‘Preacher’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 1, Episode 7: ‘He Gone’
AMC’s Preacher follows small-town Texas pastor Jesse Custer, his former partner-in-crime Tulip, and a foul-mouthed Irish vampire named Cassidy as they attempt to find God in a godless world. Matt Wilson, a devotee of the Vertigo comic series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, and Elle Collins, a returning parishioner with a dose of skepticism, are checking in to see what they find on the dusty trail in ComicsAlliance’s new recap series, Gospel Truth.
This week’s “He Gone” depicts an attempt at a nice dinner gone awry, a meeting between Jesse and Quincannon that goes awry, and a flashback that, well, it goes awry. The episode was directed by Michael Morris from a script by Mary Laws.
Matt: It had to be on purpose that we got Cassidy complaining (even more) about The Big Lebowski not having a plot on what was essentially a plotless episode, didn’t it? That was a funny, shared joke with the audience, right, Elle?
Elle: Yes, I think Cassidy’s rant about how the line “it’s not supposed to make sense” is just an excuse for lazy storytelling can only have been a meta-commentary on the arc of this first season of Preacher. It’s good to know that the show is on the same page with us and acknowledging its faults. Makes me feel much better about the shapelessness of this episode and what I thought were some pretty clunky revelations that it contained.
Matt: Well, let’s talk about those revelations. And portents. There were two direct nods to the comic in this episode, both of which were twists on two of the most memorable lines in the series. First, there was Jesse’s dad’s advice to a young Jesse that “you gotta be one of the good guys, son, because there’s way too many of the bad.” It plays out similarly to the comic --- it happens just before John Custer is killed --- but there are some differences. Here, it’s just a couple random goons who do it rather than John’s in-laws. And Jesse prays for it to happen, because of some stuff that happens with Tulip.
Oh, right, Tulip and Jesse knew each other as kids, too. That’s different.
Elle: That whole thing about Jesse praying for his father to die just seemed clumsy and unnecessary to me. Can’t Jesse feel guilty about sending a troubled teenage boy to Actual Literal Hell without it resonating with something from his childhood? In general, the handling of Jesse’s father and Jesse’s relationship with him has never quite worked for me this whole season. The show seems like it’s trying to set up his dad as the source of the morality that Jesse wants to live up to, without letting Jesse’s dad actually be a moral person. I find it confusing.
The direct involvement of Tulip in that story doesn’t seem particularly necessary either, but I guess it does help us understand their relationship in the present, and why she has such a weird sense of loyalty towards him, even if it doesn’t necessarily extend to respecting his choices?
Matt: It also gives them more of a sibling relationship, which is... strange.
The other quote that gets brought up here is “until the end of the world,” which in the comic is Jesse’s declaration of romantic love, but here is something Tulip forces Jesse to say as a solidarity-among-kids thing. It’s a baffling choice to me, and kind of robs the show of one of the purest and best emotional beats of the comic. I’ve let a lot of changes slide --- because adaptations should maintain the spirit of the source material rather than repeat the story beats without question --- but that one I just hate.
Elle: That’s a good point. I had forgotten how important that line was to them in the comic, so it didn’t affect me one way or another hearing it in a different context, but I can’t disagree that it seems like an unfortunate change.
Matt: In general --- and especially in this episode --- I’ve gotten the sense that the mantra of the show is “more church, less history.” Jesse’s dad in the comic is a bartender who jokingly tries to give Jesse liquor to make him go to sleep, but he’s also a pretty decent guy who imbues Jesse with a certain type of John Wayne morality. Here, he’s a preacher, so Jesse’s a preacher. It feels like there’s more A-to-B connections.
I hope (and suspect) that Tulip and Jesse’s relationship will deepen as we see more of their pasts, but the decision to make them childhood friends who become siblings of a sort (for a short time)... I just don’t know what to make of it.
Elle: It’s weird that this is the exact same thing people argue about all the time regarding Barry and Iris on The Flash series? I don’t know what to make of that, but it’s an odd coincidence.
But speaking of the backstory we learn in this episode, the exact connection between Eugene Root and Tracy Loach probably shouldn’t have been surprising, but it kind of makes me feel gross about his whole character. All season it seems like we’ve been set up to feel sorry for Eugene because of how everyone treats him, and now we find out that he shot a girl in the head for refusing to go out with him? Maybe he could just stay in Hell?
Matt: It’s a really big jump from the comics, too. I don’t know why suddenly I’m all a big stickler for the comics this time around, but I feel like this episode was the first time things really took a bad turn away from them. The reason Arseface (and he is almost called that here, just nearly) shot himself in the comic was because he loved Kurt Cobain and figured he’d go out like him. Perfectly acceptable for the 1990s. Of course they couldn’t do that on a 2016 TV show, but making him an attempted murderer is nearly character breaking. Why is he not in juvie somewhere?
Elle: They totally failed to explain that.
Matt: I assume his dad being the sheriff has something to do with it, and maybe there’s more to the story, but that one thing definitely made me turn on Eugene in an instant.
Elle: On the subject of things that seem drastically different from the comic, Cassidy came off like a surprisingly sincere voice of morality, or at least ethics, in this episode, which I did not see coming. He even let himself burst into flame to finally get Jesse to listen to him, which I thought worked pretty well, but it definitely took me by surprise.
Matt: He goes full martyr on him. It was an example of how everything in this episode felt a little off to me. Or at least topsy-turvy. Quincannon reneges on his bet with Jesse, or forgets what happened to him at the church, at least. Cassidy’s sacrificing himself to make a point. Tulip’s making dinner. The sheriff is downright meek. And Jesse’s verging toward totally unlikable. Everything feels weird. And there are all these anticlimaxes. The ominous loudspeaker from last week is used, but to no real plot end. We don’t even see the result of Cassidy’s big sun show. If the goal of this episode was to make me feel uneasy, off-balance and confused, then mission accomplished.
Elle: I’m right there with you. Everything felt wrong, but narratively it didn’t really give the impression that the profound wrongness was a deliberate choice. And Jesse is going to have to make some strong moral (or at least interesting) choices pretty soon for me to be at all invested in him as a protagonist as we head into the climax of the season.
Matt: I did like the moment at the very end where he pulled up the floorboards and was basically begging for Eugene to “come back” using The Word. I think that may mean some of his behavior (like telling Emily that believing in him was stupid) is a facade.
And maybe one of the showdowns coming up in the next episode or two will turn him around. There’s the immediate one: Quincannon shows up at the church at the very end with a bulldozer and an army of employees, including a reenactment-ready Donnie.
Elle: Yes, I’m definitely ready for next week to start with this big confrontation, and my hope is that it will get things moving and they won’t stop for the rest of the season (only three episodes to go, after all). I do hope we get an explanation for Odin’s reversal, which surely we will. And in any case, after this episode, I’m ready for some real action.
Matt: These last two have been relatively quiet. I kept trying to label last week’s episode as a bottle episode, but this one probably fits that bill more closely, in that nearly everything that isn’t a flashback happens in or around the church. And while that has the potential to be really cool, I don’t think they pulled it off here.
So I’m there, too. Bring on the bulldozin’.