Sunday, July 31, 2016

REVIEW: 'Preacher' - Jesse Calls God to Church to Get Some Answers in 'Call and Response'

AMC's Preacher - Episode 1.10 "Call and Response"

It is the day the entire town has been waiting for, as Jesse tries to follow through on his promise to get answers from Heaven.

This has been a wildly inconsistent first season for Preacher. The comic book series has long been herald as un-adaptable. Its extension of tone and horrifying imagery makes it difficult for any adaptation to put on the screen. The show did a solid job of embodying the spirit of the comic without needing to recreate it panel by panel. And yet, it has been a very frustrating season as well. Moments worked incredibly well. The core trio of Jesse, Cassidy and Tulip are fantastic characters. Whenever the show did an action sequence or an over-the-top, completely ridiculous moment, it worked phenomenally. But then, it focused on the residents of Annville and it just meandered. It was difficult to care about a lot of things that happened this season or things happened for no understandable reason whatsoever. It felt like the show has building to a big revelation in the season finale. Unfortunately, it's now clear that this season was just a whole prelude to the story the show is actually interested in telling. That comes with its own host of issues.

There are a number of really fantastic moments in "Call and Response." But there are many problematic ones as well. Those moments show that the season was really stretching things out. It's as if the creative team liked the final image of Jesse, Cassidy and Tulip heading off on a road trip together to find God while being pursued by the Cowboy too much as the ending of the season. The start of this finale really does meander a whole lot. At first, it's a little disorienting too. It feels like a couple of scenes or an entire episode was missed between "Finish the Son" and "Call and Response." Last week, Jesse and Cassidy were reunited and Tulip had left town to take care of Carlos by herself. But at the top of the finale, Tulip has returned to Annville to discover that Jesse is living peacefully with Donny and Betsy while Cassidy is being held at the police station being questioned by Sheriff Root. It's a weird place to start the episode. And none of it has a whole lot of value either.

The glimpses of Jesse and Tulip's past have been important this season. They flesh out this shared tragedy between them. Jesse was forced to kill a security guard after Carlos left them and took their score during a big bank heist. It's a moment the season has gone to a couple of times always adding a new detail to the tragedy. Now, it's revealed that Carlos left because he was jealous of Jesse and Tulip's happiness. That in turn caused Tulip to lose the baby she was carrying. It's completely ridiculous and just feels weird. Tulip didn't need to miscarry her child in order for that betrayal to have the necessary emotional weight. It heightens why she is so desperate to kill Carlos. But that motivation worked perfectly fine all season without needing to know about the child she lost. So, it's weird and manipulative to bring it up now. Sure, it's thrilling to see Jesse once again accept who he really is. He doesn't believe he can kill Carlos. But then, he decides to do it because he's already going to Hell. That's all Tulip really needs to see from him. That glimmer in his eyes that he is still the man she loves. They have fun in beating up Carlos and not killing him. But it's also a sequence that lasts way too long.

Similarly, Cassidy and Root have a conversation in lockup because the finale needs to give both characters something to do for the first half of the episode. It doesn't work because Root has been so inconsistently written all season long. W. Earl Brown has been wonderful in his portrayal of the character. There just hasn't been a whole lot of value or importance with him throughout the main story. Eugene is important. Root is connected to Eugene. But that's about it. He's desperate to know what happened to his son. And yet, he doesn't push Cassidy far enough to get the actual truth. That's surprising - especially considering he makes the connection of Cassidy being a vampire and pumps him full of bullets. That's a huge leap of faith the show wants the audience to just accept. Root hasn't always been the best at being a sheriff. It has never been a defining characteristic. So, it's odd that he is just able to come to that conclusion in a rational way while he is in this very emotional headspace. But then, he leaves just as soon as Cassidy provokes him enough to shoot him multiple times. Cassidy obviously hits a raw nerve. But then, nothing really comes out of that. Root lets Cassidy go so that he can reunite with Jesse and Tulip at the church.

When the action returns to the church, the finale really does start to perk up in energy and excitement. The season was building to Jesse finally being able to ask God about his questions and struggles. And that finally occurs. He is able to call God on the phone that the angels left behind. More than that, he is able to broadcast a video of God appearing before the entire church. It's a really miraculous and grand sequence. It's campy but in the absolute best way. It's so completely ridiculous that it actually works. That's because the show has delivered a season full of moments like this to prepare the audience for it. Jesse has questioned his purpose since being given Genesis. Why did God give him this power? And what is he suppose to do with it? The image of God is also very traditional. It's a white guy with a long white beard sitting on top of a throne. He answers the questions of the town citizens in generic ways. He promises that they experience tragedy to feel the full range of emotions while also saying that their loved ones are in Heaven with him. Jesse knows better. He knows that Eugene has been banished to Hell. That gives him the ability to recognize this facade for what it truly is. Through the power of Genesis, he is able to get this impostor to admit that God is missing and no one in Heaven knows what has happened to him. That's a completely ludicrous statement but one that really helps define action throughout the final portion of the season.

Jesse returned to Annville to uphold the promise he made to his father and to save the town's citizens. It's a mission he has struggled with over the course of the season. He has wanted to take shortcuts in order to bring salvation to the entire town. He brings God to church - literally - to get the people to see the error of their ways. Instead, they realize just how hopeless their lives really are. There is no man upstairs controlling everything. This life is all they have. That's depressing. But moreover, there are no consequences for their actions. Jesse essentially abandons the town after the service. Apparently, getting fries with Tulip is more important than helping the town during this incredibly difficult time. That's the work he would really need to do to save them. This reveal tests them unlike anything else. The town uses this information to run rampant with all of their worst impulses. They kill and cheat. It's a brutal sequence. But it also highlights just how incredibly pointless Annville has been as a central hub for the characters this season. All it takes is the methane from Quinncannon Meat & Power to reach dangerous levels for the entire town to explode. That's an incredibly bleak moment to end the season on. But what's the point? If characters like Emily, Root, Donny and Odin were just destined to die in the end, why did the season spend so much time on them? They each had their moments where it was fun to watch them. And yet, now it seems clear that it was all just a waste of time. None of them will be especially missed if it's true that no one in Annville survived that explosion.

Jesse doesn't seem to care about what happens to Annville either. Being there in that community was only important in that it brought him together with Tulip and Cassidy. That's it. And now, they go to a diner to have some fries and plot what their next step is. Jesse says it best when he tells them that they "will find God. If he needs help, they'll help him. If not, they'll kick his ass." That's a fun and dynamic way to end the season. It make it so exciting to see what happens next. But did the show really need to waste ten episodes with the events in Annville to really get to this point? Couldn't it have been truncated even further so that the core trio could hit the road and have a lot of fun on this journey? Anticipation is high to see what happens next - especially considering the Cowboy rises from the ashes of Annville to track down Jesse. But it hardly justifies everything that has happened throughout this season which makes the season as a whole incredibly disappointing.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Call and Response" was written by Sam Catlin and directed by Sam Catlin.
  • Eugene is basically the only person from Annville that Jesse won't forget about while embarking on this new journey with Cassidy and Tulip. He was personally responsible for sending him to Hell. But that's really the only thing he feels guilty about with what happened to this town in Texas.
  • It's great that Tulip punches Jesse in the face after he uses Genesis to get her to kiss him. Using mind control or any kind of manipulation for sexual favors is never okay.
  • Fiore returns from Hell but DeBlanc hasn't reappeared after being killed by the Cowboy. Plus, the Cowboy kills the Seraphim and she doesn't return. Does that mean the Cowboy has special bullets that kill angels?
  • Also, how lame was the Seraphim here? It was a chilling image to see Root discover and kill her in last week's episode. She was brought back to life whole again. And then, she did absolutely nothing in this finale. She existed solely to be killed in that final moment with the Cowboy.
  • Odin didn't believe Jesse would follow though on his promise to make God appear at church. But when it actually happened, he needed to know about his daughter. But how chilling an image was it seeing Odin embracing a pile of meat who he shaped into a human?
  • It would be in the realm of possibility that the show manages to resurrect at least one of the characters from this season in Annville for the future. Possibly much more disfigured as well. But that also seems like a lot of work. Plus, do any of them really need to return?
  • Now that the show finally seems to be hitting the story it wants to be telling, perhaps the second season will be exceptional better than the first. With 13 episodes, the next season will have more time to play and be experimental as well. It should be interesting to see what happens next.