AMC’s droll comic book adaptation saddles up for an apocalyptic final season whose juvenile antics bring diminishing returns.
Season 4 of AMC’s Preacher has a foreskin joke that goes on for three episodes. Honestly, it probably goes on longer, but AMC has only supplied the first three episodes for review so far. In each of those episodes though, viewers are “treated” to Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) suffering through torture via bris over and over and over again because, as a vampire, his foreskin regenerates. Oh and then some of that foreskin ends up in skincare products and as a means of ear reattachment.
This has always been the thing with Preacher, from the source material to the TV show, a perfect distillation of show developers Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg‘s adolescent sensibilities. It has plenty to say about humanity and faith and life, but to hear it you have to live through the juvenilia. With Season 4, though, for the first time, that bargain does not feel worth it.
To be clear, the first triptych of episodes is not irredeemably bad. Gilgun continues to make Cassidy work, finding the vampire’s self-destructive streak and laying it all out to be seen. It is a shame so many of his scenes involve penis-related trauma, but he still turns in a strong enough performance to overcome it. Ruth Negga, similarly, continues to find ways to deepen her — and thus, our –understanding of Tulip O’Hare. The way she can reveal the pain beneath Tulip’s surface without violating the character’s commitment to tough presentation is laudatory.
Eugene “Arseface” Root (Ian Colletti) brings a wonderful dose of matter-of-fact humanity in limited screentime too. His unshakeable faith in everything being part of God’s plan, despite his physical state of being and his murderous companion Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish), is played surprisingly straight. Even an accidental visit to a glory hole — again, the juvenilia — just goes to show how kind he is and how he assumes the goodness of everyone around him. Root would be an easy figure to make the source of folly but the show treats him with genuineness. He may be guileless but he is not dumb.
The show can also still put a scene together. At one point, Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) ventures into a sex party house — think that one scene in The Shining with the man in the fursuit, but in every room and the halls. He is there to save a young boy (Kaan Guldur) whom he keeps encountering in his travels. Soon, Custer has seemingly attracted the attention of everyone in the den of inequity and they swarm to attack. In the midst of the fight, a sort of lightweight Marvel-Netflix hallway brawl, the camera swivels out the action to show us the hall in full. It is like almost like being the in the audience at play as the lens stays still in the middle distance and we can watch it all unfold. It takes what felt like a knockoff and makes it something very different, a true moment of visual arrest.
Unfortunately, despite all these positives, Preacher feels tired.
(Side note though: the digital squibs in the scene are shockingly bad. If Preacher wants to be blood-drenched, fine, do it well. Otherwise, I cannot imagine anyone objecting to a lack of splatter in place of total internal reality destroying CG.)
Unfortunately, despite all these positives, Preacher feels tired. Not as in “really, another foreskin joke?” tired. More like going through the motions on an empty tank tired. The first three episodes feature a dead dog, a dead child, a brother murdered in front of his older sibling, a breakup, a desperate battle against a literal monster, and at least two attempts at prison breaks. These are events to get the blood pumping and the eyes wet with tears. But they don’t.
There is an undeniable feeling of mechanical motion here. The story will go from A to B to C. It will get there over the course of the season. The beats will be hit, the character arcs resolved. But there is no sense of energy in these first three episodes. No sense of the messy human heart that the prior seasons always seemed to have on its sleeve.
Still, it is only less than a third of this season. It is possible that the show is reflecting each of the leads’ emotional states. Resigned, moving forward more out of obligation to the mission. Taken in full, that could be a smart narrative device. However, this is a television series unfolding serially over the course of 9 weeks. Without those other seven episodes, to guess that the feel of the episodes is meant to mirror the inner lives of our protagonists is pure speculation. Judging by only what we have seen, Preacher seems like a show very ready to give up The Word and end the journey.
Preacher season 4 airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC.