How much wacky is too much wacky? That’s a decision each woman and man must make for themselves. For me, I think I started checking out on tonight’s episode when we learned the first step in the Featherstone/Tulip/Jody soul heist scheme: a fake presentation on sexual harassment in the workplace to give Tulip a chance to lift an executive’s ID badge. It wasn’t the worst joke in the episode (for my money, that goes to the incredibly lazy Cheese Monthly gag; really? You couldn’t spend thirty more seconds to think of a better fake magazine?), and I can see defending it both as a point of absurdity, and as a way to underline the on-going Tulip/Featherstone conflict that ultimately proves to be so important to the plot, but something in my brain just sort of folded at that point. It was too much. Stop trying so damn hard to be ridiculous.

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Unfortunately there was a lot more episode after this. And it wasn’t awful. It’s just, well, the thing about Preacher is that, in the source material, Garth Ennis usually did a good job of balancing the surreal against something with actual emotional weight. As a whole, while elements of the story were often absurd, there was a core of sincerity that made it palatable. You were supposed to care about Jesse and Tulip and Cassidy, and hope they made it through okay; you were supposed to believe there were actual stakes to the conflicts, regardless of how outlandish or strange those conflicts became.

I believe the show still wants us to care about its three main characters and their woes, but it’s doing a pretty miserable job at finding that core of emotional truth to balance everything else. The problem isn’t that the show is changing the source material; that’s a natural part of adaptation. The problem is that the changes are weakening some of the strongest elements of the source, to no clear good end. Jesse’s conflict with Starr has been reduced, at least currently, to something like frenemies, without the open antagonism that defined their relationship in the comics. And while there’s certainly nothing inherently wrong in making a conflict more nuanced, the fact that Jesse isn’t more routinely rejecting Starr, who is (despite Pip Torrens magnificent, charismatic performance) a complete asshole, is kind of awkward.

I get that threats make strange bedfellows, and that the Allfather is clearly supposed to be the bigger threat here. And at least the episode finds a way to come up with something credible for the Allfather to do; at this point, any credible danger would be a nice change of pace, considering how toothless Marie, Jody, and T.C. have become, and the Allfather’s plan to alter Humperdoo’s DNA just enough to make him appealing to Genesis at least has novelty value, and works well enough in the weird blend of science, magic, and religion the show has cooked up. The montage of exploding Humperdoo clones was entertaining, and the new cliffhanger, which has the mad scientist finally figuring out the right DNA cocktail to give Humperdoo (a mix of Thomas Jefferson and Wayne Brady, hence the pun episode title) isn’t bad.

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But there’s just so much stuff going on that so little of it registers beyond a mild “heh.” That’s pretty much the level the show is operating on now. Marie calls in the Devil after she has a scary dream? Heh. The Devil knows about Genesis (how in the heck wouldn’t the Devil know about Genesis? Never mind), and agrees to send Sydney, the Angel of Death, after Tulip? Heh. Tulip manages to trick Sydney into taking Featherstone instead? Heh—wait, what? That doesn’t make any sense at all. So the Devil just described Tulip in the most basic of generalities and didn’t even think to provide a picture?

Never mind, never mind. It’s all wacky and fun, so of course there’s no need for it to be internally consistent, I guess. This is the problem with going full wack, of course. It lets writers be lazy, sacrificing narrative stakes for the sake of bad jokes which only get worse in light of nothing really mattering much at all. The soul heist wasn’t all that difficult, but that didn’t matter because we still don’t have a clear sense of why the souls were needed, beyond the vague notion that Marie wants them and she has a hold over Jesse. (Actually, in the show’s favor, the arrival of the Devil tonight at least gave a good reason as to why Marie is going to do everything in her power to stay alive.) Little of the individual elements are terrible, but without the necessary spine to hold them together, everything becomes airless. Nothing really matters. People die, people to hell, God is still missing, and who really cares?

At least the Cass and Eccarius storyline is still good. Hoover gets sucked into it, and Eccarius convinces Cass to turn Hoover instead of killing him, which is a fun twist—vampire Hoover has all sorts of entertaining potential. And when Eccarius goes to “take Hoover to the airport” (ie, murder him in the garage), Cass finally figures out what’s going on in time to stop him, although he does a mediocre job at it. This is probably the only plot on the show right now that’s actually working as more than just a delivery device for silliness. Cass’s connection to Eccarius has some weight, and his anger at discovering what happened to Lisa, and realizing just how long Eccarius has been lying to all of them—using his “willing” sacrifices as a way to boost his own power—is one of the few times the episode really registered for me. It’s not a terrible show, but it is an increasingly toothless one, and the more smug it becomes about its efforts to bite, the worse it’s going to get.

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Stray observations

  • Why all the effort to finding a genetic cocktail that mimics Jesse’s balance of good and evil (a fascinating idea that I wish the show would do more with, by the way) when they have the actual Jesse right there? Why not just use his DNA?
  • So if Jesse had just shot the Allfather in the head, none of this would be a problem, huh.
  • The Allfather has Jesse’s soul up his ass, because of course he does.
  • Oh, and Hitler texted that guy from the subway shop with Featherstone’s phone. For some reason.

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