‘Preacher’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 1, Episode 4: ‘Monster Swamp’
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.
In this week’s episode, “Monster Swamp,” Jesse attempts to reel a big fish from the community into his church, Tulip unleashes righteous anger over a deadly accident, and Cassidy strikes a deal. The episode was directed by Craig Zisk and written by Sara Goodman.
Matt: This episode focuses quite a bit on Odin Quincannon (Jackie Earle Haley), the fourth-generation owner of Quincannon Meat and Power, which is in the process of taking over the entire town of Annville. He’s directly or indirectly involved in just about everything that happens.
Elle, are you surprised that he’s seemingly as big a part of the show as he is? In the comic, he’s the focus of just one arc, the one in which Jesse becomes the sheriff of the town of Salvation. He’s a crazed adversary who attempts to blow Jesse up, gets struck by lightning, and basically ends up being one big pervert joke.
Elle: My memory of the Preacher comic is that most of the villains are pervert jokes by the end. Come to think of it, that’s true of most Garth Ennis comics. But if the show is going to stay focused on Annville, it makes sense to have a major villain in that town, and Odin is as good a choice as any. I also recall that the "Salvation" arc was the point in the comic’s run when literally everyone reading it decided it was treading water, so they might as well cannibalize that story for whatever they want in the show, rather than ever trying to directly adapt it.
Also, Jackie Earle Haley is great in this part. He’s always excelled at creepy roles (his performance as Rorschach was one of the better parts of the Watchmen movie), and he does this thing where he’s intimidating without being at all physically formidable, which is exactly how Odin Quincannon should be. I just really hope there’s no giant meat lady. Is that a potential spoiler to even say that? Because I don’t want it to be.
Matt: I guess it’s a spoiler for the comic, but it’s one of the least exciting payoffs in the series, so I think it’s okay. Yeah, I’m totally fine with “Salvation” being only loosely adapted for the TV series. It’s the weakest arc in the comic by far.
Odin is slowly taking over the town, he somehow scandalized Jesse in his youth, and his employees are running roughshod. That leads to not only Jesse’s plot, which ends with him using The Word on Odin to make him “serve God,” but also Tulip’s, as she tries to get some justice for the death of a young prostitute who fell in a sinkhole during a city-spanning paintball game.
Elle: First of all, I really loved the cold open of this episode. The moody lighting, the forlorn Prairie Dog mascot, and then the reveal of the girl in her underwear running. By the time she fell into the sinkhole, I felt like I was watching a classic X-Files episode. Except of course that the X-Files would have revealed what caused the sinkhole by the end of the hour, and Preacher has no interest in doing that.
And secondly, I can’t help but think that Odin being forced to serve God is going to come back to bite Jesse like few other things could. After all, there really is a God in this world, and we can be pretty sure He’s probably not on Jesse’s side, given both what happened in the comic, and what we’ve already seen Heaven’s agents do on the show.
Matt: I loved the cold open, too, in how it hit all the big horror tropes --- the faceless pursuers, the multiple Final Girls, the fog and lighting --- then dealt out two fake outs. It was really well done and funny in a way this show’s humor hasn’t been in previous episodes. I’ve liked the humor, but it hasn’t exactly been subtle. This felt like a wink.
As for the sinkholes, there was a little nod toward QM&P having some hand in causing them, but it’s only obliquely stated.
And I think you’re onto something with the “serve God” command turning sideways. Not only have we seen that the people who hear The Word take it literally, we also know that it can’t exceed the limitations of the person who hears it. Jesse could command Cassidy to answer questions, but he still couldn’t questions he didn’t know the answers to, for example. So Odin’s going to serve whatever he thinks God is, and given the well-established notion that he has no real interest in religion, that could be something very unorthodox.
Elle: I hadn’t even thought about it that way, but you’re right. I was glad that we finally spent some time with Odin and his relationship with the town this week, after a lot of hinting and throwaway scenes in previous episodes. The moment when he pees in the mayor’s briefcase to make a point really gets across what kind of over-the-top villain he is. And that scene, and the one that follows with Emily, also tell us a lot about the Mayor, who’s not a bad guy, but not someone with the strength of will to fend off the corruption that’s eating at his little town.
Matt: Odin definitely has an overriding greed that drives him, but there seems to be more to him than the comic’s “he’s a mean old man whose secret is that he is also a gross old man” characterization.
I felt like the flashback with Jesse’s dad meeting him, and then Jesse looking in the office and seeing something horrifying, would have traumatized Jesse in some sort of way as to make him afraid of Odin. But then there’s the scene where Jesse’s meeting Odin and they’re talking about church while setting up an Alamo diorama. That makes what young Jesse saw even more mysterious.
And while I’m talking about that Alamo scene, I couldn’t help but think of something an old friend used to say about King of the Hill, that the joke is always, “They’re from Texas.” I definitely felt that here.
Elle: It definitely felt like a scene that was the result of writers who are not from Texas saying, “What can we have them doing that’s very Texas?” And since Odin runs a meat company, barbecuing beef would have been too on the nose.
All of this focus on Quincannon necessitated putting the story of Heaven’s agents and their deal with Cassidy on hold, but accomplishing that by having Cassidy take all their money and then use it on booze, drugs, and a visit to the brothel made perfect sense. And it pushed Cassidy right into Tulip’s storyline, which had to happen sooner or later.
Matt: We got a real taste of how manipulative Cassidy is in this one, which does a great job of nailing the spirit of the comic without necessarily adapting it directly. Not only does he string the Adelphi along into getting him a bunch of drugs on the promise of bringing Jesse to them, but he also deceives Tulip after she mistakenly punches him out of the window at the brothel. He lets her believe that he’s a human who is genuinely hurt, partially so he can sneak a kiss on the way to the hospital (and steal some blood packs).
And yet I feel like the audience isn’t turning on him (or at least I’m not) because Joe Gilgun plays him as such a likeable fella. We can still get a big betrayal later, even with these seeds being planted.
Elle: Oh, absolutely. That’s what makes Cassidy work as a character. He’s blatantly a selfish, hedonistic jerk from the very beginning, but we’re drawn into liking him because he’s charismatic, and he’s on the side of the characters we’re rooting for and reserves his violent side for characters we don’t know or don’t like. But sooner or later that will change. And yes, Gilgun continues to be completely perfect in the role.
Matt: Back to the mayor and Emily for a sec, I wonder what’s ultimately going to come of the plot that they’re secretly having sex, but she’s not all that interested in him beyond that. It kinda feels like a plotline from a whole different show about a small town’s secrets, rather than one about angel/demon possessed preachers and drug-addled Irish vampires.
Elle: Yeah, there was also that moment in this episode where she and Jesse almost kiss, or at least Jesse makes us (and seemingly, Emily) think that’s what’s going to happen. Right after we agreed last week that surely they’d avoid treating her as a love interest. All I can think is that if she has feelings for Jesse, that’s probably going to lead to the mayor resenting him, and probably siding against him at the wrong moment. But it all feels a little too soapy for this show, and I say that as someone who enjoys as a bit of soapiness.
Matt: I guess we’ll find out. I feel like the show’s done a pretty decent job of taking Serious TV Drama expectations and turning them around a bit, so maybe it’ll be something beyond that.
One TV thing it can’t get past, though, is characters occasionally going missing for complete episodes. Both Donnie and Eugene were nowhere to be found in this one. Did you miss them, Elle?
Elle: You know, I honestly didn’t. Donnie seems pretty well defeated, and Eugene has yet to do much of anything, so I was okay without them. In fact, I hadn’t even contemplated their absence until you mentioned it. I’m somewhat more worried about what the creepy bus driver is up to.
Matt: Yeah, he manages to get a mention in this one when Emily is talking about Jesse maybe crossing some ministerial lines, but otherwise he isn’t around either. But yeah, I’m with you. I think it’s fine for characters to dip in and out. (To be honest, the only reason I noticed Eugene missing was that his dad was there in the congregation.) It allows for more focus, like this one’s on Quincannon. I don’t know if you’d get something relatively clever like the church raffle for the TV to draw people in to see the Quincannon confrontation with too many diffuse character stories.
Elle: I’m definitely in favor of this show staying focused on an episode-by-episode basis, rather than going all over the place and lacking complete stories, like that second episode did.
Matt: Agreed. I think these last two have definitely felt more like a weekly bite of a larger story that I could enjoy on their own, too, instead of just being binge-watch fodder. The only thing that felt particularly piecemeal was the stuff with the Adelphi hanging out in their hotel room possibly getting a call from their Heaven phone (which they do eventually get by the end). But even they got a very small, pretty funny arc about Fiore (the blonde one) seeing an ad for a ridiculous burger and having to settle for Cheetos instead.
Elle: This episode definitely held together. I feel like the show is really finding its pace, which makes me more interested in the rest of the season.
Matt: I gotta know who wins that TV!