Since its premiere in 2016, AMC’s Preacher has made it clear that, while it had a familiar story to tell, it planned on doing things on its own terms.
While the overall tone and mouth-feel of the series was clear kin to the comics that spawned it, flavors like the setting of events, timing of character interactions, and even the details of the main characters themselves have been altered, all in the name of keeping things fresh while bringing a care-worn classic to life. Keeping that in mind, it was always a given that, tweaks and all, the show still has a recognizable road to travel, and with each season it has gradually crept closer to its origins and the plotlines fans were champing at the bit for from the beginning.
Now, with the opening of its third season, it seems that the Preacher of the small screen is synching up closer to its graphic-novel parentage more than ever. Still, this is not without its usual, and at times more than necessary, spin.
Last season’s finale saw its three leads facing bleaker circumstances than usual, no small distinction given the trauma and body count often tallied between the three of them. Titular Preacher Jesse Custer found himself de-powered after a brief but horribly ill-advised allegiance with Grail leader Herr Starr, Cassidy was forced to murder his own offspring after all too hastily turning him into a vampire, and Tulip was dead as a doornail after an unfortunate showdown with one of Starr’s agents. With their friendship fracturing beneath the weight of Tulip’s death and their shared feelings for her, the remaining duo went barreling back toward the life Jesse had long ago left behind in the hopes of saving the woman both he and Cassidy love.
When the third season begins, they at last find themselves in the belly of a long-awaited beast: the compound of Custer’s grandmother, Marie L’Angell. In the span of the just under an hour opener, viewers are treated to a decent-sized introduction to the monsters that have plagued Jesse’s childhood, as he and Cassidy begrudgingly work together to raise Tulip from her own personal purgatory.
Even before the hints of flashbacks and allusions to this destination, it was a near certainty that the plot would ultimately veer closer to the comics, and this particular chapter is as good a place as any to dig in. Disparities between show and graphic novel aside, the arc involving Grandma Marie and her cohorts Jody and T.C., is simply too big to tamp down or sideline. In the books, the L’Angell clan is essentially Jesse’s entire backstory, responsible not only for his very un-preacher-like edge and fighting prowess, but for nearly every terrible thing that has ever happened to him, including the loss of both his parents, and repeated physical and psychological torture all for the sake of keeping him on the twisted path the family matriarch had carved out for him. Their interference also sees to parting Jesse and Tulip on more than one occasion, though the show manages to sidestep this, and perhaps for the better (but more on that later). In any case, much in the way Jesse can’t seem to escape it, Angelville is an unavoidable pit-stop in this raucous adaption. That said, this Preacher is still set on making its way there on its own terms.
One of the show’s strengths has always been maintaining the heart (or lack thereof) of the characters it brings to life, and in that vein the Marie, Jody, and T.C. of the series are very much their comic book counterparts. Grandma has been given a touch of an upgrade with as-of-yet unexplained powers over death, but she’s still a looming monster, wielding a pair of loyal and half-lecherous goons to do whatever she deems worth dirtying their hands. Also unchanged are her motives: in her eyes, her grandson belongs to her and she will do whatever it takes to finally bring him to heel, whether that means reviving his recently deceased girlfriend or simultaneously threatening said girlfriend’s new lease on life. Similarly, television Jody and T.C. are every bit the brick-wall enforcer and sleazy lapdog depicted in Ennis’s pages, leaving the main deviation between print and screen to fall upon the means by which they are all made to collide. In this instance, it’s quite a detour from the story fans know, but it may just be the most necessary departure yet.
As mentioned above, the comics see Jesse’s L’Angell heritage drag him from Tulip in two instances. First, he’s made to abandon her and return to his family under threat of harm to his one true love, leading to the apparent abandonment that sets them at odds for years. Later, she’s more tragically removed from his life with a bullet to the brain courtesy of T.C. (don’t worry, she gets better). In the series, both of those scenarios are tossed aside in favor of laying direct blame of their separation largely at Jesse and Tulip’s own feet. The initial break-up that takes place before the series begins is fallout of the shared trauma of a botched bank job and a resultant miscarriage, and culminates in their failure to thrive in a straight and narrow lifestyle thereafter. Jesse doesn’t leave Tulip to save her from his family, he leaves because the one he had hoped to begin with her is broken. Between his girlfriend’s lies about making a go at a non-criminal career, and his refusal to understand why, after a life of being no good and the pain of losing a child, she may be struggling, he simply cannot stomach staying around to keep picking up the pieces.
This turn is far less sympathetic to either character, but in a season where the chickens of our anti-heroes mistakes were coming home to roost and where Jesse was poised to and did lose everything, it made sense. More than that, it pulled both their relationships and their characterizations toward something far more believable than those of their two dimensional counterparts. Here, Jesse and Tulip don’t just get to have one another simply because beneath all his devil-may-care attitude, he’s a noble man of bygone times, and she’s his because that’s just how it’s meant to be. They have to work at it and earn one another back, particularly in Jesse’s case after angrily walking out on a woman just as hurt as he was and in the back of his mind always expecting her to return. By the time he and Tulip are separated again, they weren’t yet in the clutches of his toxic family, but rather Jesse had to choose to put them there, to sacrifice his own freedoms for the woman he’s claimed to love so well but made such a poor showing of it.
For her part, this Tulip has been granted a far better sense of agency than the version that inspired her. She gets to keep her anger and hurt after being left behind and to choose when to let it got, rather than being swayed into forgiveness by a revelation that Jesse was loyal all along. When she dies in the events leading up to the return to Angelville, she goes down fighting, not tied up and pleading, and her journey back to the land of the living is both a battle and a choice instead of a Hail Mary gift to Jesse by God himself. Once revived, Tulip will no doubt be given a front row seat to the nightmare that is Jesse’s extended family and all the damage they have inflicted upon him, but with the understanding that his leaving her was still a choice all his own, and that his return to them was perhaps one of the first and most selfless things he has ever done for her. In this way, the Angelville story line looks like it will remain explanation, sacrifice, and fresh start it always was for the pair, just for different reasons.
A large chunk of my excitement about Preacher coming to life on screen has been due to how much I enjoyed the graphic novels and the outrageous stories they tell. What has managed to hold me is a blend of the series’ ability to keep me guess while exploring the narratives I know, as well as adjust some of the problem areas embedded in its origins, namely Tulip’s status as a walking trope, and the way Jesse’s chivalrous good ‘ol boy attitude was often allowed to overshadow his shortcomings. Again, with this season writers are circling closer to the Preacher most fans recognize and that’s far from a bad thing given the ride we’re for, but I wouldn’t go so far as to expect a shot for shot reproduction any time soon. I have no doubt that were going to be given the kinds of explosive, balls to walls moments that the very nature of the series promises, I’ve just also come to expect that it probably won’t hand it to me in any way I’m entirely prepared for, and there’s nothing wrong with that either.
Stray Thoughts and Speculations:
-I didn’t speak much about Cassidy because his involvement was fairly minimal this episode, which makes sense considering they’re straying into new territory with having him take part in this plotline at all. From where things stand, it looks like they’re doubling down on his doomed attraction to Tulip and his willingness to give up his friendship with Jesse to further his chances. Bonus possibility? If they do go whole hog on taking Cassidy down to his darkest side, he’ll use something cooked up by Grandma L’Angell to keep Tulip by his side, rather than drug her into complacency as he did in the books. Either way? Yuck.
-Tulip’s purgatory managed to be sad and hilarious, in keeping with how the series seems to treat the afterlife. It was heartbreaking to see the circumstances of her life before her time with the Custers, and the basis for her lack of self worth (“He’s just another worthless O’Hare”), but the sitcom format and reaction of Purgatory’s staff to Tulip’s rebellion were priceless.
-The casting of Jody and T.C. is dead on, but I’m hoping they don’t shoot for complete accuracy in their portrayals, specifically when it comes to T.C. I’ve got a strong stomach but I’m not especially eager for any on screen man on chicken lovin’… Who am I kidding? It’s happening. Again, yuck.
Preacher airs on Sundays at 10 PM, EST on AMC. Season Three’s premiere is available for free streaming on AMC’s mobile app.