I’ve spent the last nine weeks wondering why Season 4 of Preacher felt so hollow. I’ve cited plot contrivances, separation of characters, and gratuitous violence, amongst others. But I think, with “Overture,” I finally cracked it.
At the beginning of the episode, I felt my mind start to wander, wondering where my passion for Preacher had gone. The opening felt like it was just going through the motions. Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy felt bored. Humperdoo, Jesus, and Hitler just felt blasé and drab. Starr at least elicited a smile from me, and Mark Harelik continues to kill it as God, but there was still something missing. Around the halfway point, Preacher snapped me back to attention, and with it came a new understanding.
Preacher has lost its teeth.
“Overture” begins with our main trio reunited for one last heist: break into the Grail HQ and kill/rescue Humperdoo. There’s some light drama around Cassidy and Tulip sleeping together, but it’s quickly brushed aside with some intriguing word choices. Meanwhile, Humperdoo has been returned to Masada and is welcomed as the rightful messiah. Jesus and Hitler seem quite displeased with this development. God meets Humperdoo in the dressing room as Herr Starr sets up a show for the end of the world
And that’s before the opening credits even roll. It’s already clear that, like the past few weeks, we’re going to be operating at a break-neck pace.
Cut back to Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy as they hitch a ride into Masada, courtesy of Cassidy’s angel friend and his demon lover. Once again, there’s some brief drama, this time confirming that Genesis is the child of said angel and demon and cool, that plot is done, throw it away. Starr officially unveils the end of the world countdown clock, offering a single hour of comedians, musicians, and entertainment broadcast to the entire world before utter annihilation. There’s a bit more building of the relationship between Jesus, God, and Hitler. Also, Eugene decides he wants to be a rock star in a rather odd but heartfelt moment.
Then things slow down and Preacher’s issues crystallize. God starts to fight back against our heroes, and “Overture” gets good. It’s mean, it’s messy, it’s edgy, and it’s everything I missed. Our main characters fighting against a singular established antagonist. And at the core is genuine emotion.
God promises Cassidy a return to Ireland if he turns over Jesse. Cassidy would be released from his life as a vampire, granted a final end. God uses everything we know about Cassidy to create a moment more emotionally gripping and tense than the usual orgy of violence that has made Season 4 so drab.
God offers Tulip a way to prevent the apocalypse: simply remain calm for one minute. It starts simple, with name-calling and character assassination before cutting right to Tulip’s vulnerabilities. He killed Tulip and Jesse’s unborn daughter, and he can’t even remember why. Tulip breaks and God forces her to the side. Preacher made God scary again after weeks of impotently poking fun at religious figures.
Lastly, there’s Jesse. God offers Jesse nothing, but shows him the betrayal of his friend. Cassidy, ripped apart on the floor in an upsettingly casual manner, confesses. God knocks Jesse out and offers Cassidy blood. Blood that we could easily assume was Tulip’s.
The blood was not Tulip’s. And while it doesn’t undermine the impact of the scene, it does underscore my point. The violence Preacher loves so much works better when it is enacted upon people you can identify. When you know the body you just saw get eviscerated, it makes the ultra-violence work. And the bodies used to be people we know. Characters from Annville, Cassidy’s son, Tulip herself. But now it’s merely faceless goons who get slaughtered, offered up in place of someone with impact.
This toeing around the line doesn’t just stop at the violence either. Earlier seasons of Preacher loved taking religious symbols and public figures then slandering their identity. Season 4 does away with any biting commentary, instead opting for mild caricature. Jesus feels impotent, idly sitting by on the sidelines, not doing anything to disrupt. Hitler no longer feels like a mockery, but rather a moderately mischievous soul. Everything that allowed to show to shine has been pulled back in favor of trite ultra-violence and lip service to its previous edge.
“Overture” concludes with Jesse and God meeting once again. God continues to try and coax Jesse into using Genesis. Jesse, clearly overcome with the fear that Genesis won’t work, refuses. By the time he finally relents, he turns away from God to cry for help, hoping to summon the Saint of Killers. The Saint’s arrival, however, isn’t all Jesse hoped it to be. It seems God has gotten to the Saint at some point as well, though when and to what extent is yet to be fully seen. If ever, given that there’s only one episode left.
A lot happens in “Overture” and there’s a lot of questions left. Hopefully, we’ll get more details on the Saint and God. I’d like to see a satisfying conclusion for Tulip and Cassidy. I can’t imagine getting a lot more out of the Featherstone/Starr plot that started this episode —she’s regretting her actions, Starr meant to make the apocalypse far more selective, but his plans got waylaid. There’s not a lot there. Unsurprisingly, the only real question I have left is about Jesse.
Is he God now? His conversation with Tulip and Cassidy had an almost divine air to it, as Jesse stated his forgiveness and love for them both. It felt similar in tone to a church minister professing that God loves all His children. Obviously, Fiore and his demon friends want Jesse to be God, but this whole season has felt like conditioning. Perhaps God’s true test was to see if Jesse could take his place, not if he would. It would be an interesting twist for the final episode but given how many plot-lines have been discarded with little grace, I worry that I’m reading too much into events from past episodes.
We’ve got a single episode left and too many plot lines to finish in a single hour. Will we get a satisfying conclusion to any of them, or is this going to feel like more of the same rushed storytelling as the rest of the season? We’ll find out next week.