Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Jesse Custer has a history of bad prayers on Preacher

Illustration for article titled Jesse Custer has a history of bad prayers on Preacher

Jesse sending Eugene to Hell was a big step for the show, but it was a step that would only work if the aftermath lived up to the actual event. If it turned into some weird outlier moment—a “ha ha, boy is it crazy what that preacher fella can do with his magic voice!” type deal—the moment would’ve been robbed of its power, because that power came from how it shifted our understanding of Jesse himself. The show needed to treat his impulsive, horrible decision with all the weight it deserved, and “He’s Gone” more or less accomplishes that. The hour focuses on what happens next; who knows and what that means; and tries to give a glimpse into why Jesse is behaving with such single-minded determination to be “good.”

The result is more or less successful, albeit it less immediately impactful than last week’s episode. The problem with trying to deal with shocking situations is that it can be difficult to gauge character responses without having those responses seem forced. In this case, Cassidy’s shift into beacon of righteousness works on a basic level, but certain choices he makes don’t entirely fit. His decision to step into the light to show Jesse his true self is powerful and visually intense, but it also feels forced. The seeds as to why he does it are all there: Jesse is ignoring what he did to Eugene (or trying to), and Tulip calls Cassidy on not telling Jesse he’s a vampire. But to go from that to “I’m going to risk my life on the assumption that you’re a good bloke at heart” is a bit much.

Look, here’s a stupid metaphor: have you ever tuned a guitar? It’s not the hardest thing in the world to do, but the trick isn’t getting a string that’s loosened down to C# to sound like an E. The trick is when you have an E that’s maybe just a little flat or a little sharp, and you keep tightening it and loosening it and listening, and every time maybe you get a little closer to exactly right, and maybe you don’t. The closer you are to getting it right, the harder it becomes to know what’s wrong. And that’s what some of the clunkier bits in “He’s Gone” sounded like to me.

The basic mechanics of the hour are fine. We needed someone to call Jesse on his shit (and the reveal of Cassidy watching the whole scene from last week from up in the balcony was a good one), and Cassidy makes an interesting choice. It sort of has to be him, really, since Tulip doesn’t know about Jesse’s powers, and she’s the only other person in town who would stand up to him. But it’s curious to see Cassidy adopting the tone of moral authority, especially in a case like this where he’s so obviously right. Jesse did overreach, he has been making mistakes, and what he did to Eugene was awful. So it’s good to have Jiminy Cricket around to keep driving the point home, albeit in the form of an Irish vampire with substance abuse issues.

I’m just not sure how Cassidy makes that transition so quickly. Is it just because he’s jealous of Tulip and Jesse? Because even that’s making a fast jump; having him tell Tulip “I’m in love with you” a while back was odd enough, but though it’s compelling to see him actively affected by her complete lack of romantic interest, it’s not particularly resonant. Nor is it a believable motivation for him to risk life and limb on. The pieces are all there, but something, either a scene or even just the tone of it all, is slightly off. It gets the job done okay, but it doesn’t really sing, if you get me.

The same could be said of the flashbacks to Jesse’s past. We get more of him and Tulip being friends as kids; how Jesse’s dad took Tulip in for a while when her own family wouldn’t support her; how Tulip eventually got sent away to a foster home because “she’s an O’Hare,” whatever that means (nothing good, so far as we can tell); how Jesse flipped out and blamed his father for losing his friend, and prayed to God to kill Dad and send him to Hell; how that very night, some folks showed up and more or less granted Jesse’s prayers.


Again, the structure makes sense. We’re looking for a reason as to why grown-up Jesse is so fixated on being a “good” man, so now we have at least a partial explanation for it: guilt over a prayer that he still, on some level, believes cost his father’s life. But the execution is iffy. For one, the kid playing young Jesse isn’t that great, although it’s hard to blame the actor. He’s called on to be earnest, indifferent, and then almost psychotically attached, and none of these emotions flow together very well. His freak out when Tulip leaves for foster care isn’t hard to parse, but the extremity of it borders on absurd, and the literalness of his prayer to God is way too specific to be anything but a tool for dramatic irony.

Other elements worked better. Tulip’s attempts to make dinner, and Jesse attacking her for it, felt like a natural progression of their current relationship status; she’s trying to fit in, and he’s so screwed up about Eugene and everything else that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to push her away. We never see Eugene in Hell, but we do see the aftermath of his disappearance; the empty space next to his father at church, an empty bedroom, the Sheriff asking questions. The implications are chilling, and it helps to sell the monstrousness of Jesse’s crime.


We also learn how Eugene got to be, well, Eugene, and I’m less sure about this. It turns out he was in love with Tracy, the girl in the coma—and he’s the one who put her in a coma by shooting her when she didn’t return his affections. Then he shot himself. Hence the face. I was expecting something where he was to blame, but with a little more ambiguity about that blame; like, he’d been drinking and there’d been a car accident, or something. Here, the pre-shotgun blast Eugene was the worst kind of fucked up kid, and it’s hard to know why he isn’t in jail right now. He tried to murder a girl for not liking him, and that’s awful. We’ll have to see how this plays out.

The other big event this week is Odin getting proactive in his quest for the church lands. Jesse made the deal a couple weeks ago, but he did it on the assumption that once he used the Voice on Odin, then Odin wouldn’t want the land anymore. It’s one of the best illustrations of the short-sightedness of Jesse’s belief in God, and his use of Genesis as a shortcut to actual change. Just because Odin’s now in the god-serving business doesn’t mean he’s suddenly an upright, spiritual man. He’s still the same selfish, ambitious bastard he was before. Only now he has a cause to fight for. It’s ironic—Jesse finds himself facing down against someone with the same delusional conviction of righteousness. Only Jesse helped create this man; and while the preacher is still capable of doubt (he ends the episode by breaking through the floor where Eugene disappeared), Odin had that ability blasted right out of him. And now he’s going to war.


Stray observations

  • While Jesse doesn’t show any immediate reaction to Eugene’s disappearance, he does decide not to use Genesis on his congregation. Baby steps.
  • “Corleone family wedding day busy.” -Cassidy, who I guess is the Guy Who Does The Pop Culture References. (Not surprising; he has an edgy comic relief thing going on.)
  • “Till the end of the world, right?” -Tulip
  • “Plot matters.” Cassidy’s also still ragging on The Big Lebowski. It’d be easier to take his criticisms seriously if he didn’t list The Ladykillers as one of the Coens’ better films.
  • The sight of Odin and his men storming up the driveway to the church is impressive. I wonder if Jesse still has that bullhorn hanging over the entrance.