Review: On ‘Preacher,’ is ‘El Valero’ Jesse Custer’s last stand?

A review of tonight's Preacher coming up just as soon as I wash your sneakers…

“Genesis, the greatest power ever known, and you've had it at the tip of your tongue all this time. And what good have you done with it?” -DeBlanc

DeBlanc asks an excellent question there, in the middle of an episode where both Jesse and Preacher itself are finally getting some much-needed focus and mission.

Though Eugene never actually claws his way out of Hell (a revelation the show smartly made early in the hour, rather than trying to surprise the audience like it was still 2003), the hallucinatory version of him forces Jesse to muse on the poor kid's fate, the angels' lack of interest in helping, and the thought that God would allow Eugene to suffer for Jesse's mistake. For most of the season, he's steadfastly believed in the righteousness of God's plan, and convinced himself that he not only got Genesis as part of that plan, but that he should use the power to spread God's word. Now, though, he's starting to see the arbitrary cruelty of the cosmos, and wonder what kind of deity would let evil continue. And if he's not pushed over to Odin's atheist side of things – worshiping “the god of meat” and other things that are tangible – Jesse seems finally ready to question the plan, the nature of his power, and what he's been trying to accomplish during his time in Annville.

And it's about damn time for both him and the show.

Sam Catlin worked on Breaking Bad, which also did a very slow burn in charting its main character's progress from high school teacher to drug kingpin. Walt didn't become a master criminal overnight, and much of the show's power came from us having to watch each agonizing step in that journey. So I can see why he and Rogen and Goldberg might have opted for a similar kind of pacing for this first season of Preacher. But this series exists in such a fundamentally surreal and exaggerated universe that the kind of realistic pacing from BB seems counter-productive. There's been some value in showing Jesse making mistakes with how he's tried to use Genesis and help the town, but most of what's happened across these eight episodes could have been compressed into half as many without losing any of that sense of him fumbling in the dark and misunderstanding what he can and should do.

Still, we're here now, and “El Valero” did a strong job not only showing Jesse reach that breaking point – drunk, talking to a figment of his imagination, taking shots at Odin Quincannon's men with a high-powered rifle(*), and utterly ruining his reputation within the town – but showing the angels and even Odin doing the same. DeBlanc finally manages to sing Genesis out of Jesse and back into the coffee can, but it only stays there for a few moments, then shatters its receptacle while traveling back into its new home inside the preacher. And the flashback to Odin losing his entire family in a tragic gondola accident did a nice job of reframing him as more than just a cartoonish bully and villain. This is a guy with a legitimate grievance against the Almighty, whom we know exists in this universe even if he has chosen to believer otherwise, and while that certainly doesn't excuse most of his behavior throughout the season, it turns him into a much more interesting and thematically appropriate adversary for our hero.

(*) Though the series is so strange and loaded with supernatural details that you'd never confuse it with the real world, this episode was still the victim of some unfortunate timing, as we see a bunch of Texans tailgating and partying around the spectacle of a sniper shooting at people from an elevated position, only a week and a half after the tragedy in Dallas.

With Jesse giving the church away to Odin before being cuffed by Sheriff Root, it would appear his time as the preacher of Annville is drawing to a close. But if he actually manages to get out to deliver that final sermon, I imagine it'll be a doozy.

Some other thoughts:

* The show has done plenty of scenes with little to no connection to Jesse and Annville, but the control room scene at the end of “El Valero” seemed particularly odd just in its placement. There are ways to do episode-closing “what the hell was that?” moments, but that was more head-scratching than jaw-dropping. Hopefully it leads to something interesting soon, though.

* The episode seems to be leaving Cassidy's fate up in the air until right at the end, when it's revealed that Tulip brought poor Brewski home from the pound not for a pet – though she did give the pooch one last good day on this earth – but as food for Cassidy to heal from his injuries. It's still not clear whether Jesse even bothered to use the extinguisher, or if Tulip found him still burning out in the sun.

* Donny may not be the smartest guy in the world, but as the only Meat Man who has actually experienced Jesse using the Genesis power, he finds a clever – if permanently injurious – way to avoid falling victim to it by firing his pistol in the trunk of his car, causing his eardrums to burst so he won't be able to hear any of Jesse's orders.

* There was a lot more action in this one than last week's episode, but nearly all of it happened slightly off camera, behind walls, or in the dark. It's a way to save on time and money late in the season, obviously (especially since I'm expecting a few big action set pieces in the final episodes), but it can also work as good comic shorthand for how much better Jesse is at fighting than any of his opponents.

* Miles is still for the most part a pushover in his relationship with Emily, groaning inwardly as she pines for Jesse but still happily playing babysitter. Of course, he's also joined Odin's side of things in the fight for the church, and we'll see how Emily feels about her sex buddy if the church actually does get bulldozed to put up a food court.

* The Preacher comic book is frequently graphic in ways that a live-action TV show likely wouldn't be comfortable portraying even if it was on premium cable or a streaming service. Still, just because they won't show everything doesn't mean disgusting things can't happen, like Jesse shooting off Clive's penis, and Clive carrying it back to show his co-workers. Clive and his severed organ were shot from a discreet distance, but the Meat Men's reaction to it said enough.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at