Preacher S01E05: South Will Rise Again – The return of The Cowboy brings a return to form

Well thank God for that. After last week’s dismal outing I was beginning to worry about Preacher, but South Will Rise Again was a return to form as everything started moving again after two weeks of stasis/stagnation.

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The highlight was the return of the eponymous Cowboy, whose pilgrimage for his family ended in tragedy. I’m wondering what fans of the show, who haven’t read the comics, are making of The Cowboy. I won’t give anything away, because that would spoil the fun, but The Cowboy is cutting an insidious, and mysterious figure on this modern day show. It’s hard to see how this narrative connects to the show’s wider universe (apart from Ratwater, being Annville, that is), but for now let’s just enjoy a great piece of filmmaking. Because that’s exactly what this is, a great piece of film-making. When it comes to westerns on television I’ve been spoiled by Deadwood. That cock-sucking show was bloody immersive due to its world building, and attention to detail. The Cowboy’s trip to Ratwater is the closest thing I’ve seen to Deadwood since the show ended over ten years ago. AMC must have a lot of faith in Preacher to let it create a world this genuine, for what is really only a small part of the story. Ratwater is unmistakably a Western town, full of bar brawls, gun fights, and the “ain’t you that famous killer?” type of questions. It’s here that the Cowboy has to get medicine for his family, except he’s delayed by bad timing, and his own conscience- whose embers haven’t entirely fizzled out.

In a bar called Cooley’s (which I bet you is exactly where Jessie’s church stands in modern day) The Cowboy witnesses a young boy being made to watch as his father is murdered, and his mother is raped. The Cowboy does nothing. That is until he meets those friendly strangers from See on his way out of town. Afraid that the will meet the same fate, The Cowboy rides back to Ratwater to basically get the shit kicked out of him by cronies of a very popular reverend. This same reverend, gives us our first information about The Cowboy: that he thought in the Civil War, and he loved killing. No surprise really, every time there’s a close up on his empty eyes I feel the call of the grave. The reverend shoots his horse out of spite, and he has to make his journey home on foot. But he’s too late, his family are dead, food for the crows, so he grabs his gun and saddles up to, surely, reap vengeance on the reverend.

In modern day there’s another reverend that’s a bit too popular with his flock, and that’s reverend Jessie Custer. After his conversion of Odin Quincannon last week, Jessie is feeling powerful, a force for God, and for good, and the citizens of Annville are believing the hype too. In an eerie parallel with his 19th century counterpart, Jessie holds court with his parishioners at the local fast food restaurant (which now I think of it, that’s probably where Cooley’s stood, we didn’t shake on it o the bet’s off). Jessie spends the entire episode in this saviour fugue state helping people wherever he’s needed, using his Word as he sees fit. The problem is that all he’s giving is easy answers: he tells a man who hates his mother-in-law to be patient, he tells a couple who are worried about disciplining their child, to use their best judgement.  It’s not earth-shattering advice, but it does make people feel better. which I guess is what religion is supposed to do.

Then Jessie crosses the line. In the past few weeks we have been drip-fed the circumstance of how Eugene came to be Arseface (the guy is so sweet that I actually feel bad calling him that). What we know is that the townsfolk call him a murderer, and that he’s responsible for what happened to Tracy Loach. After a late night spot of vandalism in Eugene’s room, he starts to see the emotional toll all this is taking on his father, Sheriff Root. He goes to Jessie to try and help his father. Instead Jessie takes him to the Loach’s which provokes a violent confrontation with Tracy’s mother. Jessie uses his Word to intervene, telling the mother to forgive Eugene. She does, by golly it’s another miracle from the Preacher. But here’s the rub~: Eugene is a sympathetic character, a boy who accepts the hatred of the town because he thinks he deserves it, but the grief, and anger Tracy’s mother had was not Jessie’s to take. This is not saving souls, its mind control.

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Luckily we are given the brutal consequences of Jessie’s actions from Odin Quincannon. It’s through Odin’s murdering of the completion, complete with a demeanour that screams “OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING!” Jessie told Odin to serve God, which can mean different things to different people, with Odin being a big fan of Old Testament justice. Jessie may think he’s doing well, but the show is at great pains to tell us he’s not.

Elsewhere Tulip and Cassidy get acquainted, very acquainted. Both characters continue to be at a loose end, so if they can be at loose ends together why the hell not. Their coupling will surely have complications down the line, but right now their plot isn’t as important as Jessie’s. I think that’s what has impressed me so much this week: that even with all the madness (including two angels hiding in the bathroom from a phone, superb), this is the first episode in which Jessie isn’t just the slightly boring lead character. The more mistakes he makes, the more Preacher gets right.

8/10 Finally we have an episode that shows Dominic Cooper’s considerable talent. Cassidy and Tulip where a bit wasted, but for the first time they haven’t been missed. Now can someone go give Eugene a hug?

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