This review contains spoilers.
Preacher, on the surface, isn’t really a fit for AMC. It’s going to be controversial, if it’s not already. There’s no way a show like this can avoid courting controversy. The language and situations have been toned down. However, that hasn’t been detrimental to the show; if anything, not being able to lean on profanity and scatological humor has helped the show be a little less juvenile while still being true to the source material. Sure, there are things they can’t do, but there are a lot of things that they can do, and in some cases, implied violence works much better than showing actual violence. On a show where people die horribly, the ability to do funny violence makes all the difference between a black comedy and a snuff film.
Preacher has been putting on some of the best displays of comic violence that I’ve ever seen on television. Fiore and DeBlanc, from their first appearance, have been a spectacular vehicle for slapstick, like an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon made out of real people. This week’s episode makes great use of that comic violence, as they go from explaining just what Genesis is to Jesse Custer to being trapped in a knock-down, drag-out fight with one of the seraphim in the form of a blonde woman from the diner. She’s introduced, the two angels beat her viciously, she dies, and then she reappears as the angels and the preacher flee in his pickup back to the Sundowner. Unfortunately, Fiore leaves his keys behind.
That sets up what is one of the highlights of the episode. Fiore and DeBlanc explain just why killing angels is a bad idea—they come back pretty much immediately—so the best option with the seraphim is to restrain it. Of course, to restrain it you have to keep from killing it, and over the next few minutes, Fiore, DeBlanc, and the seraphim die dozens of times in dozens of different ways. They’re shot, stabbed, smashed with hammers, clawed, or killed by a late-arriving Cassidy. Director Guillermo Navarro really makes the violence funny, and stylish. Jesse is reclining on a pile of corpses by the end of the fight scene, and the part where the camera pans from the hole punched in the wall back into the room next door while all we see through the opening is running and screaming and blood splatter is a thing of beauty. We see just enough to know what’s happening, and it adds a little extra style to the scene to keep the violence from becoming repetitive. It’s like if you combined The Three Stooges with Evil Dead‘s never-ending supply of corn syrup.
However, the scene culminates with Jesse using the Voice on DeBlanc and Fiore, telling them that they can never go near him again. Surely they’ll find a way around that at some point, or the instructions will be corrupted. That’s clear now.
Even when the results are positive, such as when Eugene asks Jesse to have him forgiven and suddenly finding himself with friends, it’s not always good because it’s not earned, it’s given. That’s an interesting tack for the show to take, and writer Nick Towne makes Arseface’s scenes really work well, because you can feel just how much Eugene wants friends, and yet how unsatisfying it all is because he knows that it’s not his doing, it’s the preacher’s doing. It might not be quite like he’s thinking, but… I’d imagine after Jesse’s outburst, he’s going to know that something weird is going on. The surprise trip to Hell will definitely wipe the smile off of his face.
It’s a weird thing Preacher has been able to do. A one-note joke character is now one of the more relatable characters on the show. It’s still profane and violent, but somehow also much more mature than it has any right to be. Most of the female characters have been hookers, and yet Tulip and Emily are both strong characters from completely different worlds without succumbing to ‘token strong female bad-ass’ tropes; Tulip is a bad-ass, but she’s also really good with kids and emotionally vulnerable; Emily is both a good mother and a strong churchgoer, but she’s also really a woman with lust and the occasional bad habit.
Preacher displays some degree of thoughtfulness, buried beneath all the pulp trappings. It’s not quite as smart as it could be, but it could be a lot worse. There’s always room to develop more of an intellectual bent once the show gets tired of piling up angel corpses like the body wall at the Battle of the Bastards. Until then, Preacher remains a whole lot of fun.