[This is a review of Preacher season 1, episode 6: 'Sundowner.' There will be SPOILERS.]
While it has managed to be consistently entertaining during each of the first five installments, the entertainment value of Preacher has come for the most part from a series of loosely connected, sometimes downright disparate events that happened to each character almost at random. While there has always been the sense that everything would eventually come together and add up to a cohesive whole, it was several weeks before the edges of the narrative started to come into focus and the series' writers began to pull those errant threads together. This was the case with Jesse Custer's newfound ability in particular and the unintended consequences of his using it to fulfill a want to continue what his father had done in Annville and, to a certain extent, do the sort of things his father could not. (Getting Odin Quincannon to devote himself to God, for instance.)
The building of Jesse's want and his increased profile amongst the denizens of Annville – which existed as a reason to keep the series in one location for season 1 – operated in the periphery for the most part, while Cassidy primarily took center stage and Tulip, well, she sort of got short shrift in terms of character threads. But it all began to look up last week when the delightful and entertainingly incompetent Fiore and DeBlanc slid into Jesse's favorite booth at the diner, like someone who starts every conversation with "well, actually" slides into your DMs, and offered him the one thing almost everyone's been lacking so far in the series: the chance to be in on the larger story the show's trying to tell.
The two wayward agents of heaven told Jesse that the power that's in him isn't God, but something else. Something that belongs in a dented coffee can. It's not exactly a meeting of the minds, but it is a major turning point in the series so far, as it is finally made clear to Jesse – and, presumably, through him, the other major players – just how much bigger the story is than Annville and whether or not Jesse can follow in his father's footsteps and truly turn his back on the life of crime he once lived with Tulip. As things get curiouser and curioser, it will be interesting to see how these events bring Jesse, Cassidy, and Tulip closer together.
But before that, Preacher has to contend with the events of 'Sundowner,' so named for the trashy motel DeBlanc and Fiore have been shacked up in, and in which one hell of an impressive fight breaks loose. After explaining to Jesse what's inside him is called Genesis (not the band), the two angels proceed to offer up the origin of the entity and to offer up an inkling of what's at stake if it is not contained. (And by that, they mean, not in the coffee can.) On one hand, it's the kind of revelation that (for Jesse, anyway) sets him on a new path regardless if he chooses to stay in Annville or not, and that works. Jesse now knows where the power inside him comes from. Moreover, he has living proof of the existence of God and heaven and hell – basically all the things he's been preaching about. It's kind of a win-win for Jesse, even if it comes at the expense of his face in the aforementioned Sundowner brawl.
So let's talk about that fight sequence. It was the sort of thing that you got the feeling early on Preacher would be really good at doing. In the pilot episode, Jesse's bar fight was one of the main highlights, and in 'See' it was Cassidy taking care of business with Fiore and DeBlanc after a little mistaken identity in the church. The show excels at setting up memorable set pieces and so far, the battle against the Terminator angel – whose peculiar style of walking, from the diner to the truck she steals, is just one example of many of how important small details are to this show, but more on that later – is the apex of the show's set pieces. Without having to go into a blow-by-blow of Jesse, Fiore, and DeBlanc battling a fellow angel and the celestial participants repeatedly dying and regenerating new bodies, the fight is the sort of thing that makes Preacher's dramatic shift away from the source material not just worthwhile, but necessary. It further develops Genesis' "custodians" into characters who might be worth caring about, and it showcases the imaginative excesses the show is willing to tap into to make a point. The fight stands as the highlight of the season so far.
But as amazing as the fight is, it's not a cure-all. It doesn't push the plot forward in any substantial way – that already happened back at the diner. Instead, the fight sort of feels like a reward for the show finally naming Genesis and a consolation for when it became clear Jesse was going to dig in his heels and double-down on saving Annville. It was a turning point in a sense, as it set a high-water mark in terms of the show's vibrant visual content and cheeky tone, but it still wasn't as important as what transpired beforehand. And as engaging as the sequence is, to see the series pivot and turn in the other direction when its all over, to have Jesse and Cassidy head back to the church to do some laundry and plan for Sunday service more or less stops the propulsive nature of the episode dead in its tracks.
It's an abrupt about-face that admittedly allows for a little breathing room, as far as the episode is concerned – the series itself is already plenty breezy – but it essentially leaves 'Sundowner' trading paying off a major high for a return to normal. It's also a little disappointing to see a character like Tulip boiled down to a "leave my boyfriend alone" moment. While it is interesting to see her be so vulnerable and maybe even fragile – the opposite of what she's been so far – her plot still revolves around what Jesse is or is not doing, which is pretty much the same as Emily. But putting them together doesn't yield much more than the two of them talking (sometimes indirectly) about the guy they both have feelings for, and while that does help color the characters and their motivations somewhat, both deserve plot threads that don't hinge on liking the cute bad boy with the spikey hair.
'Sundowner' may have been divided down the middle, but it still managed to factor in several little details that help make the series distinctive and consistently enjoyable, despite its faults. Small things, like Mayor Person staring at three pairs of identical khakis, the care that went into making the Sundowner motel sign, or just the ramshackle quality of the church's washer and dryer, lend the series a terrific heightened quality, just the right amount of otherworldliness to make each episode feel as much like an experience as possible. That goes a long way in assuaging concerns that the plot is developing at a snail's pace, but it also adds to moments like Eugene's disappearance after Jesse tells him to go to hell.
While there's intrigue there, the episode proves that the show is at its best when it takes enormous swings like it did in the first half of the hour. Preacher doesn't have to be big swings all the time, but if it puts the momentum from those moments to better use, it won't have to.
Preacher continues next Sunday with 'He Gone' @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview below: