What constitutes a bridge too far for an over-the-top show like Preacher?
This Preacher review contains spoilers.
Preacher Season 4 Episode 3
I’m not going to bury the lede here: I had a very tough time finishing this episode. I found it to be aimless, sadistic, and relentlessly ugly. So ugly, in fact, that I may be done with Preacher altogether. But wait, you might say. Didn’t you rave about this season’s first two episodes? Indeed I did, but I’ve come to my senses since then, and I owe it all to the aptly named “Deviant.” But more on my falling out with this show in just a bit.
As much as I like Cassidy, it’s hard to feel bad about his current predicament given his self-sabotage. There’s always been a subversive playfulness to Preacher’s relentless, over-the-top sadism, but Cassidy’s suffering is hard to watch. Worse, his almost-bottomless masochism is unfathomable. Sure, there’s regrowth from a vampire perspective. But from a character perspective, there’s no growth at all. It would seem that Cassidy’s predicament exists solely to deliver gross-out humor that’s just plain grotesque. I may have enjoyed the first two episodes, but “Deviant” lost me in its first two minutes.
But wait, you might say. Preacher has tortured Cassidy plenty of times, plumbing the depths of body horror and self-hatred before. Which is true. Preacher often revels in the many ways a body can be broken and rebuilt and broken anew. But now, in its final season, the show is leaning very heavily into how far it can push the boundaries of bad taste. Preacher would like to believe it’s being subversive, when in reality this kind of storytelling is sophomoric. Worse, it casts doubt on characters’ motivations, if their confusing behavior exists mostly for laughs. But is this a reason to give up on Preacher? No.
“Deviant” would have us believe that Cassidy’s heart is burdened by an act of cowardice from a hundred years earlier. By turning his back on a friend and fellow soldier in need, Cassidy essentially damns himself to unending regret. While this makes sense in an abstract sense, introducing this important bit of Cassidy’s backstory now so late in Preacher’s run only grinds the narrative to a halt. Knowing more about Billy would have sold this more, but Cassidy has never mentioned him, never even alluded to him. Billy only matters now because his death is meant to justify Cassidy’s voluntary imprisonment.
This flashback to 1916 Ireland also affords Cassidy an origin story that comes straight from the pages of the Vertigo comic. While I appreciate this nod to the source material, I’d rather Preacher keep the plot moving. But as we know, Preacher likes to linger in a setting, whether its Denis’s shabby New Orleans apartment or Angelville’s gothic environs. Yes, this is because of budget constraints, but Masada is getting old real fast. Again, is this a reason to call it quits with Preacher? Again, no.
Any issues I’ve had with “Deviant” up to this point can’t compare to how loathsome it is that Preacher suggests a street-smart child would value money over personal safety. This very notion of a child somehow flourishing in such a harmful, depraved environment both saddens and sickens me. In light of so many real-world atrocities in which children are routinely victimized, that Preacher would tread here so cavalierly is abhorrent and reprehensible under any circumstances. Worse still is killing this same child with a stray bullet. Again, given real-word events, this is inexcusable.
After everything Preacher has thrown at viewers over the years, this, for me, is finally a bridge too far. That a similar moment exists in the comic is immaterial, especially because Preacher’s creators have a penchant for riffing on the source material, usually to much better effect than in “Deviant.” How ironic then, that in the very next scene, Grail Agent Hoover 2 praises the great value of “moral clarity.”
I could get into Tulip’s nonsensical storyline, but why bother? If the show’s creators don’t care that her ruse could so easily be discovered, why should any of us care? As much as I love Ruth Negga, these scenes in the infirmary are interminable. Which is a shame, because Tulip deserves better than this, and so do we.
So it should go without saying that I didn’t care much for Hitler in this episode, either. The character lost his novelty long after he escaped Hell. Jesse has the chance to rid the world of a malignant evil, but he just can’t be bothered to see it through.
All in all, Preacher is populated by aimless, morally deficient people who seem to celebrate their wanton depravity. To that end, to borrow a line from Tulip herself, “Some people just can’t be helped.”
Unfortunately, some shows can’t be helped either.
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