Annville, Texas is your average backwater town, filled to the brim with those looking to save themselves through their religion. They go to church most Sundays, confer with the local preacher, and generally look to God. They also fuck, kill, and beat each other regularly.
Annville, Texas is the hometown of preacher Jesse Custer.
Jesse Custer left Annville for a time. He went with Tulip O’Hare to spread the mindset of Annville: To fuck, to kill, to beat, and, as an added bonus, to rob. At least, until a bank job went wrong costing Jesse and Tulip their relationship, as well as their unborn child. Annville is where Jesse Custer returned, hoping to fulfill the wishes of his father and save the town from damnation.
Annville Texas is where a boy was sent to Hell.
Eugene “Arseface” Root made a mistake. He told a girl he loved her. She blew half her head off with a shotgun but lived in a vegetative state. Eugene responded in kind, placing the shotgun in his mouth. He lived as well, but with severe damage to his face. The scar tissue around his mouth earned him the nickname Arseface.
Annville, Texas is home to Quincannon Meat and Power.
On the ground level of Quincannon Meat and Power is the butcher floor, slaughtering cows for their meat. The methane run-off from the cattle is used to power an underground generator that generates electricity for the whole town.
Annville, Texas is where Genesis finds its host.
Genesis is the child of an angel and a demon. It resides inside Jesse Custer after causing several other holy men to explode. It is wanted for escaping from Heaven and is pursued by two angels, Fiore and Deblanc. It grants its host the ability to compel anyone to do anything with but a word.
Annville, Texas has been utterly destroyed.
Annville was torn to pieces in an explosion caused by a build-up in the methane reactor, plus a stray spark from a cigarette. The build-up was caused by an inattentive employee after the town had a startlingly honest phone call with Heaven.
God is missing.
Annville is gone.
There is no change. Just destruction.
Preacher starts with a metaphorical quest to find God. Jesse Custer has returned home to Annville, Texas and is looking for a way to reconnect with his church and his God. Over the course of the first season he becomes best mates with a vampire, gains a power that allows him to control the will of anyone he desires, kills angels repeatedly, sends a boy to hell, and blows up the entire town. At the end of the season the only real difference is Jesse’s goal is now literal, as he aims to find the missing God. He rolls out of Annville with a few new friends but without truly changing. Jesse leaves the same way he went in: impulsive and demanding answers.
Throughout the series we see flashes of Jesse’s past life. He’s always shown as impetuous, reacting first and thinking later. He lives his life as if nothing outside of those who are immediately close to him matters. He gets what he wants and doesn’t take no for an answer. He’s not afraid to do what it takes to see the results he wants.
Jesse returns to Annville alone. His life had gone south, and it was time for him to return to God and fulfill his father’s wishes. His congregation is small and disinterested, as is Jesse. His sermons are lacking, thrown together out of a sense of obligation rather than love. He wants to find God but is unwilling to commit. He wants the answers to come to him.
Then Tulip, his lifelong friend, lover, and partner-in-crime walks back into his life. Jesse claims he’s a changed man, looking to find the truth and answers through peaceful, patient means. Violence and revenge will not solve anything. Tulip calls him a liar, saying people don’t change; people can’t change. The tone is set for the season.
The first time we see Preacher smile, he’s in the middle of a bar fight. He’s alone and outnumbered and seems to be loving it. His old self is coming through. His true self.
Not long after this fight he comes into possession of Genesis. With but a word, he can force change onto anyone he wishes. Jesse assumes this is the voice of God, granting him the power to save those around him. If someone has a problem, he can solve it with a single phrase. If someone is questioning the lord, sinning or coming to Preacher with problems, a simple utterance can convince them of the correct path, no matter the consequences. It’s the ultimate power for the man who needs everything done instantly and a marvelous shortcut to help him save the town. It’s a shortcut that leaves the results hollow and without true meaning.
Eugene Root has spent months living with the repercussions of what happened the day he attempted to take his own life. The town believes he tried to kill a girl he loved. In truth, she made an attempt on her own life, with Eugene following suit. He lives with the guilt and understands the town’s hatred. He works every day to improve his image in the eyes of Annville, working for forgiveness from everyone. He often turns to the preacher, hoping for advice and consolation. But with Genesis, Jesse takes the opportunity to solve the issue once and for all. The girl’s mother has no choice but to bend to Genesis’ power and forgive Eugene, easing the burden upon him and sending ripples of acceptance throughout the town.
This did little to quell Eugene’s guilt, however. He found himself wracked with even more frustrations as the town accepts him back before he is ready to accept himself. He wanted to earn forgiveness, not have it thrust upon him. He was soon back with the preacher, asking Jesse to undo what he had done. Jesse had assumed the matter closed, and instead responded in frustration, lashing out and using Genesis to send Eugene to Hell.
In the final few episodes of the season, Jesse starts to come to terms with the power of Genesis, recognizing that the forced sudden changes are starting to have disastrous consequences. Quick solutions are not helping in most cases, leading to a myriad of issues. The final blow of understanding arrives when Tulip brings their previous partner Carlos into town for Jesse to kill. Jesse, feeling there aren’t many other options, goes outside, fully prepared to kill Carlos, but is stopped by Tulip. Working with Jesse over the past weeks had softened her ideals, and she was coming around on the idea of forgiveness, though not without thoroughly beating Carlos.
Throughout the season, we get occasional reminders of the methane plant. Often, we see the exhaust pipes, occasionally we see the main console. While these of course serve as a reminder of the power system before the eventual payoff, they also work symbolically. We see the exhaust pipes release a burst of methane as the episodes end or a problem has been buried. The pressures that Jesse has brought to the town have been released in these moments, pushing back the doom he will eventually bring to Annville. When we see the console, we recognize that, though the release lowers the pressure, it’s never enough. We never see the pressure gauge fall to the green, merely slide back a few notches at best.
The call with God brings the pressure to critical mass. As the call concludes, we learn God has gone missing, and no one is running Heaven. Some accept this truth, finding solace in their lives. Most fall to chaos, opting to fall to their vices and their own mental collapse. Preacher falls back into his old ways. It’s no longer time for patience and prayer. Jesse demands answers, and he’s willing to kill, hurt, and break whoever or whatever he needs to in order to get them. His growth was undone in an instant. All that he had learned, up in smoke with the town as the methane releases in one final, explosive blast.
Oftentimes, the ideas of change and a return to a simpler time, one of innocence, is summarized in the phrase “you can’t go home again.” Preacher exemplified this idea, returning Jesse to his hometown just to be met with misery. He strove to change himself into the ideals of his father, returning to the innocence of youth, before the killing and crime began. He forced change upon his hometown. The pressure of change symbolically and literally rose within the town before Jesse’s departure, leaving nothing in his wake.
There was no change. Just destruction.