At the end of its first season, Preacher has established itself as a stylish show with an exciting cast—and almost no plot whatsoever.
Adapted from the cult comic by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, AMC’s Preacher got off to a good start. Dominic Cooper was surprisingly low-key as the titular preacher, Jesse Custer, but he was balanced out by his charismatic co-stars: Ruth Negga as Jesse’s revenge-fueled ex-girlfriend Tulip, and Joe Gilgun as the Irish vampire Cassidy, whose hungover smirks are truly a gift. Then over the course of the next nine episodes… nothing happened.
Well, technically some events happened. A lot of people got shot, dismembered, or otherwise brutalized, in scenes that ranged from morbidly hilarious (Cassidy’s chainsaw sequence) to gross and unnecessary (literally any of the historical flashbacks). At one point Tulip and Cassidy had sex, although it wasn’t entirely clear why. Jesse slowly learned to use the mind-control powers of Genesis, the supernatural entity inhabiting his body. But if you’re looking for a compelling plot or character development, you’re out of luck. It felt like Preacher‘s writers had an endless supply of good ideas for individual scenes, but forgot to develop a central driving force for the show as a whole.
Take Tulip, for example. Ruth Negga has chemistry with everyone, and her performance thrums with an unpredictable kind of energy. Yet her main role is to have the same argument with Jesse, over and over again: Why won’t Jesse quit his job as a preacher and join her in killing Carlos, the man who betrayed them both? Jesse’s real answer is that he’s trapped by his daddy issues, and wants to use his newfound powers to inspire religious fervor in his lackluster congregation. Both characters are stuck in a limbo of their own making, which just doesn’t provide enough material for an entire season of conflict.
Some shows can thrive without any character growth at all, but Preacher isn’t one of them. As an adult-rated drama that embraces the weirder quirks of its source material—say, Odin Quinncannon cuddling a facsimile of his daughter’s corpse, sculpted from mincemeat—Preacher is positioned at the more prestigious end of comic book adaptations. A lot of thought has gone into its soundtrack, cinematography, and darkly absurd sense of humor. Every episode includes at least one moment you’ll never see anywhere else on television. The problem is, this week’s finale made the rest of the season feel like an overly long pilot for the future of the show.
It was a speedy conclusion to a slow handful of episodes, massacring the entire supporting cast so Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy can embark on the road trip promised in the show’s original premise: a quest to find God. So, why did this setup take so long? Did the showrunners decide that a full season of origin story was necessary before the show got on the (literal) road? Were they concerned that it would overlap too much with Supernatural and Constantine if Jesse and friends got straight into the car?
Whatever the reason for season 1’s flaws, we’re hopeful for season 2. Preacher is still fresh and fun as hell, and a road trip setting may help solve the problems caused by a meandering story arc. And that last episode gave us a taste of something the show had only hinted at before: a version of Jesse Custer who is truly willing to be bad.