Preacher Hits the Reset Button

By  · Published on August 1st, 2016

Thank God. The show needed it.

Cassidy (Joe Gilgun) and Tulip (Ruth Negga) react to Jesse’s plan for the future

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the first four episodes of AMC’s Preacher and how it lacked the narrative focus that made the comic series so exciting. Now, the day after the season finale has aired, I can assure you that the series is back on track.

Preacher’s Growing Pains

Well, at least it seems that way. Jesse (Dominic Cooper), Tulip (Ruth Negga), and Cassidy (Joe Gilgun) have set off on a road trip in search of God. The town of Annville has been wiped off the map. The Cowboy (Graham McTavish) is on Custer’s trail. Sounds like the beginning of the comic, doesn’t it?

The first panel of Preacher #1 next to one of the final scenes in the season finale

To the showrunners, this is no coincidence. Deadline noted that EP/co-creator Sam Catlin, “along with EPs Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg intended Preacher’s first season to be a prequel to the Vertigo comic book.” Okay, so why was a prequel necessary?

In the same piece, Catlin remarked, “we really wanted to establish Jesse’s relationship to God and lack thereof. He is disillusioned and losing his congregation from the beginning. We needed to put Jesse’s journey into context, and his mission for next season.” I understand the hesitation that motivated this decision. It would be difficult to get audience on board for the comic’s zany narrative without some background and near impossible to convince a studio to fund a road trip series without first demonstrating a show’s commercial appeal. Unfortunately, to achieve the reset for the next season, the showrunners gave short shrift to many characters, both new and old.

While I was not the biggest fan of the meandering nature of the season, it gave characters like Donnie (Derek Wilson) room to establish themselves. The finale undid that progress. Donnie’s choice to render himself deaf to rob Jesse of his control was a fascinating one, and his strange yet functional relationship with his wife (Jamie Anne Allman) was another highlight of the season. But one line of dialogue is not enough to explain his shift from a committed devotee to the religious ally we saw this week. Though his depiction was far from consistent this year, Sheriff Root loses any semblance of realism when he becomes a super sleuth, realizing Cassidy’s true nature without any clear inspiration. Sure, there are telltale signs of vampirism, but if Root was this good of a detective, he would have caught on a long time before he had Cassidy in a jail cell.

The worst offense was the reveal of the bank robbery fiasco and the portrayal of Carlos (Desmin Borges). His character was built up as a huge mystery all season, but his reasons for betraying our two heroes: jealousy? Really? Catlin even referred to him as a “convenient scapegoat for Tulip and Jesse’s own brokenheartedness and disappointment.” That is ALL he was. His poorly established motivations robbed our lead characters of the agency they had in the comics. Though I won’t get into it here, they were broken up because of a long lasting disagreement between the two of them that is not resolved until the end of the comic. Instead of adding depth to the relationship between Jesse and Tulip, they added an underdeveloped scapegoat and a comically dumb miscarriage. That’s not to say miscarriages are insignificant. Having it occur precisely at the moment of Carlos’s betrayal seriously undersells its impact.

Though these choices were not the best, the season had a lot of things worth praise. The show nailed the comic’s aesthetic and successfully updated the characters for the modern age. The scene with “God” in the church was hilarious, and Cooper’s facial expressions throughout it sold Jesse’s rejection of religion quite well. Plus, Cassidy’s infatuation with Tulip is much better established now than it was in the comics, so its payoff will pack even more of a punch.

As is the case with the later seasons Game of Thrones, taking bits and pieces from a work does not always yield as consistent results as a straightforward adaptation. The show is now on the path of the comics with amazing actors in the lead roles. Their mission and the stakes are clear. The narrative baggage of the town of Annville is no more. Finally, despite some bumps in the road, the series has delivered on the direction I sought after in the middle of the first season. All I can hope is that the show’s newfound focus can bring it some more life next season.

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