Monday, July 11, 2016

REVIEW: 'Preacher' - Jesse's Guilt Over What Happened to Eugene Consumes His World in 'He Gone'

AMC's Preacher - Episode 1.07 "He Gone"

Jesse's actions alienate and endanger those closest to him as we glimpse into his past and finally learn the root of all of his guilt.

Preacher hit new creative highs in last week's episode with its elongated fight sequence in the hotel room. That moment showed just how strong this series can be. All of the action beats have been exceptional so far. And yet, "He Gone" doesn't feature any kind of fight scenes. The closest it gets is when Tulip is parkouring her way into retrieving her uncle's pants from some mischievous kids with bikes. However, "He Gone" isn't a huge lull in the overall season either. It has purpose and it didn't need action to punctuate what the characters are feeling right now. This hour needed to devote as much time as possible to Jesse dealing with the consequence of sending Eugene to Hell. That was an action that simply couldn't be underplayed. It solidified the dark path Jesse is on with his newfound powers. And now, he needs to deal with all the repercussions of what he has done all in the vein of being a good guy.

At its heart, Preacher has been a show about Jesse battling his good versus bad impulses. He wants to fulfill a promise he made to his father and be a good preacher to Annville. He has wanted to save this town from damnation. He wants to change their hearts and let them see God in all his glory. That's his simple mission. And now, he has been given a shortcut to such an inspiring vocation. Genesis allows him to tell his followers to do whatever he wants. He was able to build a congregation for the church because he got Odin to see the error of his ways and return to God. That lighted something new within Odin that Jesse is only now coming to understand. But that gave him the confidence necessary to force his will onto others. Sending Eugene to Hell does affect him on a deeply personal level. And yet, the only meaningful action he takes is in delivering a simple and short homily instead of issuing a mass redemption for the entire town.

This season has struggled quite a bit in making Annville a place worth saving. Why would Jesse want to protect this place and the people who live here? So far, they all seem crazy and demented. But the citizens of Annville haven't been all that memorable either. The most fascinating characters of the show are the ones who don't have any strong roots or attachments to Annville. Tulip and Cassidy are just here for their own selfish interests. They would hit the road immediately if the situation called for it. "He Gone" does allow for some more nuances from the community of Annville though. Emily sees that Jesse has changed and has gotten darker and more twisted for some reason. She's still a character defined by being in the dark on so many things happening on the show. But her trying to reach out to Jesse's humanity by saying that she was saved by his presence is a sweet moment. It does nothing to change Jesse but it's sweet nevertheless. The same can also be said of Sheriff Root. His role on the show has largely been in service to Eugene. He's the father taking care of the kid ostracized by this community. He had no reaction when Jesse got the town to forgive Eugene. But more importantly, Eugene was one of the true believers of what Jesse is preaching. And now, he has disappeared and the sheriff just wants his son back. It's a more personal note for the character that is very welcome.

Jesse isn't able to just not talk about what he did to Eugene either. It's a very smart decision to reveal that Cassidy was listening in on the entire conversation Jesse and Eugene were having last week. He saw what Jesse did to Eugene. He banished him to Hell and still just opened the doors for the service to begin. Jesse needed to be called out for his horrifying actions. It is surprising that Cassidy essentially becomes the voice of reason. He's the wise-cracking, good time-having vampire laying low in Annville and enjoying the trouble that he's not directly responsible for. It's strange that he has the moral superiority over Jesse. And yet, that's exactly what's happening. It's definitely an easy move for the show to make. Cassidy knows about Genesis and the powers it now gives Jesse. He is the only other person who knows the truth. Tulip doesn't even know Jesse can make her do whatever he wants. That's an important detail. She's still holding out hope that they'll run off together to go kill Carlos for betraying them. She's attempting to blend into this normal life Jesse is trying to build. And yet, she's not capable of such normalcy. She doesn't know how to cook a meal that is worthy for dinner at the church. But she does so anyway in order to blend in. She wants to be there for Jesse. But she is still capable of calling him out on his reckless and dangerous behavior.

But again, it's Cassidy who is forced to confront Jesse about what he did with Eugene. That does allow the show to provide some valuable insight into the past of these characters. It's not particularly surprising to learn that Eugene was in love with Tracy and shot her and himself once she rejected him. Though that does open up the question of why he isn't in jail or a mental health institution right now? Meanwhile, it's significant that the show finally delves into Jesse's past and the promise he made to his father. His father was a devout preacher but he wasn't always a good man. He took Tulip in for a little while but still cast her aside to child services simply because her last name always signals trouble. It's because of that action that Jesse prays for his father to be killed. And then, he is - right in front of Jesse. That's what's driving Jesse's desire to be good. He still feels responsible for his father's death and wants to honor that last moment promise he made. That's why he is so committed to saving Annville. No one in the town is desperate for him to come in and change things. Religion doesn't work like that. But he is here anyway and making a big difference. But he's forcing these people to change. They aren't coming to that decision on their own. And now, Jesse can no longer hide from that truth.

Jesse is realizing just how literal his word is being taken. He told Odin to "serve God." That's a cryptic message that could mean anything. Odin has taken it as a motivator to do better in this world and no longer embrace the mediocre way he was running his business. That makes him more ruthless than he was before. Before that day in the church, Odin was simply a shrewd businessman who found it difficult to get excited about anything. Because of Jesse though, he is excited once more. And now, he is passionate about taking Jesse's land and is willing to do anything to get it. That final image of the Quincannon people coming to destroy the church is a very effective tease for next week's episode. It also comes as Jesse is questioning the state of his reality. He is desperately digging to find Eugene. He needs him to return to make everything whole once more. But he can't do that. It's a little weird that Cassidy forces that feeling of guilt within Jesse by showing himself off as a vampire. That's a moment that needed to happen. These characters need to understand just what each other is capable of doing. It's a chilling image to see Cassidy on fire in the open sunlight just to get Jesse to accept his reality as it is and not the fantasy he believes God has delivered onto him. It's meaningful that the show doesn't tell the audience what happens to Cassidy. Did Jesse put out the fire? Or did he let him burn? Those answers will have to wait until next week. However, it's clear that Jesse has some repenting to do while also rebuilding the few friendships he actually has in this world - all while trying to protect his land and his church.

Some more thoughts:
  • "He Gone" was written by Mary Laws and directed by Michael Morris.
  • Tulip put vanilla extract in all of her cooking to give it that special ingredient to really make it stand out. Unfortunately, that really ruined the meal - especially when whatever she had in the oven started on fire.
  • Tulip is just in Annville for Jesse. She doesn't care what happens to her uncle. But it was still a sweet moment to see her with him on the front steps of his house as the rest of the neighborhood is judging him as the town drunk.
  • How serious are we suppose to buy into the Jesse-Tulip-Cassidy love triangle? Tulip is still completely into Jesse. She doesn't care about Cassidy at all. And yet, he has really fallen in love with her - which is way too soon after their one hookup. Though it still feels like it's setting up a bombshell reveal for Jesse once he learns what happened between his friends.
  • It really is a great running joke that Cassidy has such strong contempt for The Big Lebowski. Here, he goes on a rant about it with Emily on how the plot is too nonsensical to work. Hmmm, is that perhaps a meta-commentary on this show as well?
  • It was also nice to see how far back the Jesse-Tulip friendship went. They have really cared about each other for a long time. But when she is taken away from him, he is running to stop the car from taking her away while she is stoically looking straight ahead already coming to terms with what has happened.