Have I praised Mark Harelik in one of these reviews before? God has more of a presence on the tv show version of Preacher than he ever did in the comic, presumably because the show has a smaller cast of characters and wanted to focus on the most interesting ones. It’s a choice I don’t think exactly works, but Harelik deserves all the credit and none of the blame. He’s a reliable character actor (we’ve been rewatching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Harelik shows up in the first season as Jacqueline’s soon-to-be-ex husband), the sort of guy who always does good work but rarely makes a huge impression, and he’s making the most of his turn here. God is a petulant, whiny bastard, and Harelik makes the jokes and the outrage land well. At the end of “The Last Apostle,” God sics a dingo on Herr Starr for lying to him about Humperdoo, and you believe it just as much as you believe the God who gets really excited working with his miniatures. It’s a good performance, and it’s making the final season more watchable than it otherwise would be.
Is “The Last Apostle” any good? It’s certainly not as bad as the show’s worst entries, and arguably on par with last week, which I praised for being basically coherent and interesting. We’ve finally caught up (more or less) with the cold open of the season, as Jesse ends the hour falling out of a plane; next week I’m sure we’ll see Cass taking advantage of Tulip, and find out how Jesse got out of dying alive. We get a clearer sense of the Grail’s plans, and for what the Saint is determined to accomplish. We learn that Jesse doesn’t want the Saint to kill God, which will give us a conflict going forward into the end of the series. There are some nifty special effects and a few good jokes, including Cass trying to manage an American accent.
It’s watchable, it really is, and for a while, I was wondering if maybe I was being too hard on earlier episodes of the season. Maybe I remember the source material a little too well to judge this fairly. But while there may be some truth in that, I do think the show is stumbling over itself as it rushes to the finish line, a product of a too-abrupt ending that comes after way too much time spent dragging its heels. Remember how we spent the whole first season just building to the point where Jesse decided he wanted to find God? Remember all that time we spent with characters who were doomed to die in a gigantic fart explosion. This series has never been very well structured, and what’s good in this last season is always going to come with an asterix. (And to be honest, the comic meandered and fumbled in its back half as well.)
There’s this weird jerkiness to the pacing, the way the writers will get mired down in an unrewarding idea for entire episodes and then cram six or seven big concepts down our throats in the span of twenty minutes and expect it all to work out. This week, we finally get a picture of how the Grail is managing the Apocalypse (they’re pitting New Zealand and Australia together, which ends with them setting off an A-Bomb in Australia), and we finally learn what Jesus and Hitler are doing in Masada: negotiating who gets what souls in the Afterlife. Which is clever enough, even if it again puts the Grail in a position of power that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Like so much of the show, it’s just shortcutted. The Grail is powerful, so they’re powerful all over. Starr and God are hanging out because—that is a thing that happened, and we don’t need to actually see God reaching out to Starr even though that might have been interesting.
It’s like Tulip and Cass showing up in Australia and barging into a police station pretending to be American cops. The assumption that the cops would be a good resource to finding Jesse sort of makes sense, although we don’t actually see why they decided to do this. They just get lucky that Eugene has been arrested for Jesse’s death, which is once again a situation we probably should’ve seen happen, but there’s not really time for it. Everything’s rushed and the audience is left to put a lot of pieces together. I admire a show that trusts its viewers and challenge them to keep up, but there’s a difference between obliqueness and just dropping important story beats because they seem easy to drop.
Take the scene where the Saint kills a bunch of people to force Jesse to help him kill God. I mean, I assume that’s what happens, because we don’t actually get that scene. We get a scene of Jesse refusing to go along with the Saint because he knows the Saint can’t actually shoot him and get what he wants; we get the Saint making a decision and telling Jesse he’ll show him God’s plan while walking towards a nearby house as Jesse shouts at him to stop; and then we get Tulip and Cass driving to the house and being shocked to find a bunch of bodies dangling from the ceiling, presumably having been murdered in some horrible way by the Saint to prove a point.
Heavy emphasis on the “presumably” there, because it’s never actually confirmed. The next time we see Jesse and the Saint, Jesse’s back to following the Saint’s orders and trying to get the jump on him, so something must’ve happened to convince him to go along. The problem isn’t that it’s impossible to infer all of this. The problem is that it completely robs the exchange of its dramatic power. Wikipedia plot summaries are fun, but they aren’t actually a replacement for the original material, and this feels like that—as though we’re just getting a “Previously on” montage, only it’s the whole show and it’s happening right now.
This plays into why the episode climax doesn’t really work. It certainly seems thrilling enough. Tulip and Cass rescue Jesse in a plane (dumping a bunch of flame retardant chemicals on the Saint, who does not seem pleased), they find their way to the rock Jesse saw in his dream, and God is waiting for them with the A-Bomb. The bomb explodes, the plane is tossed around, Jesse falls out the open door and Cass catches him; but then his arm starts to burn in the sun, and Jesse’s weight is throwing the plane off, so Jesse uses the Voice to make Cass drop him, (seemingly) sacrificing his own life to save his friends.
It’s well shot and exciting and everyone acts very dramatic. But while the pieces are there for a compelling narrative, they aren’t arranged in a particularly satisfying way. Yes, we now know why Jesse go the vision about the end of the world, it was God’s way of tricking him to coming to Australia. And now we know how Jesse falls out of the plane. But the reunion between him, Tulip, and Cass was so brief as to be almost non-existent, and while I suppose there’s some pathos in seeing them separated again so quickly, it’s been so long since the whole group has been together and kicking ass that the loss passes by in a blur. If it weren’t for the build-up of the season cold-open, this would’ve felt like anything else that happened on the show. As is, you get the impression that it’s a game changer, but what’s changed? Who cares?
There are some good moments. Cass offering to read the letter Jesse left for Tulip, and then telling her “It won’t help” is a classic bastard move, almost breathtaking in its passive-aggressive nastiness; the way even he seems to realize he’s being a dick and tries to walk it back, only to have the moment pass unresolved, is some subtle, well handled character work. Starr being fixated on getting his “beauty” back from God at least gives him a clear motivation beyond “asshole,” although at this point, watching him suffer is an old joke that’s not all that funny anymore.
Again: it’s watchable. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen. But I can’t shake the constant nagging feeling that this could have been good. Instead, it’s just something you need to turn off your brain to enjoy, and while there are certainly worse things to be, it’s never going to stop bumming me out.
- I assume the Saint wants Jesse to help him kill God because the Voice will work on God. It still doesn’t work on the Saint, of course, which remains a bad decision.
- This week’s cold open is nifty: God watching and rewatching a video of the near-sacrifice of Abraham’s son Isaac. (He also has a VHS tape labeled “JOB.”) Having God around so much in the final season makes him into a cartoon villain, and while that was ultimately the point of the comic book series, there’s something reductive in being this obvious about it. Still, I appreciate how much the show has worked to characterize him as a self-absorbed needy asshole.