How Sinful Is Preacher’s Third Season?

Preacher’s third season has been a catch-22. Preacher purists will dislike it because it’s strays too far from the comics, whereas I think it’s too faithful because I don’t find the comics to be the unimpeachable masterpiece that everyone else does. (Now it’d be a horse of a different color if this was a televisual Transmetropolitan.)

Eccarius

Fans of the comics have been looking forward to the show finally getting to the pivotal Angellville arc, & they’re probably disappointed. I, however, was not enamored of this arc in the comic (despite it being somewhat inspired by Wild At Heart). Jesse taking out his abusive family is the culmination of his origin. With The Word, his vengeance ought to be swift. To stretch it out to five issues, Garth Ennis decides that Jesse Custer’s power inexplicably doesn’t work on the Angelville crew. If God could protect them from Genesis, why is he so afraid of Jesse wielding it? Also Madame Marie has Jody fridge Tulip in front of her grandson right after she was incapacitated in the prior arc, which doesn’t say much for her value as an independent character. God quickly resurrects Tulip in an effort to appease Jesse that backfires, so it makes God look like an inept adversary. Why not smite Custer instantly after this gambit failed? Madame Marie also claims the L’Angelles are part of a divine bloodline, which implies Jesse’s maternal lineage biologically destined him to be the host of Genesis.

Because this arc is a formative cornerstone of Jesse’s story, the TV show decided it was important enough to stretch it out across a whole season rather than dash it off in the 2.5 episodes a slavish adaptation would last. The result is somewhat meandering. To make this work they needed Jesse powerless for almost the whole season. This is power has been a double-edged sword for the series overall as it’s a big selling point that makes everything absurdly easy for The Preacher. Jesse being unable to access Genesis because The Grail has a piece of Jesse’s soul, however, is a step up from the comics as far as plot contrivances go.

The TV show changed Jesse’s dad from a bartender to a reverend to the chagrin of readers. In the comics, Madam Marie was the one responsible for his religious upbringing. Since Jesse was essentially brainwashed into being a reverend by his abusive grandmother, it didn’t make much sense that he’d keep dressing as one after he’s empowered since it’s not as if it’s a superhero costume. He’s not Batman scaring his enemies by dressing as what traumatized him. By linking Christianity to a positive aspect of Jesse’s past that he wants to live up to, it actually justifies the conceit of the title.

Between Reign’s adoptive mother on Supergirl & Madame Marie L’Angelle, Betty Buckley is getting typecast as toxic moms. (Colin Cunningham & Jeremey Childs are also well cast to flesh out her redneck henchmen, TC & Jody.) The show still could’ve kept Madam Marie as a Christian fundamentalist trying to mold Jesse into a messiah, but I guess they figured The Grail already had that covered. Instead they gave her magic, which makes her battle against her grandson less one-sided. Thankfully they don’t insist her sorcery is Voodoo, as Faustian deals aren’t a necessary part of that syncretic religion. Gran’ma L’Angelle resurrecting Tulip puts her semi-honorable grandson in her debt with the additional insurance policy that the women’s lifeforces are now linked. She wants Jesse to act as barker/ringmaster (with a hat he got from Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) for her zombie fights as a way to draw in more rubes who’ll default on their delicious souls. (Did Cassidy also make a blood compact with her in exchange for the love spray?) It doesn’t seem like she necessarily needs him for this, but we see she’s punishing him for desertion & is more codependent than she lets on. Her soul extractor has a nice old-timey contraption aesthetic.

Her petty personal villainy contrasts with The Grail’s grand impersonal villainy, which has more forward momentum. Herr Starr continues to be cursed with being the smartest person in his organization in addition to a new obscene scar. The bullimic Allfather is not a boss who engenders loyalty. Jesse is correct in calling out The Grail’s nuclear apocalypse scheme as bog-standard terrible. Its parade of ill-fated Humperdoo clones are a reminder that unlimited resources & perseverance are dangerous. Jesse freeing the Humperdoo clones was a clever way of negating The Grail’s scheme to use him as a unique messiah without killing them all himself. As much as I was looking forward to Herr Starr pushing The Allfather out of a helicopter onto Humperdoo, exploding him like a gorier Mr. Creosote was a fun substitute.

Comics Les Enants du Sang was Ennis’s unsubtle way of saying “Interview With The Vampire drools; Near Dark rules!” It was part of the zeitgeist that superficially mocked Anne Rice’s vampires for being melancholy bisexual dandies (meanwhile it seemed like every vampiress in fiction had Sapphic inclinations) whilst ignoring that they were still murderous parasites. I was puzzled why the show bothered including them since even lambasting Twilight is passé. The TV show subverts this by moving beyond the easy joke of goth poseurs. Eccarius isn’t a laughingstock because he wants to be Lestat; he’s terrifying because he is Lestat.

Where Preacher really excels at is in its zaniness. Instead of being a very serious prestige show, it’s a freewheeling fun as possible. It’s not as experimental as Legion, but it has a similar ethos for stylish visuals. Much like Happy!, the dark comedy is superb.  Arseface discovering the crater that once was Annville is followed up by a stay in a Texas orphanage boasting “Prices Low! Make us an offer!” Cassidy reassembles himself out of a cardboard box with a paper slicer for a hand. When Eccarius flies Cassidy around it looks like cheesy green-screen out of the ’78 Superman. Horse tranquilizer tolerance beats Catholics with sunlamps! Jesse hallucinates John Wayne to inspire himself to somehow explode the coffin he’s submerged in! Animated diagrams appear to illustrate Tulip’s plans to sabotage the bus to Hell. It must be extremely flattering for Mark Harelik to learn God looks just like him. Eccarius can turn into a talking cat! Scoring a melee with Warren Zevon is a always wise choice.

I am incredulous that Necco Wafers are anyone’s favorite candy, let alone Tulip’s. The armed rapscallion dons a blonde wig evocative of her comic counterpart for a con job. Forcing her to team up with Featherstone, the woman who pragmatically killed her, makes for for some crackling drama. (She also works a Grail uniform well.) She loses points for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by eventually telling Sydney the Angel of Death that Featherstone isn’t who she’s after. (In keeping with its humanist themes, the divine beings on this show are even more inept than the mortals.) It’s supposed to make Tulip more likable but makes her look foolish instead. Arseface accidentally diming her out would’ve sufficed. It’s unclear why God only mind-controlled her once after she stopped being dead.

The pacing for this season has been awkward. (Harping on this seems redundant since it afflicted so many TV adaptations this season.) It doesn’t help that Arseface, Hitler, & Saint of Killers are prominent in the opening title sequence yet are absent for the first 3/4. Meanwhile large looming Jody is left out. While the beginning of the season was (stalled in the most entertaining way possible), the story kicks into gear towards the end. Separating the three leads increases the tension while giving them all something noteworthy to do.

I was expecting Hitler walking the Earth again would lead to more topical satire ala Look Who’s Back, but he & his new Neo-Nazi followers are an afterthought. They’re mostly there just to attack the bus to Hell so Tulip can have a fight scene & escape. Even if Hitler knew the route, it’s not explained how blue collar Nazis wearing inaccurate uniforms have speedy access to a functional American tank or why its weapons could affect a magic bus. After the Saint of Kills offs Satan (there’s also still no explanation why his guns can kill immortals), Hitler usurps power. If he hadn’t been dead for over a century, The Saint would’ve known to shoot him too.

Hoover gets the best line of the season: “I’ve been thinking I want to wear Miley Cyrus’s skin. Like a pelt.” I was excited to see that he bumbled upward into of becoming a vampire. He & Detective Tool are two black men cursed with bad luck & failure in the comics, so giving Hoover what could arguably be a win shakes things up. Awww … they killed poor Hoover just as he was getting competent!

When the season ended, at least it paid off big time in both action & character beats. Madame Marie’s new deal with Satan would somehow damn her grandson’s soul to Hell, which is not how contracts work. (Or could I have been selling others’ souls to Satan this whole time?) Luckily Jesse realizes that revenge is more important than that spurious legality. Angellville & its denizen burn! This is the counterpoint to DuckTales’ family propaganda. Arseface finally realizes Reverend Custer has done diddly squat to rescue him from Hell & is going to get vengeance along with The Saint of Killers. Tulip can confirm God is up to no good, which will radically reorient Custer’s quest. (There’s still no explanation why God doesn’t immediately kill recalcitrant Tulip & Jesse.) After he turns the tables on his deceitful ex-boyfriend, The Grail finally nabs Cassidy by literally raising the roof. With stylish hats forever denied to him, Herr Starr is ready to rain the wrath of The Grail upon Jesse Custer.  This is an exciting set-up for a fourth season!

So this this the part where I’m supposed to sum the season up? I don’t really have a summation. It made the most of a questionable set-up, but I don’t want to damn it with faint praise. Even at its most strained, it was never unwatchable or boring. Oddly most of my qualms with the season were with the source material itself rather than the deviations. Despite its flaws, I still find Preacher to be rollicking good TV, & I would like more of it!

I belatedly found out Hap & Leonard was cancelled by Sundance TV despite it being its top rated show, & now I am livid. (If you haven’t seen all three seasons yet, you need to do this. Can we get a streaming service to resurrect it like The Expanse?) Now I’m worried its sister network AMC won’t renew Preacher either. (They would’ve made a great double act on the same channel. My Preacher season two overview was my least read post of last year. Will history repeat itself with its third season equivalent? I guess you’ll decide!

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