[This is a review of Preacher season 1, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS.]
In its first two episodes, Preacher managed to capture the essence of the material that came before it without being slavishly devoted to the delivering every detail from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s comic book. So far that’s been great. The early episodes have delivered a television show with a fabulous cast playing weird, vibrant characters in a small Texas town. Even the setting has been interesting enough it doesn’t seem like a prison sentence for the series to keep its characters there. And to the show’s credit, this remains true even while other plot threads have begun to unfold outside Annville and far from Jesse Custer’s little church that could that, for the time being, is the center of the series’ universe.
As fascinating as everything has been so far, and as entertaining as it has been to watch, there comes a time when a television series needs to show at least some of its cards, to let the audience in on a small portion of the larger story and to demonstrate what among the already introduced elements is important and why. There have been some terrific inklings of what’s going on – the entity that found its way inside Jesse Custer and imbued him with a somewhat frightening power is quite clearly non-terrestrial in origin – but by and large Preacher has steered clear of an explanation of any kind (the entity hasn’t even been named yet), with almost as much conviction as it has avoided exposition. This makes the series a standout in terms of bucking certain practices in television storytelling, but at what cost? Some of the standard elements the show has thus far resisted have created an undeniable sense of mystery that implicitly suggests some sort of illumination will be coming soon.
What’s peculiar is that, at this point in the series’ life that illumination is essentially the cornerstone of the larger narrative; it is the foundation upon which the show itself is built. Right now, as fun and entertaining as the pilot and ‘See’ were, you get the sense that the series’ larger foundation is being constructed in real time, leading to a collection of scenes like last week’s old west cold open and this week’s mysterious man in a white suit seemingly watching a snuff film in a smoky underground screening room. Both scenes were fascinating in their presentation and the sense that something would be built from both, but at the same time, it raises an interesting question of why anyone should care. Are these scenes servicing fans of the book or are they teasing non-readers who’re enraptured with series’ piecemeal delivery of subplots that happen without in the way of justification. Then there’s the collection of bizarre sequences involving Jackie Earle Haley’s Odin Quincannon who – listening to the sounds of the abattoir aside – needs to demonstrate some sense of purpose before even the sheer oddity of his presence grinds any future appearance in future episodes to a halt.
The desire of showrunner Sam Catlin and executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to retain some air of mystery beyond the source material is understandable. As far as the comics are concerned, and that medium’s particular ways of seeing the narrative unfold, Preacher the series is both of it and apart from it at the same time. That must be a difficult balancing act, and so far the show has pulled it off in dazzling fashion, offering an engaging and entertaining series with an appealing, mordant sense of humor. Now that the personality of the show has been established, it’s time to get down to brass tacks and start telling the audience what’s important and why. And that’s what ‘The Possibilities’ aims to do, for the most part anyway.
The serialization of Preacher is strange in that, while it decompresses the storyline, making the narrative more flexible from a character development standpoint, it also dilutes the significance of certain events. For instance, ‘The Possibilities’ ends with Jesse and Emily as the only people present at the memorial for Ted Reyerson (Brian Huskey), who became an unwitting victim of Jesse’s new power at the end of the pilot. Though the memorial serves to demonstrate the significance of the choice Jesse makes in the episode, the hour isn’t as successful in bridging the emotional distance from Ted cutting his heart out to there being a depressing, and so it sort of falls flat. On one hand that’s okay, as again, Ted’s memorial is really in service of the choice Jesse made to stay in Annville and honor the promise he made to his father, but at the same time, it’s indicative of a potentially larger issue the series is going to have address in terms of its structure and how much it wants the audience to be on board when it uses things like Ted’s death to underline the change in another character.
Jesse’s choice, then, to not seek revenge with Tulip and to return to Annville with a renewed interest in doing some good there, acts to cement the series’ foundation for the time being, while also utilizing Tulip’s want as a means of informing the audience how important Jesse’s now-divergent path is to both characters. It is a valuable bit of character development that demonstrates the extent to which Jesse can control his powers and control his earthly desire to use them – even if the arrival of Donnie in the gas station bathroom was so convenient it threatened to undermine the importance of the moment. But it does make you want to ask: Why did it take three episodes to get here?
Jesse’s near misadventure with Tulip also raises the question of just how aware the characters are of the story they find themselves in. At this point, the only one with some idea of the larger story is Cassidy, who manages to strike a deal with the Fiore and DeBlanc (who finally admit they’re from heaven) that he almost certainly plans to default on, as the awesomeness of Jesse’s power will likely prove too tempting for the Irish vampire to simply give up willingly. After all, why let the ability to make others do your bidding be trapped in a celestial coffee can, when it can benefit you on account of it residing inside your “best mate”?
Oh, the possibilities that will come of this deal and the knowledge Cassidy has gleaned from the dimwitted agents of heaven. That seems to be the point of the episodes, so with any luck, next week will see Jesse brought in on the larger implications of his new powers and the forces that are conspiring against him.
Preacher continues next Sunday with ‘The Serve’ @9pm on AMC.