[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Preacher” Season 2, Episode 13, “The End of the Road.”]
Well, any season of television that had an out-of-work actor getting shot for answering the wrong casting call or an angel begging to be released from an immortal coil or an oppressive montage of a teenager shooting off half her head in a tragic suicide attempt was not going to have a happy ending. Though “Preacher” Season 2 did have its share of tiny moments of levity amidst the heavy considerations of the nature of God, this was always going to be season where the easiest answer would be that there are never any satisfying easy answers.
With “The End of the Road,” “Preacher” offers up a mixed-bag ending, not so much a definitive stamp on a season as a continuation of its by-design muddiness. A whole batch of episodes spent pondering the nature and whereabouts of God was destined for an untidy resolution, if one ever came at all. Instead, “Preacher” goes into its offseason with a heavy heart, a rash of uneasy partnerships, and one very dead body sprawled across its backseat.
Starting off the episode with another flashback, we see young Jesse dealing with the burdens of fate and mortality as a teenager. It’s not an unfamiliar spot for him, given the cold open to “Backdoors” that saw him sealed in a swampy coffin by his own flesh and blood. Using the resources at his disposal to revive a chicken is a logical extension of everything Jesse’s done in the course of “Preacher.” For him, it’s been about the principle of the thing, not necessarily acting irrationally, but certainly counterintuitively.
Stepping in to fill God’s shoes, maintain a loving relationship with Tulip, and uncover the mysteries behind the encroaching Grail-induced apocalypse was never going to be a satisfying route. “The End of the Road” manages to get him in place in time to fulfill all those requirements (and pistol whip some stooges in the process), but this continues to be a show where Jesse’s search for answers is becoming shapeless as much as he’s becoming frustrated in his pursuits.
“The End of the Road” also bid farewell to Denis, a character who, even before his mastery of the English language, was a textbook example of “Preacher” warning “Be careful what you wish for.” Getting turned into a vampire was more than a means to eternal life — for Denis, it was the permission to indulge in a darker side, to be freed from the confines of the expectations of mere mortals. Recognizing that he had not only failed doubly as a father, Cassidy sends his two-time progeny out in a fiery blaze as a preemptive measure. Through this revived dying man, Cassidy saw the danger in not just being an enabler, but a validator.
Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures
Cassidy also saw the peril of placing Tulip within neck-biting range in a crack-conjured vision of what his desire might do to her. “Preacher” might have gone to the dream-fakeout well one too many times by now, but at least this added a tiny bit of understanding to Cassidy’s season-long heartsick dilemma: Resisting his urges has been mainly about keeping her safe, not necessarily preserving his friendship with Jesse.
Tulip’s goodbye to her assumed friendly neighbor shows off just how much Julie Ann Emery has been a welcome and valuable new addition to this cast. Much like Herr Starr sees Jesse as a superior Messiah alternative to the one The Grail has in place, Featherstone is poised to be the versatile antagonist the show needs to excel beyond its clearly drawn light and dark forces. Emery’s been thrust into playing Featherstone as an ominous chameleon of sorts — watching her develop as the sinister cloud that threatens humanity has been as dramatically satisfying as anything the show’s done in the back half of Season 2.
Of course, this Tulip farewell becomes a lot more final with a fatal bullet to the gut. Tulip’s transformation from a cornfield-blazing, one-woman hit squad to the vehicle for the two male legs in a love triangle is disheartening at best. Watching Jesse and Cassidy tussle over her fate while she lies lifeless on the floor is a pretty apt metaphor for how Tulip’s been treated this season. Sure, she had her robbery moment in the spotlight, bashing in the forehead of a convenience store clerk, but her journey through New Orleans has mostly been a listless one, free from the philosophical or spiritual pretext that “Preacher” has afforded Jesse.
Though the season has meandered at times, “Preacher” excelled at providing a foundation to its story in its scenic design. From the bland Hell barracks to the New Orleans nightclubs to the central trio’s dingy home-base apartment, half the work of “Preacher” is already done before these characters even open their mouths. The latest addition in “The End of the Road,” the purgatorial lakeside setpiece as Eugene, Hitler, and a less-than-ominous Reaper figure gaze out onto the “Preacher” approximation of the Styx is the mark of a show willing to push its darker side to literal new places. As Eugene and Hitler make their mad dash to the shore, the abandoned structures overgrown by nature are the mix of beauty and banality that’s dominated most of the time spent in Hell.
Irreverence is built into the “Preacher” DNA, hence the gratuitous and nearly necessary shot of a topside Hitler shoving a person on crutches for no apparent reason. But that blatant tempting of fate was always best when tempered with a consideration of the consequences for those actions. In Hell, in The Grail and in New Orleans, this was a season of characters wrestling with the repercussions of a world without laws, without any sense of precedent. At least the season’s final image, of a deity obscured by blinding light, hints that Jesse might not be far off from rediscovering the trail. It’s just a shame that “Preacher” wasn’t able to do more with a few of the unforced obstacles placed in his path.
“Preacher” Season 2 is now available to stream on amc.com.