Garth Ennis is having a moment on television this summer. The acclaimed comics writer currently has two of his most well-known properties available to television viewers, though one of them, The Boys is just beginning its run, while the other, Preacher, is beginning the end of what will be its four-season run on AMC. Though they’re filtered through the vision of their respective showrunners (Sam Catlin on Preacher and Eric Kripke on The Boys) and writing staffs, both series remain committed to the author’s irreverent tone, something that’s readily apparent as Preacher’s final season gets underway with ‘Masada,’ an episode that uses almost every single one of the show’s various tricks with varying degrees of success.
Because Preacher is a television show with a limited budget, the series has always differed from the comic book in one pronounced way. That is, Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher was, essentially, a road-trip story. TV being what it is, AMC’s version of the Jesse Custer’s quest to find God moved about a little less freely, with each season being more or less a stopover at a particular place, as Jesse (Dominic Cooper), Tulip (Ruth Negga), and Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) contend with the earth-shattering consequences of what they’ve learned about the Almighty and the fascistic organization known as the Grail that claims to be working in God’s best interests.
With each season finding a new place for its characters to embark on their quest (and respective side quests), season 4 makes what is perhaps the biggest leap in the show’s setting, by moving the entire production to Australia. The move allows the series to set up its multi-pronged endgame, in which Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy confront Herr Starr (Pip Torrens) and the rest of the Grail (namely, Julie Anne Emery’s Lara Featherstone), while still searching for the Dr. Pepper-loving God and eventually dealing with the Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish) on their back.
As set-ups go, this one is not too different from what’s come before. After all, Preacher moved its characters into Angelville for much of season 3, and introducing Jesse’s fractured family in the process, a move that produced some of the best stories the show has told to date. But there’s something else in the air that makes ‘Masada,’ and the two other episodes made available to critics ahead of the premiere, operate on a completely altered wavelength. It’ll probably come as no surprise that the not-so-secret ingredient is a sense of finality, which comes from not only knowing the series is heading toward its conclusion, but also from the opening sequence of ‘Masada,’ which drops a bombshell of sorts that’s reason enough to continue watching just to see how it all pans out.
The move to start things off with a bit of spectacle (and mystery) is a smart move, as Preacher soon settles into a familiar rhythm of circular storytelling, in which its characters tend to repeat the same actions several times before something changes. This wheel-spinning has been a characteristic of the series from the very beginning, when audiences were seemingly perplexed at why the show’s famously itinerant characters were hanging around a one-horse town like Annville. Not much has changed since then, but Preacher has figured out that digging into its debauched bag of tricks can help keep things entertaining.
As such, the show begins its run up to the finale with a new setting, a renewed sense of purpose, and the same dysfunctional dynamics that’ve kept Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy together and at one another’s throats (no pun intended) for the past three seasons. Here, though, that renewed sense of purpose is energized by the sense that the characters are so close to their — or really, Jesse’s — objective. But before that can happen, Preacher tasks Jesse and Tulip with a rescue mission of their vampiric pal, one that goes expectedly and hilariously off the rails, resulting in some seriously bloody antics and a few surprises, in terms of the questionable decisions each character eventually makes.
The season takes its time setting up an arc for Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy, pitting them against the aforementioned Starr and Featherstone, as countless interchangeable Grail soldiers get wiped off the board. In the beginning, it’s Cassidy who gets the most interesting thread, as the centuries-old blood-sucker is endlessly tortured for the purpose of training new Grail soldiers. Yet, when Jesse and Tulip stage their daring rescue mission, Cassidy makes a startling choice that effectively sets his friends on divergent paths.
It is all but certain those divergent paths will eventually reconvene before — or as — the series comes to its conclusion, but in the meantime moving its three co-leads to separate(ish) parts of the board gives the series the space its needs to wander a bit before shoring things up ahead of the finale. The audience’s milage will vary while those various wanderings unfold, as the reasons for Cassidy prolonging his own torture take time to manifest, and though it makes for some fun action sequences, Tulip’s ongoing efforts to break into Masada to free her sun-averse friend does begin to feel repetitive pretty quickly. Jesse’s adventure, meanwhile, though vague, feels a bit more purposeful, which can have a bit of a negative effect on everyone else’s storyline, the continuing embarrassments of Herr Starr included.
Still, there is something invigorating about a series moving toward its conclusion, especially one that’s born from a piece of source material that continues to stand the test of time. Whether or not Preacher will adhere precisely to Ennis’s original ending remains to be seen, but there’s reason enough to continue watching to find out.
Preacher continues next Sunday with ‘Last Supper’ @9pm on AMC.