“Sundowner” is the episode many Preacher viewers have no doubt been waiting for. It’s an episode that offers a cool action scene and some unexpected character growth after a few quiet weeks of spinning its wheels, as well as a semi-explanation on the show’s stakes and mythology. And while the episode might still lack a distinctive direction, the world is so appealing and enticing that one can almost forgive its somewhat meandering nature. Certainly, when you have a setting this rich, there’s an understandable temptation to do a bit of exploring, before getting down to business.
Continuing off last week, the two angels—DeBlanc and Fiore—approach Jesse at the diner and inform him that the entity (called “Genesis”) residing in him is far from the benevolent, God-like force he had assumed it was; rather, it’s the “baby” of an unholy union between an angel and a demon—an all-powerful force capable of changing the course of the heavenly war. What’s more, the two knuckleheads are apparently the custodians who let Genesis slip out of their hands—hence, why they are on Earth without permission from the higher-ups. For comic-readers, this Genesis reveal is obviously nothing too huge, as this info dump comes within the first few issues. That said, it does offer up the TV show’s first dalliance with the idea that the heaven/hell dichotomy may not be as traditionally black-and-white as one would normally assume. Indeed, it’s precisely notions such as these that prevented the comic from being properly adapted for several years. After all, the quickest way to peeve off the uber-religious is to suggest that God’s land may not have its shit together.
Mixing action with farce doesn’t get much better than with this sequence, wherein Jesse, DeBlanc and Fiore find themselves facing off against a more aggressive Angel of the First Order (who appears in the form of a seemingly innocuous blonde woman). Because angels basically come back to life whenever they are killed, the struggle lies not in defeating the First Order angel, but in immobilizing her to the point where she cannot resurrect and attack them anew. What begins as a legitimately suspenseful siege sequence at the Sundowner Motel quickly veers into slapstick level as DeBlanc, Fiore and the First Order Angel’s various dead corpses pile up all over the motel’s floor as they resurrect again and again and again. At one point, they seem to be getting close, only to have Cassidy make an unexpected entrance and kill her once more. Preacher has certainly done epic action sequences before, but none wherein the central conceit of the fight was so extravagant and high-concept.
Despite Quincannon having blown the Green Acres exec away at the conclusion of last week’s entry, the follow-up focuses squarely on Miles and his no-win choice to either be complicit in the cover-up of the massacre, or tell the truth and risk Quincannon hurting more people. When he approaches Jesse for consultation, the preacher offers little more advice than “Ask God.” When Miles presses further, asking how you can tell the difference between the voice of God and the selfish voice in your head, Jesse merely grows frustrated. Aside from pushing Miles into staging a “car crash” cover-up, the scene also colors Jesse’s own mindset. The fact that he doesn’t consider whether the thoughts in his head come from God or merely his own self-centered interests speaks volumes as to his damaged moral compass.
Shockingly, in a show that seems to thrive on everyone getting on one another’s bad side, “Sundowner” attempts to make peace between natural enemies in the form of Tulip and Emily. Not that Emily was ever aware the two were natural enemies, of course, since chances are Jesse will never see her the way he sees Tulip. And while the extent of the Tulip/Emily relationship pivot might be a tad contrived—Tulip goes from smashing her kid’s art project to helping her out with groceries—it’s a nice way of illuminating how, beneath Tulip’s hardened shell and slew of bad decisions, there’s a conscience and a heart at play. Or, if nothing else, she has a soft spot for kids, as evidenced by her playful nature with the farm children in the pilot episode.
In perhaps the most jaw-dropping moment of the hour, Preacher makes good on a sentiment that’s been slowing bubbling its way up from subtext to text—Jesse as an inadvertent villain. Sure, his ruthlessness when it comes to using the Genesis powers has been firmly established but, given he is the square-jawed protagonist, audiences have been trained to see such a personality quirk as little more than basic hardheadedness. In his big encounter with an emotionally torn Eugene, however, we clearly see a ruthless man who believes he is righteous, butting heads against someone who actually is righteous. Unlike Jesse, Eugene is aware enough to see the preacher’s mind-warping powers as a sin, even when it’s used for a seemingly good purpose. In a town (and world) filled with all manner of moral relativism, Eugene stands as perhaps the clearest sign of genuine good. It’s fitting then that it’s his visage that is the fractured and damaged one. Twisting the knife even further, Jesse explodes at the boy for questioning him, accusing him of merely wanting to wade in his misery. When Eugene calls Jesse out on his actions, the preacher mutters for him to “go to hell.” With that, Eugene disappears. The show itself doesn’t make his fate explicit, but it’s also not beyond the creative team to throw its most righteous and godly character into the depths of hell. If nothing else, this will hopefully act as the wake-up call Jesse needs, and perhaps offer some form of structure to the rest of the season wherein he tries to find a way of getting Eugene back.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.