In a somewhat surprising, but not unprecedented, turn, the show opts to draw from a significant turning point in its source material to deliver a dramatic cliffhanger. With yet another rescue party out to retrieve yet another of the protagonists, the audience would be forgiven for believing the series to be stuck on a loop. Sometimes patterns build to something bigger, though, and that appears to be the case here. The show has always prided itself on its ability to parallel past events and draw attention to the significance of their similarity to the current circumstance. All three protagonists have come together, finally, tensions still high and conflict unresolved, but no more so than it has been at other lulls. This is the time for banter and jokes and meaningful glances, reconciliation and a completion of the reunions of the previous episode. But all of that is cut short by, quite literally, the wrath of God. And it stings.
3P Reviews Series: Preacher
Audience Assumptions: I’m kind of assuming you’ve been following the show, but do what you like. Oh, also some pretty substantial book spoilers too, so you’ve been warned.
Episode Six: The Lost Apostle – *****
Part One: If You Look Closely, You May Notice This Season Was Filmed in Australia
There’s that motif of ominous planes again. By the end of the episode, we know what it’s all about.
Tulip and Cassidy have arrived in Melbourne to rescue Jesse, because it just wouldn’t be Preacher unless one or more of the protagonists was in dire peril and needed rescuing. Initially, they just want to find him so they can continue to support his inane God quest, but after a bit of Australian humor, they come across Eugene and realize he’s being held captive by the Saint. To what purpose, no one is quite clear for a while.
Despite his evident desire to do Jesse in, the Saint stays his hand to march Jesse across the Outback (because how else would they travel?) to the Lost Apostle. The place Jesse was going anyway.
The Saint reveals his plan en route: he wants Jesse to kill God. Flawless, buddy. I can see no point where this could go wrong.
Jibes aside, here’s another of those classic moments where the fate of the characters is revealed to them long before they’re ready to accept it. In summarizing the books compared to the show, the main difference has always been show Jesse’s desire to find God for peaceful reasons. The books make no pretense of Jesse having a beef with God and going after him out of anger, but the show’s version is deluded by his faith. He wants to know what’s going on, he wants to know his place, he wants to help God in some way, because that’s how he reconciles his beliefs with the sudden knowledge that his god has abandoned him and everyone else. He holds onto the very persistent idea of a benevolent all-knowing god who loves all Christians and would never do something like this without a reason. He’s skeptical enough to want to know that reason, rather than accept events without question, but he has a very particular idea for what God should be, and he’s reluctant to give it up.
It’s fitting, then, that the Saint would be the one to decide God needs to die, rather than the reverse. He has reason for it, and much as he dislikes Jesse, Jesse’s just some person in his way. He needs Jesse for something, though. Or, more likely, he needs Genesis.
So that’s the reason for these two hiking across the Outback together. They’re at a stalemate, the Saint unable to kill Jesse because he needs him and Jesse unable to kill the Saint full stop. To pass the time, they talk. One can imagine the Saint isn’t much for conversation, but Jesse, not too eager to get on with murdering his deity, tries to reason with him. He tries to save him in that Christian sense, going on about redemption and how this doesn’t need to be the way things go. That they should trust God because He knows what He’s doing, and it’s worthwhile. In response, the Saint murders an entire family in cold blood.
Part Two: The Conference
Sneaky set designers fitting that snow globe in surreptitiously. I see it, and I applaud. If they actually get the Alamo setpiece in, that’ll be a setup running since the very first season (just take a look at my review of Monster Swamp).
On the other hand, little details like that can make the outcome seem disappointing if it doesn’t come to fruition. Adaptations generally offer little risk, but where it does exist is in the details. Unthinking mimicry like in the recent live-action Disney films can lead to a domino effect where parts of the story no longer work without modification. A good story is like a house of cards, and the more interconnected it is, the more little changes disrupt the rest of it.
On the whole, I’ve been impressed with how Preacher has handled extensive alteration of its source material while still adding homage to the original. However, the weak point is frequently this homage. The show wants to be a bit indulgent, and I’m more than willing to enjoy it as a fan of the books. But after the initial appeal of recognizing a reference fades, its contribution to the whole often comes into question.
For instance, the end of the world. The series teases impending Armageddon through the Grail, inching steadily closer to it with some bizarre choices involving nuclear tensions between, of all countries, Australia and New Zealand (neither of which are nuclear powers). That scene involving the New Zealand MP that I said was pointless? Turns out I was wrong.
On some level, I love how ridiculous this subplot is. It fits the show without taking away too much attention from other subplots. But the thing is, by this point in the story, the Grail is more or less obsolete. Starr’s still here, getting his penis eaten by a dingo. Featherstone’s still here, at least until she squirrel-suits out the window. She actually gets a decent bit of an arc, asking Starr to at the very least execute her personally when she’s failed him, and dipping when he designates the assignment to Hoover 2.
To be fair, the Grail subplot is in pretty much the same position after Book Four. Promises of the end of the world diminish into a pissing contest as Starr, losing valuable body parts left and right, uses up all of the Grail’s good will and resources trying to get revenge on Jesse. Its counterpart in the show has a similar tone, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the show to set up a different outcome where the world does perish, while still keeping an absurdist tone.
Unless, for instance, the show also wanted to divert to a more character-driven narrative focusing on the relationships between the protagonists or give Jesse some sort of climactic resolution with God on a personal level.
You can have Jesse face God, Cassidy, or Starr at the Alamo, but you can’t give him all three.
The problem here is that of the three big subplots coming to a head — Jesse’s personal quest, the protagonists’ interrelationships, and the end of the world — the latter is the weakest. The former subplot is the most unique to the series, and seems to be where it’s heading. I’m fond of the middle one for character potential and depth, but it requires the most time to play out, and while the show seems interested, I don’t know that it has the necessary framework this late into the series. The latter subplot is the obligatory one, and the one no one seems overly interested in, but it’s still there, trucking along. And as much as I’m on-board with it as a side-hobby, we only have three episodes left. Something has to be cut, you can’t be that fucking greedy, show.
I’m not going to lie, I’m also less enthusiastic about Jesse’s confrontation with God than I should be. I think it’s because this quest has consistently taken him away from the other two protagonists, so I’m projecting my frustration of the weaker parts of the second and third seasons onto it. There are a million things the show could have done differently to give the payoff more appeal, particularly if it had spent more time showing Tulip and Cassidy’s relationships to religion as a contrasting point. It exists, and seems to be a sore spot for both of them. The interconnection between this plot and the character plot works in the first season with both Tulip and Cassidy going to Jesse’s sermons and helping out around the church to spend time with him, but it pretty much fades after that. The bottom line is, if the show wants to throw the climaxes of the three main plots together, fine. They just won’t have anything to do with one another, and I foresee it being a bit of a mess.
We’ll see, I suppose. I can’t help but think back to the latter half of the previous season and how disconnected and unnecessary the Allfather, Les Infants, and Angelville subplots ended up. They all had resolutions, sure, but poor Tulip was stuck without anything personally compelling to do in that final episode, and as fun as it was to see her fight Nazis and give God what-for, I do feel like the show could have made her contribution to the story more integral. Same with Cassidy. As satisfying and resonant as certain scenes have been, they mean a lot less if they don’t fit within the story you’re trying to tell.
Also, where did my gay content go, show? You promised me homoerotic subtext and text, goddamnit!
I don’t think I can blame references to the books as the sole cause of weaknesses in the plot, but there are enough moments to point out and make it look damning. Toscani, Masada, Allfather, Eccarius, the angel, Tulip nearly dying, Jesse losing his powers, the end of the world — hell, even the entire Grail, really. If the show had cut the Grail entirely, what, story-wise, would we lose?
All of these elements have their merits, and the showmakers have done a damn fine job of making them entertaining. I do wonder, though, if the show knew how many seasons it would be getting from the start, would it have gone about them the same way. Maybe. Maybe it would have gone to greater lengths to ensure that the fan-pleasing moments were better integrated into the story.
For all my misplaced ire, though, I can at least point out one major plot point lifted directly from the books that, even with a new set-up and slightly different context and its scene playing with the panels in the graphic novels almost a story board, works. Other than the Coffin, I mean.
And that’s the setpiece for this episode: the one where Jesse dies.
Part Three: Foreseen Consequences
Do you know when the last time the three protagonists were in the same room together was? It was Season Three, Episode Four, The Tombs. Specifically the moment where Tulip bursts in on Jesse trying his darnedest to murder Cassidy with a stake. The time before, the last the three of them had a conversation together, was two episodes earlier. I don’t say any of this as a complaint. In fact, despite my previous complaints, this episode, and its ending sequence in particular, almost justify the amount of time spent keeping these characters apart. Now, finally, they’re reunited. Fucking finally.
And then it’s gone.
This is the turning point in the books. It’s probably the single most important thing that happens in the series. Unlike in the show, most of the main characters in the books rarely spend more than a few chapters separate from one another. Up until this point, the record is about half a book, and that’s often not by their choice. Jesse has flaked out on Tulip to save Cassidy before, and Cassidy has gone off and been kidnapped or waited for the young-uns to rekindle their love for one another, but beyond that, they’re usually no more than a few hours in-world from regrouping.
When Jesse falls out of the airplane, it’s sudden, unexpected, and leaves the team shattered. He’s not technically dead, as we soon find out, but he might as well be for all the other two know. They think he’s dead, and everything spirals downhill from there. His absence comes at a bad time, exacerbating tensions between the other two that have been building for the last few chapters. Tulip doesn’t want to be left alone with Cassidy, Cassidy likewise is wary of being left alone with her. But they both love Jesse dearly, and they need support for their grief. Him dying where and when he does makes them to stay together long after they should have parted ways. Tulip turns to drugs and alcohol, and Cassidy turns to abusing her, twisting the tragedy of the situation to his advantage.
After this point, the story becomes much more about Tulip and Jesse reconciling with what Cassidy has done to them. The latter remains something of a nuanced character, if still a tremendous asshole. One of the major throughlines that remains up to the end of the series is that as duplicitous and vile as Cassidy has been to Tulip, and as jealous as he has been of her and Jesse’s relationship, at the end of the day, he does still care about Jesse very much. The situation isn’t orchestrated, he’s not intent to off Jesse to get at his girl, and though he lies about Jesse’s last words being for her, his assholery is a domestic sort, and it exists alongside the character’s few better attributes. One of those is his willingness to go to the ends of the world for Jesse.
The actual scene plays out much like it does in the show: the door falls off, Jesse falls out, Cassidy grabs him, Cassidy starts to burn up in the sun, Jesse realizes Cassidy can’t pull him to safety, and Jesse commands him to let go. It’s not a long scene, but it’s beautifully paced out, largely visual with just a few words between the characters, most of them yelling. The situation is appropriately frantic, and the cartoon style sells it. Expressions are exaggerated, the panels are all different angles and sizes, Cassidy is mostly campfire by the end of it, and the medium of the graphic novel allows every single panel to have an impact. You don’t even see Jesse fall or hit the ground, you just see a smoke trail falling away from the plane. Tulip remains unaware for most of it, only realizing that someone has fallen out after the fact, and not knowing who. Her rushing back to see ends that issue of the comics with these three panels:
It’s difficult to replicate that level of expression on film. The simplicity of the lighting and background allows the panel to draw a razor’s focus on what’s important. Panel position and the mere fact that all movement is implied allows the individual frames to stand out. This scene, as written, only works in comics.
So the show doesn’t even try to do it that way.
Certainly the actions are the similar. After the trail goes cold, Tulip and Cassidy stumble upon God’s RV (He needs somewhere to store His motorcycle and dog suit), whereupon they find that Jesse is headed to the Lost Apostle. They run across him, stage a quick rescue, and keep going for the rock. Once they get there, God strikes at the plane. The door comes off, Jesse falls out, Cassidy catches him, then catches fire, and Jesse makes him let go. The main difference from a script standpoint is that Jesse tells Cassidy to tell Tulip to read his letter (as opposed to telling her he loves her), and there’s no need to explain to Tulip what happened. She was in the cockpit of the rinky-dink aircraft just a few feet away.
The season knows it’s been leading to this, and it’s ensured the audience knows too. It plays a little bait-and-switch with audience members familiar with the books by having him survive an earlier plane crash on the way to Australia. Now, not only does the show call into question the reality of everything Jesse had done between Masada and Melbourne, it also makes this event seem inevitable. He’s been heading for this plane, and the ground below, since the start of the season. This was always going to happen, manipulated by God and the screenwriters alike. It’s not a spur-of-the-moment mishap.
That doesn’t relieve the other characters of guilt over it, though. The show does a solid job of layering the series of things that go wrong on top of the foreboding imagery leading up to the accident, such that the precise cause of death isn’t entirely clear. Not all of these lines of reasoning are satisfying — for instance, it takes a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief to accept that Tulip wouldn’t realize until the last minute that maybe her finding a convenient post card in God’s RV wasn’t a coincidence. Or that they would come across an airplane that could stay in the air in near-junkyard condition. Or that God could send a sort of fire storm toward said plane with the only consequence being its door flies off.
Much as the effects could stand a bit more budget and workshopping, I’m inclined to say these moments of disbelief actually add to the scene in the intended way. It’s all to do with how Tulip and Cassidy respond. They’re both glad to see Jesse once rescued, but their interactions are brief and superficial. Cassidy makes a joke about The Big Lebowski, because of course he does, and Tulip gives Jesse a bit of a cold shoulder for abandoning him. That’s pretty much all of the conversation they get to before God attacks the plane, and from then on, Tulip is stuck struggling with the controls to ensure the plane stays aloft. The part with Cassidy and Jesse is probably the most consistent with the books, but as the former has no confessions about hitting on Tulip, there’s no real added weight of feeling obliged to save him to redeem himself. He’s just holding onto him because Jesse’s his friend.
The visuals of the scene are less impressive than those in the book. The most Cassidy catches fire is his arm, and, well, it’s not like his fingers are falling off or the plane is spiraling away from a nuclear explosion or anything. Jesse just falls out of the plane because it’s a piece of junk and God’s a petty asshole. We even see him fall. Hell, it’s one of the things the season opens with. We’ve known this was coming, and it’s even played like a joke. Like that’s the way he gets to the Lost Apostle, by falling from a great height and landing in a puff of dust like a cartoon character.
Perhaps it’s because the scene is so much more mundane that the ending hits an effective blow. The episode ends with a few shots of Tulip and Cassidy glancing at each other and then off into space, not a word between them. They both look exhausted and teary-eyed, but they hardly emote at all. They just kind of sit there, stunned, Tulip still flying the plane, like it hasn’t fully registered to them what’s happened. And if you’ve ever been in a dire situation before where something horrible happens that you’re powerless to stop, that feeling might be familiar. Distress sometimes has a delayed response, to the point where you’re not even sure if you’re grieving properly because you don’t feel right. What it leaves you with is this unusually quiet head that ensures you hear every unbidden thought that tells you what went wrong with perfect clarity.
The show doesn’t give us much indication of what’s going on in the protagonists’ heads after Jesse falls, but beyond the simple shock of losing him, you can imagine there’s plenty of guilt. Guilt that Cassidy didn’t close the door properly, guilt that Tulip couldn’t evade the attack in time, guilt that Tulip couldn’t help, guilt that Cassidy couldn’t pull him back in, guilt for picking an airplane on its last legs, guilt for bringing him into a trap, guilt for not realizing sooner, guilt for not making the most of the few minutes they had left with him, guilt for letting him run off on his own, guilt for not joining him sooner, guilt for screwing things up every step of the way with the stupid accidental affair that both of them are kind of embarrassed about anyway. It doesn’t really matter if these were avoidable events or not — that they all feel avoidable is what really matters. Cumulatively, they put all of this pressure on the characters that the audience can empathize with because that’s what we would be thinking of under the circumstances.
It’s a different effect than the books have, not necessarily worse or better. I think I prefer the delivery of the scene in the books for general enjoyment, but I’m curious to see where the show takes this. These are different characters, and whether the show wants to hit certain plot points from the books or not, what it does will be all its own.
Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 9
Aesthetics and Style: 8
Overall Plot: 7