I’ve been positive about this season of Preacher. I’ve appreciated how the show has narrowed its focus and managed a great sense of narrative urgency without losing the loopiness and charm that made the first season stand out. But there’s a certain amount of slackness that keeps the show from being really great. It’s never terrible—even the weakest storyline (Tulip’s PTSD) is well shot and well acted. But once you get to good, it takes a lot more effort to move on to great, and a large part of that effort is figuring out that even if a certain scene or idea is defensible, it needs to serve the work as a whole to be worthwhile.

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I just don’t think Tulip’s problems qualify, even though those problems are arguably relevant to the main plot. The Saint Of Killers is a legit big deal! And, given how this hour ends, he’s going to go back to being a big deal very soon. You could argue that Tulip being fixated on her brief experience with him is a way to keep the danger he represents a constant even though the character has been temporarily sidelined. But the Saint’s been gone for, what, five episodes? Memories aren’t so short that we need a reminder.

Last week, Tulip found the Saint’s weapons under a loose tile in the bathroom floor. This week, she confronts Jesse (off-screen, which is a really odd choice that had me worrying I’d missed a scene); they pull the van out of the swamp and find the Saint is gone; and Tulip and Jenny try and get rid of the guns and the sword, eventually mailing the bunch to Brazil. It’s fun to discover that the guns can’t be unloaded, fired by anyone who isn’t the Saint, or even melted down (when a guy tries, the guns are unharmed and come out of fire cool to the touch, à la the One Ring from Lord Of The Rings). That makes sense and helps to the Saint’s mystique.

But structurally, it’s a weird sequence to throw in now. The discovery that the Saint isn’t safely locked away should be terrifying, but it just sort of sits there. Various characters are concerned, but not concerned enough to generate suspense. There are two ways to handle this. You can either immediately have everyone go into panic mode, or you can have them struggle with ennui and confusion—the former is how a thriller would work, the latter is how a more emotionally complex character drama would operate. Both approaches are equally valid, but where the episode struggles (and this is a struggle that is, I think, at the core of the show’s most frustrating problems) is to pick either strongly enough for the choice to matter. Right now we’re stuck between two poles, wandering back and forth in a way that sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. The result is like this week’s Tulip and Jenny scenes: not bad, but not adding to a greater sense of rising action or characterization.

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The thing is, when the show comes together, it can be really effective. In this week’s cold open, we see a young Jesse Custer getting locked in a coffin-like crate and dropped into the swamp by his grandmother to teach him a lesson. This is the clearest vision yet of the suffering Jesse went through after his father died, and it’s appropriately disturbing; it also serves to set up a scene later in the episode when Starr (who, through the Grail’s relationship with Heaven, has access to recordings of all of Jesse’s prayers) tries to exploit Jesse’s past to manipulate him. Just as powerfully, the cold open gives some justification as to why Jesse dumped the Saint in the swamp. It’s the worst thing he can think of to do to a person. And, since the Saint has a little bit of Jesse’s soul in him, it’s another way he can punish himself.

That’s good stuff, and Jesse using the Word to make Starr jam the prayer recordings up his ass is both hilarious and an excellent way to escalate tensions between the two men. I’m not sure what to make of Jesse’s epiphany that the man in the dalmatian costume from earlier actually was God—it’s cute, but it doesn’t fill much in beyond giving him a good head-slapping moment. The God quest is both the show’s ostensible main hook and also one of its more questionable elements; it works because Jesse keeps insisting it’s important, but there’s no obvious pressing dramatic reason for it beyond his insistence. Which is kind of the point, but again, there’s that two different kinds of stories fighting against each other issue. (If nothing else, this is making me appreciate the comic more; it had its problems, but it took a lot longer before it started stalling out.)

Meanwhile, Eugene is still in Hell, and we get to see the rest of Hitler’s worst memory, which is… okay, I’m honestly not sure what to make of this, because it’s humanizing Hitler to an extent (his worst memory is a series of painful humiliations that ultimately pushed him down the path to demagoguery; he calls it the last day he was “good”), but it’s doing so in a way that doesn’t lionize him or make his abhorrent, monstrous effect on the world any less abhorrent or monstrous. And besides, this is a fictional show. If we’re going to have a surfer dude Jesus, why not also have Hitler, the World’s Most Horrible Nerd. It’s questionable to make him sympathetic, but we still haven’t seen where this is going, so I’m going to withhold judgment until then.

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Odds are he’s helping Eugene escape for his own reasons (if I had to speculate, I’d say Hitler wants out of Hell, and knowing Eugene doesn’t actually belong there makes him useful), but he is helping. That’s lucky for Eugene, since no one back on Earth seems to even remember he’s gone anymore. It’s the only plotline on the show that’s completely disconnected from everything else, to the extent that it could almost be its own series; but it’s entertaining enough that I don’t begrudge its presence that much.

Cassidy and Denis are having problems (Vampire Denis is a dick), and, while it’s not explicitly confirmed, it looks like the reason Jesse and Tulip pulled an empty van out of the swamp is because the Grail already pulled the van with the Saint in it out. Starr has Hoover set something loose at the end of the hour, and when Hoover runs out of a van that just happens to look exactly like the one from the swamp, it’s not hard to draw conclusions. That’s about it for this week. The incidental details are still compelling, and things are presumably going to get messy and violent again real soon, but while the show is a good one, I can’t help wishing it was something more.


Stray observations

  • Glad to see the show is continuing with the tradition from the comics of finding a wide variety of ways to humiliate Starr as thoroughly as possible.
  • “Everyone knows you can’t trust Hitler.”
  • The art guy describes Hitler’s work as “bloodless.”
  • “So because you looked like a bitch in front of that art dealer and your girlfriend, you blew up Europe?”
  • “Because I’m ADOLF FUCKING HITLER.”
  • The psycho grandma tortures young Jesse until he says his last name is “L’Angell.” I’m guessing the show is holding back Jesse’s family problems for next season, but we’ll see.

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