Photo: Lachlan Moore (AMC/Sony Pictures)
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There are some fun moments in “Terrible Beauty.” Depending on your sense of humor, there’s some decent comedy as well. Eugene running afoul of a diner Glory Hole doesn’t really work for me; hardly anything Eugene works at this point, because the show has so muddled his storyline, and the Saint’s, as to be borderline incomprehensible. But hey, maybe a really obvious joke that got mean-spirited towards a relentlessly nice (if deeply deluded) character does it for you. There’s a joke at the beginning about a facial cream with foreskins that turns out to be harvested from Cass, in a scene which is either a fantasy or a flash-forward. That’s a nice pay-off for Cass’s comments in the previous season about how many foreskins go into facial creams. And I suppose there’s something to be said for really committing to a gag.

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But narratively, this is an intensely frustrating hour of television, doubling down on the show’s worst tendencies while failing to make any sort of forward progress at all. Cass ends the episode still in captivity; Tulip is undercover at Masada, although Featherstone has already figured her out; and Jesse is still flying to Australia. His plane hits some heavy duty turbulence at the very end, so I guess it’s possible this will lead to him falling out of the sky like in the season cold open (although I hope not). But most of the time on “Beauty” is spent looping back and forward in time, throwing in set-pieces for no other reason than they might look cool, rubbing our noses in the cruelty of man, and making fun of how vain and stupid Starr is.

It’s borderline incoherent to watch. There are structural choices in this that baffle me. Like: why is there a flashback to Jesse’s confrontation at Jesus De Sade’s place? Why didn’t the previous episode just end with him going through the door? Instead, we see him on the plane, then we jump to what happened at the house—he tries to rescue the kid he gave his boots to, gets in a lot of fights, ends up inadvertently getting the kid shot in the head, and then murders the fuck out of Jesus De Sade. There’s an endless hallway fight which seems to exist for no other reason then hey, hallway fights look cool; it’s a sequence that might have worked if it felt like there was any urgency at all, but instead just sits there, inert and flashy, until it ends. The scene would be fun to watch on YouTube, in isolation, but that’s not really high praise.

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Meanwhile, Tulip is stuck in a bed in an infirmary because the doctor wants to test her brain for some reason. Like so many Tulip storylines, it wastes a good character and great actress on some pointless stalling; really all that happens is that people keep Tulip busy long enough for Cass to get taken away to Bensonhurst. That’s it. It’s horribly bad storytelling, and it’s a microcosm of so much of what’s wrong with the series, because it’s pointless outside of its minor mechanical value. Pointless is bad. You can have a scene that doesn’t move the story forward if its got some striking character insight, but having Tulip see violence in a bunch of Rorshach blots isn’t insight. And there’s no real suspense anyway, since Cass rejected Jesse and Tulip’s first efforts to save him. Having him choose to stay behind was subversive and interesting, but it means that any further rescue attempts aren’t going to have much weight behind them.

Cass is maybe the closest this gets to being watchable, as he gives a flashback explanation of how he became a vampire. This gets points for at last being a story that’s worth telling, but the end result—he went off to war, got scared shitless, then got attacked by a swamp vampire on his way home and decided to let his family think he died lest they see what he’s become—isn’t particularly illuminating. The season is trying to lean in to the idea that Cass is staying in Masada because he feels guilty, but while Gilgun does his best to sell it, it’s too muddied and inert to really land. Characters should appear to be driving the story instead of the other way around, but we’ve had three seasons already to see how Preacher handles its arcs to be tricked into thinking this is anything other than padding.

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Oh, and Hitler is back this week. I’d forgotten he’d taken over Hell. He wants Jesse to come and hang out with him, which Jesse isn’t too keen on. (Although “I’m going to make you choke yourself for a while and then move on” is not a particularly creative revenge; the show hasn’t made much use of the Voice this season, which is both disappointing and kind of a relief.) I guess there’s something here about Jesse going to Hell for his sins, but it’s hard to fix any sense of coherent morality to anything that happens on the series at this point. Jesse’s search for God has never been a particularly strong motivator, mostly on purpose; it’s more about Jesse needing some reason for the Voice in his life, even if God is a dick who needs to get taken down a few pegs. But at this point, I’m not sure what the point of anything is. I don’t know what the ending of this show will look like, mostly because I don’t know what I’m rooting for anymore.

It feels weird to dislike this episode as much as I did. The show is still well made and briskly edited, it still looks great. The performances as strong. But the problem with leaning on novelty as hard as this series continues to do is that eventually even novelty gets old. I want to believe the show is trying to say something about human nature, about the weird triangle of Jesse and Cass and Tulip, and sometimes it feels like it is. There are moments where you see the series this could have been. But those moments are buried under necessary flashbacks and dragged out plotting and all the other nonsense Preacher throws out on a weekly basis to fill its running time.

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Stray observations

  • The idea of the Saint and Eugene on a road trip is one of those character pairings that seems like it should work, but really just underlines the pointlessness of Eugene’s continued presence on the series.
  • What the hell was even the point of the De Sade sequence. To show us there are shitty people in the world? To make Jesse feel like a shitty super-hero? I guess it was the hallway fight scene, but man.
  • “You ever see Hoosiers?” The angel in Cass’s cell at Masada is interesting enough, but they’ve yet to do much with him beyond just hey, here’s a dorky guy who’s an angel.

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