It’s Team Jesse versus the Grail, as a vengeful God vows to bring on the apocalypse, in the fourth and final season of Preacher, AMC’s adaption of the DC comic series created by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. It pains me greatly to say this, since I love the show despite its flaws, but this final season is mostly an unfocused, rambling, incoherent mess. Fortunately, it’s ultimately redeemed by a satisfying and surprisingly moving finale.
(Some spoilers below, especially for prior seasons.)
Preacher follows the madcap adventures of Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), the titular preacher (and former con artist) who inexplicably becomes the chosen host for Genesis, aka, the embodiment of the Word of God. This grants him the power to force people to do whatever he wants, including accidentally sending poor Eugene Root (Ian Colletti)—nicknamed “Arseface” because of a failed shotgun-suicide that left him with a badly puckered maw—to hell. Jesse is joined in his misadventures by his childhood sweetheart and partner in crime, Tulip (Ruth Negga), and a hard-partying, sweetly profane Irish vampire named Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun).
Jesse and the gang spend much of season two in New Orleans, stalked by more Grail agents and a soul-less assassin dubbed the Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish) as they search for a missing God (Mark Harelik). Season three finds the team splintering, as Jesse finds his way back to his childhood home, Angelville, to confront his voodoo queen gran’ma, Marie L’Angelle (Betty Buckley). The Grail is still angling to get its hands on Genesis, too. By the season finale, the Grail leader, Herr Starr (Pip Torrens), has kidnapped Cassidy—knowing Jesse and Tulip will try to rescue him—and amassed an army at Masada to greet them.
The fourth season picks up right where we left off, as Jesse and Tulip concoct a plan to rescue Cassidy. Cassidy, in turn, is having a rough go of it: his vampiric healing ability means that the Grail’s chief torturer, Frankie Toscani (Lachy Hulme), can use him for student experimentation in his advanced torture class. That mostly involves repeated circumcisions and using all the discarded foreskins in an anti-aging beauty cream manufactured out of Brooklyn. (Male viewers, be forewarned: many gruesome things are done to male genitalia throughout the season, including an involuntary castration by dingo. You’ll likely be wincing and instinctively crossing your legs a lot.)
Meanwhile, the Saint of Killers continues to track the preacher—he can sense whenever Jesse uses Genesis to influence someone—accompanied, for some reason, by Eugene. Jesse still hosts Genesis and has refused the Grail’s offer to be the new Messiah, which means the job must fall to Humperdoo (Tyson Ritter), a direct descendent of Jesus Christ (aka “Hot Jesus,” also played by Ritter). All those generations of in-breeding haven’t been kind; Humperdoo is basically a mentally challenged child in a grown man’s body. This is all messing with God’s master plan, and the Almighty is losing patience. He’s going to put the apocalypse in motion with or without Jesse’s help. But first he’s going to make Jesse and his companions and even Starr suffer. Because he can.
The show still has many strengths, most notably the strong performances of Gilgun and Negga, lending genuine depth and pathos to Cassidy and Tulip’s relationship, in light of the complicated romantic triangle with Jesse. This season, we get some relevant backstory for Cassidy in particular, before he became a vampire. It explains the psychological underpinnings of his capacity to endure torture and makes his feelings for Tulip—who loves him but will always choose Jesse in the end—especially poignant. And the series is still wildly irreverent, with God staging an elaborate televised revue to mark the onset of the apocalypse, and Hot Jesus negotiating with Hitler (now in charge of hell) over who will get which human souls once it’s all over.
We also learn a bit more about the origins of Genesis. Last season, we finally got an explanation for why a deeply flawed small-town preacher like Jesse Custer got to be the chosen vessel for Genesis when so many other holy men exploded into bits when Genesis entered them. It turns out that Genesis is not purely divine but a mix of good and evil that requires a vessel with precisely the same mix. Now we know that Genesis is the offspring of a forbidden love between an Archangel (David Field) and a demon (Sue-Ellen Shook). And like any parents, they’ll do whatever it takes to protect their offspring.
Alas, much of the season makes very little sense, with characters aimlessly traversing the globe from Masada to Australia and plenty of places in between. It’s as if the writers had to produce 10 episodes but only had sufficient material for four or five. For instance, there’s no good reason for a side plot where Jesse confronts a cadre of perverts after abandoning Tulip when he learns she once slept with Cassidy. Eugene’s character arc has lacked direction since last season, and the rationale behind his continued presence on the show is even less clear now.
Plus, the writers have taken the show’s already over-the-top approach to comic book violence to ridiculous extremes. They’re trying so hard to shock, but when you open your series with balls-to-the-wall carnage, it’s tough to keep upping the ante without viewers simply become numb to the horrors. I’ve praised the show in the past for leaning into the crazy without apology, “achieving a perfect tonal mix of horror, humor, and pathos.” But the tone has been consistently off this season.
It’s all in support of the central theme, I guess, which seems to be that God is a sadistic, narcissistic, manipulative bastard. I mean, he wiped out his earlier creations, the dinosaurs, with an asteroid because a dinosaur ate its own feces—and then burped in God’s face. God nonetheless craves unconditional love from his creations, repeatedly testing people by inflicting all manner of calamities and then becoming enraged when they don’t respond with gushing devotion, like the Biblical figure of Job. There’s a telling moment when God is watching a replay of Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, ending with Abraham effusively telling God how much he loves him, over and over. Those were the good old days, from God’s perspective, and he’s ready to subject the human race to a similar fate as the dinosaurs and start over with a new, less rebellious creation.
I’m all the more frustrated that so much of this final season proved a joyless slog to watch, because the last two episodes mark a welcome return to Preacher‘s top form—a reward for anyone who managed to stick with it to the end. It’s equal parts funny, horrifying, and emotionally satisfying, especially when it comes to the fates of Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy. It’s a shame that earlier episodes never reach the same level, but at least the series got a solid farewell in the end.
Listing image by AMC