WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the Season 4, Episode 3 of Preacher, "Deviant," now airing on AMC.
In Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's comic series, Preacher, the emotionally stunted, alcoholic vampire Cassidy was designed to break readers' hearts. Despite all of his faults and transgressions, the audience rooted for him to find a path in the world and somehow earn the forgiveness of the people he hurt along the way. In an issue titled "Cry Blood, Cry Erin," we discover the humble beginnings of Cassidy, which does a wonderful job of humanizing the character. However, AMC's version of the story in the third episode of Preacher's fourth and final season diminishes some of the good will one might have for Cassidy and his plight.
In both versions of Cassidy's origin, we learn he, along with his brothe Billy, fought for the Irish republicans against British rule in the 1916 Easter Rising. On top of this basic setup, there is some connective tissue (mostly involving an aquatic bloodsucker) between the two versions of Cassidy's past, but the similarities don't go beyond broad strokes. Even the framing device used to peek into Cassidy's life has been altered (much to the television show's detriment).
The comic issue covering the roguish vampire's early life picks up in the middle of 1916, and once he is turned into a vampire, we discover the tale was being told to Jesse Custer atop the Empire State Building. When the issue pulls back to present day, there is a gag in which all the harrowing details are seemingly unimportant the Jesse compared to the fact that Cassidy's first name is Proinsias, which Cassidy swears is a "perfectly respectable Gaelic name." The joke is cheap, to be fair, but it is a wonderful bonding moment between two friends from completely different walks of life. It's a moment that allows Cassidy to be vulnerable to someone he loves. The show, forgoes this framing and has Cassidy recount his tale to the angel he shares a cell with in The Grail's stronghold.
While the emotional vulnerability of the scene is still intact, the bond between the two male leads of the series isn't strengthened. In the comics, bonding moments like this are extremely effective in making Cassidy's subsequent betrayal of his dearest friend far more resonant with readers. The details of Cassidy's time fighting the British and how he would fall prey to a vampire living in a pond (no, seriously) have also been heavily altered. The version of Cassidy in the show wasn't the gung-ho true believer, ready to die for his country's independence we met in the comics. Joseph Gilgun's Cassidy, as it turns out, was a bit of a coward. (Or was he?) When he sees his brothe Billy die at the hands of British soldiers, Cassidy does nothing to intervene. This entire scene does not happen in the source material.
In the comics, Billy and
Cassidy Proinsias survive the skirmish (which unfolds differently as well) and are attacked by the previously mentioned pond vampire. Proinsias is bitten and pulled down into the scummy water despite his brother's best efforts to save him. As Cassidy would later tell his best friend, that was the last time he (or the readers) ever saw Billy again.
Despite missing a lot of the emotional weight of the comic, there is a certain level of horror the television show captures perfectly beyond creepy pond monsters biting people. When Cassidy watches his brother lose his foot in a canon blast and then does nothing to save him from the encroaching British soldiers, viewers are left contemplating what they would do if they were in Cassidy's position. Would we swoop in and try to save our kin, regardless of being out-numbered and out-gunned?
It's difficult to say. It's a hypothetical no one should have to ever experience in real life, and yet, sadly this is a very real thing for people in many pockets of the world. That realization is true horror at it's most primal. It's also a specific horror which contextualizes the perceived cowardliness of Cassidy when he opts to do nothing. Was he really a coward? Or was he doing what any number of us would have done to survive?
AMC's Preacher has a knack for demoralizing already morally-ambiguous characters from the source material to the point where they are no longer likable (we're looking at you Jesse Custer). AMC's version of Cassidy's story is certainly harrowing and, on a very primal level, sympathetic, but it doesn't have the same warmth and humanity of the comics. But then again, not many aspects of the on screen version of Preacher do.
Airing Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, Preacher stars Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer, Ruth Negga as Tulip and Joe Gilgun as Cassidy the Vampire, Pip Torrens as Herr Starr, Malcolm Barrett as Hoover and Julie Ann Emery as Featherstone.