Preacher S1E9: Come hell or Ratwater
“Preacher,” with the way it goes for broke, often comes so close to being so good. But, these short-lived moments of great promise often fade, overshadowed by moments of head scratching logic. Take, for example, the relationship between Jesse and Cassidy. We learn this week that despite all previous signs pointing to the contrary, Jesse did, in fact, try to save Cassidy when the latter strutted out into the sunlight. So why make viewers think for an entire episode and a half that Jesse left Cassidy to die? Why even introduce this angle in the first place? The intended goal seemed to be a literal trial by fire to test Jesse’s moral fiber, but Cassidy’s flippant response in this episode — — furious at Jesse one second, forgiving him in the next — — makes the whole thing just fizzle.
In yet another bizarre character choice, Emily went from “in a relationship with Miles the Mayor,” to “it’s complicated… in that I fed Miles the Mayor to a recovering vampire” over the course of a single episode. Not even Tulip, who herself left Emily in charge of Cassidy in order to go kill a man, considered feeding a human to Cassidy. The character of Emily might have been boring, but turning her into a cold-blooded killer is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s an inexplicably dark choice for a character who hadn’t done a single insensitive thing all season, other than using the guy she just turned into vampire chow for errands and sex.
But “Finish the Song” isn’t all questionable characterization, and our resident angels, DeBlanc and Fiore, do most of the heavy lifting. We still don’t know much about their back story other than they were entrusted by Heaven’s powers that be to watch over Genesis, a task which they failed pretty miserably, allowing the angel-demon hybrid to escape into the body of Annville’s preacher. But this episode does explain why the angels haven’t used their direct line to Heaven — — a rotary phone they carry around in a case — — to call for backup. Turns out that they’re afraid those same powers will forcibly separate them when they learn about their failure. It’s a sweet and charming moment in the spotlight for “Preacher’s” strongest partnership, and the show is better when DeBlanc and Fiore are allowed these moments to shine.
In contrast to DeBlanc and Fiore, viewers have received plenty of backstory for a different, standalone character, The Cowboy. We’ve seen him, in a previous episode, ride horseback to the town of Ratwater (Annville in the post-Civil War era) in search of medicine for his sickly wife and daughter. We’ve seen him witness Ratwater’s depravity firsthand, a town made corrupt by a lot of contemptible men and their leader, a sadistic preacher. On his way back to his family, The Cowboy passes a family, themselves on the way to Ratwater. He tries to ride on and leave them to their fate in the dangerous town, but virtue calls him back to try and save them. This time, however, Ratwater’s preacher recognizes The Cowboy as an opponent from the Battle of Gettysburg, and he retaliates by shooting The Cowboy’s horse. By the time The Cowboy makes it back to his own family, walking the entire way, his wife and daughter are dead.
“Finish the Song” does just that and finishes The Cowboy’s story. He rides back to Ratwater, this time called back, not by virtue, but, in the words of Jules Winnfield, by great vengeance and furious anger. He finds the preacher in the same saloon where they first met, and proceeds to shoot and kill every person in the place. A storm settles in as The Cowboy pours himself a drink from the bar.
And then “Preacher” shows us his story again, top to bottom, from his sick wife and daughter to his slaughter at the saloon. And then we see it again. And again and again, each time a little faster, the transitions between scenes quicker and choppier. It’s not until the final run-through, when the thunder starts to clap and The Cowboy’s whiskey starts to pour, that instead of flashing back once again to his sick little girl, a door swings open, and in stride DeBlanc and Fiore.
Ratwater is The Cowboy’s section of Hell, and his eternal damnation is endlessly reliving these moments. He’s also DeBlanc and Fiore’s last resort, and they ask him for help in killing a different preacher in a different Ratwater, about 150 years into the future.
The sheer ambition of this final sequence is admirable, but it is not without pitfalls. Put aside the fact that angels are in Hell hiring a killer. If the intention all along was to repeatedly recap the entirety of The Cowboy’s story, then all of this deserved its own episode rather than cutting up his story into cold opens and feeding them to viewers throughout the season.
Still, “Preacher” has managed, with one episode left, something that, at various points throughout the season, seemed impossible. All roads and plotlines lead to Annville, Genesis, and Jesse Custer. With God himself scheduled to make an appearance, “Preacher’s” season finale oughta be one helluva sermon.