First, let’s just take a moment to appreciate how good that (almost) last scene was. Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy in a diner, enjoying some french fries; one last Big Lebowski joke; Jesse saying, in effect, “We’re going to find God, and if he needs help we’ll help him, and if not, we’ll kick his ass”; one last glimpse of imaginary Eugene behind the counter; Jesse showing off the Voice to Tulip, and getting himself (deservedly) punched in the process; and then the car roaring down the highway, destination unknown, the start of the grand adventure we’ve been waiting for this whole season.

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It’s a good scene. And the actual last scene, with the Cowboy showing up in post-explosion Annville to shoot that pesky Seraphim (who didn’t end up doing anything else in the finale, which is odd, seeing as how everyone in town seemed to know exactly where Jesse was going to be come Sunday) and mutter “Preacher,” isn’t bad. It’s not great, but it’s not bad, and all of this has me excited for what’s to come. Okay? Keep that in mind: I think this a promising start, and I’m looking forward to spending time with these characters next year, and seeing what sort of crazy adventures they run into.

That said, as for the rest of “Call And Response”… it’s kind of a mess. Not a complete and utter mess, thank goodness, but there’s a lot of slapdash storytelling going on, the kind that feels like writers trying to force the unexpected to hold our interest; it’s often hard to shake the impression that we missed an episode or two between last week and this, and some of the conclusions that get drawn are shaky at best. The total destruction of Annville and everyone (probably) who lived there is so hamfistedly mean-spirited that it’s almost hilarious. Almost. After spending a season with these people in this setting, to have them all wiped out by a nuclear fart explosion is questionable to say the least. It’s a gutsy choice, but it’s also one that suggests that none of this really mattered—that all we really needed to see was Jesse getting the Voice, Jesse learning about Genesis, and Jesse finding out that God was missing. Oh, and some character building stuff with Tulip and Cassidy, sure.

All of that could’ve been accomplished in a single episode. Maybe two, if we want to give ourselves some breathing room. Instead, we got ten episodes of a meandering, if frequently entertaining stall, with everything—Odin and his God of Meat, Donny and his bedroom games, all that shit with Carlos, Emily and her relationship problems—merely there to fill the time until what actually mattered arrived. You can argue that each of these threads was thematically relevant, and sure, that’s true; the acting was solid, and when it worked, it passed the time. The show was rarely as tedious as it could’ve been, given the season’s ultimate destination, and there’s something to be said for writers taking their time to build a premise.

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It’s a tricky criticism to make—arguing a show “wasted” time. But the abruptness of the ending here, the way the finale removes any glimpse of humanity or pity it might have had for so many of these idiots just before it blows them all away, is hard to stomach. It crosses the line between dark humor and cruelty, as though the only people who actually matter are our three heroes. They remain more or less intact, thankfully. Even an ill-advised miscarriage reveal for Tulip doesn’t remove the core of who she is, and while it hasn’t been the smoothest process, building up the relationship of the show’s central trio has been one of the first season’s highlights.

And there are other parts of “Call And Response” that work okay. While the conclusion to the Carlos storyline is abrupt, it at least hits the right notes of reconciliation. Tulip brings Carlos to Jesse, and asks Jesse to kill the man who betrayed them; Jesse initially refuses, then decides to do the deed, and Tulip stops him; they then beat the shit out of Carlos and let him on his way. While Tulip’s sudden reversal is questionable, the philosophy behind it isn’t—the idea that she really just wants some sign that the old Jesse, the one she loves, is still there, makes sense. And the fact that neither of them end up doing anything that makes them out and out bad guys means that at least there’s some line that won’t be crossed.

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Better still: the big chat with Non-God, which is about as much as you could’ve hoped for. The reveal that the angels’ phone had video conferencing capabilities was a stretch, but it made for a better visual than just a disembodied voice would have. Watching the townsfolk worshipping a lie, only to immediately fall apart as soon as that lie was revealed, feels more or less like a central point of the season, and having Jesse finally get over his “God gave me this power” hang up long enough to start asking sensible questions was a relief. The whole thing had a definite Star Trek V vibe, but in a good way; it was atmospheric and suspenseful, and just the right amount of goofy.

That’s a tone the rest of the episode often struggled with. After spending some time developing actual sympathy for the citizens of Annville, “Call And Response” falls back into snickering; and really, given how things end up, I suppose it’s necessary to convince us these people aren’t worth caring about. Jesse and the others don’t even notice when the whole town blows up, which, on a purely practical level, seems absolutely bizarre. Did they drive across state lines to get french fries? After all that build-up, the discovery that yes, almost none of this actually mattered is less a hilarious joke than a middle finger to an audience that just spent ten episodes convincing itself to care.

But still, there’s that (almost) last scene. Preacher’s first season is far from a disaster. It was often hilarious, occasionally astonishing, and sometimes surprisingly sweet. If it lacked cohesion, well, this finale gives a good reason why: this was all just a prologue to the main event, and prologues aren’t supposed to last this long. I can begrudge the show’s creators and writers for investing so much time in stuff that they were always planning to destroy, but there’s at least a sense that the people behind the scenes were trying to make some kind of point, even if they didn’t entirely succeed. It’s a work in progress, and there’s a lot of open road ahead.

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Stray observations

  • Root figuring out Cassidy is a vampire would’ve been more effective if Root had anything approaching consistent characterization. It’s the sort of jump you expect from someone who’s defined by their willingness to trust logic over common sense, and while that doesn’t contradict what we’ve seen of Root, it also doesn’t serve as a pay-off to his arc. Really, it seems like someone decided they wanted a scene of someone torturing Cassidy with a gun, and this was the best they could come up with. (There’s also the weird jump to Cassidy being in jail after seeing him hanging out with Jesse last week. This is explained, but we really could’ve used a scene to show what happened.)
  • Tulip miscarrying thanks to Carlos’s betrayal is just dumb.
  • “Uh oh. Manilla folder time.” -Cassidy
  • Jesse staying with Donny and family is one of those twists that almost works but really needed an extra scene or two to sink in. Although given that Donny et al have now been vaporized, it’s hard to care too much. (That’s the one advantage of that earth-shattering kaboom; it wipes out all of the show’s excess baggage in one definitive mushroom cloud.)
  • Fiore comes back from Hell by his lonesome. I guess when the Cowboy shots an angel, that angel stays dead.

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