SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers from tonight’s episode of AMC’s “Preacher” (and the Vertigo comic series it’s adapted from) follow.
After watching tonight’s episode of “Preacher,” I flipped through the first trade paperback of the comic to look for similarities: a replicated panel, a repeated line of dialogue, anything. And alas, I found nothing. I’ve already discussed how much of a departure in plot — if not in tone and theme — the AMC adaptation is from Garth Ennis’ and Steve Dillon’s landmark Vertigo series, but I bring it up again to reiterate the show’s interest in a slower burn and more complex characters.
One needs to look no further than the protagonist himself. In the trade, Jesse Custer learns about what his new power means and sets off on his central mission rather quickly. While the show will most likely go in that direction as well, in the meantime, “See” explores what his vocal gift could mean for his congregation. For the pedophile bus driver, Jesse can take away his lust for young girls not by baptizing him (first in cold water, then in scalding hot water), but by commanding him. For the teenager with a fractured skull, perhaps he can awaken her from her coma by simply saying “Open your eyes.”
At first, both of these acts seem like positive developments. But think about what Ted literally opening his heart to his mother last week. It’s clear that great power — even a power used with good intentions — can lead to awful consequences, and I suspect that Jesse will come to see that these quick fixes aren’t the best ways to help his followers, even if they’re inspired by Eugene telling him to embrace his true nature. After all, his true nature also has an extremely violent side, as suggested by last week’s bar fight and Tulip’s constant urgings for him to return to their life of crime together.
Like any good genre series, “See” also uses its more macabre elements to inform us about the characters’ personalities, most notably Cassidy. On one hand, it’s great, wicked fun to see him bludgeon and dismember the two Adelphi angels, DeBlanc and Fiore (mistaken by him to be vampire hunters), when they try to perform their strange, probably lethal ritual on Jesse. On the other hand, all the Bible-smashing and chainsaw-fighting go to show how loyal the Irish bloodsucker is as a friend. He hasn’t known Jesse that long, and — stolen communion wine aside — he’s already repaying the preacher’s charity by saving his life. His near immortality probably makes the decision to fight a lot easier than it is for a normal person, but still.
Even the introduction of meat mogul Odin Quincannon paints a villain who’s already more layered than he is on the page. His despicable side will surely come out in time, but Jackie Earle Haley’s nowhere near as abrasive, depraved, or flat-out mean as his trollish counterpart in the comics, not outwardly anyway. Villains are always more interesting when you can sympathize with them, or at least understand them, and if AMC’s more expansive presentation of its main character is any indication, we’re about to understand everyone in “Preacher” more than we ever have before.
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