Odin Quincannon is a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in Elvis Costello glasses. He is played with such beguiling, lowkey menace by Jackie Earle Hayley that I momentarily forgot that I was watching this week, believing that it had been replaced by some southern fried homage to Twin Peaks. After three weeks of bouncing focus, the episode called Monster Swamp actually zeroes in on a single character, adding a much needed sense of coherent history to the town of Annville while also creating a personality for the show’s regulars to bounce off of, thus gaining more definition. Monster Swamp doesn’t fix Preacher’s Jesse Custer problem, nor does it actually establish a coherent core plot but Odin Quincannon’s presence is so strong here that those issues at least don’t overshadow the solid performances within.
If you’ve been following the show and don’t know who Odin Quincannon is, that’s hardly your fault. He’s only shown up in two or three scenes over the first three episodes, most notably in one of . Monster Swamp finally clarifies that he is in fact the owner and operator of Quincannon Meat and Power, the slaughterhouse concern that is the economic backbone of Annville, but it is far from a benevolent force. Previous appearances of Quincannon’s workers have had a generic, ‘80s action movie air of thuggishness about them. These seemed like the dudes Mel Gibson would have to beat up in a Lethal Weapon movie and that Jesse Custer would have to tangle with, albeit less charismatically, in Preacher.
Here they become instantly grotesque. Our cold open this week stars a young woman in her underwear desperately running through the streets of Annville from unseen pursuers. She bolts through underbrush, over train tracks, and even comes across other women in equal states of undress and distress before she’s chased into a forest by a pickup truck. When the man chasing her catches up, it turns out the Quincannon men are “hunting” prostitutes from the local brothel using paintball guns. Just an average, gross, dehumanizing evening for the meatpacking plant boys. Preacher doubles down on revolting the audience, though. The woman chased into the woods accidentally falls into a sinkhole and dies, prompting old Odin to come down and scold his crew in the morning. Standing in front of the crowd with the backdrop of a mud-covered body newly excavated from the ground, Odin says that everyone should be more careful when playing hunt the hooker. In just one scene, Preacher makes it abundantly clear who the monster in the swamp is and Hayley sells Quincannon’s horrid detachment with subtle poise.
So magnetic is the meat man in this episode, that he pulls the show’s central trio closer together. Tulip is actually on hand when Quincannon addresses the men in the woods, looking on with fury at their disregard for the dead woman, and there’s no immediate answer as to why she’s hanging around the Quincannon men and the brothel at all. Is she muscle? What the hell is going on here? Later on in the episode when Jesse decides it’s high time he actively use his power to command others for the betterment of Annville, he shows up for a scene in Quincannon’s office, casually helping paint tiny model figures while he tries to coax Odin into coming to church on Sunday. Why is Jesse so comfortable with Odin? Monster Swamp never directly answers these questions. We find out that Tulip’s mother worked at the brothel, hence why she’s both hanging with the madame and protective of the employees. We also see glimpses of her shared past with Jesse as children outside the church previously overseen by Custer’s father, and we hear a bit about Odin’s pappy and his ruthless business practices.
Where this sort of vague storytelling has frustrated in past episodes of Preacher, the calm viciousness and shifts between apparent sociopathy and humanity in Quincannon keeps the episode centered. Take when a local councilman urges Quincannon to consider a buyout from a larger agribusiness because Annville’s economy is shrinking. The councilman and his proposal are a blank--even more so later on when he tries to woo Jesse’s church partner Emily, aka the most boring character in AMC history--because we still don’t have much reason to care about Annville at all, but the town and even citizens like Jesse aren’t the point of the scene. It’s just there to reinforce what the cold open did: Quincannon is a beast. Peeing in the councilman’s briefcase and all over the agribusiness’ brochure is just another beastly act.
Delectable as Quincannon’s sinister presence is, it’s also frustrating to see the show continues to waste precious time. Almost halfway through the season, and Preacher is still spending painfully little time on the mystery of Jesse’s new power or even Jesse himself. Cassidy has some amusing moments with the cowboy-hatted fellows that attempted to kill him and take his power earlier in the season--they claim to be angels, which the vampire heartily scoffs at--but rather than developing character these scenes culminate in Cassidy conning them out of cash which he promptly uses on drugs and the brothel where he and Tulip finally, after four episodes, meet one another. Stylish and amusing, these scenes amount to little more wheel spinning.
The same can be said of pretty much every scene involving Jesse Custer. Flashbacks to his father disciplining him as a child and his need to get Quincannon don’t tell us a damn thing about the guy we didn’t already know. Jesse feels he has to be a preacher and that he has to do right by Annville. Why? Who the hell knows, here are more cryptic scenarios that reinforce what we’ve already covered ad nauseum in previous episodes. When Quincannon does appear in church and Jesse does indeed command him to serve Jesus Christ, Quincannon’s surrender is meaningful to the audience because we’ve seen him act in decidedly ungodly ways. The moment’s ultimately superficial, though, because his monstrous behavior doesn’t really seem to affect Jesse or anyone else in town. Does anyone Annville care that the hunted girl died at the beginning of the episode besides Tulip? Does anyone even know about it? And what, if anything, does Quincannon have to do with all these supernatural goings on? Absolutely captivating performances of frightening characters be damned; this show still doesn’t have a soul.