SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers from tonight's episode of AMC's "Preacher" (and the Vertigo comic series it's adapted from) follow.
In the "Preacher" comic series, we never get to meet most of Jesse Custer's congregation, because he accidentally incinerates then when the mysterious voice enters his body. But the AMC show hasn't gotten to this plot device yet, and the result is something unusual: an action-horror series presented as a Robert Altman film.
By that, I mean that tonight's episode, "Monster Swamp," puts a sharper focus on the citizens of Jesse's hometown, from already existing characters like Odin Quincannon to ones created just for the TV series. There's the church organist, Emily (Lucy Griffiths), who seems to be pining for Jesse, but settles for casual hookups with the lonely mayor, Miles Person (Ricky Mabe). Then there's the brothel madam, Mosie (Frances Lee McCain), who tonight has to deal with one of her workers accidentally dying as a target in a paintball game hosted by several of her customers.
It's unclear at this point how all of these subplots are going to inform the core narrative. There are some subtle plot points that tie to the main story -- Quincannon Meat & Power is responsible for the sinkhole the prostitute falls into and Tulip's vengeance over her death leads to a foreshadowing kiss with Cassidy -- but for the most part, a lot of these threads feel separate from the bigger picture.
Is that a problem? It's too early to say. These diversions may not even be diversions at all, and even if some of the more satellite stories (the Emily/Miles one in particular) don't have a payoff, they at least add more color to Annville. They work towards creating a community that feels realer and realer each week. If Jesse's church does end up exploding, it'll be that much more heart-wrenching if we've gotten to know some of the people filling the pews. They won't just be nameless, charred skeletons.
"Monster Swamp" isn't all about the supporting players though. In addition to the Tulip and Cassidy scene, Fiore gets distracted from his primary quest over a mouthwatering burger that he becomes obsessed with finding and eating. As much as the gag's played for laughs, it hints at how the new environment is affecting the angel, and also nods at his and DeBlanc abandoning their mission in the comics in pursuit of more earthly delights. The relationship between Jesse and Odin also gets further explored. Apparently, his father tried to bring over the enigmatic meat mogul to the Lord when Jesse was a child. It didn't go well (I'm wondering exactly what a young Jesse saw during the attempted late-night conversion), leading to the title character to try and finish his dad's work.
There's a strange ease between him and Odin during their first scene together. As they calmly paint a battalion of toy soldiers, they acknowledge their differences and make a risky business transaction: Odin has to come to church that Sunday. If Jesse can't get him to believe in God, he'll sign the steeple's valuable property over to him. Needless to say, Jesse wins the bet by using his new ability. While he means well, it's also unwise of him to flaunt his power so freely, even if he thinks it's in the name of righteousness. Who knows how a guy like Odin -- a guy whose darkest side hasn't even been fully exposed yet -- will react to suddenly believing in a higher power?
I suspect Jesse's done more harm than good, and when Odin does reveal how horrible he truly is, it's going to be so much more appalling since we've also seen his warmer side in that first scene with the preacher. The swamp may be full of monsters, but monsters can be complex, too. They can have good traits along with the bad. And that somehow makes them scarier.