[This is a review of Preacher season 1, episode 4: The Serve. There will be SPOILERS.]
Four episodes in and it has become clear Preacher has a Cassidy problem. It's not the typical sort of problem in which the character needs to be reworked or given something else to do that would better fit his particular purpose, as it pertains to the series' specific plotline – whatever that is at this point. Instead, it's that Cassidy – thanks in large part to Joseph Gilgun's animated and engaging performance – is almost too appealing, too much fun to be around, and as a result, some of the other characters pale in comparison. Granted, it's still early and the series is still in the getting-to-know-you phase, but for a show titled Preacher to have developed an Irish vampire into a more interesting character than the eponymous man of God, there may be some cause for concern.
With the possible exception of Tulip, no one else has matched the energy Gilgun brings to his scenes – though, to be fair, Ruth Negga hasn't been given the opportunity to be as amazing as she was in the pilot episode – which further underlines the extent to which Cassidy has (maybe inadvertently) become the series' main draw. This wasn't much of an issue back in 'See,' which positioned the character as a sort of involuntary protector of Jesse Custer, a man who thought he was taking care of his own sordid business, when in fact he was becoming more embroiled in someone else's. There was a delineation of sorts, a marking of territories, in which Cassidy would help Jesse come into his own as the host of Genesis and maybe, just maybe, steer the preacher down a road in which self-interested mischief could temporarily supersede the good Jesse is determined to bring Annville.
That is sort of how Preacher has worked out so far. The series' narrative is incredibly decompressed, intended to allow the characters time to develop, as the larger plot simmers in the background, showing up mostly in the periphery as Fiore and DeBlanc's objective becomes clearer and Cassidy's interactions with them tend to color him as advantageous and even more self-interested than anyone might have first suspected. Still, it's strange how unevenly the series and the characters even acknowledge what's going on. There's a rare moment at the beginning of 'Monster Swamp' where Cassidy attempts to explain the plot to Jesse and finds it a more arduous task than killing two angels and cleaning up the mess before sunrise. It's a telling meta-moment that is as though two sides of the series are in conflict with one another. On one hand there's the growing realization that season 1 is going to serve as something of a prologue, a 10-hour preamble to the larger story that unfolded in the comics. On the other, there's another story being built right here on TV, one that is slowly working to bring the various elements of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's story to Annville, making that dusty little Texas town the center this particular universe.
There are advantages to this sort of storytelling that help assuage worries of whether or not Preacher is on the road to nowhere or if it's just delivering a wholly unique interpretation of the source material. It's hard to say from the four hours that have been presented so far, but there are several indications that this is the case. For one thing, the introduction and development of Donnie, Emily, and now Mayor Miles Person imply the series is placing increased importance on the denizens of Annville, making Jesse's quest to save or bring some good to the town the main plot of season 1. There's nothing wrong with that approach, but the series might be better served by being a little more explicit about its intentions. So far, Preacher has been hands-off in terms of explaining what's going on, what the larger implications of the story are, and how Genesis (which is still unnamed as far as the series is concerned) plays a role in all of it. That's admirable to a point, as it suggests showrunner Sam Catlin and his team of writers trust the audience enough to follow along as this thing unfolds. But with each hour that goes by, the story begins to feel a little more diffuse, a little harder to pin down. Without talking about the comics at all, try and explain the series to someone who hasn't watched it and seen how long it takes.
That's not to say the series isn't working, because, strangely, it is. As far as being entertaining, Preacher knocks it out of the ballpark. This week's cold open does a lot of work in defining who Odin Quincannon is and the sort of men his organization attracts. Jackie Earle Haley brings almost the opposite kind of performance to his role that Gilgun does. Haley's intensity comes from how others react to him, making the scene with Ricky Mabe (Mayor Person) some valuable character-building real estate before his scene with Jesse who has clearly marked Quincannon as part of his personal quest to save Annville. This is also the first time Jesse's memories of his father have contributed to the larger scheme of things, coloring the preacher's motivation and his willingness to put up his father's land as collateral to see whether or not Odin can be saved. It's a simple path for the series to follow and it works well, giving some indication that, much like the flashbacks to young Jesse, Preacher will be paying off other elements as time goes on.
Whether or not it will be successful in doing that is anyone's guess, as the fragmentary manner in which the show delivers its entertainment may lead some to question whether or not it can all be gathered and put together in a more organized and propulsive manner. Like the hours before it, 'Monster Swamp' is loaded with memorable moments that serve the characters but not necessarily the plot. There's reason to believe that the upshot of Tulip attacking and nearly killing Cassidy (were he a normal human being) by accident and then finding him drinking blood from a hospital reserve will bring them and their disparate plots closer together. If that's the case, it can only be good, as Tulip's story has become as stuck as she has since coming back to Annville.
This brings the discussion back to Cassidy. So far he's exhibited odd behavior, but it's uncertain just how much anyone believes or even understands that he's actually a supernatural being. Jesse mentions his being a vampire with the sort of casual, offhand remark that implies he thinks its part of Cassidy's eccentric personality. Maybe that's the case, maybe it's not, either way, its something the series needs to address and it seems to be building toward that moment by introducing Tulip to the real Cassidy. In a sense, the vampire represents the plot of the series: an underlying, unbelievable weirdness that is in fact something real these characters will eventually be forced to recognize and come to terms with. Worlds are colliding and the series' various threads are starting to come together thanks in large part to Cassidy's self-interested dealings and his role as an agent of chaos. So maybe Cassidy being the center of attention makes him not so much a problem as it does a promise of things to come.
Preacher continues next Sunday with 'South Will Rise Again' @9pm on AMC.
Photos: Lewis Jacobs/ Sony Pictures Television/AMC