‘Preacher’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 1, Episode 8: ‘El Valero’
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, Matt Wilson is away on sabbatical, so we've invited veteran Comics Alliance recapper Chris Haley to take a pew. And he's jumping in cold with his very first episode!
In this week’s “El Valero,” Quincannon makes an attack on Jesse’s church, Jesse attempts to rid himself of his powers, and Tulip gets a dog. The episode was directed by Kate Dennis and written by Olivia Default.
Elle: First of all, it’s good to have you here Chris. I was sad that Matt had to take time off, but I’m glad you’re able to step in.
I don’t know if you’ve been reading Gospel Truth, but last week Matt and I agreed that after a lot of table-setting, we were looking forward to this week being action packed and straightforward. We both made that assumption based on the end of last week’s episode, with Odin Quincannon’s forces advancing on the church. But I don’t know that what we got this week was what we wanted at all. What did you think, Chris?
Chris: Well, first of all, or at least, my first of all… which technically makes for a second of all, thank you for such a gracious welcome. Also, I’ll go ahead and warn you now, I reckon talking about this show is liable to bring my Southern accent out. So, just go on ahead an’ prepare for that.
I had no idea what to expect since I was only planning on watching this show if I was going to be talking about it, because TV has had a weird way of taking things I want to enjoy and making them… oh, let’s say, not always great. I was going to ask you if it was par for the course that this show handles almost the entirety of its action scenes off camera. I thought okay, this is either a stylistic choice, because that’s the tone the show is going for, which if that’s the case, that’s fine. Or, it was to keep shooting easier and cheaper. Which do you reckon it is?
My other big question would have to be: is tone a problem for this show, or is that just how it feels coming in blind?
Elle: Tone is a problem for this show, I would have to say. They definitely seem to want that Ennis/Dillon mix of dark humor and extreme violence, but they can’t quite seem to figure out how to make that work on television. I think this episode is a great example of that. It kept veering back and forth from dramatic to weird to (at least theoretically) funny, and I mostly just found it jarring. Speaking of jarring, this episode also featured the most Ennis/Dillon Preacher moment possible, which was a guy getting his penis shot off. I’m pretty sure they did that like eight times in the comic.
Chris: They loved having that happen to people! When that scene happened and the guy’s reaction was clearly supposed to be funny (what with him talking to it in the background and all), I was like, “Ohhh, okay. They want this to be a funny show.” But the breakneck speed with which they jump from small town family drama to sniper rifles to dog shelter to talking about a food court to etc etc etc just makes it feel like they don’t know how they want to play anything. I should say though, I did enjoy this episode, and am looking forward to seeing what happens next, so there’s that at least.
Elle: Yeah, this show is often confusing, but I do always find myself excited to see what the next episode will hold. The thing is, though, that the payoffs are so often askew. Like in a previous episode, Jesse used the Voice to tell Eugene to go to Hell, and he did. In this episode he returns, but then it turns out that he hasn’t?
I strongly got the impression that we were supposed to decide that Eugene was a figment of Jesse’s troubled imagination, but that didn’t quite work for me. In the moment when he was revealed not to be real, my first thought was that he was a demon in Eugene’s form. After all, in a story that already features angels and a vampire, how is that less likely that him just being a hallucination? And how is the hallucination the more interesting choice? Not to mention, out of all the many changes from comics to television, having Arseface in your head is definitely a step down from John Wayne.
Chris: Yes! That seemed like the kind of thing where the show honestly didn’t know how it wanted to play that out/haven’t decided what they want to do with Eugene yet, so they didn’t bother trying to make sense of it. A “we’ll figure that out later” situation.
Along those lines of confusing show logic, is there any reason Jesse isn’t using The Word straight up all the time? He seems to have a lot of questions about things, and has a way to get direct answers out of coy people. Why isn’t he using that to find out what the hell is going on? And does the most powerful weapon in existence really not work on deaf people? Because I always assumed it was much more powerful than earplugs.
Elle: Well the thing is, Jesse has been using the Word all the time for the last couple of episodes, and that led to Eugene being sent to Hell, and a private army showing up to tear down his church. So I think the idea this episode was that he had decided the Word was bad and was trying to repent. I don’t really buy that, but then I’ve had a hard time relating to Jesse’s decisions since the first episode. I’ve never understood these moments when protagonists sit there like, “I’m not going to do anything to get myself out of the massive amount of trouble I’ve gotten myself into, because I’ve learned my lesson.” I just feel like you should clean things up, and then try to change your ways.
Chris: Okay, sure, I can see him not wanting to use it to make people do things, but when all he wants is a straight answer out of someone, and won’t use it, that just seems dumb on his part. Just because you’ve got angels and vampires and Jackie Earle Haley (no relation) in a show doesn’t mean all common sense needs to be suspended along with our disbelief.
Elle: But one thing this episode did (I think) was resolve the storyline of the two angels who were sent to get Genesis back. They’ve been trying to get access to Jesse so they can take it out of him, but now they learn that it just doesn’t want to leave. Which I’m guessing means that scarier, more dangerous Agents of Heaven (something we’ve already seen hints of) will be on their way next.
Chris: Yeah, the way they just packed up and walked out seemed pretty ominous for what would be coming next, but if the Jesse that this episode presented is any indication of how he’s going to fare moving forward, I don’t like his chances.
This show also seems to want us to keep track of a lot of characters. Was that just this episode?
Elle: Kind of? There’s a lot of characters on this show, but on this episode almost all of them showed up at once, and most of them literally stood there in a big crowd. Odin Quincannon, his employee Donnie (the guy who deafened himself), Eugene and his sheriff father, Emily who works at the church, and the Mayor who does things for her because he has a crush (and also does things for Odin for other reasons), even the two angels: all of these characters have appeared in some episodes and not others, but this time they were all around.
And the show’s two best characters had to get out of the way to make room for them. Tulip had a couple of scenes, but Cassidy wasn’t around at all, although we heard him doing awful things to a cute dog there at the end. The show will get better when those two return to the main storyline. I wish they didn’t have to kill a dog along the way, though.
Chris: I knew exactly what they were going for with that, but yeah, leave dogs out of this. I kept expecting Tulip or Cassidy or both to get involved the entire episode, and it never happened.
So, I was considering going back and catching up on all the episodes I missed in preparation for next week, but it kind of seemed like this episode was the real tipping point into the actual thrust of the story, so would you recommend I do that, or would that just be a waste of time? “Waste” is probably too strong a word, but “unnecessary”?
Elle: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think it’s particularly necessary for you to go back and catch up. One of the things this show has been worst at is developing a coherent ongoing arc and letting its episodes build on each other. However, there have been episodes that are much better than this one, so if you’re intrigued at all, I don’t think going back and watching them is a bad idea.
And there’s so much to enjoy in the portrayals of Tulip and Cassidy, which you didn’t get to really see at all in this episode. Ruth Negga, who plays Tulip, might be the most charismatic actress on TV right now, and she brings a whole new dimension to that character. And Joseph Gilgun, who plays Cassidy, seems to have just stepped off the page of the comic in a way that nobody else on this show does. So basically, don’t catch up because you feel like you have to, but I’m not going to tell you not to if you feel moved.
Chris: I’d say that’s a good endorsement. Follow-up question: Would you say you are enjoying this show so far?
Elle: It’s been up and down for me. There have been episodes I was really into and episodes I hated. Some of the changes from the comic I think are great (like the inclusion of Emily as a second female lead), and some I think are poorly thought out (like making Eugene’s backstory an attempted murder/suicide instead of just an attempted suicide).
But really, as I was alluding to before, I think it’s all probably worth it just for the performances of Negga and Gilgun. Also, if they manage to stick the landing in the season finale, that will cast the whole thing in a much more positive light. And of course if the resolution is a mess, it will have the opposite effect.
What about you? Coming in so late in the game, are you interested in what happens next?
Chris: Oh, absolutely. I’m willing to take a little bit of time each week away from Mortal Kombat: Annihilation to see how this show turns out. And I guess with only two episodes left, that’s not really much of a commitment.
Elle: Well, it looks like you’ll be back here with me next week, so we’ll see how we’re feeling about things then.
Chris: Sounds like a plan. I reckon.