[This is a review of Preacher season 1, episode 9: 'Finish the Song.' There will be SPOILERS.]
One of the surprising standout elements of Preacher season 1 has been the role played by the angels DeBlanc and Fiore. Despite certain issues in terms of pacing and character development that could have allowed the pair to push the narrative forward faster, or at least used the information at their disposal to generate a greater sense of cohesion between Jesse, Tulip, Cassidy, and maybe even Eugene, as their threads pertained to, well, anything beyond a collection of entertaining moments, the duo has been an unexpectedly integral part of the story. Now, as the show rolls toward the season finale, the two are faced with a momentous decision, one that will determine whether or not they continue to play a part in the story of Jesse Custer or if they pack it in and head back to that very special place in the sky.
DeBlanc and Fiore's choice, then, becomes one of the most important of the series so far, and in what has fittingly become Preacher's style, it winds up being decided by the flip of a coin. That sort of glib approach to taking action is an example of how consistent the show's tone has been over these last nine episodes, even when other things haven't been quite as reliable. Fiore's excitement over a coin toss, for instance, is the sort of small character element that feels unique to this show in particular, like it couldn't or wouldn't have happened anywhere else because another series might have put the story ahead of the characters and their quirks. And while Preacher may favor these moments more than it should, it's difficult not appreciate them when they happen. That's doubly true when they happen during an episode that sets up the next episode in such dramatic fashion.
'Finish the Song' isn't entirely about DeBlanc and Fiore's choices; it's about choices in general and their sometimes-unforeseen inspirations and consequences. The hour is about action – or at least it's about characters taking action and taking control of their situations in the best way they know how. Given who these characters are it's not surprising, then, to see these actions fall on the extreme side of things. But that figures in to the tone of the series as well. If something's worth doing, it's worth doing to the extreme. You can almost imagine that being tacked up on the wall of the Preacher writer's room. That certainly is the case with regard to Emily taking over Cassidy baby-sitting duties when Tulip decides it's time to run off to Albuquerque and finish that business with Carlos on her own.
Half of that equation is incredibly easy to reconcile the decision with the character. Since the premiere, Tulip has been established as a woman for whom these kinds of choices are the norm. Although the season has given her short shrift since she was killing men in the backseat of a runaway muscle car and blowing helicopters out of the sky with a homemade moonshine cannon, seeing her cut out so she can start cutting on Carlos doesn't require much in the way of set up to feel earned from a storytelling standpoint. Sure, it would have been nice if the writers had found a way to get her to this point sooner, or to have given her more to do than pine over Jesse and make hash browns, but since this episode involves a lot of moving of pieces around the game board, shuffling off to Albuquerque works.
It might be a little more difficult to reconcile Emily's decision to feed Miles to Cassidy, though. Her choice makes sense in the context of the episode's larger thematic point and, to the show's credit, tracing her motivation isn't difficult, but from a pure character standpoint, the turn is, well, extreme. Again, part of this is tied to the show's need to get everyone on the board as the season steers into the finale. As such, Emily serves as the device that will get Cassidy back on his feet. On the other hand, Emily's actions are a part of the episode's exploration of personal hells and all that these individuals can do to try and escape them. Emily has been seen as being devoted to Jesse and the church, and her interactions with Miles have been… in the interest of service. As in he provides one (or more) at her request. Emily was at one point clearly in love (or at least thought she was) with Jesse.
Whether that is still the case is unclear at this point, but her dismissive attitude toward him when he arrives at Tulip's place suggests she's not. This implies that, to a certain degree, her unrequited love along with the implicit indications (her relationship with Miles, her work at the church, her manner of dress, her interactions or lack there of with her children) that her life was deeply unfulfilling was her personal hell. The idea of freeing herself from an emotional crutch like Miles is easy to see, but how exactly feeding Miles to a vampire will get her out of that hell, rather than put her into a much deeper and worse one is difficult to tell. But this is a major turning point; one that will be interesting to see where the series takes the character as it moves forward.
Though potentially promising from a storytelling perspective, Emily's shift ultimately is weakened by the fact that there wasn't much in the way of build up toward her making such a decision. And while it fits into the thematic framework of the episode, the impact of her actions is further weakened by how well Sheriff Root's encounter with the angel who attacked Fiore, DeBlanc, and Jesse was handled. There's not much that needs to be said in this scene, as every previous interaction between Root and Eugene is lying just beneath the surface of what is a very graphic and disturbing image. Root's action, then, to kill the woman and, as far as he's concerned, alleviate her suffering, winds up being a surprisingly emotionally charged scene that plays well into the big reveal near the end of the hour.
When the hour began replaying the Saint of Killers' story arc after first showing the extent of his rampage in Ratwater, it seemed as though Preacher was just trying to remind those watching of what had transpired, given that the Cowboy's elements have been delivered in fragmentary installments throughout season 1. But that notion was quickly dissolved as the replay went into its second, third, fourth repetition and it was clear the Cowboy was literally in hell, reliving the loss of his wife and child and return to his life of violence over and over again for, presumably, all of eternity. The revelation was executed brilliantly, connecting what was before an ancillary plot set in the past, to the present in a way that expanded the breadth of the series' narrative in a way it needed. And the arrival of Fiore and DeBlanc, who want to use the Saint of Killers to terminate Jesse, only adds to what promises to be a big finish to an uneven but entertaining season.
Preacher will conclude season 1 with 'Call and Response' @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
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