On Your Knees: Saving and Losing Souls in ‘Preacher’

‘Preacher’ escapes from Hell and replaces Jesus.
By  · Published on September 4th, 2017

‘Preacher’ escapes from Hell and replaces Jesus.

“On Your Knees” is the penultimate episode of Preacher. Like always, its title marks a theme that runs through several aspects of the story, this time centering mainly around the Saint of Killers’ soul.

The first time a preacher made him get on his knees, it was to save it. The second time was to exploit it.

The Saint has had a rough time with souls, repeatedly losing and gaining them for the sake of his wife and daughter and even, as we’re reminded in this episode, for another family on their way to Ratwater. If we didn’t feel sympathy for the Saint before, we sure ought to by now.

But while it’s nice to see the Saint of Killers making an effort to be good with his family, it makes for a strangely imbalanced and oddly paced episode. The flashbacks are presented as his inner thoughts in the Soul Happy Go Go truck… which we already saw him leave last week.

This means that a good chunk of the episode is devoted to filling in blanks we’ve already inferred on our own.

Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish)

As I said in my review of American Gods, penultimate episodes are crucial, and every minute ought to be precious. But most of the Saint’s minutes feel like filler. Some of them are outright repeats from previous episodes.

The same amount of compassion for the Saint could probably have been achieved much more concisely, getting us more quickly to the main action of the episode.

Because the main action is worth it.

We get another confrontation between the Saint and Jesse, and a strange development regarding Genesis. Last week the Word didn’t work on Herr Starr’s secretary, and now it’s not working on the Saint. It can’t be the lack of a soul since we’ve seen Jesse try and fail to use it on the Saint before (although soulless secretaries would have been a nice touch). The Grail must have some Genesis-proofing technology, which makes for some interesting implications for the future.

As does the fact that the Grail is now working with the Saint and, presumably, Hell. Jesse’s up against a lot more than he realizes.

This is especially bad for him since he seems to have finally alienated Tulip and Cassidy for good… probably. Among them, the Grail, Hell, and the Saint, at least one contingent is surely not what they seem. I’d be willing to bet on anyone but Jesse—he might be too earnest to be playing anyone for a fool.

Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper)

But Cassidy and Tulip could, possibly, be colluding with Herr Starr or just with each other, trying to get Jesse back. Only time will tell. In the meantime, Tulip is warming more and more to Cassidy, and he’s not sure what to do about it. This is presented beautifully and concisely with yet another reprise of “Pray for Lil,” Preacher’s patented look of love song. After playing normally as Cassidy looks at Tulip in episode one and Fiore looks at Cassidy in episode two, it goes off the rails this time as Tulip suggests the two of them go to Bimini alone.

It seems Cassidy’s come to care about Tulip’s friendship, and to appreciate just what it means to be a vampire in love.

Love triangles can be tough, easily veering into the saccharine or the boring. But Preacher has handled it well so far, often playing it down and never taking a hard stance on anyone’s intentions. This has resulted in a slow burn just beneath the surface that’s far more satisfying and realistic than in the comics.

Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga)

The episode’s final set of action is, of course, centered around Eugene. The workings of the Extrapolator have never quite been clear, and this scene does nothing to help the situation. Eugene has to work through a bizarre series of confrontations, coming to terms with himself with each one.

Does it make perfect sense? Not really. Though if anything, it implies that Hell has an unexpected rehabilitative quality to it. It edges dangerously close to the sentimental, but it’s mercifully anchored by Hitler’s running commentary. He stands out a lot more in a modern bedroom than Hell’s waiting room, reminding us of the kind of bizarre show Preacher is.

As I said last week, the show shines with its mix of the mundane and the fantastical, like angels recording prayers on reels of tape and Adolf Hitler encouraging you to be true to yourself.

Eugene Root (Ian Colletti), Tracy Loach (Gianna LePera), Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor)

“On Your Knees” may have some trouble with pacing and prioritizing new information, but on the whole, it’s a satisfying continuation of the story. With only one episode left, Jesse seems to have abandoned his friends and set himself up to be the new Messiah. The Saint of Killers has returned to Hell and Eugene is on his way out of it.

Big things are happening and not everyone’s intentions are clear. With any luck, the finale should be explosive.

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Liz Baessler is a frequent contributor and infrequent columnist at Film School Rejects. She has an MA in English and a lot of time on her hands. (She/Her)