Characters and Character Development: 9
Aesthetics and Style: 8
Overall Plot: 7
Audience Assumptions: Some familiarity with series (or my Preacher graphic novels reviews)
Episode Ten: Call and Response – *****
Part One: Location: Carlos
We’re finally here, the end of the line and resolution of the first season. This is an odd one, but I like it a lot. The main subject of this episode is the teleconference with God, but a lot of other things happen in the meantime. Most important to the main protagonist is the appearance of Carlos. Tulip has finally decided that if Jesse won’t go with her to kill Carlos, she’ll bring Carlos to him.
The added perk for the audience is that we get to see the backstory related to Carlos and now understand fully why Tulip and Jesse hate him so much. In another major change from the books, Tulip became pregnant at one point, but miscarried after being hit by a bank guard Carlos freed to spite them. I found this a little confusing at first because the scene only shows the setup and aftermath of the skirmish, so the link between Carlos and losing the fetus is somewhat indirect, but I think to some extent that’s the point. The takeaway from this scene is that Carlos is just some asshole who decided to ruin their day once, and the resulting damage to Jesse and Tulip far exceeded any direct intentions he could have explicitly foreseen. The person who actually killed their unborn child is long dead, and while Carlos was the catalyst for that, and by extension their relationship breaking apart, he isn’t some criminal mastermind or arch villain. He’s just a petty scumbag they can take their frustrations out on.
The whole Carlos subplot has been less about actually getting revenge on him and more about Tulip and Jesse’s relationship. If Tulip just wanted him dead as comeuppance for what he did, he would have died back in Episode Two. But that’s not what she wanted; she wanted to go after him with Jesse as catharsis, to help repair whatever was left of the relationship they used to have. This is the point when both she and the audience realize that. Jesse agrees to kill him, and contrary to what Tulip has been vying for this whole series, she stops him – after all, he’s just some asshole, what would it do for them? – and instead they both beat the crap out of Carlos and let him walk free.
I do like, however, that their relationship isn’t easily repaired from one small gesture. In the books, their relationship fell apart because Jesse was kidnapped and Tulip thought he abandoned her, but when the situation is explained they immediately go back to fucking like bunnies. It doesn’t quite happen like that here, at least not where the first season leaves off. When they do finally kiss, it’s when Jesse uses Genesis on her at her request, thinking it to be a grand gesture of love and openness. Tulip punches him in the face for it.
I really love these characters, have I mentioned that yet? In the books and the show, the major characters and especially the protagonists are fleshed out to the point where their personalities feel dynamic and they could almost be real people.
Part Two: Good Job, Jesse
The show procrastinates the arrival of God for the first half of the episode or so, setting up the characters’ positions, showing the town getting ready for church, revealing a little more about Cassidy’s background to the surprisingly intuitive sheriff, foreshadowing something to do with a place that looks like an enormous sewage treatment plant, and bringing back the two competing mascot characters from Episode One (who have also featured in every opening credits sequence, for some reason) as secret lovers. So yeah, the usual.
The teleconference itself is somewhere between hilarious and bizarre. Jesse doesn’t fool around with any preaching nonsense and gets right to business, replacing the bible on his podium with the angel phone and once the service begins, he takes the severed hand out of the bag and fiddles with the controls until eventually God appears. I’m somewhat torn about the big God reveal. On the one hand, it looks appropriately fake to fit with the conception that the “God” they are seeing is merely an actor. However, the townsfolk seem pretty easily convinced, and I wouldn’t have minded a little bit more of a mystical atmosphere to sell the concept, at least initially. The wind is a nice effect, but the throne and the clouds and the robe are a little too predictable for my liking. I mean, Monty Python at least trussed their fake-looking God up with a crown and shit. I think if it was just a face, or a light of something, the reveal that the person talking is not actually God would be a bit funnier. I was concerned for a short while the first time I watched this scene that the show actually wanted to present this as God in the series. Like their special effects budget was blown and they had to race to Walmart for a Santa beard so they could film the finale. But re-watching it, I don’t mind the effects quite as much. The scene is pretty much what a fan of the show would want from a teleconference with God, fake or otherwise.
The townsfolk, including Jesse, are stunned by the angel phone even working, but it doesn’t take long for them to start asking ridiculous questions. “God” naturally answers in the vaguest terms acceptable to make it seem like he actually knows what the answers are, kind of like a performing psychic mediator. All goes well until Jesse confesses that he sent Eugene to Hell, which catches “God” off guard, and sends the conference spiraling into revelations by the fake God that he’s only there because the real one went missing, or abandoned ship, and nobody in Heaven knows what the fuck is going on. In short, the teleconference goes about as well as one could realistically hope, and leaves a church full of mostly formerly religious people with the knowledge that their God is very much real, and not in any way what they would have wanted.
Part Three: Explosions and Shit. Also Explosive Shit.
The last few minutes center around the town and the protagonists coping with what came out of the teleconference. As it turns out, this is sort of a mixed blessing for some people, forcing them to get on with their lives and not dwell on simplicities related to faith. Emily is tasked with explaining this all to her young children, and comes up with a lovely line similar to one used at the end of the graphic novels – that they don’t need God, and never really did. This is a nice little comment on one of the major themes in the series, whether the physical existence of God or religious elements are more important than the lessons and morality taught by those religions. The show is largely about how the former is not only less important, it’s probably not even that important at all.
Of course, that sentiment isn’t useful for all rural Texans raised firmly on the complete and irrefutable existence of a loving God, especially when they discover everything they were taught about existence was a lie. Most of the townsfolk do not take the news well. A lot of them take out their anger on the church itself, ransacking the place when Jesse abandons it, while others start taking matters into their own hands now that they know God won’t help them. While the spirit of proactivity is not a bad thing itself, it does mostly lead to killing sprees, negligence, and eventually the whole town exploding, so it’s a bit of a mixed result really. The main concept explored during these events is how sad everyone is. It’s a mass case of loss of faith, and a legitimate loss of faith, not something that can be easily remedied by witnessing a supposed miracle or being around bible-thumpers. It forces everyone in the town to deeply confront their own worldview, and most of them aren’t up to the task.
Then on top of all of that, everything explodes. The methane farm under the town reaches a pressure capacity that forces the gas to be released all around major locations from the series, and a spark lights it. In a few moments, no more town. This is also the consequence of the God teleconference, the man in charge of the pressure release system apparently dead of a heart attack after kinky sex with a prostitute. All of the minor characters are presumed dead, as are all of the major characters save the three protagonists, Eugene, the Saint, and possibly Fiore. That’s certainly a way to end the first season of a series.
The main characters avoid the disaster by going to a diner for French fries and discussing what to do about God being missing. Tulip and Cassidy, neither religious, take the news pretty well. Jesse, now having confirmed that yes, God really is just an asshole, or possibly incompetent, but not quite willing to accept that news himself yet, decides to go find him and see what’s up, and the other two agree to tag along.
This of course leaves the end of the first season roughly where the start of the first graphic novel begins. The two plots now on a similar path, there are still major differences that I’m curious to see addressed. I’m eager to see what the series does with Eugene, if it brings back Fiore, and how the Jesse-Tulip relationship builds. I’m also curious about whether these plots follow paths anything similar to books, or if like the first season, the second is wholly unpredictable. At some point the characters will realize that Annville has exploded, and given that all of them have some connection to the place, or at least Jesse and Tulip do, I think it would be a shame not to use their reaction to some effect later.
Even if this had been where the series ended, I think it would be a delightful little story. It is a clever adaptation of an already good series, improving upon what it can and bringing in new material that’s generally solid. The characters are rich and interesting, the writing is tight, the tone is impeccable, and the plotting is a smooth mix of characterization, philosophy, and action. I’ve re-watched these ten episodes about four times each now, and still I find the jokes funny, the story entertaining, and new little details in each episode. There is a point, however, when re-watching the same thing isn’t quite enough. With that in mind, onto Season Two.