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Review: ‘Preacher’ Only Hints at Tragic Pasts, But Doesn’t Skimp on Bloodshed

In Season 1 Episode 5, "The South Will Rise Again," Jesse learns that with great power comes no responsibility whatsoever.

Dominic Cooper in "Preacher."

Dominic Cooper in “Preacher.”

Lewis Jacobs/Sony Pictures Television/AMC

READ MORE: ‘Preacher’ Demands Our Faith in ‘Monster Swamp’

In The Beginning

Hey, it’s the Cowboy again! Yes, the inscrutable cold open from episode 2 finally gets some narrative meat on its bones as the Cowboy’s sense of morality gets the better of him, costing him first his horse, then his family, whom he failed to deliver medicine to in time. This causes the Cowboy to take up his guns again, sort of like “Unforgiven” in miniature. Sure, it’s not clear what any of this has to do with what’s going on in the present day, but it at least has the decency to move at a good clip. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode isn’t so fleet-footed.

Say The Word

I know that last time I guessed (hoped) that the stranger aspects of the show would become more prominent this time around, but that doesn’t turn out to be the case this week. The current “Preacher” MO is that plots move forward by inches, tragic backstories are hinted at but not explained, and one nutty thing occurs per episode to assure you that anything can happen, despite the lack of anything particularly interesting happening. “South Will Rise Again” is no exception, but there are a few hints here and there that back half of “Preacher’s” first season will prove more engaging than its first.

The big development this episode is that after brainwashing Quincannon in front of the whole town, Jesse starts doling out magic commands left and right in what he thinks is an effort to improve the lives of his flock, but is much more obviously an attempt to stroke his own ego. It makes sense on a character level, since Jesse thinks he now speaks with the word of God, but the story is still pat and obvious, and is made even worse by cornball moments like having fresh-faced millennials ask Jesse to settle a bet about which Gospel is the best.

Similarly frustrating is Jesse’s efforts to help out Eugene, whose harassment by Annville’s citizens has strained his relationship with his father. Turns out Eugene was mixed up somehow with Tracy the Coma Girl, but their exact relationship is unclear (see the above point about unexplained tragic backstories). Tracy’s in a coma, but her mom calls Eugene a murderer, so it’s tough to figure out what’s going on, and even harder to get invested in the outcome when Jesse commands Mrs. Loach to forgive Eugene. This is all presumably leading to an “Arseface: Origins” episode, but for now the story is inert.

Ian Colletti and Dominic Cooper in "Preacher."

Ian Colletti and Dominic Cooper in “Preacher.”

Lewis Jacobs/Sony Pictures Television/AMC

Send Me An Angel

The angels spend most of the episode psyching themselves up to pick up the heaven phone which has been ringing non-stop since the end of last episode, but no points for guessing that it stops ringing as soon as they’re finally ready to answer it (see above, re: plots and inches). The good news is that this finally spurs them to talk to Jesse directly, admit that they’re angels (and that they’ve been talking to Cassidy), and tell him that his power isn’t God, it’s something else. Progress at last, with a glimmer of hope for more events unfolding next time.

Tulip Does (Not So) Cool Stuff

Guys, did you know that Tulip wants Jesse to be bad again, and also wants revenge on Carlos? Well in case this is your first episode, Tulip explains both desires again, in detail. Ruth Negga’s doing what she can, but so far Tulip’s only got one character beat, and that’s being obsessed with Jesse. She’s either bothering him to be with her again, or explaining to others that she’s going to get him back. At least her being completely unfazed at the news that Cassidy’s a vampire is amusing. What’s more, after another unsuccessful Jesse recruitment session, she knocks over a drug store and has unenthusiastic sex with Cassidy. That’s a good wrinkle, but it can’t save the fact that most of Tulip’s material this episode is extremely well-worn territory.

Most Bonkers Moment

Odin Quincannon, meanwhile, is downright chipper after being commanded to serve God. He calls in Miles and apologizes for urinating into his briefcase, and agrees to meet with the folks from Green Acre. And in case it wasn’t obvious that Jesse mucking around with people’s heads willy-nilly wasn’t going to end well, Odin abruptly ends his meeting with the Green Acre reps by viciously murdering all of them with a shotgun. It’s unclear how killing four people helps Odin serve God, but it certainly gives the episode a necessary final jolt.

For Those Who Have Read The Comic (Skip If You Haven’t)

I think “Preacher” is a pretty slow burn even for those who haven’t read the comic, but it’s pretty frustrating for those of us who have. Continuity-wise, we’re not even out of the first issue, and knowing what’s to come just makes me all the more eager to get to the fireworks factory. This would be less aggravating if the Annville material were better, but it’s mostly just been serviceable. I try not to let my foreknowledge color these reviews, but I also didn’t expect the show to move at such a leisurely pace.

Anyway, introducing, well, not romance per se, but at least a physical attraction between Tulip and Cassidy at this point in the story is an interesting move. Despite driving a lot of the comic’s narrative down the line, Cassidy’s attraction to Tulip still seemed to come out of left field when it was first introduced, so an immediate relationship makes sense and can lend to the tension down the line (or immediately, once Jesse finds out). It’s a smart call, and gives me some hope for when the show finally gets on the road.

Grade: C+

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