Preacher Season 4, Episodes 1&2 recap and review: Plot struggles to find pace when main leads Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy part ways
The writers for Preacher's final season are aware that the end is nigh and the words "end of the world" are said twice before even the opening credits start.
A beer bottle pops open, a gun cocks, and a cigarette is pushed out sharply in quick succession before we see Tulip (Ruth Negga) light up as the world ends around her. The first few minutes of 'Preacher's' Season 4 premiere episode promise a fast, eventful ride to the finish line, with Tulip and Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) falling into bed and Jesse (Dominic Cooper) falling off a plane to his apparent death somewhere in Australia. But by the time episode 2 draws to a close, the crispness that makes the beginning so watchable is already missing. It makes us wonder how 'Preacher' would look like if Edgar Wright-esque sensibilities (Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver) were shaping the show's visual language in its entirety. The potential is there. Would it be a better ode to the show's explosive mix of horror, humor, profundity, and profanity?
Showrunner Sam Catlin, who served as a writer-producer on a 'Breaking Bad', however, is no stranger to well-crafted episodes. So, there are moments that shine out, mostly featuring the interactions between the three main leads Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy. The strength of the show lies in those moments when 'Preacher' realizes that it is essentially a three-hander where each of these three character's motivations, strengths (and weaknesses) are best illuminated when they circle, snarl, bitch and moan at each other within a close orbit. As soon as the characters part ways, the pace drops.
Unfortunately, the proxy pairings to replace this main, chemistry-fueled dynamic, be they antagonistic or sympathetic, pale in comparison. This is true for Kamal, the friendly Middle-Eastern motel owner, who is Tulip's partner-in-crime in her single-minded mission to rescue Cassidy after Jesse leaves her (again). And it is even more true for the now-tired Tulip-Featherstone feud that felt fresh only in Season 2. Back then, it was about Tulip's hunger for female friendship (and who can blame her) backfiring on her and Featherstone's contempt for this very vulnerability. But the emotional core of their rivalry has faded out almost entirely. Now it is all about trading punches, probability-defying bullets canceling each other out and car chases.
Back when we left them in season 3, Cassidy was in the hands of The Grail organization, now run by Herr Starr. Cassidy was to serve as bait to lure in Jesse Custer to the Masada, The Grail's desert stronghold and headquarters. Part dungeon fortress and part university campus, the Masada's interiors seem like an interesting place to potter around. Where else could you take lessons in 'Advanced Torture' and 'French Comparative Literature', while you sipped a cup of joe from, wait for it, Lazurus Coffee? Har-de-har. But there isn't enough time for that.
Instead, we get Cassidy's extended Jewish-themed torture at the hands of the villainous mafioso and guest lecturer, Frankie Toscani, who circumcises the self-healing vampire again and again and again as his students take pointers. At some point in time, this bonanza of foreskin finds its way on to Herr Starr's head to replace the ear that is shot off during the almost-successful rescue attempt by Jesse and Tulip. Why did the writers feel it was ok to refashion the discipline-loving, ruthless and coldly efficient Herr Starr of the earlier seasons into the overextended penis joke he is now? The only great moment he has is when he oversees the neatest execution in history when the New Zealand representative wants to set a date for when the heads of state will meet the Messiah, aka Humperdoo, who is now hopelessly AWOL among his many clones.
Cassidy takes his self-flagellating, self-loathing slump to new depths when he refuses to escape the Masada twice. The first time in Episode 1, when he bickers with Jesse, while he is being rescued, about the padre's obvious hero-complex, which turns into a fight about Tulip and their simmering sexual rivalry. The second time around, in Episode 2, he gnaws through his own foot to free himself, resists the temptation of drugs on the way to the exit, only to realize that maybe it would have been better to escape a little later in the day - maybe after the sun had set? Then, he is right back in the torture-loving hands of Toscani who has seen enough to zero in on Cassidy's guilt-complex and self-sabotaging ways.
And where is Jesse in all this? All in a world of his own, both mentally, and by Episode 2, physically as well. It starts well enough as he murmurs "I love you" to Tulip after the most non-gratuitous but visually stunning sex scene in the series, right at the start. But after the failed rescue attempt, Jesse receives his wake-up call through a surreal apocalyptic dream vision which features a life-exterminating explosion, a phonecall from dear old dead dad urging him to "find God", a murderous Herr Starr who morphs into Tulip who he then can't stop choking to death. Aah, symbolism.
But obviously, our man of action can't cool his heels anymore and off he goes to find a penis-shaped rock which is the key to life, the universe and how to save it from the increasingly Machiavellian moves of God. Over the length of Episode 2, Jesse's hero cape gets torn to shreds as his every little act of heroism backfires. By the end of the episode, he is off to Australia, penis-rock bound, having had enough of trying to rescue people. There is a moment of self-doubt about leaving his friends in the rearview mirror as he imagines Cassidy guilt-tripping him. But as the end moments of Episode 2 show, God's evil plan has accounted for every one of our Three Musketeers' actions.
The show's writers are so aware that this is the final season and that the end is nigh, that the words "end of the world" are said twice before even the opening credits start. The first two episodes make it a point to lay out the key plot points as quickly as possible with a lot of foreshadowing about - you guessed it - the end. After stuffing in the most important plot points in a few pivotal scenes, including the mostly ignored Saint of Killers and Eugene, there is plenty of time for foreskins, fart-burps by poop-eating dinosaurs and visual gags featuring the phallic. Sigh. Onwards to episode 3.