The big moments are easier than the smaller ones, at least when it comes to storytelling. The beginning and ending of a story are when writers are able to make decisions that have lasting impact; decisions that either tantalize us with possibility or satisfy with a strong resolution. Which makes season finales especially fun. “The Light Above” isn’t the end of Preacher, which means it can introduce new ideas and cliffhangers that will presumably play out next year. But it is the end of a season, which means we can finally get some resolution in Angelville, the storyline that ate up a whole season when it should’ve probably run maybe three episodes tops. That’s good—the resolution, I mean, not the fact that it took this long to get there. On a moment to moment basis, “The Light Above” is good TV, even if it doesn’t all work as a whole.
If nothing else, the direction is top notch. Whatever its problems on a script level, Preacher is often worth watching for sheer visual panache, and this episode is no exception. One early choice is particularly effective. In the episode cold open, we flash back to young Jesse struggling under Gran’ma’s reign. He considers murdering her with a baseball bat, but in the end, is unable to take the final step and runs off on his own. As he’s leaving, we see adult Jesse arriving to end things once and for all, and both Jesses, young and grown-up, walk past each other on the road to Angelville. “You should’ve killed her,” adult Jesse says. “Yeah, well, now’s your chance,” his teenage self replies.
It’s a really neat effect, and, unlike a lot of the show’s more striking aesthetic choices, it’s one that spins directly out of character and situation, serving to clarify and underline important aspects of what’s going on in a clever and unusual way. In a few seconds, we’re reminded of what happened the last time Jesse tried to escape Angelville, and everything it cost him, and that reminder does a decent job justifying his decision to come back. And that’s important, given how much the episode hinges on Jesse’s vengeance. If that vengeance wasn’t well-justified or believable, it wouldn’t really work. As is… well, okay, I actually think there are some problems here, but it’s as effective as it probably could’ve been after everything else this season, and this opening bit is a big part of why.
The spine of the episode is Jesse killing off the people who wronged him. The rest is following Tulip and the Hell Bus and the crazy Nazis; and seeing how Cass manages to escape Eccarius’s clutches and bring about some much needed justice. Of all the storylines, Cass’s is the strongest, because it’s the only part of the whole season that pretty much worked from beginning to end. Tulip’s is… well, “weakest” is a tough call, since while the Jesse scenes are stronger, there’s also so much more riding on them emotionally that when they fail to pay off as well as they should, it’s a bigger problem than “boy, all this Nazi stuff is a lot, isn’t it?”
Still, the convoluted series of events that got us to Tulip fighting Nazis on an overturned bus while Hitler and Eugene wrestle nearby makes it hard to really care about any of this, beyond the most basic “the hell?” level. God shows up again, saving Tulip and telling her to ask Jesse to stop searching for Him, which she refuses to do. Then the Saint rips out Sydney’s eyes (I don’t really get the sudden switch between her having power in the situation and deciding to goad him, to her being afraid of him and him attacking; there’s no clear change in their power levels, just an unexpected plot swerve), and drags Eugene and Hitler back to Hell. In Hell, he gets his guns back and promptly shoots the Devil, a move which does not reflect well on the Prince of Darkness, all things considered. He leaves to go get Jesse, and Eugene, finally freed of his unnecessary damnation, follows looking for a little revenge of his own. Which leaves Hitler in charge of Hell.
Wheeee, I guess. Some of this is taken from the comics, where it was generally handled better; here, while it certainly seems like big things are happening, they all get less interesting the more you think about them. There’s no reason this should’ve taken as long as it did, nor was putting Tulip on the bus meaningful in any way, apart from getting her on the sidelines for Jesse’s return home. The script tries to force some sort of arc into her realizing she’s not just a fuck-up, but it’s under-realized and shallow, and while these scenes are generally entertaining to watch, they’re more or less filler on a story level. There’s a ghost of commentary in having some modern folks dress up as Nazis (one of them wearing a MAGA hat), but it gets lost in the white noise of everything else.
As mentioned, the Cass story fares much better. Overall it’s the highlight of the season, telling a coherent and character driven narrative from beginning to end in a way that doesn’t cheat or take shortcuts to get to a clever twist. Given how dragged out and lumpy the story about Cass’s son was last season, it’s a relief to see him get material this strong, and while I’m sorry to see Eccarius go, it’s lovely to have him leave before he completely wears out his welcome. The Les Enfants du Sang didn’t really have anything to do with the show’s main storyline (despite the occasional appearances from Hoover), but the fact that it could exist largely in isolation and still be this strong is a sign that the show can do smaller stories, if it makes the effort. The road to God is really more a journey than a destination kind of deal, and if season 4 is going to be watchable, it’s going to need to find a way to bring more of this character-driven-but-still-zany material.
As for Jesse, it’s a mixed bag. The fact that TC willingly killed himself is a good call; the character was a lot more sympathetic on the show than he ever was in the comics, and having Jesse kill him outright would’ve been a step too far. But overall, Jesse’s wrath isn’t anywhere near as satisfying or fun as it’s presented to be, and I don’t think the people involved really recognized this. There are reasons why he needs to burn Angelville to the ground, but reasons alone aren’t enough for the killing to be cathartic. Yes, Gran’ma killed Jesse’s mother and Jody killed his dad. But the whole season spent so much time with Jesse bopping around doing this and that and dithering about what to do next that the people in Angelville stopped being monsters and started being, if not exactly nuanced, than at least more complicated characters than pure villains.
Jesse comes back to Angelville with the Genesis in good working order. That means there’s never any moment when he isn’t in control; the closest we get is when he agrees to fight Jody (back in the Tombs, for some damn reason—I mean, I know there’s history there, but the Tombs was never as interesting or degrading as the show seemed to think it was) without using the Voice. When it comes time to face down against Marie, the old woman’s final trick—that she made a deal with the Devil that Jesse will go to Hell if he kills her—doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. Jesse ultimately straps her to the soul-sucking machine, which is poetic justice if you squint and ignore how inelegantly the show established, well, any of this.
“The Light Above” is decent, and one of the show’s better season finales. It’s a relief to have things at Angelville concluded, and the final cliffhanger, with Starr holding Cassidy captive in a massive Grail fortress, is good. But a season finale can only do so much, and heading to season 4, I’m still frustrated at the direction the show has taken, and how much the odds are against it being able to self-correct. But fingers crossed, I guess.
- Hoover’s dead. I wasn’t expecting it, but it makes sense; Starr finally realizes one of his two main underlings is a vampire, and lets him burn. The character was entertaining enough that I hope they find some way to bring him back—given what Starr says to Featherstone, it’s possible the Grail cloned more than just Humperdoos.
- “You’re a dick.” -Tulip to God
- Cassidy is left in a pit in the ground; there’s a figure chained above him with wings, which I’m guessing will probably come up again.
- “You okay?” “Family’s overrated.”