‘Preacher’: The loneliness of Arseface, a stand-in for humanity’s best qualities and a punching bag for its worst instincts

The only times Eugene "Arseface" Root "sinned" was when he tried to commit suicide and when he shoots Jesse in the back. Both times, his punishments far exceed his crimes. His character is the rockstar we never paid heed to


                            ‘Preacher’: The loneliness of Arseface, a stand-in for humanity’s best qualities and a punching bag for its worst instincts

Now that the dust has settled after the 'Preacher' finale,  it is finally time to pay ode to Eugene Root (Ian Colletti) aka "Arseface". Over four seasons the characters on the show, good and bad, were deeply flawed and they all indulged in every manner of "sin" -- from lying to murder -- even the supposed good guys Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), Tulip O'Hare (Ruth Negga) and Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun).

The ordinary townspeople of Annville were also not nice, decent or kind. All except one -- "Arseface" Eugene Root (Ian Colletti). Wrongly accused of murdering a girl Tracy, his subsequent suicide attempt leaves him with a mouth that looks like an arsehole and a speech impediment (he is the only character on the show that got his own subtitles).

After that, he becomes the constant object of ridicule, disgust and even anger for "not finishing the job". Over four seasons, people take one look at his face and treat him like garbage. The irony was that behind that ghastly facade, Eugene was the most moral and decent person on 'Preacher'.

He is a stand-in for the best qualities of humanity and becomes the punching bag for humanity's worst instincts. In the beginning, Eugene believes he deserves his suffering. He thinks he is being "punished" by God.

However, the only times he "sinned" within the framework of Christian morality, was when he tried to commit suicide and when he shoots Jesse in the back. Both times, his punishments (lifelong disfigurement for suicide and jail time in an Australian prison for shooting Jesse) far exceed his crimes.

In comparison, others on the show who kill, maim, lie, cheat and deceive each other, from the three main leads to Herr Starr (Pin Torrens), one of the main villains for much of season 3 and 4, there are no consequences. This should be enough proof for Eugene that the universe (and God) is not fair. Yet, he believes. His biggest flaw is his faith. 

Across four seasons, Eugene went on a journey that mirrored the one Jesse was on. While Jesse wanted to "know" God, Eugene wanted to know God's plan for him. He is so confident of this that his piety is downright annoying at times. If God really wanted love (rather than mind games and power plays), he would have come to Eugene, not Jesse.

Ian Colletti, who plays Arseface, in an AMC interview said Eugene has "always been a character whose defining trait is his desire to do the right thing". For most of the show's run Eugene puts up with the way people treat him because he believes that it fits in with "God's plan" for him and it is "right".

But by season 4, that faith has been shaken because he finally realizes he is not responsible for the bad things that have happened to him. Colletti explained: "I think it’s about that realization of maybe he doesn’t deserve the horrible things that happen to him and maybe there are other things at play and other people responsible." 

Back in season 3, when he escapes Hell and sees his town has been destroyed, he thinks there is a greater plan in place because he didn't die like the other townsfolk. But by the end of season 4, he is finally free of this expectation.

It takes two terrible encounters to get him there. In the penultimate episode of 'Preacher', a priest comes to visit him in prison. When Eugene asks what God's plan for him is, the priest replies, "What’s his [God's] plan for someone like you? Comic relief? Cautionary tale? Appetite-suppressant. Or maybe he doesn’t want to think about it anymore. Mistakes were made. Best forgotten kind of thing." Then, after another spot of bad luck, he ends up in the hospital and a "well-meaning" doctor all but performs assisted euthanasia to put him out of his "misery". 

Eugene finally has his breakthrough moment and tells the doctor that while he has had a shitty life, it is people around him with their sympathy and their disgust that was the shittiest part. He is no longer content to be an object of pity and is finally convinced that he is not to blame for his lot in life.

He goes back out in the street to busk and belts out a rock number that captures his angst. In the end, he is rewarded with a few coins. It is a small moment but it is a start. We can always imagine Eugene, the oft-ignored character, will finally be recognized for the rock star he is.

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