Credit where it’s due: I’m not sure I’ve reviewed a show outside of Westworld that has Preacher’s confidence in disorienting cold opens. Last season ended with Jesse getting the power of Genesis back and taking his revenge on what was left of his family. He and Tulip were together, but Cass was in the hands of the Grail, held captive by Herr Starr at the Grail’s headquarters in Masada. The cliffhanger was a strong one, and the promise it offered was a relief after a middling season that spent way too much of its time meandering. Jesse and Tulip were going to go to war against the Grail to rescue their friend. Violence and hilarity were sure to ensue.
That is what happens in “Masada,” the first of the two episodes of Preacher’s fourth and final season which aired tonight. But before we get there, we started with Tulip holed up drinking and smoking in a hotel room. She seems depressed, and then Cassidy shows up, looking spiffy as hell. He expresses some concern about Tulip’s drinking, tells a joke about a genie, and then they hook up. Meanwhile in Australia, Jesse Custer falls out of a plane to his apparent death.
Smash cut to “COUPLE MONTHS BEFORE” in the “MIDDLE EAST,” where we pick up with our story already in progress.
I’ll admit, I double-checked to make sure I was watching the episodes in the right order when I saw this. It’s not that I didn’t recognize what was going on—without spoiling anything (honestly, given how much the show has shuffled plot beats from the comic around, I don’t know if I could spoil it), these two quick scenes are riffing on the aftermath of one of the source material’s best moments, the climax of a mid-run story arc called War In The Sun that tore the series’ status quo to shreds. While it’s been years since I read the comics, that’s still one of my favorite sequences ever, and I appreciated seeing it here, however brief a glimpse we get. It promises chaos ahead, and while that’s pretty much Preacher’s modus operandi, it’s still thrilling to see a nod to something that powerful.
The problem is, this is the last season of the show, and given how it’s been structured so far, I don’t imagine this version of War is going to land quite so hard. Which is fine, to an extent; adaptation is difficult, and by this point, either you’ve come to accept that this version of Preacher is doing its own (clumsy and occasionally charming) thing, or you’ve moved on. And to its credit, the cold open does create a sense of immediate impending catastrophe, one which is enhanced later on by Jesse’s apocalyptic vision of the end of the world. But as much as I want to be enthusiastic about all of this, it’s hard to shake the memory of how the show has bungled seeming every major plot turn from its source, from Jesse getting the Voice, to the Saint of Killers, to Eugene, to Angelville. At this point, I’d almost be happier if they just gave up trying to adapt the comics completely. Just shrug and say “here’s a shit-eating dinosaur. Happy?”
“Masada” has a strong pace throughout, building a momentum strong enough that it only flags a little in “Last Supper,” the season’s second episode. After jumping back to Jesse and Tulip’s rescue attempt, we have some fun times watching Jesse use the Voice again, Tulip being a badass, and Cass… well, he spends most of the first half of the episode getting his uncircumcised penis shaved, and it’s deeply unpleasant, but there’s some excellent character stuff between him and Jesse later in the hour. His decision to ultimately stay at Masada and refuse Jesse’s help (Tulip’s help too, but since she’s not in the room at the time, it feels more like a “fuck off, Jesse” thing) is fascinating. It acknowledges something the show has been dancing around for ages: our heroes are powerful enough that the Grail hardly ever represents a significant problem, foreskin-removal aside. The threats are really more existential than anything else—not “will the Grail kill Cassidy?” but “Will Jesse and Cass actually salvage their friendship? Should they? Is Cass just a monster who deserves to die? And what the hell does any of it mean?”
A better series would’ve spent more time interrogating why our heroes make the choices they make, but it is a vein that Preacher has tapped before, at least, and I’m always happy to see it come up again. The best moments in both episodes, depending on your appreciation of gory humor, come from character relationships and unexpected introspection. Jesse’s walking tour through the Middle East is meanly funny, but while I’m not sure I’m entirely onboard on the show’s vision of humanity, underlining the cosmic bullshit of everything and then asking if any of it is worth saving is a question that carries substantial dramatic weight. A show with this sense of humor can struggle when it tries to pretend anything matters; it depends on shocking us into a laugh, but if everything is chaos, the shocks get old. There’s enough heart left that the central triangle of characters still works, but it’s a relief that things are ending this year. There’s just not much gas left in the tank.
As for that sense of humor, I don’t know if it’s just because it’s been a while since I watched the series, or my sensibilities have changed, or if it’s something inherent in the text itself, but this got a little rough. I was wincing as much as I was chuckling, and some bits more or less lost me. Starr having one of Cass’s foreskins basically stapled to the side of his head to replace a missing ear was a lot. (Is he assuming the vampire tissue will just… adapt to his face or something?) A too keen Grail soldier getting crushed in a closing door and still managing to talk, the multiple close-ups of Cass’s carved up bits—it’s a lot, and while I’m not going to ding the show a grade point or anything, heaven forbid, I’d be lying if I said it was all pleasant to watch.
Really the Grail stuff as a whole is just tedious at this point. There’s some decent comic mileage out of the mafioso torture guy who uses Cass as a living example of his work, and I snickered a few times, but Featherstone’s fued with Tulip isn’t anywhere near as entertaining as the show seems to think it is, and even Starr has become a one note stooge. The faster the whole Masada situation can be resolved, the better, although given that Starr is now working with God (who wants to make Jesse suffer, presumably for his presumption), he’s probably around for the duration.
Here’s where we are by the end of “Last Supper:” Jesse is flying to Australia, after presumably beating the shit out of some creepy sadists; Tulip has tricked her way into Masada in her Grail uniform; and Cass is getting tortured and can’t seem to work up the courage to leave. We know where this is headed: Jesse falling out of a plane and Tulip and Cassidy hooking up. Hopefully we’ll get there soon, because while these two episodes never sink into the doldrums, there are signs by the end of the second episode that we’re headed in that direction. It’s not a bad show, and the creative team behind it aren’t bad writers. They just don’t seem to know how to structure a season of television without letting all the seams show. Still, that shit-eating dino, right?
- Okay, to be honest, the shit-eating dino kind of made me want to throw up. Again, that’s more about my taste (ugh) in subversive humor than the quality of the gag. God kills the dinosaurs because this one refuses to stop eating its shit and then belches in His face. That’s a good bit, the effects were cute, and it helps to make you a little sympathetic towards God while underlining why he’s an asshole. But also, gross as hell.
- Jesse trying to use the Voice to stop two men from fighting, only to get them both killed because one of them doesn’t speak English, was an excellent grim joke and also a fine Metaphor. (I also liked him trying to help the kid with the dog. The stuff with Jesse wandering around was all pretty good.)
- I wonder if we’ll get a flashback to what happened with Jesus DeSade? Right now, it feels like an overly long Easter egg for comics readers.
- I like how neither Jesse nor Tulip bothered to make plans for keeping Cass covered in the blazing desert sun. And by “like” I mean c’mon. (It muddles what should be an important character moment, because I spent a long time trying to figure out if Cass stayed behind just because he didn’t want to burn alive.)
- There’s an angel chained up in Cass’s cell. Another comics nod, although I’m assuming this one will have a pay-off.
- In case you’re worried, this is all part of God’s plan.