My god. Something actually happens in the sixth episode of (opens in new tab). It’s enormously exciting, an incident that has a bonafide, measurable effect on our principal characters Jesse, Cassidy, and even Tulip. Jesse’s power finally sets events into motion that have all the markings of a real plot. There are forces, grand, terrible forces that are forcing the good reverend Custer into action. For the first time in six hours of television, Jesse Custer actually does something rather than waiting for something to happen to him or whinging about a congregation of faceless randos out of some some unspecified, barely interesting sense of filial piety. And then, shockingly, he doesn’t stop doing things and he makes a terrible, utterly miserable mistake. This is a Preacher worth watching, and while it’s infuriating that it took this long to get here, the new found focus is profoundly welcome for the faithful (or the reviewer) that have been following along all summer.
Sundowner picks right back up where (opens in new tab) left off, with Jesse coming face to face with the angels that have been trying to get at that pesky omnipotent force living in his lanky Texan body. Turns out Jesse’s secret power is Genesis, and no it isn’t the long lost prog band fronted by Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, though Cassidy briefly confuses the two. What’s been letting Jesse bend souls to his will is actually the child of an angel and a demon, a secret entity that’s been hidden from the forces of eternally warring heaven and hell by these two awkward angels. While they don’t know how Genesis escaped or why it chose Jesse as a vessel, they do insist that he can’t go around using it because it’s the most powerful thing in all creation and it’s only going to draw attention of horrifying, supernatural powers. Like the unkillable soccer mom seraphim that shows up to kill Jesse and his new informative pals.
Why this meeting of the minds didn’t take place in the second or third episode of the show is absolutely beyond me. When you’re doing some freaky story about vampires and car thieves and brooding men of the cloth, you have to actually help define the world for your audience. Preacher spent half of its ten episode season twiddling its thumbs and making wise cracks between halfbaked scenes of characters trying to sound cool. Here in just the first ten minutes, it establishes real stakes for its lead character--all the forces of creation want his power and no one knows how truly powerful it is--and motivation to take action. Jesse has to actually survive and use Genesis to do good on Earth, to live up to the ill-defined father he’s been mumbling about up to this point.
Sundowner sets up almost too many fantasy rules: kill an angel and it resurrects on the spot, special angel phones that call heaven only work for angels, Genesis has to hear a special song it likes to leave Jesse, etc. Great fantasy thrives on lean logic, and while this episode of Preacher could have gotten bogged down in all these world building details, it’s too swift and full of purpose. When the aforementioned big bad angel shows up to take down Jesse and Genesis’ former caretakers, a mad brawl breaks out at their motel. They need to restrain the soccer mom seraphim because if they kill it it’ll just resurrect in a new body and keep coming at them. Problem is it’s insanely strong and has to be responded to with equal force. By the time Cassidy shows up to help in the melee, the room’s destroyed and covered with a mound of identical angel corpses. It’s ugly, it’s riveting, it’s hilarious and scary all at once. What’s more, it’s brought two characters together to save each other’s lives; Jesse and Cassidy actually have good reason to be friends at last, and right after Cassidy slept with Tulip in the last episode.
Action! Excitement! Peril! Emotional and subtle conflict between characters with differing but related motivations! Preacher gains all the things that have been absent in just the first half of a single episode. Even Tulip and Emily gain some much needed character time. Tulip shows up at Emily’s house in what seems to be an insane jealous rage but what may actually just be a ploy to try and get Jesse to help in her revenge quest. She busts into Emily’s house, breaks things and tells the Anneville church organist to stay away from her man, but when Emily calls her out for being an insane jerk Tulip helps clean up and the two bond. They bond so well, that Tulip even offers to help get the big Sunday sermon set up while Emily takes care of her kid. Their time together brings back the Tulip last seen in episode 3 (opens in new tab); she seems like a crazed loose cannon, but all her crazed activity just lets her tell Emily about Jesse’s wild past and gives her an excuse to get closer to Jesse, helping him see over this church like he thinks he has to. When Tulip hints that she used to have a kid of her own and can relate to Emily’s struggle as a single mom, it’s impossible to tell if she’s revealing a tragic past, if she’s playing this small town woman Jesse seems stuck to, or both. Ruth Negga plays it all with aplomb.
Unfortunately, Dominic Cooper can’t quite live up to the standard she sets, vacillating between the decisive badass with an overwhelming ego who think he’s doing the will of the lord and an unlikable nutbar at the end. The central conflict that emerges in Sundowner is actually a fascinating one, and it should have been established in the show ages ago: how can Jesse be so sure he’s doing god’s will? The poor Annville mayor, cleaning up Odin Quincannon’s disastrous choices from last week, shows up as Jesse prepares the church for his biggest Genesis-fueled sermon yet and asks, “How do you know it’s God?” He wonders aloud how Jesse can tell the difference between the almighty and just the usual voice in his and everyone’s head. Between Cassidy’s questioning Jesse earlier--as they share beers hilariously in their underwear post angel brawl--the mayor’s words, and Eugene’s catastrophic confrontation with Jesse at the end of the episode, the preacher doesn’t know anymore. He knows heaven, hell and his power are real, but his faith that his deeds are righteous are crushed. The script here delivers this excellent character work, but Cooper doesn’t and it’s still impossible to really like Jesse because the way he’s played is so inconsistent. One second confident, the next an unhinged jerkus, with no continuity between the two.
Maybe Cooper can find his footing in the character before the season ends, because the writers certainly have, and the deliver a vicious moment at the end of this episode that gives Preacher a molten, emotional core. Throughout Sundowner, we catch up with Eugene whose life with an arse for a face has gotten a whole lot better since Jesse used Genesis to forgive the boy for his past mistakes. He has friends, he has peace in his world, but not the inner peace he’s been so desperate for because, as he says to Jesse, having inner peace just handed to you is cheating. When Jesse loses his temper and uses his power rashly, the results are absolutely shocking. Last week I accused the show of not having a soul. Preacher is even further afield from its source material after this episode, but it’s found its unique heart and seemingly its purpose. Now it just needs to keep delivering.