Preacher Season Finale Review: Call and Response

If the stunning Preacher finale teaches us anything, it’s “careful what you wish for.”

This Preacher review contains spoilers.

Preacher Episode 9

As it turns out, the opening shots of Annville are more like parting shots of a place that will soon cease to exist. The seemingly idyllic town depicted in these postcard-pretty images stands in stark contrast to what we know about Annville, though. Put another way, In Star Wars, when Ben Kenobi described Tatooine’s Mos Eisley spaceport as a wretched hive of scum and villainy, he could have just as easily been referring to Annville, the sort of place that is—or was—the antithesis of Norman Rockwell’s small-town America. Annville was bursting at the seams with enough sin and depravity to fill ten Mos Eisleys. All of this is a moot point now of course, given that the shit literally hit the fan, effectively wiping the town—and residents, guilty and innocent alike—off the face of the planet. 

But until that moment, Preacher delivers a finale worthy of a show that, week after week, has consistently delivered ingenious action and well-developed characters. “Call and Response” seeks to tie up lots of loose ends (Carlos and the fate of Jesse’s church among them) even as it sets up Preacher’s second (and longer) season.

In the meantime, let’s talk about Sheriff Root, who reveals he’s smarter and cannier than we might have first believed. Given that Annville is a small, backwater town, one might underestimate its local constabulary. And I admit, I was guilty of this, too. But in this episode, we’re presented with someone who isn’t so much the local law enforcement as he is a man desperate to find his missing son. In what seems like some pretty good deductive reasoning, Root finally pieces together the truth about Cassidy and his strange fashion habits. W. Earl Brown is very effective in this scene, conveying a dusty, sun-bleached kind of weariness that speaks of a man who has seen too much and yet understands so little of the world. In an episode full of great lines, Root utters this fantastic bit of dialogue that is a terrific summation of this season: “Vampires. Government agents. Psychopathic preachers. It’s all an unmitigated monster swamp.”

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Cassidy is pretty sharp himself, though. And while he may find himself at Root’s mercy (as well as at the mercy of an all-knowing manila folder stuffed with case files dating back at least a hundred years), he isn’t afraid to ask some tough questions, even if it means getting under the sheriff’s skin. Throughout the season, it was clear that Eugene had a way of getting under everyone’s skin—especially his father’s. And if you’ll recall, it’s this same knack for rubbing people the wrong way that got him banished to Hell in the first place. So Cassidy isn’t wrong to point out the irony of Root’s sudden concern for his “arse-faced” son, whom the local media has dubbed a “local freak.” Cassidy gets a gut-full of bullets for his trouble, but by now we know he’ll bounce back from this relatively minor trauma. (He’s sort of like Wolverine in this way, minus the adamantium.)

One might expect that Jesse coming face to face with Carlos would be the finale’s biggest moment. It’s definitely more emotionally satisfying than the finale’s two other big moments (meeting one’s maker being one of them). These scenes with Carlos aren’t necessarily important for the season, but they’re crucial to understanding the literal love lost (and now regained) between Tulip and Jesse. All along, we’ve been led to believe that Tulip has been nursing a broken heart. But Carlos’s betrayal caused her to lose more than just Jesse—it cost Tulip her baby, too. The most painful thing about this is that Carlos betrayed them not because of greed, but because of jealousy and spite. The pettiness of this is the stuff of true pathos; and yet, despite all that she has lost, Tulip can’t allow Jesse to pull the trigger. I’m glad he didn’t, to be honest, despite the preacher’s bleak assertion that he was going to Hell anyway. It’s the thought that counts, Tulips says. And while this is meant as a reassurance, it’s still troubling to consider how close Jesse comes to killing Carlos.

Compared to these harrowing scenes with Jesse and Carlos, the moments with God don’t quite pack the same emotional heft. I think this is deliberate, given that the congregation has been duped by someone who turns out to be a man upstairs, rather than the Man upstairs. Jesse sees through the smoke and mirrors, much the way Dorothy and company saw past the curtain in The Wizard of Oz. The philosopher Nietzsche once famously posited that God is dead, but in Preacher’s case, God is missing. But is he AWOL, or merely on a sabbatical?

There’s something to be said about the subterfuge, though, given how desperately the people of Annville need miracles to save them from themselves. We see this on Linus’s face when the would-be God insists that the entire congregation is saved. The bus driver’s face beams with hope in that moment of hoped-for salvation. This is especially true of Odin, who, in the wake of his family’s death, embraced the one true god—the god of meat. He may have turned his back on the Almighty, but for a few brief moments, he is a true believer in Heaven. Once the curtain is pulled back, the effect a godless universe has on the town of Annville is immediate and seemingly irreversible. The resulting anarchy results in suicides and mercy killings. In the moments just before the town’s methane-powered reactor melts down, we see Odin cradling a Grade B ground chuck baby swaddled in his dead daughter’s clothes. This scene is both oddly touching and deeply disturbing—which is Preacher in a nutshell.

As for what to expect next season—the finale does a pretty good job of wiping the slate clean. While I love the unholy trinity that is Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy, I do hope there are a few survivors. Either way, I’m excited for next season. AMC did a fantastic job with this show, delivering a new series that retained the spirit of the source material even as they took the characters in new directions. Considering the comic was once thought inadaptable for television, this is a minor miracle.

Some closing thoughts:

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There were many great throwaway moments in this episode. One of them is the salon sign that declares, “God is coming! Bikini wax 50% off.” Another is seeing Donnie Schenck reading Dian Fossey’s Gorillas in the Mist. At the same time, I was a little surprised by this kinder, gentler Donnie. I’m not against character growth, but Donnie’s transformation from merciless to merciful came to us after the fact. This isn’t to say that Donnie is incapable of change, but considering he was positioned as one of the show’s antagonists, actually seeing this change of heart would have made his harboring Jesse more immediately believable. On the plus side, we get more of Jamie Anne Allman’s Betsy Schenck. She delivers a performance in this episode that is both vulnerable and laced with the right amount of hellfire. Again, Preacher in a nutshell.


4.5 out of 5