[This is a review of the Preacher season 1 finale 'Call and Response.' There will be SPOILERS.]
Despite having delivered an incredibly uneven first season, Preacher still managed to leave an impression, thanks its consistent ability to supply the audience with big moments that offered everything from surprise to laughter to outright disgust. After a while, these instances became the series' calling card, the element that was not only its driving force for the times when the narrative stalled, but also the reason to tune in the following week. If the show wasn't going to deliver a propulsive plot week in and week out, then it was sure as heck going to give those watching something worth talking about when the hour was done. In the end, this turned out to be a pretty successful formula. As the season neared its endpoint, Preacher picked up the pace while still managing to dutifully dispense its weekly ration of memorable set pieces.
One of the more impressive of the latter pieces was last week's trip to hell, in which the audience joined the Cowboy (or Saint of Killers, if you prefer) in reliving the worst days of his life and presumably the reason why he was in hell in the first place (or maybe second or third, considering his wartime reputation). It was the moment that helped bring everything into focus. The disparateness of the season was addressed in compelling fashion and, better yet, the fix proved to be part of the plan all along, rather than a retroactive solution. It gave DeBlanc and Fiore (or maybe just Fiore) a decisive part in the story yet to come, and hung an intriguing question mark over the finale (and season 2) at the same time.
In all 'Finish the Song' was the kind of penultimate episode that you want in a series, and one that felt all the more surprising due to the noticeable hemming and hawing of a good portion of the rest of the season. Still, though, Preacher's season 1 finale had a large task ahead of it. The series has addressed a few major questions and become far more engaging as a result, and now that the Cowboy is primed to become a part of the present day, not-trapped-in-hell storyline, his presence may offer the series a sense of conflict that it needs in order to avoid some of the episodic trappings it fell victim to during its first go-round.
So, building off the momentum that 'Finish the Song' granted it, the finale, 'Call and Response,' was a far more propulsive hour of television, burning through a season's worth of established characters and setting in order to wipe the slate clean and prepare to make season 2 into something bigger and, perhaps, more a reflection of the graphic novels that inspired it. But while a promise of more to come makes for an appealing end to a season of television that was as rocky as Preacher's first wound up being, it's not necessarily the big takeaway from the finale. In addition to setting up a bigger canvas on which to paint the story, showrunner Sam Catlin (who also wrote and directed the finale) steered the series headlong into even weirder territory than where it began. That's an impressive feat, considering how weird the series was for most of the season. But Preacher reached new heights of improbability in the finale that give a good indication of what the series could be in future seasons and how well it will manage and adapt the outlandishness of what's to come.
To that end, everything that unfolds in 'Call and Response' feels like an indication of the future – both in terms of storytelling and the way in which the audience can expect that story to be told. The way Catlin approaches Jesse's call to God is marked first by the characters' curiosity and second by the sheer gleeful absurdity of the situation as it unfolds. The stand-in for God is a hilarious failure from the get-go, demonstrating just how chaotic things must be in heaven, and why Fiore and DeBlanc were able to stay on earth for so long with only a single Seraphim coming after them. But Catlin finds something interesting to work with in the response from the people of Annville, who are so desperate and eager to learn that they are saved they remain unfazed by the imposter's fake beard, nose picking, or taking his own name in vain. The response is as miserable as the one that follows when the entire town learns God has abandoned his post and gone on an extended walkabout, leaving his flock unattended.
The ridiculous spectacle of that sequence is tempered both by what happens immediately afterward and what unfolds beforehand. Had 'Call and Response' just focused on Jesse's ill-fated call to heaven and the destruction of Annville and all its residents, the finale might have landed as one of the season's strongest episodes. But because it took time to explain and do away with Carlos (Desmin Borges) in practically the same breath, and spend a prolonged amount of time as Sheriff Root tortured Cassidy for information about his son that he never uses, the extended hour feels as uneven the rest of the season. Sure, W. Earl Brown delivers another strong performance, playing off Joseph Gilgun's devil-may-care attitude, but it feels like little more than a showcase of what the show's actors are capable of. Had the torture sequence factored more into the actual storyline, Brown's performance would have had greater significance.
As it stands, the finale sets up an entirely new direction for the second season, one that feels ambitious, but also calls into question what the purpose of season 1 was – aside from the writers figuring out how to navigate this strange, darkly humorous landscape they've been tasked with adapting. With Annville wiped off the map and everyone from Emily to Odin Quincannon and the Schenck family presumably obliterated with it, you have to question whether or not there was any meaning in the previous nine episodes at all. That's a question that will likely be saved until season 2 shows what it's got, but until then, questions about the this first season of Preacher will remain.
Preacher will return for season 2 in 2017 on AMC.