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 Ten: The Light Above – ****
Part One: This Series’ Main Conflict Really Just Comes Down to Hats, Mostly
Here we are with the end of a tumultuous and critical season. The third season of any series is important from a structural standpoint because it’s what determines whether that series moves forward and, if so, where it’s headed. Few series make it to a third season and fewer still make it to a fourth. Because events that happen in threes become patterns, it’s possible to look back on a series after its third season and more accurately assess its tendencies than what is visible in the first two seasons.
Before I do that with Preacher, though, we’ve got to talk about what happens in this episode. It’s a capable illustration of this season as a whole, and as you may have noticed, it’s an attempt to pull the series out of the bizarre nosedive it’s been taking for the past few episodes. It’s not the best episode to end a season on, but for me at least it re-contextualized some of the past events in a way I think better illustrates what the series is aiming to be.
Tulip doesn’t get much to do but her fight in the hell bus is pretty spectacular. This is the sort of combat filmmaking I’ve been waiting for all season — it forgoes long takes, but it keeps the shots crisp, the action tight, and makes use of creative angles that accentuate the tension. The choice to film in a bus lying on its side is a good one that allows the characters to make use of a seldom-seen environment, and the scene uses every bit of it. It takes advantage of everything from the open window situated above the characters to the rows of seats to the windshield wipers. It’s a solid fight that shows off Tulip’s prowess and demonstrates that the series still knows how to choreograph and film a fight sequence.
The portion inside the bus is intercut with Death and the Saint of Killers comically mincing the rest of the Nazis which doesn’t really add much but occasionally gets a chuckle. The overall scene is really just an excuse for Tulip to get a few victory points before God shows up and retroactively claims them for Himself. As Tulip is about to die yet again, God transports her elsewhere and tries for a third time to gain her favor. He claims responsibility for saving her and tries to apply His supposedly benevolent acts to things He apparently has no control over. The show presents God as a deity who has immense but limited power and uses it much like the Wizard of Oz to maintain the presence of unquestionable formidability. His concern is mainly to persuade Tulip to keep Jesse away from Him by manipulating her into trusting His wisdom.
She sees through the illusion as per her previous assertion that God is just an asshole afraid of losing his reputation, and His actions only bolster her resolve. Unlike the previous conversations with God, this one is paced naturally and has an effective counterplay between the two characters involved. Tulip is set in her resolve to some extent throughout the conversation, but even so, her body language and eye line convey uncertainty and discomfort. She seems like she wants to buy into God’s bullshit for a while, but she’s seen behind the curtain and is embarrassed that she fell for it before. She plays into his game for a short while before trapping him in an admission of his own apathy for mankind, much like Jesse did to Fake God back in Season One.
No longer able to keep a hold on Tulip, God lets her go with a warning that Cassidy’s in danger and she better go rescue him. Setting aside for a moment that this should in no way be a surprising revelation to anybody, without any more responsibilities, Tulip decides to go track him down. The suitcase is on its way to Angelville via Jody, Featherstone isn’t heading to Hell, and Jesse is dealing with his grandmother, so Cassidy is naturally next on the list of priorities, especially given that Tulip has expressed concern about him on a few previous occasions.
Cassidy is of course in danger, though neither at the time God claims nor seemingly because of anything He’s done. God sort of operates like a broken clock that way, waiting for something good to happen and then pointing at it and saying, “Look! I did that! That was Me!” I love it all.
Anyway, Cassidy is still being crucified on the pool table, apparently while Les Infants patiently wait upstairs for him to die. This remains a baffling decision but at least Eccarius provides some context when he returns downstairs to check if Cassidy has “repented.” See, even after everything that’s happened, Eccarius still loves him and seeks his forgiveness, keen to manipulate him in whatever way possible so that he doesn’t have to give him up one way or the other. You can probably imagine what happens next; he lets Cassidy down and, surprise surprise, Cassidy has surreptitiously convinced Les Infants that he was telling the truth and also turned them all into vampires via Kevin’s memaw. At Cassidy’s order, they pin Eccarius to the pool table and eat him.
The Les Infants subplot is pretty standard and follows a simple pattern. Character discovers a secret society, is initially taken aback by their strange ways but comes to accept and bond with them, discovers a secret plot where the leader takes advantage of the underlings, tries to fight back but is rejected as an outsider, eventually breaks through because of earlier bonding, overthrows the leader, everyone is sort of happy. You’ve seen this plot about a hundred times in some form or another. The series doles it out somewhat mechanically but the trope works at least as well as it usually does. The framework for this subplot has limited utility and necessary turning points that are easy to fuck up — the point at with the character in question is rejected as an outsider, for instance. I’ve never seen that plot point handled well.
However, the show makes use of this subplot where it can. The members of Les Infants couldn’t be more perfect and the the series seems occasionally aware of the sort of trope it’s playing into when it calls into question the legitimacy of their society. Kevin’s memaw remains one of the best minor characters (next to the sad Cheese Monthly guy waiting for the elevator in The Tom/Brady), and the other members of Les Infants who get characterization aren’t bad either. While Cassidy’s bisexuality may have been better emphasized elsewhere and I fully expect it to come up again in later seasons, his relationship with Eccarius is genuinely one of the most touching things in the entire season. I won’t make any excuses about the series playing into some of the harmful tropes associated with queer characters because it certainly does that on occasion, but what it does well is worth noting. I like that none of the characters make a big deal about Cassidy and Eccarius being in a sexual relationship, that the queer characters are normalized and treated the same way as any of the other characters in the series. I like that the series chooses to read into the subtext of the original and make it explicit to better fit the story, and that they completely go for it with multiple kissing scenes and coffin sex, instead of just offering vague hints to imply the characters are queer (as seems to be a trend lately for some unearthly reason). At this point, I’ll take whatever positives I can get in queer representation, especially for a series that doesn’t use it as an explicit selling point.
As far as Cassidy’s character is concerned, we inevitably have to compare this subplot to the Denis subplot from the previous season. Denis and Eccarius are both based on the Eccarius character from the books, the latter obviously more so, and their relationships to Cassidy are appropriately similar. In the books, Eccarius is a fairly young vampire Cassidy runs into in a flashback who uses vampire lore to determine how he should act; he puts on the look and walk of an aristocrat, wears red contact lenses, has a following of goth enthusiasts, sleeps in a coffin, fears churches, and, most importantly, kills people to drink their blood. Cassidy spends most of his time in this flashback chapter convincing Eccarius that he’s imposing inane restrictions on himself for no reason, but when he learns that Eccarius eats people, Cassidy kills him. His reasons are somewhat complicated, but basically he’s done similar things and feels guilty about them. He knows from personal experience that Eccarius won’t stop, so he uses Eccarius as a sort of effigy of himself, resolving one problem while ignoring a much bigger one.
At this point in the books, the audience doesn’t know anything about Cassidy’s past of abusing women, and any reservations about him are really only based in him being unreliable. This flashback comes before the love triangle subplot. While its initial reading seems to imply that Cassidy and Eccarius are both dangerous because they’re vampires, after reading the rest of the series, the scene takes on a much more explicit assault subtext that implies Cassidy and Eccarius are both dangerous because they take advantage of vulnerable people and don’t care if those people end up hurt.
Of the two Eccarius stand-ins in the show, Denis is much more explicitly tied to a subtext of sexual assault. He’s younger than Cassidy and what’s more, his son, so Cassidy lets him get away with a lot before he accepts that he’ll have to kill him. When Cassidy does accept this, he kills Denis immediately, using a position of power (greater awareness of windows and sunlight) and his apparent harmlessness to throw Denis out onto the balcony. He does this quickly and gets rid of any reminder of Denis by letting the dog go, and ceases to bring it up afterward. He’d rather forget what he’s just done than have to face it.
Eccarius, meanwhile, is tied to a drug metaphor in the form of blood. Unlike in the books, he’s older and more experienced than Cassidy, a source of inspiration and knowledge, and Cassidy’s equal as a boyfriend. When he learns that Eccarius turns people into vampires, he finds this morally objectionable, but briefly comes around to Eccarius’ way of life until he discovers that Eccarius is a cannibalistic asshole much like himself. As with Denis, Cassidy decides he’ll have to kill Eccarius, but unlike with Denis, he comes to that conclusion rapidly and holds to it fervently enough to premeditate the murder. Again, he uses his apparent harmlessness and a position of power to ensure the person he’s killing has no real chance of getting away. This time, Cassidy distances himself from the murder by having the others do it. He’s still upset about killing a loved one, but again shows an odd kind of remorse, watching him get eaten and dismissing his ashes as something to be cleaned up with a sponge.
While Cassidy murdering Denis is a much more shocking action, this one is in some ways more disturbing because it plays as almost routine. Cassidy is getting numb to finding out the people he cares about are terrible, and he’s getting more comfortable with just killing them for it. Clearly he sees a lot of himself in these other characters, but it seems that rather than avoid them when they reflect his worse aspects, he’s inclined to imprint his worst aspects on them and use that as motivation for getting rid of them.
Cassidy’s subplot doesn’t end with him in charge of Les Infants, of course, because that would leave the series with about twenty vampires running around New Orleans and an insufficient cliffhanger. The series protocol is to not leave any place without a pile of unintended corpses after any of the protagonists leave, so the Grail returns to burn the new vampires and kidnap Cassidy, leaving Tulip to arrive just in time to find an empty basement with a bunch of ash piles and two vampires (Kevin and his memaw) hiding in the coffins. The episode ends with Cassidy in a cell in Masada as per the second book.
There are other side plots that build through this episode like the Saint getting his weapons back, Hitler ending up as the new Satan, and Starr just up and murdering Hoover for wearing a hat. I also have some complaints about little things like the show’s inability to pick a format to indicate the characters are texting each other, but that’s all peanuts compared to the character moments.
The important thing in this episode, though, is really Jesse.
Part Two: Our Protagonist is a Good Guy, Right?
This is the culmination of nearly all of Jesse’s character arc up to this point. Jesse has Genesis back and he’s going to use it to destroy Angelville.
Again, we have a direct comparison for this event in the books.
The Angelville subplot in the books kicks off early with Jesse dodging questions about how he became a preacher and where he’s been since Tulip last saw him. We get a hint that Jesse has a frightening grandmother at the end of the first third of Book One, but we don’t meet any of the Angelville characters until a short way into the last third of the book. Jody and T.C. spot Jesse by chance while he and Tulip are visiting the latter’s boss to tear up her contract. The Angelville characters burst into the room, at which point Jesse finds Genesis won’t work on them, and they take the two protagonists hostage. Cassidy doesn’t feature in this section of the book, so the remainder of the chapters focus on Jesse and Tulip facing the horrors of Angelville.
Jody and T.C. bring Tulip and Jesse to the latter’s grandmother on her plantation in Louisiana, a place populated by racist goons, of which Jody and T.C. are the favorites. Jesse reveals to Tulip that his mother grew up in this place before running away and meeting his father. When he himself was only a few years old, Jody and T.C. tracked them down, kidnapped him and his mother, and killed his father. He then spent the next few years at Angelville with his grandmother forcing him to study the bible so that he would become a preacher, as was tradition for the men in their family. If he acted out, he was punished with the Coffin, and over the years, the Angelville characters also killed off his dog, his mother, and his best friend, at which point he ran away as his mother had and met Tulip. A few years later, Jody and T.C. found and captured him once again, threatening to kill Tulip as well if he didn’t cooperate. By the present timeline, that makes three times that they’ve tracked down and kidnapped him.
Jody kills Tulip, Jesse sulks for a bit then discovers Genesis works once more, God brings Tulip back to life, Jesse goes on a rampage and sets the plantation on fire, Tulip kills T.C. and Jesse’s grandmother, Jesse kills Jody, and the two protagonists reunite.
It’s a pretty effective end to the first book, and it does a good job of presenting the Angelville characters as forces of horror. They’re monstrous, and only through pulling himself out of his lowest point can Jesse hope to defeat them. Even though the characters die in the first book, the effect they have on the story lingers through the very last one. They’re the reason Jesse wears his distinctive preacher’s collar, meaning they’re the ultimate source for the title of the series.
In some ways, the show goes to great lengths to present the Angelville subplot much as it is in the books. The symbol for Angelville, the appearance of the characters, the house, the Coffin, Jesse’s father dying, the Fuck Communism lighter, Jesse’s relationship with Jody, the overall arc of the subplot, even little details like T.C.’s shotgun and the plank Jesse hits Jody with in their fight are direct parallels to the books. More material is added, like the voodoo elements and the Tombs, but that’s partly because of longer length of a television season compared to a graphic novel. The series knows this subplot is important, and establishes it early on. Before we even see Jesse, we see the flashback to Jesse’s father when Jody kills him. We see his Angelville tattoo before we see his face, and even though we see the Angelville characters or hints about them several times over the first two seasons, we don’t get their names until the last episode of Season Two, and we don’t see their faces until Season Three. The buildup to this subplot is more carefully orchestrated than the buildup to any other subplot I’ve seen on television, and I don’t say that lightly.
Fans of the series may then feel conflicted about how the Angelville characters meet their end in this episode. The series forgoes the drama, the tension, the desperation, and much of the action of the books, instead giving us a straightforward, bleak end to the season’s villains.
In a flashback, young Jesse suggests leaving Angelville for a while to go find Tulip, to which his grandmother responds by calling him weak. He tries to kill her but she guilt-trips him with his religious values and he fails to do it, instead simply walking away without facing resistance. In the present timeline, Jesse arrives back at Angelville with his little soul fragment and Genesis restored, and proceeds to plow through any obstacle Angelville presents. Genesis works on all of the Angelville characters, and by this point Tulip and Cassidy are far removed from the picture so Angelville no longer poses a threat to Jesse. He tosses T.C. aside and has him shoot his own foot, then tells Jody to drop the suitcase and suggests they have a fight in the Tombs. Jesse kills Jody in the fight and burns T.C. alive. He then goes up to his grandmother and hands her the souls. When she refuses to accept them as payment, Jesse forces her to relinquish her hold over him and Tulip, and then has her burn the souls as well. Unsatisfied with that, he straps her to her own machine and it sucks the life from her.
For a long while, I thought of this episode the same way I did The Coffin; there’s something to the ideas behind it and parts of the delivery are effective — the fight with Jody is unapologetic and pretty well-choreographed, for instance, and the flashback sequence is excellent. It does leave something to be desired, though, especially given the dread established over the course of the season. The Angelville characters don’t do much of anything horrific in this episode, and even their actions over the course of the season have done little to back up the weight they seem to carry for Jesse. Jesse’s grandmother threatens him with the blood compact on multiple occasions and we see the aftermath of Jody’s brutal fighting style more than once, but these don’t often directly impact the protagonists. They’re threats, but aside from something like Jesse ending up in the Coffin, the threats appear empty by the end of the season. We end the season not knowing the full extent of why Jesse is so afraid of these people. Yeah they did horrible things to him when he was younger, but compared to what was in the books, the brutality of what Jesse does in the show seems incongruous with what we know happened to him. He reacts far more callously to characters he seems to have far less reason to hate.
I couldn’t help but wonder if the season’s structure might be part of the uncomfortable tone of this episode. What would happen if, for instance, Jesse hadn’t ended up in the Coffin at the midpoint of the season and everything else proceeded much the same way until the second to last episode? What if Jesse had gotten Genesis back and, as I suspected at the start of the season, it didn’t work on the Angelville characters because of Jesse’s fear of them? What if Jesse ended up in the Coffin then? What if being put back in the Coffin hit on a similar beat to Tulip dying in the books, and that was the emotional crux of the season? What if that had been the demonstration of what Angelville could do to Jesse? What if Tulip had gone to get Cassidy and the two of them had tried to storm Angelville to save him? What if escaping from the Coffin was what gave Jesse the willpower to use Genesis again?
There are plenty of ways the show could have opted to make the season finale more like the end of the first book, but it doesn’t do that. While my initial viewing left me a little disappointed, I think it’s worth considering what the show communicates by doing things they way it did instead of playing to audience expectations. There are odd moments that don’t quite add up, like why the previous episodes would emphasize Jody’s brutality without really demonstrating it, and why Jesse’s grandmother would be so distraught about burning those souls when she’s already made her peace with dying. When you consider the elements of the story for what they are instead of dismissing them offhand, a new narrative emerges.
Let’s look at that flashback a little more closely. All of the flashbacks in this season have been delivered in a muted palate that verges on sepiatone at times, and the series pulls a fun little film trick by juxtaposing young Jesse leaving the plantation with adult Jesse walking up to it in the same shot, each half of the screen using the palate appropriate for which version of Jesse is walking through it. It’s a simple filtering trick but it’s effective, especially when the two versions of the character exchange a few words. Adult Jesse berates his former self for not killing his grandmother when he had the chance, and younger Jesse disregards it. The message here is straightforward; Jesse’s experience since leaving Angelville has changed him as a person, hardening him enough that he can finally go through with destroying the place, but also compromising his morals enough that he can no longer just walk away. Because nothing prevented Jesse from walking away the first time and the only times he’s ever come back have been on his own grounds, the show doesn’t clarify whether Jesse going to destroy Angelville is truly a good thing.
His dealing with Jody and T.C. further muddles the morality of what he’s doing. When he enters the house, it takes on the same sickly air it did in the first episode of the season, becoming eerie and unwelcoming. There’s a sense of dread to the scene from the careful movements of the camera to the lighting and the sound design. The acting is also crucial in conveying the tone: the audience should feel nervous, but not for Jesse. Jesse’s not in any real danger in this scene. T.C.’s the one who’s shaking and reluctant, and as soon as Jesse uses Genesis, the audience knows immediately that the only thing keeping him from destroying Angelville in mere minutes is his self-restraint. Jody’s arrival poses a potential obstacle, given the way he’s been framed through the rest of the season, but again, as soon as we know Genesis works on him, any concern we have for Jesse goes out the window.
Jesse comes up with the idea to fight Jody in the Tombs, and at that point, we know Jody’s not going to win. Keeping in line with the Tombs being a death trap, Jesse’s rigged this encounter so that even if Jody bests him in the fight, Jody’s still going to lose. The fight is well-shot and well-choreographed, but it’s not pleasant; the characters basically beat themselves bloody against the concrete walls of the Tombs until eventually Jesse gains the upper hand and continually rams Jody’s head against the wall. It’s violent, excessive, and lacks any semblance of finesse. At one point, Jody seems like he’s going to come back, like even that won’t defeat him, but immediately after he gets to his feet, he falls back down again, presumably dead. Jesse does get a moment of moral clarity when T.C. asks if Jesse’s going to kill him to, to which Jesse explains that he doesn’t have anything against T.C., at least not compared to Jody and his grandmother. However, even if that’s the case, by killing the other two and burning Angelville to the ground, he’s leaving T.C. with nothing more to live for. T.C. explains as much to him. Rather than opt not to destroy Angelville entirely, Jesse decides that he doesn’t care who caught in the crossfire, and burns T.C. alive anyway.
In a typical Good Versus Evil story, the protagonists are justified in what they’re doing by the framing of the narrative. Usually they’re fighting to protect someone, or to stop them from harming others, or out of revenge for someone they’ve already harmed. Even in revenge stories, heroic characters don’t descend to the same level as the villains if the story wants a happy ending. If they kill someone, it’s a guilty person, and even then, they’ll do almost anything to avoid it. Superheroes are supposed to lock up their villains, not kill them, and if they have to kill them for some reason, it’s often because of some Man of Steel-like dilemma where someone has to die either way. The best heroes find a way for everyone to live, and prove that the bigger man is the one who can walk away from an unnecessary fight.
Jesse is not the bigger man. Not by a long shot. The Angelville characters are horrible people, don’t mistake that, but they’re not an active threat to anyone, really. Most of the harmful things they’ve done to Jesse are things from his childhood, things he was unable to fight at the time. The picture the series has painted of Angelville is one of decline, of a crude business that had its zenith decades ago, before Jesse was even born. By the time he came of age, Angelville was on the decline, supported mainly by the lucrative business of the Tombs. By the time Jesse took them up, he was really the only one capable of running them. As soon as he leaves, Angelville becomes dilapidated, a shell of a place with no customers, no underground fighting arenas, and nothing inside but three old people slowly dying. The only reason this finale doesn’t come sooner in the season is that Jesse’s afraid of acting against his grandmother. She certainly pulls dirty tricks by tying her life to Tulip’s, but in the end, that’s all she really can do. As a teenager, there’s nothing preventing him from leaving, and as an adult, he comes back on his own.
In the books, Angelville is a force to be reckoned with, a monstrosity full of seemingly mythological beings that can’t ever be fully killed. They just keep coming back and take everything Jesse has, imprisoning him, torturing him, beating him into submission until he admits defeat. Overcoming them is a moment of character growth. In the show, however, Angelville is something much more mundane and mortal. It’s already dying, and no amount of magic or soul-stealing is going to stop its inevitable crawl toward the end. Even the Coffin is falling apart; the very thing that lingers in Jesse’s mind as an icon of the place is defeated by its own frailty, and it never comes back. The series may very well opt to continue the flashbacks and keep Jesse’s dread of the place alive in later seasons, but for now, as we the audience know it, Angelville is a nightmare for Jesse, but not much more than that. He resists it, he fears it, and he embodies it, but the place he fears is more of a construct of his memories than a real place any more.
Angelville coming to a violent end by Jesse’s fervor as a response to the ills he suffered there is crucial to Jesse’s character, but whether it’s a point of growth is up for debate. It’s not a coincidence that Jesse kills Jody and T.C. in the Tombs, nor that he kills his grandmother using her soul-sucking machine, but while these actions make sense to the character as a sort of poetic justice, they form important parallels between him and the Angelville characters from a thematic perspective. It’s not just the case that the villains die in machines of their own making; Jesse has to put them there first, and he does so deliberately. Jesse already mirrors the Angelville characters, especially Jody and his grandmother, and has done so for the majority of the series. Him killing them, especially going out of his way to do so, and killing them using the same mindset they have cements Jesse’s character. They’re terrible people, but they’re still his family. They raised him, and they’re a big part of the person he is. Whether he likes it or not, he’s the heir to Angelville. His grandmother goes to great lengths to ensure it.
With the next season’s intent for the characters largely unclear, I can’t be sure I’m reading into anything that will remain relevant and grow, but the episode sets it up that way so I’d like to present a little observation of mine.
Jesse’s grandmother made a deal with the Devil some couple hundred years ago to ensure that she stayed young. She eats souls to live forever, and when she finally dies, she and her accumulated souls end up in Hell. As this end date approaches, she grows frightened, worrying about what will happen to her and worrying about her legacy. In the previous episode, she made an amend to that deal upon discovering that Jesse had Genesis, which we learn in this episode sets her free of her afterlife burden in exchange for condemning Jesse to that fate instead. For some reason, this deal involved removing Tulip from the picture, something Jesse’s grandmother tried to do previously by offering Cassidy that love potion.
Why, though? Why go through all this trouble? She’s expressed fondness for Jesse and has poured a lot of time and effort into priming him to be her successor, so what does she have to gain from endangering his friends and giving him a new quest to chase? And, given that she’s consigned herself to death and ensured that it’s going to be cushy, what’s the point of crying over all those souls Jesse forces her to destroy?
The simple answer is that they’re not for her; they’re for Jesse. She wants Jesse to stay at Angelville and is rapidly running out of time to keep him there, so she transfers her deal with the Devil to him instead. She knows he’s afraid of Hell and will do damn near anything to stay away from it. If Tulip ends up in Hell, that’s the one place she can ensure Jesse won’t go looking for her. With him under the same deal she had, he’ll have to keep Angelville operational to outrun his own damnation. The plan obviously doesn’t quite work out on any of those points, but it gives you a little something to chew on. The incentive is still there, and I imagine it won’t sit well with Jesse if the series opts to continue this plot thread.
Part Three: The Road Ahead
The season ends with the now-familiar “one of the protagonists has been kidnapped” cliche, but I honestly don’t mind. I kind of love how often these characters end up imperiled and yet never really seem to be in much danger. Most of the drama in the series arises from internal turmoil, while external action is just there for flavor. I also appreciate that the three protagonists take turns looking completely inept. They’re all damsels in distress, at all times, constantly. It’s delightful.
The cliffhanger points to the next season focusing on the Masada subplot from the second book (that’s right, three seasons in and we’re finally at Book Two!), though given the Allfather is dead, Humperdoo is wandering around New Orleans somewhere, and the three protagonists are already well-acquainted with the Grail, I imagine the next season will be drawing from other sources of inspiration as well, and making new content to fit its purposes of course. Technically, parts of the Masada subplot, or at least Starr kidnapping Cassidy, have been built up over the season, but little else is clear. Outside of direct material from the books, plot points left unresolved in this season mainly revolve around the protagonists interrelationships. At no point until the very end of this episode were even two of the protagonists within shouting distance of one another, and Cassidy still hasn’t had a deep conversation with either of the other two since at least The Tombs.
This series runs largely on the strength of its characters above all else, and seldom is it ever as engaging as when they regroup after a major event. Presumably Jesse and Tulip care enough about Cassidy to go find him, meaning that barring any especially convoluted nonsense, they’re going to all have to reunite at some point. Given everything that’s built up for them in their own subplots since they were last together, and how they all still have some pretty major unresolved interpersonal issues, that reunion promises to be gravitational.
But that’s still far into a future fourth season. With the season finished, we can now look back on its as a whole. Overall, this is the weakest season of the series. While the second season kept me optimistic mainly by way of hinting about the future potential of the series, I think the third season cements the direction the series is going and it’s not quite what I would have wanted. It still has impactful themes and is overall quite competent (I especially appreciate the brightness and attention to contrast in the lighting of the shots). But it’s also unapologetic about its goofy sense of humor and pop culture references, so I don’t imagine those are going away anytime soon.
The season overall suffers from two main structural issues. First, it’s split roughly into two halves that are tonally disparate and lack much relation to one another. Second, for all the effective setup and buildup the season has, its payoff often leaves something to be desired.
The splitting of the season was always going to unavoidable, I think. I was actually anticipating that the protagonists would start out at Angelville, then escape someplace else briefly before having to come back to defeat the Angelville characters, and that’s more or less what happens. The Angelville subplot in the book is not very long and about half of it is backstory. Even adding Cassidy to the Angelville subplot doesn’t do much to extend it beyond an episode or two, so either a lot more material had to be added to Angelville to fill out an entire season, or it had to be intertwined with another subplot.
The series ended up throwing in the Les Infants du Sang subplot and part of the Masada subplot in the second half of the season to keep everything local to New Orleans (well, mostly). I imagine this might have been done for budget purposes, Louisiana being a cheap place to film, or because the series creators wanted Angelville to remain a presence throughout the season, as opposed to some vague, distant threat. Regardless, the Les Infants subplot works, despite or perhaps even because of its absurdity; it has enough pathos to be compelling and much of the time, it’s just utterly charming. I can’t quite say the same for the Allfather subplot, which goes off the rails suddenly a few episodes after its introduction; it retains enough of the regrettable material from the books to be problematic and doesn’t use enough of the compelling book material to justify its presence.
These two subplots have some buildup, even going as far back as the second season, but the tone of the buildup and the tone of the delivery differ significantly. It also doesn’t help that they only really appear after the halfway point. There isn’t much of a transition between the two, only a sudden tonal shift in both cases toward more lighthearted comedy. This tonal shift is part of the struggle in the payoff, but it’s not the only issue where the setup-payoff cycle is concerned.
The books have a noticeable setup problem, with many of the more crucial storylines in the series like Angelville, the Grail, and the love triangle popping up seemingly at random. There is setup for some of the later subplots that starts in the very first book, but outside of character arcs, the books can be a little haphazard in their introduction of new story components. They get away with this because their delivery of most new subplots fits right into the larger story. The Angelville characters, for instance, appear out of literally fucking nowhere, but they’re so memorable that the audience doesn’t really care after a while.
The show seems to have something of the opposite problem; it’s careful in its buildup and establishes major plot elements as far as two or more seasons in advance. It handles its hints about upcoming subplots so deftly the audience may not even realize something was being built up, but they’ve absorbed the necessary information to process and enjoy it all the same. Some of the series’ best jokes rely on this system, like Jesse having to find angel hands to make the telephone work in Season One. However, as we get further into the series, I’m finding that the show has a hard time delivering payoff proportional to its setup. This problem isn’t consistent — Starr’s introduction, Denis’ death, and the Angelville characters matched or exceeded my expectations for the series — but where the payoff does falter, it has resounding consequences. Allfather just dying indignantly without really impacting the characters makes his entire presence feel like padding, even if the buildup to his role in the story was engaging. The same is true for the Boyd subplot, the Hell subplot, the soul fragment subplot, parts of Les Infants, the Coffin, and depending on how you interpreted it, the destruction of Angelville.
As a parting note, now that we have three complete seasons, I wanted to point out a few patterns I’ve noticed between the three. I made the note a while ago that Preacher tends to have peaks in quality at the beginning, midpoint, and end of a season, and that’s held more or less true for every season. The creators insert a crucial climax in the middle of the season to keep it from stagnating, and frequently, these are the most compelling parts of the series. That’s kind of a unique selling point because most series focus all of their efforts in the opening or the conclusion, but even in shows like Breaking Bad, the middle often lags far more than we like to remember. The upshot of this trend is that viewers of Preacher always have something to look forward to in the next few episodes. I hope they continue this trend. If the next season is structured anything like this one, I imagine they will.
The show has a loving relationship with its source material and I stand by my claims that those looking to adapt something should take note. The show likes to play around with the expectations of the fans of the comics, throwing indulgent references to the books their way, but occasionally doing so to keep them off the scent of something else. The end result can be a bit frustrating at first to those hoping for a play-by-play of events in the books, but it’s all done in good humor and the series strives to balance its new content with elements from the books. I think it’s gotten a bit shaky with its use of its source material in this past season, but the series still seems intent on telling a story that is very much its own. The show does well to compliment the books, never really trying to copy or outdo them, but still wearing its enthusiasm for the books at every moment it gets. I can’t speak for the fans, the but the show seems to foster the healthy sort of relationship between an adaptation and its source material that I feel so many other adaptations fail to achieve.
The tone of the series is all over the place, and while it’s gotten more unruly in the latter half of this season, it’s still a blend of dramatic horror and absurdist comedy. The combination of these two is effective, each component providing juxtaposition to enhance the other, and creating a combined tone that can’t easily be mistaken for much else. The feel of the series is utterly distinct, even though the stylistic components are individually familiar. You can look at almost any shot and something about it will give this series away. It’s surprisingly colorful and aesthetically pleasing, and even each season has a unique look to it. You can’t mistake the arid yellows of the first season for the clinical grays of the second or the mossy greens of the third. It’s not that every shot or location embodies these color elements, but the things you remember, the recurring locations and moments of note, bring a particular palate to mind. The opening credits reinforce this distinction between the seasons.
There’s also something to notice in the arcs of the characters through each season. Jesse’s story in the first season is that of a man who finds his calling, gets corrupted by it, and in trying to make things better, accidentally blows up his entire home town. In the second season, he becomes so obsessed with a fool’s errand that he ends up alienating his only friends and inadvertently gets one of them killed. In the third season, he returns to his family, becomes a violent person under their influence, and then murders them.
Cassidy’s arc in the first season is that he tries to do the moral thing for the sake of a friend and ends up accidentally eating the town mayor for it. In the second season, he tries to reconnect with his estranged son and ends up ruining his son’s life before shoving him out a window. In the third season, after burning bridges with his friends, he tries to become a better person and develops a loving relationship with someone he later feeds to a bunch of vampires.
Tulip’s arc in the first season is about her obsessing over getting revenge on the person responsible for the death of her unborn child, then realizing murder isn’t what she really wants. Her arc in the second season is about surviving trauma and facing her fears head-on. The third season involves her trying to make up for a mistake and feeling guilty about her own inadequacies, eventually taking responsibility and realizing it’s okay to be flawed.
So yeah, one of these things is a bit different from the others.
Regardless of the quality of this overall season, I leave it with a lot to digest. I adore this series for its ability to take something that looks ridiculous — even, dare I say, stupid — and turn it every which way, framing it, lighting it, and dissecting it to show all its hidden facets. This is the sort of series that makes me love narratives. Like it or hate it, there are layers here, from the superficial absurdity of its humor to the big philosophical questions it forces you to ask by way of its characters. It’s the sort of series that makes me just a little bit irritated at anything that doesn’t try to be the very best version of itself, and it makes me pause to try to find greater appreciation of other pieces of art I might otherwise dismiss.
I don’t know if these reviews will convince anyone else to take up this series themselves, but I hope I’ve been able to convey my own enthusiasm for this show. God knows I’ve spent tens of thousands of words trying. I’m apprehensive about the next season, but also hopeful that it’ll continue the things I find so rewarding. Assuming it gets greenlit, I’ll absolutely be continuing these episodic reviews when the next season rolls around. Until then, cheers!