Photo: Lachlan Moore (AMC/Sony Picturs)
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It makes a certain amount of sense to team God up with the Grail. The show is rapidly approaching its endgame, and the idea of putting all the villains on one side has an appealing narrative economy to it; it underlines that God and Starr are both petty, arrogant dickheads; and it raises the stakes for Jesse, Tulip, and Cass. But it also completely undermines what made the Grail interesting in the comics and doesn’t make a lot of internal sense even on the world established by the show. Like so much of the series at this point, it seems to have happened because <shrug> why not, right? And now we get scenes of God plotting his revenge against Jesse while Starr talks about wanting to “carve a vagina” into his head. Good times.

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One of the defining traits of the Grail in the source material is that they were an incredibly powerful religious force whose determination to bring about the apocalypse was entirely internally motivated. Humperdoo existed because they needed a tool to control the world with, not because he was a funny joke to cut to occasionally; and the character’s inbred stupidity was an obvious satire of the way organizations will cling to their obsessions even in the face of all rational evidence to the contrary. Starr, while still an asshole, understood that Humperdoo would make a shitty Messiah, which helped explain his determination to hunt Jesse down. The important bit, though, was that the Grail didn’t have a direct line to God. They were regularly communicating with the supernatural; they had an angel locked up someplace, and the idiot descendant of Christ, and that was it.

The show played fair with that for a while, but now we’ve got God hanging out at Masada and Jesus (and, sigh, Hitler) showing up for negotiations about the Apocalypse, and while it sort of works, there’s a lack of coherence to any of it that robs the narrative of what little urgency it might have had left. “Search and Rescue” introduces the actual Jesus, and it’s a bizarre story choice. He seems like a friendly, chill dude, trying to help Tulip rescue Cassidy without further bloodshed, and how does any of this make sense? Is this Jesus just going to go along with his Father about the whole end of the world thing? The whole point of Humperdoo is that the original Jesus wasn’t around anymore. It was a riff on the theory that gave us The Da Vinci Code. Bringing in Jesus Classic just for the shock value of “oh hey, it’s Jesus” is just flailing.

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“Search And Rescue” continues the current season’s approach of mixing in occasionally watchable material with viscerally unpleasant gore sequences, increasingly mean-spirited jokes, and not much else. The actors are still trying, and if you squint, you can see how Jesse’s arc with the doomed airline pilot works as character development, but it’s all mostly a muddle.

The show has many, many problems, to the degree where it’s really just a “well, let’s enjoy what we can” kind of ride. The structural issues are so baked in that I can’t imagine them being fixed before the finale, and given that the writers who put all this together made the choices that got us here, I can’t imagine they’d even know where to begin. It’s also kind of a rough ride to write about (pity me!) because I feel obligated to find new ways to say “This doesn’t work,” when no one honestly expects it to. If you’re still watching, you find enough left in the show to entertain you. It still looks neat, and the actors are all good to great. It’s just a mess, and watching a mess play out over multiple weeks always makes my brain hurt a little.

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I can say something nice by way of a criticism, though: Joseph Gilgun is way too good in the role of Cassidy. In the comics, Cass was a likeable bastard who you initially assumed had a heart of gold; as the story wore on, you realized he was essentially a coward and a shit, and he took advantage of Tulip at her absolute worst moments because that was what he’d been doing with people his whole life. A large part of the end game of the comic story was whether or not Cass would find some way to redeem himself. I won’t spoil if he did or not, but I will say his arc worked really well—“guy who acts like an asshole but seems like a good chap really is an asshole” is an underused character trope, and it gave the triangle at the heart of the book a tragic weight to it.

Gilgun’s Cass, though, feels like he should be the main character. He’s too self-aware, too self-mocking and melancholy, to be the absolute shitheel he was in the comic. The writing has steered into that—I remember praising it in previous seasons for foreshadowing his eventually assholery, but it never got as dark as it needed to. Hell, it legitimately feels like he and Tulip might be better off together, and that’s a weird take for this story. It drastically subverts the original material in a way that doesn’t seem intentional or well-considered at all. Adaptations don’t need to be perfectly faithful to work (the exact opposite, really), but if you’re going to undercut something central, it needs to be a choice, and not something you stumble into because you inadvertently cast a strong actor in a role that needs someone who’s weak.

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I wouldn’t say that Gilgun bears any responsibility for the show’s failings; if anything, his presence means there’s something still worth watching even as it all falls apart. His reaction when he runs into Tulip in Masada is just an excellent bit of work, and while I don’t know if him getting revenge on Frankie (literally shoving a shotgun up his ass and then slamming him into the ground until it fired) was cathartic, Gilgun played it with an intensity and rage that made it more than just a bad joke. I’ll take what I can get, basically, and while the character doesn’t really make sense, who the hell does at this point.

Let’s see, what else… Tulip hangs out with Jesus for a while, Cass finally escapes with the captive angel, Jesse winds up in Australia after learning a harsh lesson in the limits of his powers. Which seems like the sort of storyline we should’ve had much earlier in the series run, but Preacher has never been particularly comfortable with Jesse’s Voice, finding multiple ways to backbench or muzzle it when the implications become too complicated to deal with. You can see the buried bones of something compelling when the pilot—who really just had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time—comes to believe that Jesse will save him, only to die when Jesse fails. “You lied” has the rhythms and delivery of a very powerful moment, but outside of a good context, it’s mostly just a reminder of what the show could’ve been.

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Stray observations

  • Eugene and the Saint are also in Australia. So I’m sure something will happen with that.
  • Near the end of the episode, Hitler is led in to see Humperdoo and plays the piano for him. I’m surprised we don’t see Humperdoo dance, because boy does this whole scene reek of a desperate attempt to be edgy: the leader of Hell playing music for a tap-dancing buffon who’s a direct descendant of Jesus Christ. But like so much on the show now, it has the cadence of subversion without any actual point. Really, Hitler’s continued presence on the series is just pointless and kind of infuriating. What started as a somewhat interesting take (he was a put upon loser in Hell who manipulated the one nice person there into a caring about him) has now devolved into “Hey, it’s Hitler, isn’t that whacky?”
  • I wonder if they’ll ever actually explain why Masada had an angel locked up. Did I miss that? Has that come up before and I forgot?

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