What’s that old saying? “Home is the place where, when you take your dead girlfriend there, they have to bring her back to life.” Something like that. After a brief prologue reminding us just how nasty Madame Marie and her henchmen can be, Preacher’ third season picks up immediately where season two left off, with Jesse and Cassidy arriving at Angelville with Tulip’s body in tow. The entirety of the premiere is given over to Jesse’s efforts to bring Tulip back, first in him convincing his estranged grandmother to help, and then in following her instructions. If nothing else, it’s a more focused single story than the show usually offers, coming to the conclusion that’s unsurprising but still necessary: Tulip is alive again, and Jesse owes his grandma a favor. A whole lot of favors, probably.
It’s not the most ambitious opening episode, but given that last season ended in a bit of a mess, maybe that’s necessary. There’s no Grail this week, no Saint of Killers, and while God does make a brief appearance, Jesse never mentions his quest. While I’m sure we’ll get around to all of that soon enough (especially seeing as how the actors playing Herr Starr, Featherstone, Hoover, and the Saint are all listed in the opening credits), there’s something to be said for dealing with more immediate concerns. The show’s biggest problem at the end of the second season was that it had all kinds of different potential stories to tell, but no clear ability to pick which one to land on. For now, at least, that’s less of a concern.
As for whether or not this is a compelling story... I’m still struggling with the transition from comics to TV (more about this in the Stray Observations, to avoid spoiling the comics for anyone who’s interested in reading them), but I appreciate how the show at least tries to get the crux of the conflict between Jesse and his “family” while still acknowledging that just because you want to stay away from where you grew up doesn’t mean you always can. We don’t know much about Madame Marie at this point, beyond her impact on Jesse’s life; her henchmen killed Jesse’s dad, and she did some horrible things to his mom, and also she brought a chicken back to life. The lady, along with Jody and T.C., have made an impression, but that’s about all.
Which means this premiere needs to do some work establishing just who these characters are, and why we should be afraid of them. It’s a surprisingly slow burn. Apart from the cold open black and white flashback, little of what we see of these new villains is all that frightening, and all of them appear happy to have Jesse back in their lives. What’s especially strange is how, after the hints and scenes of them as despicable monsters in the past, they seem… well, friendly. T.C. is a goofball, Jody does some of that tough love shtick, and Madame Marie actually manages to bring Tulip back to life.
This does rob the episode of some tension. I can’t imagine anyone watching this being that worried about Tulip not coming back, and while her death was a decent cliffhanger for season two, “Angelville” doesn’t make much effort to suggest she’ll be dead forever. The closest we come to suspense are the scenes of her in Purgatory, and even that is more concern about what the hell is going on than worry about her fate. The sequence is a good one, and hopefully suggests that the writers have figured out what to do with Tulip this time around. Another problem with last season was the way Tulip got stranded in the back half with a trauma storyline that never really went anywhere.
Resurrections aren’t all that surprising on genre shows by now, which means what little tension we do get in the hour has to come from Jesse agreeing to go along with whatever Madame Marie asks of him. It’s almost certainly not going to be anything nice, yet there’s not a whole lot of mood building in “Angelville,” and the episode never works that hard to make sure we understand the consequences of what we’re watching. If it hadn’t been for the flashbacks, what this might just have been an awkward but ultimately not-really-evil family reunion.
Which isn’t to say that Madame Marie and the others come off as good guys, exactly. There are signs of bad news ahead. The opening flashback is memorably violent, including its demonstration of just how far Marie is willing to go to keep her family close to her, and the suggestion that Marie has some infernal system at work on the plantation to maintain her powers, a system which appears to have fallen into disrepair in the present. Marie’s conversation with Cassidy over Tulip’s corpse suggests that the lady is no stranger to sowing seeds of discord, more or less suggesting that Cassidy might want to take a more active hand in winning Tulip’s affections. (Given that Marie must want Jesse entirely to herself, it would make sense for her to try and get rid of Cassidy and Tulip in one full swoop.) And Jody and Jesse’s brawl takes the “I’m gonna make a man out of you by beating the shit out of you” approach to comedic levels of intensity.
The problem, I think, is that while all of this makes for good foreshadowing, and while it certainly makes sense that Jesse would be willing to do (almost) anything to save Tulip’s life, there’s a disconnect between what we’ve seen in the past, and the way Jesse behaves now. The Marie, T.C., and Jody of yesterday are some nasty folks, and the dad murdering is just a part of that. It’s not unbelievable that someone who was abused would go back to their abusers in a time of need, but the reunion is bound to be awkward and painful in a way I’m not convinced this show is capable of conveying. There’s still plenty of time to prove me wrong, thankfully, and given how quickly the show tends to burn through arcs, this could all be over in a couple of weeks anyway. “Angeville” is a decent return for the series, and I’m still hopeful that the show can learn from the mistakes of previous years to tell a more effective story. That said, we’re in the third season now, so my hopes are somewhat tempered by experience.
- COMICS SPOILERS: In the comics, Marie is an absolute monster who’s the reason why Jesse is preaching at the start of the story; she wants a man of the cloth as her grandson, and when Jesse tries to escape, she sends Jody and T.C. after him. (Jesse and Tulip are initially estranged because Jesse disappeared on her; it turns out he left after Marie’s henchmen found him and said, “Either you come with us or we kill her.”) In the present, Jody and T.C. kidnap Jesse and Tulip post-Genesis, and Jody is the one who shoots Tulip—God brings her back to life, trying to bribe Jesse into giving up the search. It’s the first great story arc in the series, and I’ve been struggling to keep my expectations in check when seeing it adapted to the show; having Jody and Marie being less than absolutely terrifying is very odd, although I’m doing my best to give the writers the benefit of the doubt. For all its problems, when the comic was working, it delivered some absolutely knock-out storytelling, which is not something the show has been particularly successful at so far. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned to see them mucking up such an important piece of Jesse’s backstory; the fact that he’s worried about Marie and the others but not outright scared shitless by them seems like a mistake to me. But we’ll see.
- No Eugene or Hitler this week, but as they’re both in the opening credits, I’m sure they’ll be back.
- There is some weirdly bad blocking in this that I’m not sure I can do justice to: at one point, Marie shows up and Jesse begs her help in resurrecting Tulip. Marie starts to move, and Jesse demands to know where she’s going. The idea is clearly that Marie appears to be leaving without answering Jesse’s question, but the way the shot is set up, when he yells at her, there’s no sense of where she’s headed, which makes the whole thing look messy and odd.
- Jesse and Cassidy are still not happy with each other.
- When Tulip is coming back to life, God pays her a quick visit.
- Madame Marie is played by Betty Buckley, a counter-intuitive but not at all bad choice for the role.