Photo: Lachlan Moore (AMC/Sony Pictures)
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Preacher is too far gone at this point to ever really be a good show again—its plotting has been too sloppy, its compromises too noticeable, and its remaining episodes too few for it to ever dig itself out of the hole. But it’s still capable of good episodes from time to time, and “Bleak City” is one of them. Sticking mostly to the main characters, refocusing conflicts that make sense, and making sure fantasy sequences stay on the right side of indulgent, the hour is a reminder of how effective the series could be when it isn’t shooting itself in the foot because it looks cool.

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It’s hard to shake the feeling that all of this should have happened much sooner than it did, though. The events of “Bleak City” would’ve made more sense on a structural level hitting somewhere around episode 3; it would’ve meant skipping some of Jesse’s wandering through the Middle East and learning valuable lessons, and a lot of nonsense with Featherstone and Tulip and Cass wandering around, and the season would’ve probably been better for it. As is, it’s too little, too late, but I’m grateful to have even a modicum of narrative urgency at this point.

Cass and Tulip are reunited; Jesse meets up with Eugene and the Saint; Starr browbeats Hitler and Featherstone escapes the punishment she claims she so rightly deserves. It’s an entry more about setting up the next playing field, bringing us one step closer to the events we saw back at the start of the season. But while this sort of motion can sometimes feel plodding or mechanical, “Bleak City” does a good job of re-establishing who our main characters are and why they do what they do. It doesn’t all stand up to scrutiny, but it plays well, and for once, I actually enjoyed spending time with all of these characters.

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Even Jesus Christ makes more sense now—he’s a nice guy who lost his favored status as messiah by sleeping with a married woman, which ultimately led to Humperdoo. But he still believes in his Father, no matter how many times Tulip says God is an asshole, and by the end of the episode, he’s decided to fulfill what he sees as his purpose, going back to Masada for a sit-down with Hitler and Starr to jumpstart the apocalypse. It’s a weird take on the character, one that suggests that there are some targets even Preacher is unwilling to go after, but also has him as a willing participant in a manufactured Armageddon (he refuses to shake hands with Hitler but then gives him a hug, which could be satire?). But at least it’s A Take, and it mostly serves as a way to give Tulip something to do while Cass struggles with his conscience.

Those struggles are prompted by Cass and Tulip’s reunion, and we get a good reminder of much better the show is when these characters are together, rather than running through their own disparate plotlines. Tulip punches Cass for telling Jesse they slept together, then Cass tries to convince her they need to go rescue Jesse from… something. That part is a little hazy; it makes sense on a character level that Cass, in trying to be a slightly better person, wants to save his friend rather than seduce his friend’s girl, but it mostly reads as the writers just needing some way to get Cass and Tulip back on Jesse’s trail. I guess they could want to save him from the Grail or something? As far as I know, they have no idea about the real danger he’s in.

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Regardless, it’s fine, and the end of the hour has Cass and Tulip heading to Australia where calamity, to be sure, awaits. There’s some excellent incidental stuff with the angel Cass broke out of Masada calling his demon lover to the bar; they dance, then fuck, and then get into a long drawn out fight. It’s nifty and funny, and fits in with everything else even if it doesn’t actually accomplish anything in terms of plot, because that’s what good writing can do; not everything has to move forward to be good.

Jesse is in Australia and finally, finally has to face Eugene. Y’know, the innocent kid he sent to hell a few seasons ago and never actually made much of an effort to rescue. It plays out very well, from Jesse briefly escaping the Saint with Eugene’s help before deciding to come back and save Eugene (after almost getting into car accidents not once but twice), only to find that it’s just a little too late to play the hero. Eugene is as surprised as anyone, hearing Jesse’s apology and realizing that even though that was all he thought he wanted, it’s not enough. So he shoots Jesse in the back, and the episode ends with Custer crawling across the pavement to collapse at the Saint’s feet.

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It’s a great final shot, and for once, I’m looking forward to next week’s episode, with the understanding that this will all fall apart again almost immediately. “Bleak City” isn’t perfect—Featherstone escaping punishment is sort of clever, but that character doesn’t serve any purpose at this point beyond giving Tulip someone to punch, and I’d be perfectly happy if she just disappeared entirely. And really, given how much of a mess everything else is, there’s no way a single hour could pull everything together. But it was nice to sit through an episode and not spend most of the time waiting for it to end.

Stray observations

  • POSSIBLE SPOILERS TAKEN FROM THE COMIC: I think we had an explanation for Genesis (Jesse’s Voice) back in the first season, but in case we didn’t, I’m going to use source material knowledge and assume that the angel and the demon who fuck and fight in this episode are Genesis’s parents?
  • Does Jesse know the Saint can sense him using the power? I don’t even know if Jesse realizes the Saint is still active at this point. Poor Jaxon. Doomed by a stutter and the misplaced kindness of a stranger, and also some bullets.
  • God prefers Humperdoo to Jesus, so don’t be too surprised if Humperdoo eats his own shit at some point. (The fact that Jesus calls Humperdoo a “true unblemished innocent” tells you all you need to know about Preacher’s feelings on innocents.)

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