[This is a review of Preacher season 1, episode 5: ‘South Will Rise.’ There will be SPOILERS.]
Jesse Custer’s stock in Annville is on the rise. After his antics with Odin Quincannon during last week’s ‘Monster Swamp,’ the once wayward preacher has given new hope to his flock, and become something of a minor celebrity in the process. That’s maybe not the best thing for him, as the celestial entity sharing his body has given rise to a certain cavalier attitude that may have the denizens of Annville eager to attend service every Sunday, but it’s not quite the Jesse first introduced in Preacher, nor is it the Jesse that Tulip is so desperate to see return. It’s something new, and that’s a cause for concern.
As the series has progressed through its first five episodes, Preacher has been much more interested in understanding what makes its characters tick than defining what part they play in the larger story of Jesse’s (eventual) quest to find God. ‘South Will Rise’ is another example of how that is still the case, even as the series hits the halfway point of its first season. But lingering in the background is a whole host of possibilities that range from the Saint of Killers to the mysterious Grail mentioned by Tulip not too long ago. More over, the wayward angels Fiore and DeBlanc promise to add a little extra conflict as they receive an unwelcome phone call from, presumably, their superiors in heaven.
It all smacks of greater implication of plot as the characters have, for the most part, been adequately established and have made certain choices that indicate a plot thread has now been set in motion. In terms of what ‘South Will Rise Again’ has in mind – and at this point, probably a good portion of the rest of the season – there are several options in terms of potential conflict, some of which directly involve Jesse, while one other is a direct result of his involvement.
Last week, Jesse used his newfound abilities to convince Odin Quincannon to “serve God,” and while he got what he wanted – and continues to get it via meetings at the diner and with public displays like the one between Eugene and the comatose girl’s mother. This week, Preacher follows up by exposing the unintended consequences of his actions. Instead of turning the surly, unethical meat magnate into a pious man, Jesse’s created a monster, a man fueled by the belief that his actions are in service to God, even when he turns his office into an abattoir for the Green Acres people.
While the series never lacks for energy in its scenes, and it certainly knows how to put on a show by delivering memorable moments in each episode, many times the hours feels disjointed in a way, as though they are merely a collection of stuff happening rather than a cohesive whole. Early on in the episode, it seems as though ‘South Will Rise Again’ is headed down a similar path, by introducing Sheriff Root, searching his property at night after the episode’s opening sequence. It’s the kind of jarring transition Preacher has established as part of it repertoire over the past four installments, so although it still manages to destabilize the audience and reposition the story in what initially seems like an odd place, the hour does more to connect the various threads than previous installments have. Here, there’s a through-line of Jesse having changed and now having to acknowledge those changes and the ramifications of them as a result.
This helps make the hour one of the strongest since the pilot, as characters act and react based largely on the actions of one man. Preacher has gone to great lengths to make characters other than Jesse interesting, and as mentioned in last week’s review, there were some unintended consequences for the show in that Cassidy had perhaps inadvertently become the most fascinating thing the series had to offer. But ‘South Will Rise Again’ demonstrates that’s not the case, but rather a minor misappropriation of time in terms of what character receives the lion’s share of screen time. Here, the hour is much more focused on Jesse and the series feels more propulsive as a result. Even Tulip winding up in the back seat of her car with Cassidy – after confirming he’s a vampire – is distinctly motivated by her feelings for (in her mind) the wayward Mr. Custer, and so it’s not just a random moment intended to elicit a response from the audience. Instead, the moment is a choice made by a character ready to face the consequences of her actions. Tulip’s tryst with Cassidy is demonstrative of the series allowing the connections between its characters to drive the plot and not just exposition. It was seen last week with Jesse’s motivations for publicly transforming Quinannon into a man of God. But here, the show is introducing an interesting sub-thread that explores Tulip’s motivations and her wants, but also places Jesse front and center as those watching the show are beginning to see more than just the edges of the narrative.
The same holds true for Fiore and DeBlanc, who demonstrate the series still understands just how important it is to maintain its bizarre nature and has chosen them as two key representatives for such an endeavor. The bathroom scene wherein they rehearse what to say when answering the celestial phone is a charming example of how much fun these two are, and an indication that their importance to the show goes beyond their mission to recover the entity residing in Jesse. Moreover, their meeting with the preacher and the explanation that whatever’s in him isn’t God opens up a number of possibilities for the rest of the season. Jesse will have to make a choice when he discovers the true nature of Genesis and, perhaps, also begins to contemplate the ramifications of his choice to use his abilities to solve such minor issues as he has been.
Like the cold open with the Saint of Killers, Preacher knows there are always choices to be made and the results are not always in line with their intentions. Sometimes where there’s smoke there isn’t fire, and sometimes when you’re trying to save people, you’re just making everything worse.
Preacher continues next Sunday with ‘Sundowner’ @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview below: