3P Reviews

Failures – Preacher, Season Four, Episode Nine

Preacher S4 E9 B

All right, all right, it’s high time I finished this series given the show’s been over for almost a month now. I’ve been procrastinating for a few reasons, some better than others. Work and sleep schedules being off. The previous episode dampening my resolve to press forward. Popping down to Australia to talk to people about dinosaurs and my phone not having enough space to store two 45+ minute episodes and many pictures of lake eels. Depression. Gardening. Getting distracted by Manly Guys Doing Manly Things.

But more than anything, I haven’t gotten around to reviewing (or even watching) the last two episodes until now because of what it being over means. No more Preacher, no more Preacher reviews, at least until they try to reboot the franchise in fifteen years or so to make a more faithful adaptation or something (don’t worry, I’ll find a way to keep bringing this series up until my dying breath). When you have options ahead of you, the sky’s the limit for what could happen next. But once a long-running series has finished, that’s it, that’s all there is. Reboots, revivals, and films ten years later can be fun (or disastrous), but they’ll never really scratch that itch, will they? People move on to other projects, and you have to too.

Anyway, this episode is okay.

 

(I’m not kidding about those eels, btw.

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Do you see why this silly show speaks to me?)

 

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 Nine: Overture – ****

 

Part One: “Oh, Not Again.”

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As if to quell concerns about the previous episode, this one opens with a long-awaited reunion between the protagonists in which Tulip immediately confesses to cheating on Jesse again and essentially tells him he was dead so it was fine and they all just have to deal with it and move on. I love Tulip so much. From there, the main characters are set for a straightforward conclusion to their story: they are to storm Masada, defeat God, and rescue their inbred Jesus son from his tap-dancing recital, thus averting the end times. Simple.

Given that this cumulative plot beat spans two episodes, you can imagine things go downhill, though thankfully not at the usual rate of this series. Have I mentioned before how this series only really knows one speed and simply cuts or pads scenes willy-nilly when it needs to not go at that speed? Despite the title of the episode, the show is willing to make a few changes.

A few.

Again — again, for about the fiftieth fucking time (actually, it’s closer to 90 depending on how you count), Cassidy gets kidnapped. Jesse even says something to the effect of, “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” and I mean, he’s one to talk, but given Cassidy has gotten lost or captured on about six separate occasions in Masada alone, that’s a fair response as far as I’m concerned.

I’m not particularly surprised, nor am I really disappointed. The fallibility of the protagonists and the show’s willingness to use that fallibility to propel plot and character development is one of the show’s strengths. I just wanted more banter first. Please, show. I live for the banter.

As far as the character interactions are concerned, splitting them up is not a smart move, and it comes as a disappointment after the lovely little opening. From an overarching thematic perspective, though, it’s important, as the protagonists spend the rest of the episode undergoing their own individual trials by God (who is on security detail for Humperdoo’s unveiling).

Their trials are somewhat predictable. God tempts Cassidy with a list of things Cassidy wants — drugs, Tulip, Ireland, in that order — eventually settling on showing him a vision of returning to his long-dead, long-abandoned family. Initially, he seems to hold out, calling God on His bullshit as Tulip did in the previous season (and also revealing that he hasn’t checked up on the world population since at least the sixties), and getting oddly uppity about how disappointing God is. It’s a cute little exchange, made gross on God’s behalf by Him continually bringing up Tulip and suggesting He’s responsible for the love triangle guff. Cassidy doesn’t once acknowledge that, but he does eventually give in to God’s plan, which is for him to babysit Humperdoo. God. God, have You even been playing attention for the last three seasons?

Tulip’s trial is the shortest and simplest, and one could argue this does not reflect especially well on the nuances of her character. God gives her a minute where He can say whatever he wants, and if she doesn’t hit him, he’ll cancel the apocalypse. She holds out most of the way through the minute, until he admits to killing her unborn daughter for no real reason. She fails too. I’ll be completely honest, I still don’t understand the scissors.

The episode ends with Jesse’s trial. As the other two have been tested for their prominent failures — weakness and temper, respectively — Jesse is tested for his faith. As he admits to Tulip earlier in the episode, even after everything God’s put him through, he’s still not able to sever ties completely. When God demands Jesse use Genesis to confront Him, he falters. He then demands it back.

That’s when things get interesting. It’s also right about when the episode ends.

 

Part Two: I Feel Personally Attacked

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I have gone on record saying some choice things about the character of Arseface from the comics. Things like he “notably has little to no connection to the main characters or rest of the story,” and his subplot “is not entirely bad, but it’s definitely not necessary.” I was even ecstatic once I got to the show to point out that Arseface not only has a name but a function within the plot, even though I knew that well before reading the books. What a fool I was to think it would last.

So Jesse has abandoned Eugene in Australia, as you do, and he’s taken up guitar. That’s right, he’s becoming a musician, just like in the books. The show gives us a sweet little scene where he’s conversing with one of the many non-Jesse preachers floating around where Eugene finally seems content to leave God behind, or at least some version of Him.

Except… the way the preacher (who’s a pretty big dick, to be honest) words his conversation, making fun of Eugene and pointing out how he’s not sure how someone with a face like his fits into the grand scheme… it feels somewhat reminiscent of the sort of assholes who would say, for instance, “I have racked my brain, looked through the five volumes he appears in, re-read his origin story in Book Four, and I still have no idea why this character exists.”

Well, thank you, show, after literally years of waiting, I finally have my answer: he is here to be a rock star. Mystery fucking solved.

I like this scene quite a bit.

The weaknesses of the episode are not difficult to find. The dialogue could be better, the plotting is a bit hectic, and as with much of the series, you almost have to watch it on half speed to catch everything. I finished the episode and came into this review fully ready to slam it for being a disappointment penultimatum. There are plenty of bad jokes all throughout, from Starr being dressed in a depressingly familiar wig, to the fist strap-on, to the break-dancing Jesus, to the Jesus-Hitler fist fight — eh, scratch that last one, I’m actually down for it.

This is just one of those episodes you have to sit with to get the most out of it. It’s shaky, as much of this season has been. As much of the show has been, if I’m honest. But this series deserves more credit than I think it often gets. I have no earthly idea what it takes to binge the series straight for the first time, but I imagine it would be like upending an entire box of fire ants on your face. Probably not that pleasant. Also probably not a smart move. Long-term benefits? Questionable at best.

Yet, the show has effort put into it. A lot of fucking effort, I mean look at the camera work. I was initially disappointed that this episode pulls a few obvious cinematography tricks and throws them in the audience’s face, and won’t deny the framing and blocking tend to be a bit more mechanical than the best the series has to offer, but considering the competition, this show at its worst still looks damn fine. Dark scenes are lit so that even from a distance, the outlines or silhouettes of characters are clear, to the point where you could likely recognize the show from a single random frame even if you only had a faint familiarity with it.

What’s more, it has meaning. Every single shot communicates one to three things that may or may not be repeated in the dialogue and acting. You would think this is just common sense cinematography, and to some extent it is — all films and shows should be deliberate in the way they’re filmed. And yet, I can’t tell you how many prestige dramas out there think dramatic lighting and slow-motion are inherently significant.

I’ll be mean and single out The Haunting of Hill House as an example that I’m watching right now. I like The Haunting of Hill House. It looks pretty, mostly. But why does it have to use so many overt long takes? I get it, long takes are impressive and hard to film, but they’re also hard to ignore when they last three minutes and the camera is constantly panning slowly around the room and nothing is happening in the action or dialogue. And look, I love yellow tinting, don’t get me wrong, but when you use it for every single goddamn scene in an episode, it kind of loses its potency. Also, do we really need an orange light on in the dining room when warm light is streaming in through the window just so you can get in the requisite amount of orange and teal, show? Why does breakfast need to look so dramatic? It’s not helping your shot composition, that’s for damn sure.

Preacher probably isn’t going to win any awards for its filmmaking, and I think recent episodes especially have leaned into a more typically prestigious visual style than is common to the show, but even when it loses its subtlety, the scenes are so visually packed that they’re always interesting to watch. This is a show where you could watch it any number of ways — with the sound off, skipping around, out of order, or even just through screenshots — and you’d still be able to understand an absurd amount of the complex plot. At least, the parts it wants you to understand, anyway. It does its source material, which doesn’t look too bad itself, proud.

All of the decisions (yes, even the bad ones) are made with intent. There’s care behind them, little references and jokes and reminders for payoff, callbacks that I’m not even prepared to dig into yet, all of the usual details nerds like me dig for.

So why the hell, you might be asking, did they put Jesse’s eyepatch on the wrong side of his face?

Well. Short answer: I don’t know. Longer answer: I’m going to put my foot in my mouth and assume it’s not an error somewhere down the line or a deliberate move to make book fans upset (even though it could certainly be either of those). I mean, they put Cassidy’s fucking earring on the same side as the book character’s, and given Jesse appears with his eyepatch on not one, but two of the six book covers, it’d be a bit of a goddamn miracle for them to just have missed that when finishing the series. I mean, granted, it’s a fifty-fifty shot either way, but still. Two books. Two of them. That’s a whole third of the book series.

So assuming it is an intentional change, it would seem like a significant one. I mean, it’s only the main character’s face. Therefore, Option One: it’s symbollic. Straightforward, perhaps a bit obvious. In Christian symbolism, right and left and specific connotations, right usually being favored as the honorable and gentler side, hence phrases like “right-hand man” and Jesus being at God’s right. Historically, the left hand of God was reserved for judgement and goats (because Satan, I guess). You know, sinister things.

(On a side note, it’s frankly embarrassing how much of this “left-handedness is the work of the devil” motif has worked its way into the modern English language. Like dexterity? It’s that thing you have when you don’t just drop everything accidentally because tools are only made for right-handed people. People who are literally righteous. Okay, I’ll stop now, but that doesn’t make it any less embarrassing.)

If we take this trend and imprint it on Preacher, the show is implying that its version of Jesse, unlike the other, is crueler and more capricious, having lost his right eye over the course of the series and now only able to see with his left.

Except, the book’s version of Jesse is a bit of an ass, too. Not as much of one, but no saint by any means. The right eye versus left doesn’t really have that same connotation in the book, so unless the show is just pretending that it came up with the eyepatch thing on its own (a bold claim if ever I saw one), then right versus left doesn’t really seem to satisfy. Besides, while the series has lifted from Christian lore plenty of times before, it hasn’t held itself to the same meanings, and is in fact far more concerned with upending conventions, so for all it cares, right and left are just directions.

Option Two, then: they really want to pull some sort of comparison between Jesse and Starr. This is more in fitting with the show’s priorities. The books occasionally pin Jesse and Starr visually against each other, showing them as literal mirrors of one another, and they also do the same with Jesse and Cassidy in the last two books (Jesse’s eyepatch often resembling Cassidy’s sunglasses). The show will probably do something similar.

Actually, it already has, in showing both Jesse and Starr losing the same eye decades apart in the previous episode.

The thing is, though, they don’t need to lose the exact same eye for those scenes to mirror each other, and the visual comparison doesn’t hold up otherwise. The books never really pin Jesse against Starr visually after he loses his eye (they don’t even encounter each other face-to-face after it), and sunglasses can mirror an eyepatch regardless of which side it’s on. Also, the show’s version of Cassidy doesn’t wear sunglasses all that often, and they’ve gone a different direction for both his and Jesse’s characters, so I’m struggling to thing of an artistic justification for the change. Given that it would elicit complaints of, “They put they eyepatch on the wrong side of his face,” (*ahem*), surely there’s a reason, right?

Not if it’s Option Three: they’re following the spirit of the books. Why is it important in the books that Jesse loses his left eye? Eyes are a big motif in the books, and some of that translates to the show as well. Characters are constantly losing or hiding their eyes, and with them, their sight is changed. Not lost, but changed. The eyepatch offers a bit of a comparison to Starr, allowing him and Jesse to face each other as mirror versions of the other, foils through-and-through, but that’s an artifice. Starr isn’t really Jesse’s foil — he’s barely more than a bit player, driven to despair by bad luck and his own rage. The books could have picked either side; it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that Jesse loses an eye, and God’s the one to take it.

An adaptation doesn’t have to replicate its source material to be faithful to it.

 

Part Three: Toads

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Action heroes have discrete win/loss ratios. It’s written into some actors’ contracts the number of times they defeat other characters compared to how many times their characters are defeated in a given span of time. Every time the hero gets pushed to the ground, the one pushing them is due to get their comeuppance further down the line.

This show doesn’t do that. Ask yourself this: when was the last time these characters won, really won a fight or a struggle? They defeat plenty of goons. All of them have body counts, and Jesse’s stretches into the thousands if you include cascade effects. But those aren’t really wins, are they? If anything, they’re failures. These characters have victims, collateral damage. Even when they kill the people they intend to, like the Angelville characters, Denis, and Eccarius, those figures die horribly. They’re not good people, but their deaths are horrific. Burned to death, face beaten in, life sucked out, eaten. Heroes defeat their villains in honest combat, quick and clean, or else their villains succumb to their own dooms. Not so here.

Even when the protagonists aren’t actively trying to save the day by murdering their loved ones, they still fail pretty hard at the things they try. Jesse continues to be the world’s worst preacher, which saying something because I’ll remind you, we’ve seen quite a few bad ones including the one in this episode who spends his time in prison berating a deformed child. Cassidy’s efforts to stop eating people, get off drugs, stop lying, stop murdering loved ones, be happy, and not fuck Tulip are going really well, obviously. Tulip is probably the most successful of the three as far as making substantial strides to change herself are concerned, but that doesn’t mean she’s really in a stable position or sure of herself the way she wants to be. Of the three, she’s most aware of her failures, which is why even though they tend to be less substantial than the other two’s, the audience feels them more.

So they’re losers, the lot of them. Kind of shitty heroes, to be honest. The only people who have managed to survive even being rescued by them are the ones who ran away when they could (or got stuck in a prison in Australia). These idiots are fucking failures.

Except… that’s not what’s really happened here, is it?

The conditions of Tulip’s test were that if she hit God before the allotted time was up, she lost. She didn’t hit Him. She lost her temper, she fired her gun, but nothing came out. God doesn’t play fair.

Cassidy wanted to find Humperdoo. Well fucking done, friend. I’m sure nothing bad will come of it. It’s not like there’s a precedent here or anything.

And Jesse… well, God wants him to use Genesis on Him, which he fails, but he also doesn’t given Genesis away. God demands things of Jesse in the same voice Jesse uses through Genesis. And Jesse disobeys every command. Whose failure is that, then?

These characters’ flaws are also their strengths. They’re not good people, and their flaws absolutely hurt them and those around them, but they’re more than that. Their faults do not define them. They learn from their mistakes. It takes a while, it’s incomplete, and the lessons they learn may not ultimately be good ones, but they learn. You don’t get that from winning every fight, you get it from falling again and again and again and not being able to get up, not getting respite, and being forced to keep moving anyway. Heroes are icons. Failures are people.

And people can change. The question isn’t whether they can change, it’s whether they will, and what they’ll change into.

 

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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