After four years of boundary-pushing entertainment, Preacher has finally reached its end. As one of the forerunners for AMC’s “cutting edge” label of programming, Preacher prided itself on how it didn’t play by conventions. If it was a social taboo, then by God it would be tested. Even for longtime fans of the comics, no one ever knew quite what to expect from the series. The show began deviating wildly from the source material as early as the first episode.
To say we had any idea of what to expect going into this final season would be an understatement. Unfortunately, I mean that quite literally. It wasn’t until a few days before the premiere that AMC decided to release its first trailer for the final season. Not weeks, or even months: Days. AMC was mum about publicizing the show, shuffling it off to its normal late-night slot where it was left to do its own weird thing. It’s even more telling that throughout the final episode there were commercials not for a series wrap-up featuring the cast, but a season wrap-up for Fear the Walking Dead. Call me a cynic, but it seemed like no one, including AMC, seemed to care that Preacher was ending.
Only half a million people tuned in to the finale, with Season 4 in general being the lowest viewed in the show’s short history. Maybe it was a bit too surreal, or maybe it was too little too late for the show, but no one came in to watch the show/world end.
Preacher may have marched to the beat of its own drum, but what a beat it was.
Spoilers for all of Preacher. This is your one warning.
The biggest question going into Preacher’s final season almost had nothing to do with the main story itself. Where we last left our heroes, Cassidy was held captive by The Grail, intent on kickstarting the apocalypse with the help of God and killing all life on Earth. Jesse and Tulip set off to rescue him while dealing with the occasional odd detour, such as Jesse visiting the king of depravity Jesus de Sade, Eugene/Arseface teaming up with the Saint of Killers to find Jesse, and Cassidy getting circumcised by a deli meat cutter. It all seems pretty straight forward, but the looming question about how the series would end couldn’t be shaken and that has to do with the main villain of the season: God.
God is an interesting antagonist for Jesse’s crew because…well, he’s God. There’s no skating around the fact that the final opponent of the series is omnipotent and could easily end the world whenever he wanted to, leaving an interesting problem for the show to face. If the end is inevitable, then what’s the point in watching? God may be played brilliantly by Mark Harelik, but his presence opens a metric ton of plotholes that take center stage by the end of the show. God could end existence whenever he wants, so why does this final season exist at all then outside of the basic need to have a final season? For a show that was willing to kill off nearly every main and supporting character so casually at the end of the first season, it feels almost cheap to have the ending feel so prolonged and less truthful.
The actual final episode, “End of the World,” is a fitting conclusion to the show, with nearly every character receiving a happy ending of sorts, but that flies in the face of almost everything else that was built up to this point. Instead of subverting our expectations, it plays it safe, which is something I never thought I would be accusing Preacher of. There were times where the show could be repetitive and spin its wheels for a couple of episodes, but being afraid to take a risk wasn’t a concern I had going into this final season.
The endpoint may be off, but for the most part the journey there was sound. Every actor still brought their A-game, with Ruth Negga, Joe Gilgun, and Pip Torrins being key highlights as Tulip, Cassidy, and Herr Starr respectively. If last season was centered on Jesse’s development and him finally coming to terms with his abuse under his mother, Season 4 brought Cassidy’s pain to light. We see him at his lowest, both physically and emotionally, but Gilgun manages to make us really feel for the man. There are more sympathetic moments for Cassidy here than there ever were in previous seasons, making him the real emotional core of the season.
Preacher has been a show that was always at its strongest when the trio of Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy were together raising hell. For the majority of the season, the core trio are separated from each other with Jesse, in particular, going off on his own. His justification for venturing solo is weak at best, with the drama surrounding him feeling contrived for the sake of padding out the runtime. An entire episode is dedicated to him being on a life raft with a pilot, bringing the plot to a near standstill as Jesse reiterates points that the audience didn’t need repeating. Oddly enough, the Preacher is now the worst part of Preacher.
With so many plot threads all running alongside each other, the season feels dense and almost has too much story in it. I’ve refrained from mentioning the original Vertigo comic because of how different the show is from that series at this point, but it bears noting just how much content was crammed into this final arc. The final season felt like a remix between the Masada, Monument Valley, and Alamo arcs, clocking in at a third of the entire series, but good bits from those arcs were either omitted from the show due to time or plucked and used for earlier seasons. At times there are just too many characters and plot threads to wrap everything up in a neat bow.
Yet despite my criticisms and complaints, the show still manages to pull it off in the end. For as narratively problematic as he may be, God is a truly fearsome foe for Jesse and friends to square off against. Herr Starr still brings his dry comedic timing to the proceedings, and Cassidy stands as a solid emotional core for the series. His final scene brings a quiet and poignant reflection on everything that’s happened so far. Its problems still remain, but Preacher’s final season is able to succeed despite those glaring flaws.
Make no mistake, flaws are flaws and this season has way more problems than it should. It’s honestly a toss-up on whether or not this season is the worst of the show’s run, but it does have some legitimately awesome moments. No matter how hard you try, you can’t hate a show where a man tries to commit suicide only for him to fail and get his nipples ripped off. It’s those little moments of insanity that remind me that Preacher was something different. Not perfect, but different enough where I could tune in every week to see what kind of crazy shit was going to happen next. I was not expecting to see Jesus break-dance while Hitler cheers him on or have a commercial for hair products featuring circumcised vampire penises, but that’s Preacher for you. It always pushed the boundaries for what was socially acceptable and there’s something admirable about that.
With most of the creative team moving on to their next show (Amazon’s The Boys), it seems like the same style and tone are alive and well in another Garth Ennis adaptation. I’m happy that The Boys is finding a fervent audience in ways that Preacher never could. At the end of the day though, did Preacher end on a good note? I would say yes, but hesitantly. It’s certainly not neat, or pretty, and could have trimmed the fat a little bit more, but I would say that it ended well. It’s not perfect, not by a long shot, but then again, when was Preacher ever perfect to begin with? Preacher was weird, wild, and not for everyone, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.