Series Breakdown Rating:
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 Three: Gonna Hurt – ****
Part One: Be Nice to Your Napkins
I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed by this episode. The opening is a good demonstration of why the episode comes across as somewhat lackluster. Tulip decides to chase down the Grail out of guilt for ruining Jesse’s plan to escape, but in doing so, she finds that the Grail’s New Orleans headquarters has packed up and left. God pulls her over on her way back to Angelville to reassure her that his divine plan is going well, and, true to character, Tulip calls him out on it and surmises that he’s just trying to manipulate her.
On paper, this isn’t necessarily a bad scene and, like the rest of the episode, there are plenty of little things to like about it. It pulls a direct line from the comics but fits it into the show’s narrative organically and it gets Tulip directly invested in the search for God subplot for reasons that potentially clash with Jesse’s motives. It’s the sort of scene I wish we had for Tulip in the first episode of the season rather than what we got. Tulip’s role as God’s pawn appears to be over, which implies that the only thing he wanted her to do was to prevent Jesse from getting his soul back. She proposes that God is afraid of Genesis, in which case this might be a rational action. It still means the God scenes are at odds with one another. If the show wants God to use Tulip to sabotage Jesse, this is a little too early to break off that arrangement. If the show wants to setup Tulip being angry with God, the last two encounters could basically be cut and we’re back to wondering about Tulip’s complacency when God showed up in Episode One. Even if the show tries to continue both subplots, making Tulip an unwitting saboteur in the future and fueling her dislike of him, this setup is still awkward.
It’s not the only awkward thing, either. The dialogue is peculiar to say the least, particularly the nearly into-the-camera shot of Tulip proclaiming she’s going to kick God’s ass, especially since “ass” gets censored by the opening titles for some reason. This is the most egregiously cliched line delivery in the episode, but there are other moments that feel like they would make more sense in something like The Flash sprinkled throughout. I’m still not quite sure about this continued mention of “The Curse of the O’Hares” or Jesse describing his grandmother as a “diviner of the pyramids” (what does that even mean?). That’s not to say that Preacher’s aesthetic is known for pitch-perfect delivery — need I remind you of the God conference or the meeting with Fake God’s agent? — and sometimes the series revels in its own gratuity enough that it manages to make cheesy, cartoonish scenes feel natural. It’s just that there are a lot of those silly moments in this episode and not as much of the heartfelt comedy or more serious drama that the show normally uses to balance it.
There’s still an underlying sense of dread permeating most of the scenes that makes the gratuitous moments in the episode somehow even odder. They’re similar in tone to the Purgatory sequence, except because the audience isn’t given a framework in which they can accept the awkwardness of a scene as intentional, we don’t really know what to think of them. T.C.’s explanation of the blood compacts (the bloody napkin Jesse gave his grandmother to control him) is a good example. When Tulip suggests that she could burn the napkin to get Jesse out of his ordeal, T.C. tells her about a man who bought back his wife’s blood compact and tried to rip it up, but ended up tearing his wife in half in the process. It’s a chilling idea, and both lends to the underlying darkness of Jesse’s grandmother and also establishes a danger that isn’t easily resolved. However, the format of the story involves a flashback with narration, which clashes with the established aesthetic of the previous flashbacks. T.C. is not the most intense narrator, and while he might deliver the story well just in conversation, and the flashback is appropriately gruesome, combining the narration with the flashback visuals imitates a cheesy 1950s horror movie. The music suggests this is an intentional choice, but as with the God scene at the start of the episode, it doesn’t feel very intentional — it mainly just feels odd.
Part Two: NO, DON’T EAT JESSE’S IMMORTAL CHICKEN!
A large part of why the more genuine or serious moments of the episode don’t quite hold up is that they’re incomplete. The episode builds up to three potentially intense events that only come into play in about the last three minutes, which of course means the episode ends on a cliffhanger. This isn’t the first time the show’s used cliffhangers, and there’s a good chance the next episode will resolve them sufficiently that someone binge-watching the season won’t even notice. However, since this is the first season I’m reviewing one episode at a time without knowing where the series is going, the cliffhangers are a bit of a tease.
By this time, all three protagonists have settled into their own subplots once again; Tulip is trying to make up for ruining Jesse’s escape plan in the last episode, Cassidy is leaning into being a vampire more despite the potential danger if he’s discovered, and Jesse is dealing with increased pressure from his grandmother to start up the Tombs. These are effective subplots that work within the season’s environment and build off recent events, but they also have relevance to the characters’ broader arcs.
If we were to summarize Tulip’s character at this point, we might say that she’s hot-headed, confident, and impulsive, but becomes the opposite of these when made vulnerable, especially by those close to her (namely Jesse). She caries a lot of guilt about who she is even though she doesn’t regret her actions, so it makes sense that she would resent hurting Jesse in the last episode and want to help but would disregard Jesse’s warning to leave his family alone while trying to fix her mistake. After learning that she doesn’t have the necessary skills to undo the blood compact, Tulip tries to get what she needs from Madame Boyd, the head of a rival voodoo family that has a vendetta against Jesse. Unsurprisingly, Tulip underestimates her ability to negotiate through the situation and ends up held hostage by Madame Boyd. At this point, we don’t know much about Jesse’s conflict with the Boyds other than they really don’t like him and he doesn’t particularly seem to care about that except where they’ve pushed into Angelville’s business sphere.
Cassidy, meanwhile, is in recovery from the last episode’s gunfight and attracting attention from Jody. Jumping off of the last season, Cassidy is becoming more reckless and finding it difficult to resist drinking blood for fun. He and Jesse are still fighting over Tulip on some level, but when Jesse realizes what the Angelville characters will do to Cassidy if they find out he’s a vampire, he tries to make amends so he can convince him of the danger. They talk sincerely for the first time in the season (which is adorable, by the way), and Jesse repeatedly takes actions over the course of the episode to try to ensure his friend’s safety, even reluctantly agreeing to reopen the Tombs for him. Of course, Jesse’s benevolent actions involve him trying to send Cassidy away again, stabbing him, and making him fight to the death in an underground gladiator pit, so the chance of Cassidy seeing the acts as selfless is probably somewhat slim.
So, basically Jesse’s completely failed to communicate caution to the other protagonists. His own subplot continues to revolve around his history with Angelville as he becomes more entrenched in paying off his debt to his grandmother by sending potential customers her way. This proves difficult with Madame Boyd having cut into Angelville’s business since Jesse ran off, but he and his grandmother both know that the ominous Tombs are a lucrative service only Angelville can offer. Jesse is resistant to this idea and holds off on starting them up again until Cassidy forces his hand. As we learn at the end of the episode, the Tombs are where the people whose souls are ripped out are taken to fight to the death for the chance to win their souls back. Jesse is apparently pivotal to the Tombs’ success as their host, and despite his reservations, he’s kind of good at it. The episode calls back to Season One, Jesse even “going to church” and referring to potential customers as a parish. The parallels beg the question of whether Jesse’s capacities as an orator, like so much else, are tied to his time at Angelville, in which case the Tombs strike a likeness to him using Genesis during his church services back in Annville, which as we know did not go well.
But enough dancing around. You know what I really want to talk about.
Part Three: IT’S FUCKING CANON!
So, Cassidy likes men. He casually mentions sleeping with someone’s husband in conversation to T.C. when discussing the many time’s he’s been mortally wounded. It’s not a fanfare moment, exactly, and it’s certainly not surprising for the character; after Episode Two of the last season, it would be difficult for the show to convince us he’s straight.
As you might have guessed, given the dozen or so times I’ve joked about the characters (particularly the male main characters) in this series being queer, I’m fucking ecstatic about this. I’m not gay or bisexual myself, but I am on the LGBT+ spectrum and I’m always excited to see more representation of LGBT+ characters in popular media. I’m also honestly floored that the creators of the show decided to go for it. I was not expecting this. I certainly was not expecting this partway through Season Three. Usually when a series, especially an action series, has this much queer subtext surrounding characters that aren’t established as queer early on, the convention is to make it into a running joke and tease the audience with the idea that the characters are attracted to one another while constantly insisting they’re not. Genuinely leaning into the queer stuff is so much better.
It’s like someone has come up to me and said, “Here’s ten million dollars and a pet dragon.” I’m delighted, but I kind of don’t know how to handle this. So rather than talk about how Cassidy definitely has the hots for Jesse and that protagonist threesome is a distinct possibility in the near future, instead I want to talk about a queer reading of both the book and the show so far. Fair warning for those who want to read the books but haven’t already — a lot of the queer subtext comes near the end and requires discussion of the preceding events.
The only time in the graphic novels when any of the three main characters ever engages in sexual or romantic behavior with a person of the same sex is when Cassidy, in a flashback, gives a man a blowjob in exchange for heroin. There’s no explicit indication that any of the protagonists is attracted to people of the same sex, and while there are openly gay characters elsewhere in the story, most of them aren’t recurring. Starr ends up having sex with a male prostitute after neglecting to specify his orientation to Hoover and as a consequence, he realizes he’s into anal, but he’s never verified by the series to be anything other than straight. Most of the characters enter into heterosexual relationships at some point as well, including the three protagonists.
Given the lack of openly queer characters in the main cast, you might think that a queer reading would be limited. I would argue it is not. I mean, the primary villain is made to look like a giant penis and the main character is saved by the power of love. I don’t think it’s all that edgy to say this series has queer subtext.
Jesse and Cassidy are by far and away the most queer-coded recurring characters in the series, largely because of their close friendship with one another. I mentioned in the graphic novel reviews that these characters have a healthier friendship than most of the other characters have with their romantic partners. That holds true for most of the books, and neither of the men seem to feel the need to reestablish their heterosexuality while together. They hug, they outright say that they love each other, and they risk their lives to save one another on multiple occasions. They spend a lot of time together and often talk more intimately than they do with the other characters, including Tulip. By the end of the series, despite everything Cassidy’s done to Jesse and how much Jesse hates Cassidy for it, they still love each other and can’t bear to see the other get seriously hurt.
All this doesn’t necessarily mean these men are gay or love each other romantically. That’s all exclusively subtext. However, femininity, toxic masculinity, emotional openness, and hiding aspects of oneself are prominent themes throughout the series and are also common influences in more openly queers texts. The male main characters are both emotionally sensitive and quite traditionally feminine much of the time, especially compared to characters like Starr, Jody, and the Saint of Killers. Aside from their bond with one another, they’re regularly expressive, sentimental, and tend not to care much about stereotypically masculine hobbies like sports. However, they both seem to be somewhat self-conscious of their femininity, Jesse especially, because whenever their masculinity is called into question, they go overboard trying to defend it. When insulted, they frequently get into fights with strangers, use homophobic slurs, and even launch into unprompted rants about manliness.
However, the most explicitly masculine characters in the series are some of it’s biggest assholes and most of the problems in the series arise from unchecked harmful traditionally masculine behaviors. When characters are violent, impulsive, condescending, and inexpressive, that’s when people get seriously hurt. The various villains are often characterized by one or more negative masculine traits, whether it’s violence (as with Jody and Starr), lack of emotions other than anger (as with the Saint of Killers and Starr), promiscuity (as with T.C.), dominance (as with Jesse’s grandmother), bigotry (as with Quincannon), or greed (as with Cassidy). Jesse himself is ruled for much of the series by conflict between knowing the sort of man he wants to be — one who’s progressive, respectful, and “good” — while being unable to internalize those ideals in part because he looks up to figureheads whose take on masculinity isn’t much different from the villains.
Jesse’s only able to grow as a person by rejecting the view of masculinity imposed on him by his father, expressing himself by crying and at least partially accepting his more feminine side. Cassidy, likewise, completes his character arc by doing the selfless thing and giving up Jesse and Tulip so he doesn’t hurt them further. The uncanny tone at the end of the series that belies its otherwise happy nature largely comes from both of these characters’ inability to fully sever themselves from their masculine ideals. Cassidy keeps a memento of his former friends and is given a second chance even though second chances are what have allowed him to fall into cycles of abuse in the past. Jesse refuses to give up Tulip and still idolizes heroes from westerns, wanting to be like them. The characters have changed, but they haven’t really accepted the things they need to, and that’s the tragedy of the series.
Queerness, for better or worse, is associated with femininity and therefore discussion of toxic masculinity will often bring up homophobia. The series isn’t coy about the male characters being effeminate, nor is it coy about their associations with homosexuality. It isn’t willing to go that extra step to declare any of the protagonists queer, but it comes right up to that line and never explicitly denies it either. For the story’s purpose, it kind of doesn’t matter whether Jesse and Cassidy are actually gay or romantically interested in one another, because they’re in a loving relationship regardless. It would be nice if they were gay, but the series internalizes queer themes sufficiently that confirmation of their attraction to one another wouldn’t change the outcome. The story would still ultimately be about, among other things, people choosing to reject unhealthy societal norms for the sake of their own well-being and the well-being of others.
I could also talk about Tulip’s queer coding, which becomes more prominent toward the end of the series and follows a similar trajectory of self-acceptance although with more masculine ideals than feminine ones, and also has an uncanny incompleteness to it. However, Tulip’s identity is more firmly based in feminine theory and if I thoroughly discuss every aspect of the queer subtext in this series, we’re going to be here forever. I’ll leave most of the feminist reading for another time because it’s likewise complex.
The bottom line is, the Preacher graphic novel series largely internalizes queer themes through subverting toxic masculinity.
The show is a bit of a different beast. Aspects of toxic masculinity are still present, but certain changes made for the show alter the series’ focus. The biggest change that affects the way the show handles queerness is that Jesse is far less overtly masculine than in the books, largely because rather than go after God immediately for vengeance, show Jesse is a legitimate holy figure for the majority of the first season. He’s peaceful (sort of) and not even really overtly sexual at all. One of the other major changes, that he and Tulip broke up over a mutual understanding and he’s not rushing to reconnect, also affects the queer subtext of the series somewhat significantly. Jesse is religious in this series, and with that comes a different view of masculinity than book Jesse has internalized.
Particularly, but not exclusively, in the southern United States, Christianity has held a tradition of homophobia going back several hundred years at least, but which has primarily been emphasized over the last hundred years in response to rising homosexual visibility. Persecution of homosexual men by the religion has often been particularly vicious in part because of Christianity’s traditional views on male and female roles. Toxic masculinity within a Christian setting tends to emphasize dominance, repression of emotions, marginalization of minorities, and misogyny. Violence and promiscuity are discouraged unless for the sake of the religion (having sex frequently with strangers is discouraged, for instance, but reproducing frequently to increase the Christian population is encouraged).
Jesse certainly internalizes these last two concepts of Christian-brand toxic masculinity, generally trying to restrict his use of violence or sexual activity except where it benefits his religious views. His father’s encouragement to repress his emotions is a holdover from the books, as his tendency to be domineering in situations when he feels confident and his occasional unintentional misogyny. Like in the books, however, Jesse is not personally bigoted, unlike some of the people around him, except in one big area: he is discomforted by kinky sexual practices and homosexuality. Jesse’s character is made to be less sexualized than a typical action hero, with a fairly modest costume and an unimposing demeanor unless he’s riled up. A soft-spoken nature to a male character, especially in an environment where overtly heterosexual men are slovenly and raucous, can be interpreted as queer coding.
However, Jesse’s character doesn’t hold a candle to Cassidy’s as far as queer subtext is concerned. Aside from having a high voice and often wearing colorful clothing, Cassidy’s mannerisms are distinctly flamboyant; he talks constantly, especially about sex and popular culture, judges people without reservation, and doesn’t seem to have much self-restraint in general. He’s open about pretty much everything, telling Jesse he’s a vampire in their third conversation or so, and constantly reminding people that he’s a drug addict. Even during his conversation with T.C. in this very episode, Cassidy essentially states that he is bisexual, sleeps around, is reckless, and has supernatural healing abilities — none of which T.C. actually asked him about. Cassidy is coded specifically as an openly queer character who often embodies queer stereotypes.
Most of the queer subtext in the show outside of the individual characters comes from the interactions between the three protagonists. There are openly gay characters and several more queer coded minor characters in the series, but Jesse and Tulip’s individual relationships with Cassidy bring the themes of openness and keeping secrets to the forefront of the story. While all three protagonists are close, Jesse and Tulip each share a unique relationship with Cassidy that they don’t have with one another. These relationships are not sexual in nature, but they allow the characters to open up about things they won’t share with other people. Jesse goes to Cassidy about Genesis almost as soon as he finds out about it, and no other significant characters learn about it until much later. Cassidy’s also the only other one who really knows about Jesse sending Eugene to Hell, Jesse wanting to use Genesis during his church sermons, that Jesse let Tulip die, and that Jody killed his father. Tulip meanwhile shares her own secrets with Cassidy, namely them sleeping together, him being a vampire, and Tulip being married. Obviously the characters don’t always keep their secrets, such as when Cassidy ends up telling Jesse he slept with Tulip and the two of them keep that a secret from Tulip. There are also things that the characters don’t fully divulge to one another beyond vague hints, mainly about their pasts and families. However, openness and discussion about deep personal issues is a hallmark of these characters’ relationships with one another. Often the audience can perceive how close they are depending on what and how much of it they share.
The theme of harboring secrets as it relates to both the books and the show has a somewhat complicated queer context. In recent years, queerness has become much more visible, but for much of the history of queer culture, and in many locations still, hiding one’s identity from others or oneself and the flip-side of that, coming out, is a prominent influence on the culture’s development. Embracing stereotypes in the gay community is often a response to the systemic oppression that encourages gay men to suppress their identity, and similar phenomena can be seen in parts of other minority groups. Because sexual orientation or identity is not always overtly visible, a lot of fiction related to characters hiding things or struggling to hide things have some innately queer subtext. Anything involving special abilities or a hidden nature, such as Harry Potter, superhero movies, or, yes, all of those secret vampire and werewolf society YA novels, incorporates themes applicable to stories with openly queer characters who are hiding their identity, rather than superpowers, from society at large.
In the Preacher graphic novels, we learn Cassidy is a vampire almost immediately. This causes some initial friction as Jesse casts him out for being a disgusting monster, then regrets it and comes to accept Cassidy for who he is. The obvious problem in viewing this with a queer framework is that being gay doesn’t involve murder, but being a vampire does, at least in this series. This is one of the pitfalls in associating queerness with magical or supernatural phenomena — often writers want to create internal conflict that offsets the apparent benefits of having superpowers, so while Spider-Man can use his powers to save people’s lives, he can also accidentally end up hurting or even killing those closest to him by accident. Being queer is a lot more like just having the label of “someone with superpowers” rather than actually being able to use them, for better or worse. It’s the aspect of having to hide or embrace what one is that gives stories with supernatural elements queer subtext. However, it’s not the only subtext that can be applied.
The characters in Preacher hide multiple parts of their personalities. Some of these parts, like their femininity, are beneficial within the context of the story, yet the male characters especially feel self-conscious about them. Their being ashamed of their queerness is not justified, but a reflection of the caustic environment in which they live. However, they also hide much darker, more menacing parts of their nature that are deleterious to themselves and the people around them. Looking at Cassidy from the books for a moment, one of his defining traits is that he wears dark glasses to obscure his eyes, a metaphor for his more violent, predatory nature that hurts people when he gives into it. He hides his eyes in part because he’s ashamed of this part of himself, ashamed of his past wrongs and eager to keep it hidden from himself as well as the people around him. On the occasions when he does remove his glasses, it’s not to confront this ugly side of himself but to revel in it, becoming truly monstrous and hurting people without reservation. Often this is unintentional and involves him quickly trying to hide himself again shortly after. The only exception comes at the very end of the series when he throws away his glasses with the implication that he intends to confront and deal with that part of himself.
In the show, Cassidy’s character implies a similar history, but Jesse also has parts of his past that he likewise tries to repress, primarily associated with Angelville. Because the show hasn’t concluded yet, we’re only partway into these subplots, but from what we’ve seen of the characters so far, we know that these secrets are generally separate from the characters’ queer aspects. This is true in the books as well, though not quite to the same degree. For one, Cassidy is open about his queerness and not ashamed of it, unlike the violent side of his nature. Jesse likewise, although unwilling to open up emotionally in most circumstances, divulges his feelings with Cassidy quite often. Despite this, he doesn’t like to discuss Angelville under any circumstances unless forced.
There’s more of an argument to be made of the show conflating Jesse’s role within Angelville to his queerness, especially in this episode where him accepting his friendship with Cassidy requires him to reopen the Tombs. However, like with the books and how Jesse’s attempts to suppress a view of masculinity related to Angelville largely lead him to accept a different but also detrimental perspective associated with his father, I think much of the show demonstrates that Jesse struggles with thinking these are the only two options. He’s a very morally-minded person, but he often only manages to view the world in terms of black-and-white, and one could easily argue that he views his father (in either the books or the show) as an example of benevolence and the Angelville characters as an example of evil. While he himself is doubtlessly influenced by both, he’s also very much his own person with aspects he didn’t pick up from either of the people who raised him. Jesse’s queerness is unrelated to his father or Jody; both of them either explicitly or implicitly indicate that queerness is not manly. In the books, Jesse embracing his queerer aspects can only come from letting both of his parental influences go, and it’s what allows his character to become a genuinely better person. Likewise, in the show, Jesse tries to embody both Annville and Angelville, but his personal growth comes in the moments when he pulls away from both, such as when he accepts Cassidy as a vampire.
The queer-coded characters in this series, especially the main characters, are not nice people. They probably aren’t the sort of characters who considerably aid positive representations of LGBT+ characters. Then again, there aren’t really many positive role-model characters in this series at all. This series is about assholes. The characters in it, perhaps in part because they are assholes, are often well-written, and more importantly, they’re complex. I want to see more characters that don’t come weighed down with baggage just because they’re LGBT+. I want to see more stories with characters who aren’t exclusively defined by being LGBT+, because, shocker, that’s what most real LGBT+ people are. Normalization can’t be underestimated when it comes to changing the public’s perspective, and sometimes that means making LGBT+ characters assholes too, as long as you’re aware of what you’re doing.
I’m excited to see what comes of Preacher actively leaning into it queer subtext and hopefully exploring it more in the rest of the season. Cassidy’s a fun character and him being bisexual feels natural. It’s nice to have an action series with one of the three main characters being queer, especially one with such close connections to the other protagonists, but it’s also nice that it’s only one aspect of the character. By this point in the series, he’s already established as a junkie, a vampire, a friend, an asshole, a father (well, sort of), and many other things. He also just happens to like men.