Most series finales are bittersweet. You expect explosions and violence and stunning conclusions, twists, deaths, betrayals, reveals, and sometimes you get them; but by and large, most television shows go out with more of a shrug than a scream. It’s a trick that somehow keeps working no matter how many times I’ve seen it done. I knew “End of the World” probably wouldn’t have the end of the world in it; that it would most likely end with a “life goes on” vibe; that most of the surviving characters would walk away without suffering some horrible final indignity. That’s more or less what happened, and it still took me by surprise. This isn’t a perfect finale, but it’s a good one, and probably as good as the show deserved. It doesn’t take much in the way of risks, most characters get what’s coming to them, and there are some good music choices. I probably won’t be thinking about it in a few months, but there are worse things in the world than being entertainingly forgettable.
The biggest shock probably hits early. Everything’s in place for God’s plan. Starr is unable to fax through the alternate orders to his subordinates, meaning that the apocalypse will be comprehensive rather than selective. Jesus and Hitler are fighting it out in Jesus’s room, while Jesse and Genesis’s parents are trying to hold off the Saint. And Cass is sitting with Humperdoo, waiting for his big moment, when Tulip (after a brief interlude with a miserable Featherstone) arrives. Humperdoo has to die for the rest of the world to live, but Cass doesn’t want to kill him. They fight for a while, and then talk, and then Cass makes a decision and shoots Humperdoo dead.
Of the two things I wasn’t really expecting in this finale, this was the most surprising. It’s a bold choice, because it’s pretty rare for the heroes of a show to murder an innocent fo the greater good, even if that greater good really is “all human life on Earth.” And like a lot of things that happen over the course of this hour, I’m not sure it’s entirely earned. For better and worse, Preacher was a show that was much better at creating impressive moments than it was at building context and relationships. You could argue that Cass kills Humperdoo because his love of Tulip shames him into doing the “right” thing, and I think that’s technically accurate, but it also seems to happen just because it needed to. (Even then, I’m not sure the show succeeds in making Humperdoo’s death a necessity; we’re just supposed to take it on faith that it was.) Gilgun makes it work—he’s terrific, as always—and it didn’t really derail the episode or anything like that. But it’s indicative of why I think this show could ultimately never pull itself together and become consistently excellent. It always had that rough draft feeling of reaching conclusions without building to those conclusions in an effective, organic way; there’s a better version of this story where Cass shoots Humperdoo and it feels momentous, as opposed to here, where it’s sort of “Oh wow. Huh. I didn’t see that coming.”
Still, I appreciate that the episode didn’t try and back down or take the easy way out when it came to stopping the apocalypse. Some sort of sacrifice was necessary, and taking the most innocent player off the board has a certain dramatic heft to it. And even if Cass’s motivation isn’t as clear as it probably should have been, it fits well with the episode’s general air of “let’s just get the fuck on with our lives.” Jesse gives a fun speech to the Grail folks and sends them searching for God, who has once again done a runner (after making a last minute plea to Jesus to step in; Jesus, who just killed Hitler, turns him down). Then our three heroes, who have definitively saved the world, decide to move on. They had some fun, now it’s back to just screwing around and maybe finally starting that family they’d been talking about.
And it works. After everything else, this is really the only ending that could have worked. Something more downbeat would’ve had shock value in its favor, but it would’ve rung hollow. Maybe I’m just a sucker for bittersweet, but I was pretty much along for the ride for this.
Another point in “End of the World”’s favor is that it finally deals with God. Two years after everything else, what’s left of the Grail finally tracks God down (he’s parked outside the Alamo), giving Jesse a chance to have one last conversation with the Lord. It’s a terrific scene, one that effectively comes to a conclusion that has been built up over the course of the season: that God is a needy piece of shit, and that we’re all better off without him. The vibe of this is great, initially going for something more casual as Jesse and God shoot the shit, before God finally shows his true colors and starts demanding Jesse love him. And Jesse, realizing how absurd this is, refuses. It’s the sort of theological conclusion you come to in high school—an all powerful being who demands constant adulation from his creations isn’t particularly stable or deserving of love—but it lands well. Jesse giving up Genesis is a great touch, and the whole thing is a better conclusion that I was expecting for this part of the show. Having God run back to Heaven only to run headlong into the Saint ties up that particular loose end, and the reveal that Jesse took the Saint’s confession back in the chapel in Masada is a clever twist,
I’m not sure there’s a truly hollow note in any of this. Some bits worked better than others; the fact that Starr gets away is the other big surprise, and I’m less satisfied with this one. I guess we’re supposed to see him as a clever scoundrel, a bastard but one who’s just smart enough that we’re happy to see him escape. It certainly puts the misery he went through earlier in a better light, but it feels a bit underdone, the victim of an abrupt conclusion—they couldn’t figure out an appropriate ending, so they just did something mildly amusing with the cop characters we saw earlier. Honestly, it might have been better if Featherstone had shot him. It’s weird to see Julie Ann Emery to finally show some range with the character just a few minutes before she’s gone forever, but I guess it fits into the show’s general disdain for people who let their faith swallow up their sense of common sense.
What else? Well, Eugene didn’t die after all. There are a few more jokes about how deformed he is, and then he goes back to busking on the street after finally figuring out how to stand up for himself a little. I guess the idea is, he plays some punk rock and people seem to notice him, so he’s gonna be fine. That works. It’s not particularly powerful, and I’m not sure it justifies the character’s on-going presence on the series, but it’s better than him just getting randomly killed for laughs.
I’m not quite sure what to make of the final scene. After God gets a bullet in the brain, we see Jesse and Tulip watching a John Wayne movie at a drive in, and then the finale jumps forty years into the future. Jesse and Tulip are dead, and their daughter (who we met briefly as an infant) is standing with Cass by their graves in the cemetery. Ruth Negga plays the daughter, and she and Cass have a last conversation, and then Cass wanders off into the sun, presumably killing himself. As a narrative ending, it’s not quite there; you can see the shape of what they were trying for, but it needed better framing, better writing, more structure, to pull off. But as a moment, it’s great. Just the visual of an out of focus Cass walking off and lighting on fire was terrific. That’s as fitting a way to end Preacher as I can think of. As a story, it was a mess. But it had its moments.
- I laughed pretty hard at Starr’s line about “pleasuring you frequently with my anus.”
- Man, Gilgun is just a damn good actor. That bit where he tells Tulip he’s going to kill her if she hits him again is great.
- “Still won’t make me love you” is an excellent fuck-you line.