3P Reviews

The Breaking Point – Preacher, Season Four, Episode Five

Preacher S4 E5 C

Despite a rocky start, this season is proving it knows where it’s going and how to get there. With characters reuniting after episodes, or even seasons apart, the emotional catharsis in this episode is high. New characters play their roles, but don’t overstay their welcome, offering thematic coherence that is desperately needed at this juncture in the story. This is the turn. Things set in motion now are locked, for better or worse, and declare that the rest of the series should see them through to the end. Despite rare moments of genuine warmth, the underlying tension of the episode promises that the light ahead is not the sort to seek intentionally.

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 Five: Broad City – *****

 

Part One: If You Need to Start This Series in a Random Spot, This is the Episode to Start With

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First, to expel my overall disappointment, this episode is not nearly as gay as it ought to be. I mean, it’s still a little bit gay, but it could be much gayer.

Cassidy is finally — finally — out of Masada, so after a quick dye job, he and his angel buddy reunite with Tulip and Jesus at their favorite Middle Eastern bar. It’s a touching reunion, with them regaling each other with their adventures since they last saw each other and working out a way forward. Blessedly, it’s also about as sexless as it could possibly be. It’s just characters connecting as friends over a drink the way this series does well. In fact, the only time any of the more-than-friends bit of their relationship comes up is when Tulip punches Cassidy in the face for blabbing to Jesse about that one time they had sex. Which is, you know, deserved.

They each face a moral dilemma revolving around whether or not they want to go rescue Jesse. Of all people, Cassidy decides that they should. He confesses his remorse at not reacting well to his rescue, and guilt that him staying to prove himself capable of escape may have contributed to Jesse leaving in the first place. And, I mean, he’s not wrong, really. He and Tulip have a closer friendship over the course of the series than either of them do to Jesse, even if it doesn’t have a great foundation. The reason goes deeper than mere guilt about breaking up Jesse and Tulip, though, as he rejects Tulip’s own offer to go to Vegas with her and Jesus (a sexy Jesus, specifically) on the grounds that he flat out doesn’t want to do that. Again we have the throughline of Cassidy knowing he’ll hurt Tulip seeping between his more impulsive nature.

Of course, Cassidy is likewise eager to procrastinate his sudden declaration to rescue his boi, hanging out with his angel friend who has terrible advice about love.

So that leaves Tulip preparing for her long road trip (don’t question it) from Masada to Vegas. She has one Jesus in tow, and they bond over some weed, reflecting on the people they’ve let down and their mutual uncertainty about the future. Once on the road, though, problems arise. For one, Jesus is not as, ah, engaging as Tulip’s usual road trip buddies. Her attempts to dazzle him with what they can do in Vegas — armed burglary, for instance — don’t go over well, and Jesus quickly realizes he’s in over his head. Who could have guessed the 2000-year-old hippie in charge of all that is good in the world would have second thoughts about helping to rob a bank?

So Jesus decides to go back on account of cold feet, and while Cassidy’s new friend is tearing up the place with his old girlfriend, he decides to team up with Tulip again to go save Jesse. For real, this time.

Meanwhile, in Australia, Jesse briefly struggles with the layout of right-steering cars. Perhaps it’s because I’ve had this exact same experience (also in Australia, oddly enough), but the scene just fucking kills me. It’s set against dark, dramatic music, and it’s the sort of joke this series pulls off well.

His goal, of course, is to reach the Lost Apostle. Before he’s even fully out of the parking garage, though, he has a run-in with Eugene and the Saint, also newly arrived in Melbourne, and, as has happened times before, he goes back to rescue the kid.

That, statistically speaking, has never boded well for any of the protagonists.

Most of the rest of Jesse’s contribution to the episode involves his painful apology to Eugene after “rescuing” him from the Saint. And it’s well-deserved payoff after three seasons of buildup. Jesse has spent a lot of time oblivious to the misadventures of young Eugene Root, and now he has to face up to that. You have to remember, while Jesse promised himself he would save Eugene, he never actually got that message down to the kid himself. After worrying about it for much of the first season, he’s conveniently been sidetracked and had plenty of excuses to forget him. Eugene is a good kid who retains his faith and a positive attitude literally through Hell and back (twice), and despite the (relatively) amiable friendship he’s built up with the Saint, his first instinct when he sees Jesse, knowing the Saint is after him, is to tell him to run, putting himself in danger.

But everyone has a breaking point.

He gets an apology from Jesse, and it’s about as heartfelt as the guy can provide. The catch is that accepting it means Jesse walks free. There’s underlying tension in the scene related to Jesse’s habit of hurting people and a genuine question about whether he cares. His apology is sincere, but to what extent? It wouldn’t be difficult to skew it in a way that implies Jesse just wants to feel good about what he’s done, that by apologizing, he’s absolving himself of his own guilt.

Eugene recognizes this, recognizes Jesse wants to say a basic “sorry” and get away with it, consequence-free. So he shoots him for it.

 

Part Two: Understandably, Jesus Has Daddy Issues

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The episode is filled with its requisite violence, parodied with cheek through Cassidy’s angel friend who first bangs the bejesus out of his ethereal beloved before fighting her to the death in perpetuity. She’s a demon, and they do the dying and coming back to life thing too. It’s probably very sexy.

Touches like the angel-demon fight don’t offer much for the story, and a part of me is a little sour that more of the show’s diminishing time isn’t spent on its core trio’s personal arcs. Like, I’m all for Jesus grimly contemplating how badly he might fuck up a robbery, and I too would leap at the chance to film that if I ever created a feasible environment for it. But truth be told, the little bunny trails peppered throughout this season (heck, peppered throughout the show itself) are likely to incite more negative feelings than their current appeal offers once the show is done. They’re not important.

Nonetheless, since they’re here either way, we might as well make use of them.

Jesus is an odd addition to the cast. Let’s just put that out there for a minute. Even in a series as screwball as this one — perhaps even more so, given how self-referential the show is — if the characters meet the literal Jesus Christ, that probably has some deeper subtext than if they had met Jerry the milkman. Now, I could go on a tirade about the various interpretations of Jesus in fiction (lol, I lie), but suffice it to say, of all of the controversial things in the Christian mythos, Jesus is a bit of an outlier. Friendly guy from the sound of it. Most of the time anyway. Advocate of peace and love and practical goodness, hangs out with the sort of people your mom wouldn’t approve of, and not in a judgy way, either. None of that angry vengeful God what wipes out all of life except a boat with some zoo animals in it. I mean, yeah, you have the bit about the figs and the bull whip, but otherwise, Jesus is the one bit about Christianity that even people from other religions agree is kind of charming. Or would be if Melinda from down the street didn’t keep trying to get you to declare your undying love for the guy.

It’s not terribly surprising that the show takes a more sympathetic, albeit unconventional, look at the J-Man, then. It’s also no coincidence that the one character he interacts with of the main trio is Tulip. You could take this in a few directions. The characters the protagonists interact with often reflect something back at them, foils being fucking everywhere in this series. With that in mind, you could take Tulip, Jesse, and Cassidy’s chosen companions for the last few episodes and set them side-by side. Jesse spends time with a hapless pilot who has some moral inclinations, but dies slowly and horribly due to Jesse’s interference. Cassidy has a mostly incompetent angel who is all sorts of messed up and probably handed in his angel certification long ago. The resemblance is uncanny.

And then Tulip has Jesus. That merits a closer look.

As I’ve mentioned before, of the three protagonists, Tulip is the least messed up. She’s not innocent by any means, but she doesn’t have nearly the body count the others do and instances of her murdering bystanders in cold blood are few if they exist at all. If Cassidy is a cannibal and Jesse is a human bomb, Tulip is still just a bank robber, so if nothing else, her criminal endeavors exist on a different plane than the other two’s. In fact, as we’ve seen in the more lax portions of the series, as long as Tulip has good company and is given the option to do what she wants, her interests tend to be much more mundane — fixing cars, playing games, cooking. Much of Tulip’s exaggerated kick-ass bitch visage is an act put on when she feels vulnerable.

But she’s still a far cry from saintly. A big part of why the series can get away with comparing Tulip to Jesus — and they do hit it off quite well — is the way the show chooses to present him. Here, Jesus is just another character, confessing that most of the miracles he’s known for are more metaphorical and that his current role as a replacement for God is not going well. Goody two-sandals isn’t the favorite, and instead of putting him back on earth for the end times, God has selected Humperdoo for the role. On top of that, he has to go to this big meeting with the smarmy guy from work who’s always trying to outshine him in the other department, and he’s never really been into the whole running things anyway. He just wants to chill and talk philosophy and whatnot.

So in this comparison, we have Tulip being foiled not with the ideal of humanity, but the disillusioned face behind a celebrity. Both of them need something simpler and are feeling they deserve to be a bit selfish for a change. They have obligations and they know that there are several people who are going to fall apart if they’re not present to hold the pieces together. But they don’t get appreciation for their work, or rather, the appreciation they do get isn’t true to reality and that means people end up holding them to a standard that isn’t even the real sort of person they are.

Okay, the parallels are making a bit more sense now. In addition to Jesus reflecting Tulip’s desire to get away from the insanity of the plot, his decision to go back is crucial, if not necessarily good. The two of them quickly realize that their planned road trip is much more fun in concept than in practice, and it’s not exactly what they want. Perhaps they need it. Perhaps it’s healthier, and better for other people, if they don’t return to the chaos of the end of the world, and in all likelihood, their leaving would go better than both of them fear. But they have obligations, reasonable or not, and they’re not ready to move forward in life quite yet. Hence the return to bad habits and misery: it’s comforting.

On a metaphorical level, I also just like the image of Tulip finding Jesus, taking him to Vegas, and Jesus bailing en route.

 

Part Three: Destructive Reunions

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Oh thank god, we’ve got our themes back. It’s not like the series was ever especially lacking in deeper significance, but the nonsense that pervades much of its humor and main plot sure makes that depth hard to see sometimes.

To some extent, a series like this depends heavily on the ending for its overall themes to manifest explicitly, but as it’s a fairly long-running show and sets out its trajectory from its earliest moments, we can use the established themes and how the show depicts them to predict where it’s going. For the first time since really the first season, Jesse brings up the idea of free will, and he’s not the only one. If there is any one theme that ties this entire series together, it’s that of choice, specifically the choice to depart from one’s base instincts and established personality to do something uncharacteristic, but noble. The books tout this theme too, with characters constantly questioning whether people can truly change.

Pretty much every character in this series is tainted in some way, but very few of them are wholly evil in the traditional sense. It’s a show about moral ambiguity, so naturally one would expect it to have some gray characters. What I find compelling about how this particular episode uses its themes, aside from drawing explicit attention to them to highlight their upcoming significance, is that the theme of choice is explicitly at odds with the framing of the episode. There’s a sense of inevitability to the actions of the characters that would seem to preclude the option of choice. In past seasons, the show has wound tension by heavily foreshadowing the negative outcomes of the characters’ actions. In Season One, you know from an early point that something bad is going to happen to Jesse, Eugene, and the town because of Genesis. In Season Two, you know that Jesse is going to have to go back to Angelville, Tulip is going to be in mortal peril, and Denis is going to die. In Season Three, you know that Jesse is going to destroy Angelville, Cassidy is going to kill Eccarius, and Tulip’s sincerity is going to get her hurt by the people she cares about.

Now, the characters are headed for tragedy. Exactly how that will manifest remains unclear, but repeated lines about Cassidy’s darker history and his simultaneous desire to both pursue Tulip romantically and reluctance to do so, I don’t imagine the outcome from the books is far off. As in the books, all of these characters, but Cassidy especially, are toxic for one another. They bring out the worst in each other and have the potential to hurt themselves badly by affiliation with their friends. But they are still friends at the end of the day, and that draws them together even with disaster on the horizon. While they have orbited around each other for much of the series and even entertain the idea of splitting up for their own good — Tulip leaving for Vegas with Jesus, and Cassidy procrastinating the rescue of his boi — the episode ends with them heading off in a car together to rescue Jesse.

The episode is not subtle about the reunions of characters being a desirable but bad idea. It marks the narrative turning point of the series and Cassidy as a character with a heavily pointed shot of him putting on his sunglasses as an angel and a demon fight in the bar behind him and he heads out to meet Tulip — not the first time the character has done this in the series by any means, but notably the first time this character has put on sunglasses in this show. Yes, it’s a hammy visual, but it also coincides with Cassidy wearing yet another really-on-it-outfit for going out into the sun. It’s so silly it’s almost innocuous. Yet it carries that weight all the same.

I continue to adore how this series makes use of a symbol whose significance hasn’t even been defined within the show yet. That’s what a good adaptation can do.

Cassidy is going to fuck things up. Badly. We know this because the visuals tell us. This is a crafted piece of media, so what’s happening in the moment and what’s happened all throughout are interconnected.

The same is true of the other major reunion, Jesse with Eugene (and, by extension, the Saint of Killers). Eventually, loose plot threads wind their way back, and in doing so, connect all of the past events. What I like about this sequence is that it reflects differently on each of the characters involved. Throughout the scene, you can see Jesse falling into old habits in the way that he talks — in fact, he’s using his pleading voice, the same one he uses whenever he’s messed things up with Tulip or someone tells him he’s going to hell for something he’s done. Jesse’s faith is mainly based on other people telling him what to do, so he frequently puts his fate in the hands of others and hopes that things will turn out for the better. It’s only when he thinks he has a better understanding of the situation and someone is standing in his way that he becomes an active force and barrels through them. Either way, active participant or woeful ignoramus, Jesse leaves bodies where he goes.

Eugene has seen them. While he can’t himself ascribe blame to Jesse for the destruction of his home town, as he doesn’t know what happened, he has spent the better part of the previous season watching the Saint turn people inside-out in his quest to find Jesse, and Jesse did send him to hell personally over nothing. Back in the first season, Eugene recognized Jesse’s willingness to abuse his power, both literally in the sense of Genesis, and more abstractly as a figure of authority. While Eugene has remained more or less amiable despite what he’s been through, he’s still in a rare position as a survivor of Jesse abusing his power. There aren’t many of those.

So we have a character who both has every reason to be angry with Jesse and a moral obligation to stop him. I think that the turning point where Eugene pulls a gun on his former preacher is not as effective as the series wants it to be, given the lack of steps between. That’s a pretty bold move for this character to make, so it’s not entirely believable that he would pull a gun on anyone, rationale or no. He doesn’t kill Jesse, but he does turn him in to the Saint, and in doing so, adopts some of the Saint’s vehemence toward him. His father-figure would be proud.

Curiously, this reunion, although inevitable in the same way that Tulip and Cassidy’s is, almost reverses the tonal considerations. Where Tulip and Cassidy pairing up again is an enjoyable thing for the audience in the moment with a lingering feeling that something bad is about to happen, Jesse meeting up with the Saint (and also Eugene) has a much grimmer atmosphere, but feels like the morally right thing. I don’t think the series has entirely gotten to the point of spelling Jesse’s utter moral downfall in the same way as a character like Walter White — this isn’t really that kind of a story — but he is a bastard all the same. Jesse needs a good thump on the head and a bit of humility, something to finally kick him from his quest to find God — who, I’ll remind you, Jesse still kind of wants to help. In order to feel satisfied with the ending of this series, we need Jesse to be salvageable, but we also need him to change quite significantly. He needs to be content with what he has and face his eternal stint in Hell with dignity. He also needs to lose Genesis.

Either way, he can’t keep going on like he is. This is where much of Eugene’s frustration comes from. Morally, he’s inclined to let Jesse apologize and leave it at that, but the stakes are high enough that doing so would be literally letting him get away with murder. He’s uncomfortable about being in the car with Jesse, knowing what he does, and he’s uncertain whether ditching the Saint was the wise, or even safe, idea. As it turns out, it was not. Eugene has changed to accommodate a more skewed sense of morality, one in which people with a bad track record don’t get second chances. He’s learned that lesson the hard way with Hitler. The Saint isn’t exactly here doling out just punishments, so Eugene’s in a bit of a no-win scenario.

However, as far as Jesse’s morality and character development are concerned, this is about as much of a jog in the head as he’s ever likely to get.

 

 

Series Breakdown Rating:

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

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