Although last week's Preacher covered too much of the same ground from the first two episodes, it at least cleared the way for the show to move forward in "The Serve." Episode four wasn't quite as thrilling as those first two absurdly fun hours, but it highlighted character action and gave some additional, necessary screen time to the growing cast of supporting players. More impressively, Preacher is continuing to find ways to control its unusual tonal balance amid more everyday scenarios.
Freed from a few days of self-doubt, Jesse (Dominic Cooper) was a brand new man in "The Serve." He finally began to back up all his talk about using his sudden mind control-y powers for good--sort of. Instead of working with members of the Annville community in private, Jesse opted for a bold public display of his abilities during the Sunday sermon.
Despite the good preacher's newfound positive outlook, Jesse spent a good chunk of "The Serve" lightly manipulating people, no heavenly skills needed. To recruit as many people to church, he raffled off a shiny 4K TV; to get that TV to the church, Jesse charmed and flirted with a doting Emily, who will probably do anything he says without any supernatural persuasion. And, in the most cunning part of his plan, Jesse offered up his father's acreage to Quincannon (Jackie Earle Haley) in hopes of getting Annville's most notable businessman into the church pews.
These scenes were more compelling than anywhere Jesse actively uses his powers, if only because they're more subtle. On one hand, we might posit that Jesse's normal negotiating or persuasive abilities are heightened to such a degree by the heavenly force inside of him that he can influence people even when he isn't fully revving up those abilities.
But on the other hand, it's interesting to interpret Jesse's actions here as natural because it demonstrates, if even a little bit, the kind of person he actually is--not necessarily a bad guy, but one who probably knew how to get what he wanted (especially from women) long before a mysterious entity leased out space in his body.
It's a great way to fill in backstory about Jesse and his pre-preacher days without relying on flashbacks. "The Serve" employed a few of those to establish Jesse's longstanding relationship with Quinncannon--and some of the horrors he saw as a kid--but shows like this one function better when quality information is transmitted through action, not quick cuts to the past. That's especially true given how slow Preacher the show is moving compared to the comic. If the show is planning to delay or exercise some of the comic's more bewildering events in the name of clarity, it should also not weigh itself down with too many Jesse-as-a-kid flashbacks.
If Jesse's story this week was all about moving beyond his idling, Tulip's (Ruth Negga) was about acting out in frustration. Unsuccessful in her attempts to recruit Jesse for the revenge tour, Tulip turned her attention to some smaller patches of injustice happening locally at the brothel frequented by Quincannon's barbaric male employees. When one of the brothel's ladies fell into a pollution-created sinkhole--factory farming might be bad y'all--during a exploitive game of paintball, Tulip went on the offensive, asking the women to rise up against their oppressive conditions. Predictably, those calls fell on deaf ears, forcing Tulip to take more violent measures, only to discover that she attacked the wrong man--Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun).
Obviously, the meeting between Tulip and Cassidy is a big deal for comic readers and the scenes were great, but there will be time in the future to talk about that. Instead, it's worth acknowledging how well "The Serve" illustrated some of Tulip's key traits through action. Her outburst at the brothel was clearly a response to Jesse's eschewing her pitch in the previous episodes, but it was also tapping into some of the surely-bad things she experienced at that place some years ago. Ruth Negga embodies that vengeful rage so well, and good on Preacher for avoiding telling us about Tulip's past. Showing is always better.
While "The Serve" offered some productive and good stuff for the lead characters, it also made better use of the supporting folks in Annville. Lucy Griffiths' Emily is trapped being the most normal person in a story of creatures, creeps and cretins, but this episode nicely turned into that skid. Emily is distressingly normal--working double shifts, overwhelmed at home and by Jesse, and having casual sex with the limp-wristed mayor who desperately wants more from her.
Nothing about Emily's scenes were extraordinary, which helps them stand out even more. The other characters, even the non-supernatural ones, talk and act like they're straight out of a comic book. Not Emily. She's trying to make it each day, and for some reason, it really works in this surrealist universe the show has created.
Meanwhile, those more surrealist characters had quite the episode as well. Fiore and DeBlanc (Anatol Yusef') still couldn't convince Cassidy to bring them Jesse and the thing inside of him, so they were stuck waiting in a shoddy motel. These heavenly figures are part Terminator and part toddler, emphatically dedicated to their mission but slowly learning--or being inculturated--by all the wonders of humanity.
Anatol Yusef's DeBlanc has popped on screen in previous episodes, but "The Serve" was a great showcase for Tom Brooke's Fiore as the character experienced perhaps the most American sensation of all: being manipulated by advertising to buy terrible, artery-closing fast food. Preacher understands the comedic value in having detached, confused creatures from the sky lust for hamburgers, or stare longingly at the fluorescent lights of an old, broken down vending machine. It was just weird and funny and a little uncomfortable all at the same time.
Then there's Quincannon, the show's weirdest entity thus far. Again, shout out to the Preacher team for casting Jackie Earle Haley, an actor famous for playing extremely dark or odd characters, and then asking him to play a local businessman. If you're like me, you spent most of "The Serve" waiting for Quincannon to do something horrifying. It didn't happen here--instead, he fell victim to Jesse's powerful word in front of many townspeople--but the fact that it didn't made Quincannon even more unsettling to watch. You thought it was bad to watch Haley to play Rorschach or Freddy Kruger? Watch him in his ugliest role yet, craven factory farmer.
Altogether, Preacher made good use of its leading and supporting characters in "The Serve." Unlike the comic, which takes on more of a travelogue structure pretty quickly, the show seems dedicated to sticking around Annville for the long haul, or at least the first season. If that's the case, Preacher needs more episodes like this that develop Emily, Quinncannon, and the rest as more than stock types played by solid performers.
Plus, this episode proved that the show can still create strange tension or moments out of the smallest things--be it Jesse lingering around Emily's basic kitchen, Fiore staring blankly at the TV, or Quincannon disgruntledly urinating into a briefcase. Some of those moments play as weird for weird's sake, but I'm okay with that early on in Preacher's run. I'd much rather the show take moderate risks in those smaller scenes in hopes of being as unorthodox as possible, as much as possible instead than simply dial it back for 35 minutes and then uncork a big "crazy" moment. Chase your bizarre bliss, Preacher.