SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers from the latest episode of AMC’s “Preacher” (and the Vertigo comic series it’s adapted from) follow.
So far, the most common complaint about the television adaptation of “Preacher” has been the pacing. And as much as we love the show’s slower burn, we’ll certainly admit that, at the end of the day, it takes a long time for stuff to happen on the AMC series.
Well, last night, stuff happened. A lot of stuff. On top of wrapping up The Saint of Killers’ backstory in the cold open, Emily helped bring Cassidy back to full(er) health by feeding him Mayor Person instead of another rodent, Jesse escaped Sheriff Root, who unknowingly reanimated the Seraphim, and the Adelphi angels finally, finally, finally pulled The Saint of Killers’ out of Hell to go after the preacher.
But “Finish the Song” doesn’t skate by solely on speed. Like every other episode of “Preacher” — slow or not — it has distinct stylistic touches that elevate it above other Westerns, horror-comedies, or whatever genre category the show falls into. Simply put, it’s the weird that makes it good. When there’s a shootout, it’s not just any old shootout, but one where the killer is offscreen the entire time, the focus instead centered on a nervous bar patron being forced to finish sing a folk ballad while everyone around him gets riddled with bullets. But before he can get to the refrain, his head gets lopped off.
Likewise, the death of Mayor Person becomes less about a gory catharsis and more about what it means for both Cassidy and Emily, both of whom gain a different kind of strength from his demise. For Cass, it’s a physical revitalization, even as he feels somewhat guilty over it (and a lot of other things). For Emily, it’s more emotional; a moment for her to finally take some agency and break free of an unhappy situation.
It’s also an echo of the “Psycho” clip that inspires her, only with a different outcome. Where Marion Crane did something bad, then decided to try and fix it (only to get killed shortly afterwards), Emily’s crime is irreversible. Person wasn’t a great, or even a good guy (his coverup of Odin’s murders saw to that), but he loved Emily, which makes his death feel more than a little icky in its permanence. And that’s the point. So far, no one is wholly good or wholly bad on “Preacher.” Why shouldn’t Emily get to have a moment of supreme darkness like everyone else?
Sheriff Root’s demons also become more visible in “Finish the Song.” His strangling of the limbless Seraphim (DeBlanc and Fiore have been keeping her just barely alive in their motel bathtub) is more of a mercy killing than anything, but it’s still very much against his duty as an officer of the law. And even though the angel’s coaxing him into it so she can come back again, he doesn’t know that when he wraps his hands around her neck. More tellingly, he sobs and grunts intensely as he does so, showing us that he’s dealing with some severe inner conflict, either from the disappearance of Eugene or somewhere else. As with Cassidy and Person, it’s just as much about showing his emotional journey as it is the grisly violence.
And that’s why “Preacher” feels so different from other genre shows. Yes, it’s about the blood and guts. But the camera always keeps a hardened focus on how the carnage affects their character. Their trajectory is just as intense as the shooting, evisceration, neck-biting, and dismemberment. There’s a heaviness to everything. And with The Saint of Killers slated to arrive soon, next week’s finale is bound to only get heavier.
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