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Jesse spends his time in Hell on a gruesome Preacher

Photo: Lachlan Moore (AMC/Sony Pictures)
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I’m starting to dread this show.

If it was simply terrible, that would be one thing. I’ve reviewed flat-out terrible shows before, and I’ve survived. But Preacher is trapped in that miserable critical space where it can still manage just enough emotional truth that I can’t help but kind of caring what happens. I can’t simply zone out completely and wait for the end credits, comfortable in the knowledge that I can just churn out a review of “ha ha this is dumb” and be done with it. No, I have to engage, and that means paying attention when absolutely shitty stuff happens, no matter how unpleasant I find it to watch. I say this less to complain about my lot in life (this is, after all, my job), and more to try and pinpoint exactly what makes all of this such a chore to watch. Why it’s rotten, but with just enough freshness in there that you can almost convince yourself that it will all work out in the end.

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It won’t, of course. “Fear of the Lord” opens with more punishment for Starr, as he’s briefly held hostage by a group of cannibals who install a spigot where his genitals should be before cutting off right shin and feeding it to him. I really can’t stand anything with Starr anymore. Pip Torrens is great, and he’s giving it his all, and this is more or less taken directly from the comics, but watching him get tortured over and over and treating it like it’s a laugh riot is just absolutely miserable. It was a bit more effective in the source material because it was spread out over more time, and because Starr was a slightly different character—here, for whatever reason, no matter how much Starr deserves what’s coming to him, it just feels pointless and mean instead of darkly comic. He’s an asshole, but just put a goddamn bullet in his head and get this over with, stop making me watch.

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I suppose all of this is mitigated by him getting his looks back at the end. Still wasn’t much fun to watch. Preacher is still a supremely confident show, presenting its various twists and dark gags with the same aplomb it always has, and the fact that it’s trying to cram so much story into these last few episodes at least means the pacing is faster. It’s still not good, but it’s more difficult to pin down exactly why it isn’t good. After all, the story is clearly heading in a direction. For maybe the first time since the series began, it feels like everything is working together to bring us towards a specific climax, without the usual cul-de-sacs and meandering that made earlier seasons such a chore.

It’s just—I don’t really care, is all. There’s a scene in “Fear of the Lord” where Hitler and Jesus try and convince Starr to let Jesus be the Messiah by having Jesus breakdance, and it’s clearly supposed to be transgressive and hilarious, and it kind of is, but mostly it’s just tired. Hitler and Jesus are developed enough characters at this point that the scene isn’t devoid of dramatic interest, but even putting the questionable judgment of “Let’s have Hitler be clever and fun,” it’s still nonsense that exists solely because someone thought it would be hilarious. I didn’t even hate this scene. It was nice to see something where no one was getting injured for once.

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We at least finally get a confrontation between God and Jesse where Jesse realizes once and for all that God is a piece of shit. Jesse has apparently completely forgotten his magic voice at this point, as he doesn’t use it here, but at least we can assume he’s given up on the “it’s all in God’s plan” nonsense. And God turning his back on Jesse because Jesse “wanted” to sit on the throne actually has something like a point in it. It works on a character level, in that it makes it abundantly clear that there was never any “test” and that God was planning to nuke the world whatever Jesse did; and it works as a critique of a religion that blames people for having feelings or desires regardless if they act on them. It’s a good scene, and it probably should’ve happened earlier, but at least it still happened.

Honestly from a plot level most of “Fear ofthe Lord” is decent enough. Last week, Cass and Tulip kidnapped Humperdoo so they could murder him in front of God; this week, we get a three month time jump and the confirmation that no, of course Cass and Tulip weren’t going to kill the innocent idiot. It’s fine for what it is, as Cass and Tulip are pretty much in character throughout, and Tulip taking an axe to Cass when he tries to stand in her way is entirely appropriate. It’s just, this never felt like a plausible moral dilemma for either of them. This version of Cass is way too noble to be a complete shithead, and Tulip, aggressive as she is, isn’t exactly a “murdering innocents” type, even if she is upset about Jesse. I’m glad it was resolved quickly, but it mostly seemed to happen as a way to keep them busy until Jesse could come back from the dead.

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Oh right, the stuff with Jesse. Well, he’s in Hell for a while and gets tortured and tricked and tortured again, and then God brings him back from the dead to really rub his face in everything. That’s not bad at all; the idea of Jesse going through all that, just to find out he failed a test because of something he had literally no control over, is fitting punishment for his thickheadedness. And seeing him reunited with Tulip and Cass again has weight to it, even if it arguably shouldn’t.

I just can’t get over the cold open. At its best, Preacher is angry and funny and sincere and unexpectedly sweet. At its worst, it’s smug and nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. My problem is, the worst is drowning out the best by a substantial margin. Who the hell cares if God is going to destroy the world if the world is this obnoxious?

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Stray observations

  • While being held captive by cannibals, Starr flashes back to being a young man and winning the Little Herr Dusseldorf pageant. The other pageant goers beat him up because he was so beautiful. Later, when Starr tries to hang himself, he wears the sash he won from the pageant. He then inadvertently tears off his nipples. It’s great.
  • When the Grail goes to rescue Humperdoo from Tulip and Cass, they use Sonic Nauseators to make everyone throw up.
  • The fact that God still seems to know everything that’s going on is kind of weird. (Also, the whole reason this all kicked off was Genesis escaping and Jesse getting the Voice. I guess the show is trying to downplay that so it can do a twist ending where Jesse suddenly remembers he has a super power.)
  • Eugene is in prison. We see a guy getting stabbed to death, and then Eugene picks up his guitar.
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