Tardy to the Party: Preacher

There are all sorts of parties: tea parties, costume parties, sleepover parties, Tupperware parties, gender reveal parties, birthday parties, enter-the-holiday-of-your-choice-here parties, murder mystery parties, Avon parties, housewarming parties…I could go on and on. I’m sure that as you read that list, you brightened up at some of those options (murder mystery party? I’m in!) and scoffed at others (tupperware party? Thanks, but no thanks). Different people like different types of parties, which is fine because there are so many kinds that everyone is going to be able to find at least one that he/she enjoys. And there’s no shame in admitting that a particular party isn’t for you, the rest of us understand. After all, there are certain kinds of parties that we don’t like either.

That pretty much sums up my initial impression of the TV series Preacher—this party isn’t for me.

I only vaguely remember coming across commercials for it, most likely during episodes of The Walking Dead (Sadly, on a side note, I’ve given up on that series. For me, it was always Rick’s story. When Rick left, I stuck around for the rest of the season but it just didn’t feel right). These ads proclaimed that this upcoming new show was based on a comic series, which is why they caught my attention. That fact alone made me want to like it. But for reasons I can’t recall, I ended up not even trying the first episode. Maybe I already had too many shows on my plate and I didn’t think I had enough time to add another to the lineup. Maybe I thought it looked stupid. Maybe I somehow forgot about it.

The character of Eugene had something to do with it, I’m sure. I’d like to think that I’m not easily offended, that I’m reasonably tolerant of entertainment that contains violence, sex, and gore (provided they serve a purpose and aren’t present just for the sake of being present). But Eugene… Well, there’s no nice way to say this. He has what looks like an anus where his mouth should be. His face is all puckered around it. Like, he looks like a butt with eyes and a nose. In fact, the character’s name is officially Eugene “Arseface” Root. I had no idea what his deal was, but I also didn’t want to find out. And while I’m certain that Eugene’s presence wasn’t the only reason I chose not to watch, he probably was the final nail in the coffin.

This was not a show I was interested in watching.

So I hope you’ll indulge me as I tell you the tale of how a party I had no intention of attending became the one I absolutely had to sneak into, even though everyone there was about to call it a night and go home.

It all began when I was on my grand two week summer holiday in England. During my travels I learned about the delightfully awesome 5th Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Spencer (if the name sounds slightly familiar, it’s because she’s the great-great-great-grand-aunt of Princess Diana, who was also a Spencer). Georgiana was a fascinating person—intelligent and articulate, author and scientist, fashion icon and political activist, gambler and heavy drinker—whose life was as tragic as it was exciting (if I’ve piqued your interest, you can read a lovely summary of her life. When I returned from my trip, I followed a friend’s recommendation and watched the movie The Duchess, starring Keira Knightly as the lady herself, to learn more about her. It was during this movie that I discovered Dominic Cooper.

At first, I didn’t think much of him. He was just another character in the movie I happened to be watching. And because he was wearing one of those ridiculous time period-appropriate wigs that was occasionally accompanied by an equally ridiculous hat, it was difficult to get an idea of what he really looked like (I can’t with those wigs…they totally change a person’s face). It was only during some pillow talk with his lover, when his silly wig was off (hopefully balled up and thrown on the floor, cast aside in a moment of passion) that I got a good look at him.

He looked familiar. I’d seen him before.

But where?

I wracked my brain for a while but was unable to place him, so I eventually succumbed to my frustration and IMDBed him. He’s been in a bunch of things most other people probably would’ve recognized him from: he played a young Howard Stark in both Captain America: The First Avenger and Agent Carter (neither of which I’ve seen; I’m not a big Captain America girl and though I was interested in Agent Carter, I never got around to watching it before it was cancelled), he was Sky in both Mama Mia! movies (definitely not my cup of tea), and he played Ian Fleming in the Fleming miniseries (which I probably would’ve watched since my mom is a huge James Bond fan, but I must’ve missed it).

None of that helped.

What caught my eye was a project near the top of the list. He played Jesse Custer on Preacher.

Although I wasn’t a fan of the show, I assumed I knew him from the commercials advertising it. Still, I wanted to make sure. As luck would have it, the final season of Preacher had begun a few weeks prior, so the next day I decided to watch an episode to see if he was the guy I thought he was.

I tuned into season 4, episode 4, “Search and Rescue,” not really intending on paying too much attention to it. I was just waiting for Dominic Cooper to grace the screen with his presence long enough to confirm my suspicions. Now, I’d never read the comic, and I’d certainly never watched an episode prior to this time, so it wasn’t surprising that I was completely and utterly lost when it came to the colorful characters, strange locations, and twisted insanity that was the plot.

Still, I decided to watch the following week.

And the week after that.

And the week after that.

I’m not going to lie—picking up a show over three-quarters of the way through is not an easy feat. I had to figure out who was who, what was going on, and why the hell Jesus was meeting with Adolf Hitler. But I loved it. This wonderful mess that I stumbled into (a mess because I came in near the end, not because it was an actual mess) easily won me over and kept me coming back for more. Until I reached the final episode, and there was no more. And without spoiling anything, I think the very end of the season finale was simple and dignified. Beautiful, really.

But as late as I was to this party, I found comfort in the fact that I could go back and experience the series from the beginning.

The pilot episode of Preacher begins like a B movie—with special effects of questionable quality. Somewhere in space a bright light shoots across the screen, a flickering white ball with a shimmering tail trailing behind it. Is it a comet? A meteor? Whatever it is, it’s headed to Earth. It proceeds straight to Africa, at which point its appearance changes to resemble some kind of spirit. This smoky white cloud enters into a holy man who explodes shortly thereafter, leaving our strange space ghost screeching as it flies away.

This is Genesis. We don’t learn its name (or what it is) for a few episodes, but since I started watching the series at the end, I already know it.

That brings us to our trio of main characters.

First we meet the hard-drinking, chain-smoking preacher of the title. Jesse Custer (played by Dominic Cooper) wearily rolls out of bed, gets dressed, and hikes down a long, dusty driveway where he carefully rearranges the letters on his church’s sign to deliver an appropriately holy message, replacing the obscene one local hooligans had graciously left for him. This is followed by Jesse delivering a God-awful (excuse the pun) sermon given to a near empty congregation. Awkward and soft-spoken, he’s obviously trying. And he’s not doing such a good job. Even so, the people of the town come to him with their problems big and small (mostly small and annoying), and Jesse does his best to counsel them.

Next up—Cassidy (played by Joseph Gilgun). He’s boozin’ and taking drugs while entertaining a private plane full of what are presumably high rollers. Everything is going great until he makes a trip to the bathroom and accidentally stumbles upon the Holy Bible that resides within the cabinet where the anti-stink spray is hidden. Kinda weird, but whatever. It’s only when he flips through the book and sees that it’s full of psychotic-looking notes that it becomes significant. His expression betrays both some kind of recognition and a whole lot of determination as he exits the loo and returns to the party. It’s not long before a full-out brawl ensues, complete with unlikely weapons (why did these guys bring a crossbow, a spear, and a sword on a plane?) and fire. Afterward, his enemies smote, Cassidy fills an empty liquor bottle with blood, grabs a large black umbrella and a pair of sunglasses, and jumps out of the plane sans parachute. Don’t worry, he’ll survive. It turns out that he’s not human. I’ll leave you to discover what he is and how he manages to (eventually) walk away from the big ol’ dent he puts in the Earth’s crust.

Finally, there’s Tulip (played by Ruth Negga). Although we meet her singing softly to herself as she gets out of the shower, the flashback that follows is our true introduction to the badass who is legally named Priscilla-Jean Henrietta O’Hare. It begins with an epic fight in a car as it speeds driverless through a cornfield…and it only gets better. After Tulip is able to climb into the driver’s seat, she pulls over and puts an end to the man who was trying to kill her. When she looks up and realizes that a pair of young siblings (the older sister proudly proclaims that she’s 10…and she’s in charge) have witnessed her act of self-defense, and gets a notification that more bad guys are on the way, she flawlessly slips into a fun, big-sister type gal. Using several convenient ingredients she spots in the yard, Tulip has the children help her build a homemade bazooka before stowing them safely in the storm cellar to protect them from the impending explosion.

A few scenes later, we find Tulip sitting in her car, lying in wait for Jesse. It turns out that the two used to be literal partners in crime, and their uncomfortable exchange betrays the fact that they were romantically involved as well. Tulip’s come to town in order to convince Jesse to join her on another job, but she’s unable to persuade him to return to his former way of life. Jesse is seemingly determined to stay on the straight and narrow path he’s chosen, despite the fact, as she puts it, “I hear you suck at it.”

In a sense she’s right; he sucks at is the actual preaching part of the job…but when it comes to ministering to his flock, that’s another matter. He listens carefully to what each and every person who seeks his advice has to say, actually listens, and crafts thoughtful responses to their concerns. This is never more evident than during his conversation with Eugene (the character I mentioned in the beginning of the article), who he visits after leaving Tulip. Eugene (played by Ian Colletti) hasn’t been attending church because his father doesn’t think it’s a good idea for him to be in public, and fears that what he did (we won’t find out what exactly that is for a few episodes) was so bad that God can’t forgive him. He seems like a sweet, self-conscious teenager, who genuinely regrets whatever it was he did, and Jesse is patient and kind towards him. He assures Eugene that God is there for him, even as his own doubts about God secretly torment him.

Following his emotionally draining interactions with Tulip and Eugene, Jesse understandably heads straight to a bar. Cassidy also happens to wander into the same establishment and tries to chat the other man up. Jesse rebuffs his attempts at small talk so Cassidy gives up and leaves him alone. Enter the town tough guy, who has a bone to pick with the Jesse. He’s looking for a fight and does everything he can to goad the quiet, thoughtful man into a physical altercation—he insults Jesse, dares him to prove that he’s as dangerous as the stories about his past claim, and goes as far as getting a few punches in. But Jesse keeps his cool until tough guy threatens to beat his son for confiding in the preacher. That’s something Jesse simply can’t tolerate. Thus begins another impressive brawl that pits Jesse against tough guy and his 3 (4? Maybe 5?) cronies. This is when we find out that the stories about Jesse (which we, as the audience, don’t really know yet) are true. He’s an excellent fighter and dispatches all the men with little effort, and a touch of pleasure, plus a minor assist from Cassidy near the end.

The brief stay in jail that results from those violent delights involves some male-bonding between Jesse and Cassidy, the beginning of a friendship that will play an important role in the rest of the series. After being bailed out, a disillusioned Jesse returns to his church ready to quit and leave town, but gives God one more chance to speak to him before he does. He truly wants to have faith, he wants to bring his people to God, but no one is answering his prayers.

Enter Genesis. Literally. The ghostly presence flies into Jesse, knocking him out.

Three days later, he finally wakes up just in time to give his farewell speech at Sunday service. He learns that while he was unconscious Cassidy stopped by to check on him and ended up moving in. Apparently they’re mates (as in friends) now. In any case, Tulip, Cassidy, and a handful of townspeople attend what’s supposed to be Jesse’s last hurrah. But after making a heartfelt confession that he’s been a bad preacher, inspiration suddenly strikes and he changes his mind about leaving. He proclaims that from here on out he’s going to do better, he’s going to dedicate himself to his vocation and do everything he can to bring his congregation to God.

Little does he know, on his way to church that morning he accidentally used the power of Genesis (now residing within him, though he’s currently unaware of this fact) on one of his parishioners with…um…unexpected results.

The episode ends with the arrival of two mysterious figures that have been popping up throughout the story. They’ve visited all of the scenes of exploding holy men—after the one in Africa, there was one in Russia, and we hear about a famous person exploding in California on a TV playing in the background. Now they’ve arrived in Annville, Texas, and they’re approaching Jesse Custer’s church.

There are two main reasons why I enjoy Preacher as much as I do, neither of which has anything to do with Dominic Cooper’s immense attractiveness (though I have to admit, that certainly doesn’t hurt). The first is the fight scenes. Preacher is violent, make no mistake, but its carefully choreographed, sometimes completely insane violence is the kind that requires a great deal of time, effort, and skill to pull off. I once read the movie 300 described as a “ballet of blood,” and that phrase came to mind as I watched this show. That’s not to say that the fight scenes in these two works are in any way similar, just that they’re incredibly well done in both. There’s a kind of beauty to the violence in them that I appreciate.

The second reason, the real reason, I fell in love with this show is infinitely more important—it’s the characters themselves. They all partake in traditionally “bad” behaviors to some extent (heavy drinking, drugs, violence, theft, and murder, just to name a few), but they’re good people. Or at least, they’re trying to be good in their own ways. Jesse is beat-down and disheartened, a former career criminal, but he wants to be a good preacher. More importantly, he wants to be a good man. Cassidy is a self-professed lazy, lying, cheating drug-abusing bastard. But he’s also a stand-up guy who’s completely devoted to his friends. There’s a specific example of this later in the season that I can’t mention here because, you know, spoilers. However I can say that Cassidy witnesses Jesse inadvertently do something absolutely terrible, and he unquestionably, unhesitatingly has Jesse’s back. There’s no judgement at all. His response is something to the effect of, “Don’t worry, mate. We’ll figure something out.” Lastly, Tulip is foul-mouthed and selfish and has a bad temper. But whenever her anger leads her to do something rash in the heat of the moment, she always tries to make it right. Of course, that’s not always possible, but she still makes an attempt to fix whatever it is she did and is ready to face the consequences if it can’t be fixed. These characters are smart, complex, imperfect individuals that are a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Preacher is a great show, but it’s not for everyone. If you have a problem with graphic violence, a bit of gore, some sex stuff, or what some might consider the blasphemous nature of the plot, you definitely need to steer clear of it. But if you’re looking for a new show to watch, something fresh and exciting, something unlike anything else you’ve seen, this might very well be the answer to your prayers…

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