode; instead he’s knocked out for three days. He doesn’t know what happened, but Jesse experiences a change of heart and decides to continue preaching, because he came back to Annville help everyone. At the same time, see Jesse use his new power unknowingly on Ted, who he tells once again to be honest and open his heart to his mother. Compelled by the entity, Ted gets on a plane and flies to Florida to visit his mother at the nursing home where she lives. He very patiently explains that he wants her to stop calling him and criticizing him all the time, and would appreciate some compassion. He then opens his heart. Literally. With a butcher knife.
Episode 2, See, opens with a flashback to 1881, where we meet an unnamed man (referred to as the Cowboy by Wikipedia) who leaves his wife and sickly daughter for a job of some sort. One night he joins some travelers from St. Louis (at least, the man who does all the talking came from there). After expounding on the beauty of the wilderness, one of the men asks the Cowboy if the frontier is paradise. The Cowboy very bluntly answers no, which is punctuated by the mutilated bodies of Native Americans hanging from a tree as he rides into a town called Ratwater the next day.
In the current day, the two mysterious men watch Jesse from afar, and are bewildered that he hasn’t turned into red rain yet. They end up getting chopped to pieces by Cassidy, who mistakes them for the religious creeps who are after him, after they try and fail to get the entity out of Jesse. Shockingly, they show back up at the end of the episode speaking to the sheriff, claiming to be “from the government”.
Jesse renews his efforts to be ‘one of the good guys’ with the help of Emily, but he is still plagued with issues, such as Tulip badgering him about that job and a local bus driver named Linus admitting that he’s a pedophile. He is also unaware of his new power, until he forces Linus to completely forget the little girl he was creeping on. This comes after he bursts into his house and baptizes him in steaming hot water, in a twisted call back to the baptisms at the church in the beginning of the episode. He then decides to use his power on Tracy Loach, a teenage girl in a coma due to an injury that crushed part of her skull, telling her to open her eyes.
Tulip bunks down at a brothel somewhere outside of town and speaks to a person named Danny, who she is going to give the map to in exchange for some information. She tries to drag Jesse in for the second time this episode, pointing out what happened with Donny as evidence that he does still hurt people, but he denies her once again. The fact that she kidnapped him and seemingly chained him to a chair didn’t help.
Cassidy is trying to get money for his Granny B (Bee?) who is sick (if she’s even real), but he won’t work for it, though he says he’s working for it. He also has a drinking problem, and has been stealing communion wine and making mixers out of air conditioning fluid and other unseemly things. As he and Jesse are drinking in the church that night, he admits that he’s a 119 year old vampire as they debate about whether God has a plan for everyone and the best way to live one’s fullest life.
We are also introduced to Odin Quidcannon (though his first name isn’t revealed until the third episode), who gets strangely distracted when he talks about the positions in future his meatpacking plant. Donny is his right hand man, and takes out his anger about his messed up arm on a coworker who picks up a pen for him by mashing his face against a steering wheel (in case you were wondering if he was, in fact, an asshole).
And now, episode 3, The Possibilities. This one opens with Tulip in Houston, speaking to Danny at a park. After Danny tries, unsuccessfully, to get Tulip to kill her husband, the map is exchanged for a slip of paper with someone’s last known address, who Tulip wants revenge on. Danny, meanwhile, passes the map off to her client, a mysterious man at a snuff film festival.
The guys from the “government” explain why they’re in town to Sheriff Root. They use really vague terms to refer to the entity, but not vague enough that you would feasibly think they were talking about something human, so I wonder why the Sheriff never questioned that. But anyway, Root tells a horrifying story about some parents who lost a kid at an amusement park and had their other two children abducted by a pretzel vendor they left them with to find the first one. After he is gone, the two men decide to go after Jesse again to get the entity back.
We come to the Loach household and see that Jesse’s command to Tracy worked. Her eyes are open, but she isn’t awake. It’s another good example of the “exact words” issue with Jesse’s powers. Mrs. Loach relays what happened to Emily, and it seems like her faith in God has been restored by the event.
Betsy Schenck is mysteriously unable to walk Chris to the bus stop, so Donny does it. Where is she? I’m worried. On the way they have a talk about the abuse thing, an actual one, despite the very ominous overtone of the scene. Donny pretty much just tells his son to mind his business because “adults are complicated”. Chris tells Donny how he beat up a boy for making fun of what happened to him at Jesse’s hands. We see Linus once again at the bus and get confirmation that’s he’s completely forgotten about the little girl, Janie. Donny gets made fun of by the kids on the bus.
There’s a strange moment at the church where Cass hears knocking on the doors, but finds nothing outside save a lone casket. We learn shortly after from Emily that the casket, belonging to Ted, was dropped off an hour ago, and that she had knocked on the door when it was. Cass has to deal with the fact that he can’t go outside in the sun, and yet actually has to work during the day for that money.
Tulip gets pulled over for driving 115 mph and manages to cry her way out of getting her vehicle impounded with a story that is clearly about Jesse. I really want to know what was going on with these two, because god damn do I not see why she keeps bothering with him. I mean, it’s obvious that she has strong feelings for him, but how sprung do you have to be to keep doing this after someone says no three times?
Jesse shows his power to Cassidy, and it becomes clear that using it feels kind of good to him. I only bring that up because it’s clear that Jesse is afraid of losing control and making someone hurt themselves – not by accident with the exact words thing, but on purpose with his own words. We get a title drop when Cass tells Jesse to think of the possibilities that his powers present.
In the middle of that we got a brief scene of Mr. Quidcannon again, who was chilling in his office listening to the sound of cows being slaughtered as a woman (probably the Mrs. Oatlash mentioned by Donny later) dropped off an envelope. This is… yeah, I haven’t read the comics, but I know an itsy bitsy bit about him, and this doesn’t bode well. Later we see him with Donny, who reads a letter from a company called Green Acres and proposes to beat them into leaving them alone. Quidcannon just tells him to get rid of his lunch dish, and then, when he can’t, quips about how his right hand man can’t use his right hand anymore. It’s clear that Donny’s masculinity took a few hits in the fight with Preacher as well.
After taking Ted’s casket to the crematorium, Cass catches sight of the government dudes and goes after them. Meanwhile, Tulip catches up to Jesse and tells him about the address, which it turns out belongs to a man named Carlos, who fucked her and Jesse over back in the day. They also get into an argument about Jesse wanting to be a preacher, which is par for the course at this point. But, shock of all shocks, she actually gets him to come with her this time!
Cass catches up to the government guys and realizes they’re the same ones he killed before. He also kills the again. And then they reappear. Cass starts beating one of them with a mallet in the church before the other tells him they’re not looking for him.
Jesse and Tulip stop at a gas station, and Donny corners Jesse in the bathroom with a revolver. But, because Donny wants to humiliate him, Jesse manages to get out in front and uses his power to order Donny to turn the gun on himself. He stops himself before he makes Donny pull the trigger. The incident causes Jesse to return to Annville, because he gets “it” now, believing the interaction was a test to see if he could resist the temptation to use his new power for wrongdoing.
Back in town, Cassidy learns that the “government” men are actually from Heaven, and want to get the entity and trap it inside of the coffee can so it doesn’t cause destruction. Cass offers to bring Jesse to them, so they don’t get themselves hurt.
Eugene tells his father that he wants to go see Tracy Loach, but Hugo says that he should stay away or he might get killed. We get a title drop for the next episode, Monster Swamp, as he warns Eugene of the horrors of the world. This scene puts his monologue from the start of the episode in a bit of context, as he thinks the guys from Heaven are looking for a dangerous criminal and is afraid of what could happen to his son.
The episode ends with Ted’s funeral, which is only attended by Emily, and Jesse leaves us off with this verse:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed – 1 Corinthians 51-52
This, combined with the last shot of that pipe opening up and that scene with Ted’s casket at the church, makes me wonder if Ted is a ghost now. I don’t know what would become of that, but seeing all the supernatural stuff that might happen in the future it wouldn’t be too weird, right?
To be honest, when I first watched this show, my mind couldn’t wrap itself around what it was. I have no idea why. And, yet, I was totally drawn in by the aesthetic, the characters, and the story that was slowly unfolding in front of me. Upon rewatch the show is much more straightforward than I thought it was (I think my brain starts clocking out after a certain time at night), but all of this stuff still stands out. The cinematography on this show is A+, with some absolutely stunning work in episode 2 especially. I’m invested in the lives of all three main characters (and also Eugene, don’t forget him). And I just have to know what’s going on with the entity, and this Carlos guy, and everything else.
I’m also a fan of how much more… subtle it is compared to what little I know about the comics. Honestly I’m not a fan of ridiculous stuff (or, what I think is ridiculous, because let’s be real, that’s subjective), so I’m glad this isn’t being played as overly cheesy or absurd. That stuff can be fun (I do watch Gotham), but I can only take so much. I prefer this dry self-awareness.
I’m not without my worries, though. For one, knowing this first season only has ten episodes, I’m worried that the show might be moving a bit too slow. I don’t want to say it feels like wheel spinning, but at the same time it feels like there’s going to be a lot to do later on. At the same time, I’ve kind of been letting this slide because the show is obviously very character oriented, and all that time spent not advancing the plot is used to build them up and explore their issues.
I’ve also grown tired of the back and forth between Tulip and Jesse already. Het romances are a hard sell for me as it is, and I definitely don’t want to see one where they have the same fight Every. Single. Episode. The only good thing is that their little arguments usually end with a reveal that advances Tulip’s plot, but that’s literally the only reason I’m here. (Also, pretty sure what she did after she kidnapped Jesse in episode 2 was sexual assault, but I doubt the show will discuss that…) Speaking of romance, I really hope they aren’t building up one between Jesse and Emily, because I don’t know if I’d be able to take that too. Also, the show is really white, but since it actually acknowledges that racism exists, I’m hoping there’s some self-awareness on that part – though the end of See’s cold open and their refusal to name more than just Africa in episode 1 (when every other place gets at least down to a country, if not a city or state) don’t bode well.
All that said, I’m still very much here for this. Are we gonna come back to the Cowboy? Who is this Carlos guy? How does Quidcannon play into all of this? And how will Jesse use his powers in the future? Let’s see what we can dredge up out of the Monster Swamp next week.
Images courtesy of AMC