When in doubt, this show will always choose the strangest solution to a problem. Or simply invent strange new problems when none exist. Luckily, it eventually figures out what to do with them, and manages to juggle disparate tones with a grace few series of its sort achieve. I’ve missed this part of the show, the part that’s entertaining first, popping jokes here and there between the violence, but which then pauses for a moment to breathe in the scenery and speak to the audience through its characters. At its worst, this show is silly nonsense and guts galore. At its best, it’s an architect who draws plotlines as though they are made of chalk, and then, with a flick of its wrist, brings them together into an intricate web of theme, emotion, character, and memory.
3P Reviews Series: Preacher
Audience Assumptions: I’m kind of assuming you’ve been following the show, but do what you like.
Episode Four: Search and Rescue – *****
Part One: What’s Changed
To approach this episode, I think I ought to start where it does. It gives us a bit of preamble, returning to God’s conversation with Starr and showing Jesse marooned on a raft with his pilot after the plane goes down, but the credits haven’t even finished rolling by the time we meet the setpiece of this episode: Cassidy getting revenge on his torturer, Toscani.
And it is brutal. Cassidy, with the aid of that angel feather from before, frees himself during transit to a new cell and offs Toscani’s men, then explains what he’s done in a calm, collected voice, before pummeling him in a punching match and fulfilling his earlier promise to kill the man with his own gun.
There are a few odd things about this scene, and they both work exceptionally well. First is the thing that gives me a sinking feeling: Cassidy wins the fight handily, never taking a blow of any sort.
One of the key differences between the show’s interpretation of the character and how he originally appears in the books, aside from aesthetically, is that the show’s version of the character is much weaker. Where the book character has the typical super strength and keen senses of a competent vampire, as well as Wolverine-like healing abilities, the show character really only retains the healing. This makes him more vulnerable in a fight, and requires him to rely on, for instance, biting, using impromptu weapons, and just flat-out losing in most combat situations. Cassidy does not fight with fists; he fights dirty because he has to. And, usually, he ends up in a bad state from it.
The show has good reason for this choice: it wants to keep him sympathetic. The show’s version of Cassidy is much more sympathetic than his counterpart, frequently more emotional and soft-spoken, and just as likely to be the butt of a joke as the originator of it. These aspects are present in the book character as well, but to a much lesser degree, with the book favoring to emphasize his waster characteristics like his lack of a drive or social code. By making its version of the character less apparently dangerous, dealing with the typical self-conscious vampire plot in the first season, the show encourages the audience to drop their guard. “This character is bad,” it says. “Look, he ate the mayor. Spooky.” And now the audience has their baseline for how bad it can get. We’re willing to overlook the later warning signs because the show assures us that’s not this character’s style. Even in this episode, he’s just killing some asshole, right? The characters have done this dozens of times before, so it’s not really unusual.
The framing indicates otherwise. While the fight calls up comparisons to the Tombs, it also closely parallels Jesse’s fight in the previous episode, and more broadly, Jesse’s fighting style. Cassidy may not usually use his fists, but Jesse certainly does. The blocks and counter-punches Cassidy uses here are the sort we typically see when Jesse fights someone, and what’s more, the speed and efficacy is also comparable. Maybe even a bit better. Up until he dies, a lot of the scene is also filmed from Toscani’s point-of-view, which turns the scene from a long-awaited victory for Cassidy into a horror show, putting the audience in the position of Toscani, the victim and the villain.
So, what the hell happened to allow this? Why does Cassidy, the dumbfuck who could have literally walked out of his prison at least twice now but chose not to, suddenly get to be competent and unnerving?
The show doesn’t provide any logical answers. I’m sure if any literalists out there were to look at this show, they would find fault in its lack of continuity between fights as far as Cassidy’s capabilities are concerned. There’s no technical reason given why he should be suddenly so much better at fighting with no practice. Sure, you could make an argument that playing around with Eccarius gave him special vampire powers, or that this is one of the rare times he’s fully sober, or that his fury toward Toscani is just that powerful. The show provides avenues for interpretation, but it crucially offers no answers. This may be a special situation, or it may be something that Cassidy was always able to do but didn’t for whatever reason. It doesn’t really matter.
What does matter is what makes this scene unique: Cassidy murders someone in cold blood, not merely in self-defense; he uses Jesse’s techniques to do it; it is easy.
And it accomplishes nothing but bloodshed. Cassidy gets thrown back in his cell afterward anyway. The only reason for any of that was solely so that he could torment his captor. Because he wanted to.
The lack of clear reasoning is intentional. There’s a precedent for this character to behave this way, but it still comes as a bit of a shock, and even if you’re rooting for him to get one up on his torturer, the way it’s filmed is designed to make you feel uneasy. Just like it is when he kills Eccarius, and when he kills Dennis, and when he kills Miles. The episode then continues to play around with Cassidy as a sympathetic character — he still hasn’t done anything that bad yet, as far as the action comedy ethics of the show are concerned — but it doesn’t let you forget it. And it probably never will.
Part Two: Tulip’s Boys Are Not Doing Well
On the other end of the world, or at least some distance away, Jesse is still trying to get to Australia. Upon seeing him stranded in a life raft in the episode preview, I was not overly enthused. We only have six episodes to wrap this thing up, so why spend an entire episode delaying the journey even further? Cassidy has tried to break out of Masada four times already, so surely we can hurry things along on the other major plotline, right? And adding the throwaway plane pilot to the mix seemed even less necessary. If you’re going to throw Jesse on a life raft, at least have him do some introspection.
That’s what I thought, anyway. After watching the episode, let me eat my words.
It’s not the most significant moment Jesse has had in the season to date, but the life raft sequence is peaceful. It’s almost charming in a way, despite the dire circumstances. Jesse initially tries to rig up a sail and navigate, the pilot being little more than a nuisance, but as Jesse becomes aware of his helplessness in getting to land, he turns to the injured pilot and has some quiet conversations with him as he lays there, dying.
Through his attempt to get to Australia, Jesse has given the pilot (his name is Steve) various commands that have inadvertently worsened his situation. Pilot Steve starts to panic because of the crash and his own injuries, so Jesse tells him to stop panicking. Later, he sees the Steve’s injured legs burning in the hot sun because Jesse refused to let him get on his pants in the previous episode. He tells Pilot Steve to stop feeling the pain, which results in him getting his hand bitten off as he drags it through the water.
It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Pilot Steve is not making it out of this alive. Even before his health starts to nosedive, the circumstances do not speak in his favor. He’s a minor character, stranded on a life raft with the main protagonist, shortly after said protagonist has turned outwardly murderous and is being visually compared to a man-eating vampire. Look, I’m not saying anyone has to get cannibalized on this life raft, but if anyone’s going to get cannibalized, it’s not going to be Jesse. On a marginally more serious note, the show also has a well-worn trend of the protagonists, katamari of trainwrecks that they all are, leaving a wake of corpses wherever they go.
What’s different about Pilot Steve is that Jesse has to watch him die, and it is not quick or peaceful, it is gruesome. He can’t feel pain, but he can certainly feel fear. Jesse listens, optimistic at first that he’ll be fine, as Pilot Steve talks about his life and how he’s not ready to die. This is Jesse’s job, technically speaking, but we know that he’s never really been all that good at it. He asks Pilot Steve to believe in him and his ability to get them to safety, that everything is going to be fine. When the pilot, near death, decides that Jesse is himself God and begs him to save him, Jesse tries, and fails. Just as he fails to get a sail working, just as he fails to give the man a solemn burial, and just as he has failed so many people in his life in so many ways on so many occasions.
This scene is about failure. Jesse is at fault for all of the things that happen, but as with many of the more chaotic events in the series, it’s not easy to see the solution, because perhaps none exists. Jesse has been the cause of a lot of bad things, and a lot of bad things have happened because he was selfish or cruel or vengeful, but the series doesn’t like to create simple one-to-one correlations very often. Tragedies in this series are often the result of domino effects, influenced by small, cumulative actions that affect other things in unpredictable ways. Often, Jesse is unaware of the role he plays, as with Annville blowing up. The actions that eventually lead directly to this event are borne of arguably noble, if slightly selfish, intent; Jesse just wants answers from God, and he wants to share it with the town — for their benefit, of course, but also to clear his name. Apathy and inattention then leads these actions to spiral out of control. Jesse leaves the town to fend for itself, not realizing or caring how much he’s upset the lives of all of its inhabitants. The death of Pilot Steve is strikingly similar, except that this time, Jesse has to watch it, knowing his role and knowing that there’s nothing he can do about it.
Throughout the episode, he shouts at the sky, blaming God personally for everything happening to him. This brings up another juicy little morsel about the philosophy of the show and what its perspectives on free will, responsibility, and the purpose of religion are. Because the show disconnects the literal God from the rest of all existence, it gets to play around with what having a literal God actually means. Much of Jesse’s story has been a conflict between his beliefs — that an omnipotent entity built and guides the universe according to structured religious principles that Jesse is privy to and follows in order to lead a moral life — and the objective reality within the show — that said God exists, and is an asshole, completely detached from the moral principles of the religion Jesse follows.
Jesse’s concept of God kind of needs God to not exist, or at least to never be an objective, determinate thing that he can measure and have a conversation with. Jesse uses religion as a way to understand and interpret the unknowability of the universe, giving seemingly random acts a name, and making him feel like his actions have meaning. In this, the raft is a pretty apt metaphor; even when all control of the situation is taken from him, Jesse can still use his beliefs to give himself some iota of control. He can blame it on God, whether God is literally there, whether God is personally pulling the strings, and whether God even cares.
When you give God legs, you give Him the choice to walk away.
Part Three: Aw Yeah, OG J-Man Is Goin’ Road-Tripping
Have I mentioned that this episode is genuinely quite funny?
Between the more serious subplots, and even during them at times, the show throws out a few cute little character lines that aren’t completely necessary, but certainly add to the charm of the episode, insofar as it exists. I mean, the episode is pretty graphic, and quite the downer, but it’s back to balancing its disparate tones effectively again.
First and foremost among the sillier moments of the episode is its introduction of another Jesus. Now, this one isn’t to be confused with the porn star Jesus we just met, nor the inbred tap-dancing Jesus, nor the many clones of the inbred tap-dancing Jesus. No, this here is the real deal, Mister J. H. C. himself, carpenter and sandal-wearer extraordinaire, the one-and-only Joshy Boi. And after a genuinely adorable scene where Tulip tells him he’s “a nice guy,” the Jebes is totally down with helping her break Cassidy out of Masada. As the real Jesus would be, too.
I swear, sometimes recounting the plot of this fucking show feels like a Monty Python sketch. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you.
The basic plot of the episode, outside of Cassidy killing Toscani and Jesse piddling around in the ocean, is that the Grail has received two emissaries, one from Heaven (Jesus) and one from Hell (Hitler), to negotiate the end of the world. This entire plan still revolves around Humperdoo for some reason, who Starr still has not retrieved. Starr therefore has a backup clone Humperdoo, who presumably cannot tap-dance, and who also presumably remains unknown to anyone who cares. That list of people who are about to care very much about whether or not Humperdoo can tap-dance is growing larger by the day, but Starr still seems to be resigned to personal vengeance against Jesse for making fun of his penis-head. So, the antagonists clearly know what they’re doing and continue to be a formidable force standing in the way of the protagonists and not, for instance, buffoons who let the protags fall into pits of self-destruction purely by accident.
In the realm of characters who actually almost have their shit together, Featherstone is functionally running the Grail, and doesn’t seem overly happy about it. She’s mainly concerned with capturing Tulip, having figured out that Tulip is trying to rescue Cassidy and readying her troops to set a trap for her. Of interest on a character level, Featherstone seems to be quickly losing her devotion to the Grail and its cause, going so far as to personally bar Jesus Fucking Christ from the dungeons. While I can’t really say that Featherstone has had much of an arc over the seasons, it is clear that where she stands now — jaded, disillusioned, impious — is in clear contrast to the character from Season Two who followed orders without question and joined the order as a capital “c” Christian. Hoover’s death and replacement with some fuddy-duddy yes-man hasn’t gone over especially well with Featherstone, and she’s becoming increasingly aware of Starr’s instability and indifference to the people serving him.
I would not mind a redemption arc for Featherstone one little bit.
Elsewhere, Tulip’s attempt to rescue Cassidy bears some tiny fruits. The two of them finally run into each other for the first time since the middle of Season Three, but Cassidy is quickly thrown back into his cage with his angel friend and Tulip has to go find Jesus. Tulip continues with her breakout attempt, interspersing the actual plan with some buddy bonding with the J-Man, only to discover that Cassidy has made good on his promise and escaped of his own accord.
Well, sort of. He tore his own arms off, ate his angel friend, and then flew off into the sunset, which I guess he could have done at any point, but was only motivated enough to try once he knew doing so would leave Tulip trapped by the Grail. What a great guy.
The show actually plays around with Cassidy’s inevitable fall from grace a bit after the grim opening, making him variably look menacing only to downplay it later on. Cassidy shares his cell with a kind of annoying but otherwise good-natured angel who shares his cell and helped him escape earlier. When Cassidy realizes Tulip has come to rescue him, despite his instructions, he and the angel get into a tiff about what his relationship with Tulip is (which the angel, by the way, is completely on-board with), and Cassidy threatens to kill him. Which he does, in a pretty gruesome scene.
Of course, as established, angels in this universe are immortal and just pop back into existence after they die, so what he’s actually doing is just freeing his friend and fixing his own hands, as evidenced by the angel opening the cell door when he reappears and flying them both out through Chekov’s chimney. It’s a pretty good joke. I like it.
The episode is surprisingly self-contained, though it obviously relies heavily on the setup on not just preceding episodes but preceding seasons. It continues the trend the show has of drawing on past situations to provide context for the present, and it sets up a few way points that could serve to build up future payoff. The show is rapidly reaching its conclusion, which makes the choice to introduce new characters a questionable one, but if this episode is any indication, it might actually know what to do with them.
Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 9
Aesthetics and Style: 8
Overall Plot: 7