3P Reviews

A Hell of a Vision – 3P Reviews: Preacher, Season Four, Episode One

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This is it. The end of the road.

My delight at learning this show would get a fourth season was somewhat embittered when, a short while later, I found out it would be its last. Frankly, it’s a small miracle this show got past its first season with the trajectory it set for itself. I’m not even sure the crew making it expected it to get this far. The first season stands almost perfectly on its own, a tribute to the books that’s something between a prologue and a revision. Looking back, I’m a bit ashamed that my reviews of the first season were so scant; check out those early episodes and you’ll see loving homage to the books that add depth to each scene and make the books better in retrospect. It’s a spectacular adaptation, living in a unique space that simultaneously lives its own life and feels contiguous with comics that came out twenty years ago. It got me into this series, and it got me to think critically about popular media, and it’s a bit part of why this blog even exists.

I’m not sure where it would have gone, to be honest. Each subsequent season, few though they are, has dipped in quality, and I think part of this is due to the effort concentrated in that first one. All of the seasons are a labor of love to some extent or another — it doesn’t feel like the production team has run out of ideas or resents the project, and you don’t make a show this weird that nobody watches (and nobody watches it, I assure you) for four seasons without serious dedication. But it peaked early.

Maybe if it had been able to go for as long as it pleased and had known it from the start instead of being renewed one season at a time, then it could have built at its own odd pace to the gut-dropping end of the books. It could have outdone the books, going as it has. It would have taken ten seasons and a hundred episodes, and maybe before long they would have well and truly run out of content to add or adapt, but they could have done it. Wrapping all of this up, essentially three and a bit books, more than half of the entire comics canon –and the densest part at that — in one season?

They may have bitten off more than they can chew.

If anyone could pull it off, though, I think it’s the people behind this show. Each season, for their drops in cohesion, have never failed to delight and surprise. You could practically graph the narrative insanity of the series season to season, each one more ridiculous than the last. A random vampire and an angel-demon baby. An immortal cowboy hired by the caretakers of the inbred descendant of Jesus. Voodoo Disneyland and the bisexual cannibal vampire fanclub. For all my concerns about the series finding a good ending, at the very least, its weirdness factor should be off the charts.

Might as well dive in. Let’s see what we’ve got.

 

3P Reviews Series: Preacher

 

Spoilers: YES

Audience Assumptions: I’m kind of assuming you’ve been following the show, but do what you like.

 

Season Four

Episode One: Masada – ****

 

Part One: Well. That’s a Way to Start.*

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I mean, okay, I suppose dinosaur coprophagia fits that weirdness chart trend. It’s potty humor for five-year-olds who definitely shouldn’t be watching this show, but I can’t exactly call it off-brand, now can I?

This fucking show, I swear to christ.

I don’t eve really know what to say about that. It’s a low point for the series, though I’d imagine intentionally so. The show sets the bar at rock fucking bottom so the only way to go is up. I supposed it’s mostly harmless, and just childish. And I also have a sneaking suspicion the show just put it in there so anyone trying to tout the merits of this series (hello) would inevitably have to explain to their friends that, yes, at some point there is a bad stop-motion dinosaur, and yes, it does poop, and yes, it then eats that poop.

It’s a strategy, I’ll give them that.

But you know what? Fuck it, this is a fun episode. Going into this season with tempered expectations and a critical eye much more willing to knock it for what it does badly, I still found myself entrenched in the story and enjoying these characters. It has an ear for witty dialogue, and the actors fill these rolls like water in a glass. The show knows what it is, and it’s happy to be that, poop jokes and all, and it’s something I’ve always appreciated. I’ll take a silly comedy with rare moments of nuance above a self-serious drama with infrequent humor any day.

So, after all the dinosaur nonsense, we get a few flash forwards to where the main trio will end up, and it’s… well, if you’ve read the books, it does not look good. In a narrative sense, I mean. For Tulip, specifically. We’ll see how it gets there.

Cassidy has been kidnapped (again), so Tulip and Jesse are off to rescue him. The show has wisely skipped all the faffing about with planes and somehow getting Tulip’s car to the Middle East (for clarity, the show is going with the real Masada instead of the Masada from the books, which was in France for some reason — well, it’s not the real Masada, obviously, since this was filmed in Australia, but you know what I mean). Instead, it’s right to work brainwashing a bunch of Grail operatives so Tulip can hold open the door and Jesse can sneak inside and find Cassidy. The unfortunate vampire is being repeatedly tortured for a bizarre class (the Grail has its own university, which I imagine is accredited the same way for-profit schools in the U.S. are). Jesse frees him of his confines, they share a moment (not a kissing one, sadly, though they come close a few times), and Starr loses an ear. Tulip faces down Featherstone yet again in a delightful bit of outrageous action, and the whole plan goes down without much of a hitch. If by this point you’re thinking, Well, surely that was too easy, you’re right, but not because of anything particularly clever on the Grail’s part.

Arguably not particularly clever on anyone’s part, save perhaps the writers.

See, Cassidy and Jesse have had a bit of time to re-connect, and it’s beautiful, but Cassidy is acting a bit weird through the whole thing. It’s been a while since he’s interacted with either of the other protagonists, and a lot has happened in the interim, namely the whole business with Les Infants and Eccarius and how that all went down — which is to say, not well. Also, Cassidy has been tortured for some time. He’s not overly fond of letting Jesse take all the credit, so to make life more difficult for everyone, he locks himself inside Masada. Mainly so he can do what he wants with the people inside.

As you might imagine, Jesse and Tulip are not overly thrilled by this, but Tulip decides that they’re just going to break in again the next day and knock some sense into him. Jesse tries to confront her about sleeping with Cassidy, and she denies it. In the middle of the night, Jesse has a fitful dream which involves the voice of Jesse’s father speaking to him while in the midst of an explosion, then Starr sneaking into his room, and Jesse mistakenly, then intentionally, strangling Tulip. When he wakes up, he’s shaken, though he discovers all of it was a fiction of his mind. Disturbing nonetheless. For whatever reason, out of fear for Tulip’s safety, desire to get away from her and Cassidy, or a drive to follow the voice, he departs — to go find a rock — leaving everyone, once again, isolated.

 

Part Two: You Bet Your Ass Tulip’s the Boss!

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This episode is not the balls-to-the-wall sendoff the series is capable of. However, I think it has some idea of what it’s doing, even with its low starting point. Over the years, this series has impressed me with its ability to explore resounding character moments and surprisingly deep themes within its frequently inane plot. I was skeptical going in and think I’ll watch this season with a more critical eye than previous ones, in part because it can hold up to the scrutiny.

I frequently have difficulty explaining to people why I like this show. It’s not just that it has a sense of humor that fits my childish wit or that I like the characters and aesthetic. I do like all of that, certainly, but other series do just as well and occasionally exceed Preacher in my mind on any one level. Its ability to juggle disparate concepts to the point where they feel cohesive and build upon one another, rather than appearing at random as in many other absurdist comedies, is also nice.

But I think that my fervor for this particular series is ultimately a very personal one, and it comes down to this series being, or at least giving the pretense of being, honest with its audience. Its adaptational choices invite a conversation between it and the audience, and it challenges people to judge it. Why open the episode and the final season with an intentionally bad-looking coprophageous dinosaur? Is there are reason? Is it just trolling you? Well, I mean, obviously yes, of course it’s trolling you, and me, but it knows what it’s doing, even if what it’s doing is, well, weird. This show is not the sole work of any one person, nor was the comic that came before it. Yet, despite that, it has a personality and feels almost like a character itself. The love and goofiness and sincerity and cheek and ineptitude and talent and dedication and uncertainty and wryness all come across to make something that feels wholly and utterly like it was made by humans, plural. And when so much television these days comes across as means to an end — for an auteur, a network, an actor, whoever — rather than a complete thing on its own, it’s nice to have shows that don’t talk down to their audiences. Oh, this one will frustrate its audience to no end, and drive them completely up the walls like someone who only speaks in puns, but it doesn’t talk down to them.

Like I’ve said, it knows what it is.

Enough beating around the bush — I do actually really love this episode. It’s kind of par for the course as far as this series goes, and it’s not astonishing in any way, but it feels good to see these characters again and follow them in their ridiculous story.

Perhaps the most important part of this episode is that it reunites Cassidy with Jesse. I probably would have liked to have seen more Tulip in there, but when gets her moments being supported by her supposedly enlightened boyfriend and fighting with Featherstone, so I won’t complain.

It’s been far too long since Cassidy interacted face-to-face with the other protagonists, and I have missed the banter between them more than I care to admit. All of the leads have fantastic chemistry, but Jesse and Cassidy in particular have this lovely tension from having less in common with each other than they do with Tulip, yet also being almost interchangeable in their mannerisms. At this point in the story, Cassidy has started to drop his inept vampire junkie ruse (I mean, he’s still an inept junkie vampire, but he’s always been more self-aware than he let on publicly), so he’s more inclined to observe others and express himself directly where he would have used references before. Meanwhile, Jesse has been letting loose a bit more and been generally less concerned with divine whatevers in favor of doing what pleases him. As a result, their entire escape attempt is mainly bickering, and it’s glorious. It’s also brimming with subtext, but who’s counting?

Going back to Tulip, her relationship with Featherstone is actually pretty similar to the boys’, albeit properly antagonistic.

I’ve so often seen the trope of the “good side woman” and the “bad side woman” in an action film facing off, despite having never interacted before, simply because they’re women, and therefore they must have so much in common. It’s usually a limp attempt to make the female action characters seem more impressive than they actually have been in the text while simultaneously getting them out of the way so the men can do the real work. It’s kind of like that shot in the most recent Avengers film where all of the female superheroes have an action pose that really only serves as a bitter reminder of how little the franchise thinks of them.

So it’s nice when a series bucks that trope and gives us two female characters with a complex history and built-up animosity that allows them to go all-out against one another. It’s also refreshing to see two female characters who are not just fighting over a man. While, yes, technically Featherstone is mainly motivated by impressing Starr, and Tulip is doing all of this to free Cassidy, their confrontation with one another drops all of that broader context and just boils down to these two people wholly despising one another. Like, I don’t think any two other characters, including Starr and Jesse, hate each other more than Tulip and Featherstone. The reason for it is also cumulative, like way back in Season Two, it started with Featherstone lying to Tulip about being a friend and then trying (well, briefly succeeding, I suppose) to murder her. And Featherstone’s main reason for hating Tulip, aside from just being a petty villain, was that Tulip made her look like a failure and also forced her to pretend to be her friend. Since then, they’ve exchanged a couple of punches, threats (to themselves and their respective boys), imprisonments, insults, and general bitchery.

The point in this episode where their bullets fuse upon impact and they both say, “cool” to it made my day. As did Featherstone’s flying squirrel suit escape. That’s the sort of thing I expect from this series.

I would also consider the other defining features of the show intact — namely its bright, high-contrast colors and visual clarity. The fights aren’t exceptionally impressive, nor are the digital effects, but they’re not distracting either. The fights are always clear, well-lit and well-choreographed. That itself shouldn’t be impressive, but it’s nonetheless admirable. It’s especially admirable considering that this episode opts to film action scenes largely in close-ups and medium-shots, which are more frequently used to show faces during stable shots. It works, though. And it works in the quiet moments, too. What matters most is the character expressions, as this show relies heavily on emotion and interaction to further its plot. Few of the shots are noteworthy, but the series is having a bit of fun here and there, and it continues to stand out to me as one of the better looking television shows out there right now.

There is one exception — well, two technically, and they have a similar lean. Right after the purposefully immature opening, the show flips to its other side and foreshadows future events by showing Cassidy and Tulip alone in a room and Jesse falling out of an airplane. It may not look like it now, but this is the series showing its teeth.

 

Part Three: Sweet Jesus, They’re Going There

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Before we started, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to get out of this season, or this episode in particular, but now that we have a road map, I’m impressed. And a little terrified.

I’ve always loved this series as an adaptation because it manages to both emulate and completely diverge from its source material in interesting ways. With three books to fit into one season, this one looks like it’s following the path of the later books more or less fully. That’s probably a good choice, because the latter half of the series is where its strengths lie in challenging perceptions of what this series really is. The first few books are gory romps through a western action-horror. The latter few betray you and then teach you how to cope.

This will be a spoiler warning, for those who have somehow made it this far into my reviews but suddenly want to bail. This is also a content warning for discussion of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and rape.

The fourth book involves a fight with the Grail, not in Masada (that’s Book Two), but in Monument Valley, during which Jesse falls out of an airplane. Tulip and Cassidy grieve for a while, then Cassidy, seeing Tulip emotionally and physically vulnerable from pills and vodka she’s been abusing, lies to her, then coerces her into sex. This goes on for several months. The books don’t go into detail, but they’re explicit in their framing; from this point on, Cassidy is an abuser. He prevents Tulip from contacting the outside world, keeps her drugged and drunk, and controls her every move so he can sleep with her whenever he wants.

She gets out of it eventually and stays at a friend’s house to recover, eventually reuniting with a not-dead Jesse freshly back from some soul-searching. While Cassidy remains a large focus for the last book and is occasionally placed in an empathetic light, the story shifts from the fourth book on to be less about stopping the end of the world and more about dealing with what happens when the a person you once cared about does something unforgivable. I won’t pretend that the series lands well on every note, or that this was in any way a tasteful direction to go, but there’s a sincerity about how it handles this plot that I had not seen before nor have I seen since. If you’re going to have a plot about sexual abuse, this is not the worst way to go about it, for a few simple but crucial reasons.

One, Tulip does not forgive him. Jesse doesn’t either, really, because it’s not something to be forgiven, but what matters is that Tulip is the only one with that power, and she opts not to take it. The last face-to-face interaction between Tulip and Cassidy involves Tulip and her friend Amy threatening him to leave them alone. When Jesse goes to confront him, Tulip is off dealing with Starr and the Grail (you know, stopping the end of the world and whatnot).

Two, Tulip doesn’t just recover spontaneously, but being abused does not define her. It affects her in the immediate aftermath, and she mentions that it’s a trauma she’s going to have to learn to live with for the rest of her life, but she’s still the same Tulip as before.

Three, it isn’t gratuitous, but it is clear. The book indicates what’s happening, but it does so largely through the type of dialogue used and especially the antagonistic framing of Cassidy. It does not glorify or fetishize anything, and even though it never uses the words “rape” or “abuse,” Tulip’s victimization is never called into question. She actually consents initially, and the book follows Cassidy up through the thought process of deciding to take advantage of her with that as an excuse. As soon as he makes that decision, he stops being a point-of-view character until the very last chapter of the series.

Four, when the last book does show more of Cassidy, it’s not to excuse his behavior but to show that he has always been this sort of asshole. His empathetic moments are in spite of him doing horrible things. While the story allows for some amount of forgiveness of the person (and not very much), it does not offer any forgiveness for the act. The ending, in which Cassidy leaves Jesse and Tulip but cheats death one last time, is meant to be slightly uplifting in showing Cassidy turning over a new leaf, but it’s simultaneously not a happy ending. Up to this point, the books have been reiterating that Cassidy falls into old cycles easily and has been abusive many times in the past. The ending of the book poses the question, should this person get yet another chance? Is it a good thing if they do?

For Tulip, the answer to both is is a resounding no. And the book supports this as a valid reading of its ending.

It’s a lot to take in. I’m still not sure I’ve gotten over the conclusion of this series, and I don’t say that about a lot of them. So what on earth am I supposed to think when the show opts to go in that same direction in a third of the time?

I mean, it could be a complete shitstorm, that’s for damn sure.

I’m not really interested in trying to figure out where the show is going. As far as I can see, it has three options: cut the abuse subplot and make Cassidy and Tulip’s future interactions all nice and not at all creepy (the positive outcome); roll with the abuse subplot and frame it the way of most sub-par action series, as a perfectly fine thing for men to do that is all the woman’s fault if it goes bad (the asshat outcome); or fit the entire trajectory of the arc from the books into the remaining few episodes, turning Cassidy from a character the audience is meant to like into one that cuts deep and leaves them not knowing who to trust anymore (the horror outcome).

The asshat outcome is always a risk, as it is with any adaptation of a work with themes of sexual abuse or violence toward women. Time stands to see if the show will completely shit the bed, but I think it’s better than that. The positive outcome is arguably the most favorable and certainly the easiest to attain, and even though I love how much the book gives you to think about, I wouldn’t at all be opposed to the show opting for a better outcome. Given that the show’s version of Cassidy is infinitely more relatable and pleasant that the book’s version (who, while still amusing, is more of a proper asshole even from the start).

But I can’t deny that the possibility of the show pulling all of this off, as much as it concerns me, gives me that exact same sense of dread that I love in my monster movies. Remember, at its core, Preacher is a horror comedy, and though it has always leaned far more on the comedy side of things, the reason has always been to provide a platform for that other shoe to drop. In fact, for the very reason that this iteration of Cassidy is much more likable than the book version, I think that the impact could be much more resounding. And I have to wonder, for someone who hasn’t read the books, and who doesn’t know what might be just over the horizon, would they see it coming? Would it have the same chilling discomfort as the subplot has in the books, that only grows stronger with time?

Because it’s there in retrospect. It has been from moment one. The character has even warned us about it, on multiple occasions. That’s what makes it so unnerving in the books: they take us right along this silly adventure, and then once we’re invested, they lock the doors behind us and show us what they really are.

Sounds a bit familiar, don’t you think?

 

Series Breakdown Rating:

Characters and Character Development: 9
Aesthetics and Style: 8
Creativity: 8
Overall Plot: 7
Subplots: 8
Sum: 40/50

 

*Re-watching this episode, I realize they cut the part with the dinosaur. Therefore, my entire opening now makes no sense. I swear, there was in fact a coprophageous dinosaur at the start of the premiere. How the hell could I make up something like that?

I really hope they leave it out of all future materials, though. I mean, yes, it would improve the season considerably all on its own to start with the flash forward, but also, it makes for an amazing Easter egg. What dinosaur? Doing what? Are you joking, they would never let us air that. And, look, it doesn’t exist.

I fucking love this show.

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