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Preacher has some good ideas, also Hilter

Illustration for article titled Preacher has some good ideas, also Hilter
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It bothers me that this episode is called “Hilter.” Episode titles are rarely that important; sometimes shows can get clever with them ), sometimes they can be funny or exciting on their own, but as a rule, I don’t consider the title when it comes time to review something. And I’m not really considering it here, except as a small indication of the show’s larger problems. This isn’t a bad episode. There are some great sequences, strong choices, and a legitimately smart cliffhanger ending. But the title is dumb. Even with the joke, it’s dumb. Hitler appears for five minutes in the cold open, and he, Eugene, and the Saint of Killers have literally no bearing on the plot of the rest of the hour. There’s no thematic connection to tie this all together, no reason to call this “Hilter” beyond the fact that, oh wow, they called an episode “Hilter”! Those wacky writer folks, what will they think of next.

Wackiness is fun. Forced wackiness is less fun, and the absurdity of Preacher is always going to walk that line. This was true even of the source material, but it’s especially frustrating here because the show lacks a strong, gripping central narrative to balance off the absurdity. And that absurdity has little of the shock value it might once have had, given a decade or more of Adult Swim and increased surrealism in American comedy. Fifty, sixty years ago, “Hitler works at a sandwich shop under the name Hilter” could’ve been a good gag, something surprising and taboo-breaking and effectively subversive. (It’s an idea Mel Brooks and Monty Python both visited, with terrific results.) Now? It’s… fine. Having actually learned a bit about Hitler this summer, I take issue with the idea that he’d be an effective employee (the dude was lazy as fuck when he wasn’t ranting for seven hours straight in front of the adoring masses), but the fact that he’s already plotting his rise and screaming about the Jews is certainly fitting.


Then the Saint shows up and takes him away, and it all eats up about five minutes of screentime. It is the definition of Not A Big Deal, and I wouldn’t even have spent this much time on it were it not for the fact that the actors are all listed in the opening titles (which means they’ll presumably have bigger roles to play further on) and that dumb episode name. It’s just weird, y’know? The show seems to be fumbling for a point, and scenes like this, while entertaining in their own right, don’t do a good job of suggesting we’ll find one any time soon.

As for what the episode is actually about, as mentioned, it’s pretty good. The only other criticism I have is that sending Tulip, Featherstone, and Jody (Jody? Seriously?) on what is essentially a fetch quest isn’t really the best use of any of those characters. I get the idea in principle—the writers need to find something to do with Tulip, she and Featherstone have a good antagonistic history, and throwing Jody into the mix gives them something to play off of. But it’s tedious, and done in the service of achieving a goal that really doesn’t mean much. Marie isn’t going to be satisfied with more souls no matter what she says.

TV shows are filled with side stories about characters going to do things which seem important at the time but ultimately don’t add up to much. But while there’s potentially useful world-building in this one (the way the show uses souls is unique to the series, and I’m curious to find out more about it), it’s so obviously a cul-de-sac that it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm. The real conflict is Jesse vs. his grandmother, and Jesse trying to deal with the Grail. Sending Tulip away from that, while it effectively isolates Jesse and makes his situation more intense, feels like a mistake.

Bringing Herr Starr back into Custer’s orbit makes sense, though, and for once, the show manages to find a way to make the idea of Jesse ever getting his soul back (and regaining the power of Genesis) plausible. Jesse is a man of his word, and Starr making him promise not to use the Voice against him is both savvy on Starr’s part and plausible coming from Jesse, as Starr seems like the lesser of two evils. Pitting Starr and Marie against one another isn’t bad, given that Jesse ultimately would rather not be associated with either, and it also gives the show a chance to finally start using Marie’s hold over Jesse effectively. The dynamic is obviously different than the comics (in which Marie never met Starr), but it creates a shifting balance of negotiation and betrayal that could lead to more interesting things down the line. As disappointed as I am about the show’s handling of Angelville, if this the direction they’re committing to, at least they’ve finally started to raise the stakes.


The episode’s other main story has Cass bonding more with Eccarius, and Hoover making an ill-advised attempt to capture the Irish vampire for leverage against Jesse. This is all quite well done, paying off the connection we saw last week to build to something with actual suspense; as goofy as Hoover and his team of Action Catholics are, they briefly appear to get the drop on Cass and Eccarius at a time when we’ve come to very much like both characters. The way the episode manages to get us worried about Eccarius before revealing that Cass is not going to be taken down quite as easily as it seems (“I’ve built up quite a tolerance for tranquilizers over the years. How’s yours?”) is quite good. It’s the first time in a while where something that feels legitimately dangerous has happened on the show, and that’s made even more painful by the final reveal that Eccarius really is a murderous bastard after all.

The reveal was arguably inevitable—it would’ve been difficult for Cass to keep being a major figure on the show if he found a supportive partner who didn’t have a horrible secret—and while it’s not hugely surprising (as soon as someone tells Cass about Eccarius’s magic plan to seed the world with friendly vampires, it’s clear bad news is coming), it’s well handled here. I especially appreciate the show’s willingness to embrace the obvious and make Cass and Eccarius’s relationship more than just platonic. Eccarius is very clearly an Anne Rice knock-off, and given Cass’s general openness to everything, it would’ve felt like cowardice not to have them make out. The two actors have good chemistry, and while it’s a bit of a shame to have them smooching just before we learn that Eccarius is a piece of shit, there’s no sense that the two events are connected outside of the way that it brings Cass even deeper under Eccarius’s thrall.


As if that wasn’t enough, the episode also finally manages to make Jesse’s relationship with his grandmother a bit more nuanced. Up until this point, we’ve known the characters have a complicated and toxic history, but that history has been more conceptual than something that read on the actor’s faces. Here, as Marie tells Jesse how much she needs him and reminds him of just what she did to his mother, you get something more: a reminder that whatever happens, Jesse can’t just walk away from this situation again. His insistence that he won’t abandon his grandma has an obvious edge to it. While this isn’t specifically connected to the episode’s final reveal—Starr pushing Jesse into a confrontation with the All-Father in the hopes that Jesse will be able to solve Starr’s problems—it helps to create a sense going forward that Jesse is facing threats from multiple fronts. That’s good news for a season that has so far struggled to build any momentum at all.

Stray observations

  • “I’ve been thinking I want to wear Miley Cyrus’s skin. Like a pelt.” -Hoover
  • Have I mentioned before how good Betty Buckley is? For all my complaints about how the show has managed her character, she is excellent in the role.
  • It’s funny, I’ve spent a lot of time in these reviews complaining about how the show handles subplots, while heaping praise on the Eccarius stuff, which arguably has even less to do with the main story than anything else. But Cass’s involvement with the Children is both a legitimately interesting narrative in its own right and one that’s actually helping to develop our understanding of the vampire’s character. Tulip should be getting material this good, and the fact that she isn’t, for whatever reason, is a shame.

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