Jesse Custer should have kept his mouth shut. In “South Will Rise Again,” the fourth episode of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s gothic-western Preacher, Jesse’s ability to compel people gets to his head, Annville makes him a local rockstar, and guests turn out to his humble little church in droves. That’s all Jesse wanted, but he’s abusing power he has no business wielding. It’s cheating, plain and simple, and it’s going to come back to bite him (or shoot him, whatever punishment Donny can doll out with one arm).
There’s a lot of madness in Preacher, but none of it feels like it’s going anywhere quite yet. Here’s a roll call of the basic character arcs:
Tulip (Ruth Negga) and Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) get intimate, wasting no time establishing his vampirism and her background as a criminal on the lam. After learning his boss Odin Quincannon (Jackie Earle Haley) became a changed man thanks to Jesse’s divine powers, Donny (Derek Wilson) gets one step closer to discovering the preacher’s secret. Meanwhile, it turns out that Quincannon may not have been changed at all, as is suggested when he shoots point blank the out-of-town businessmen with whom the mayor had convinced him to meet. Arseface (Ian Colletti) is still living as an outcast, even in his home. Fiore (Tom Brooke) and DeBlanc (Anatol Yusef) avoid a call from on high.
There’s a lot of stuff crammed in under 40 minutes, the AMC show’s run time after a lengthy prologue featuring the Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish) failing to return to his family with medicine before they became bird food.
To its credit, “South Will Rise Again” is well-paced, despite its compact structure. Poor Arseface won over any viewers reluctant to support a kid with an asshole for a mouth when his rude father yells at him during breakfast to “finish the job,” which was a not-so-veiled way of suggesting he try to commit suicide again. That Arseface’s next move isn’t to aim his rifle but turn to Jesse to pray with his dad is the kind of character moment that will endear Arseface to viewers in the long-term. You want this kid to be happy and safe, and that’s important for the show to build an identity with its audience come later seasons.
Like the presence of Odin Quincannon, Tulip revenge-fucking Cassidy because she thinks Jesse is with Emily is (somewhat) of a story that happens in the comics somewhat later than it’s unfolding in the series. But the show wisely knows its audience can already predict such plots because so many other shows have done this already. It’s good that Preacher is reacting to the tastes of 2016; whatever stories come our way after this, they’ll at least be fresh.
The Saint of Killers remains Preacher’s biggest enigma. Comic fans know his deal, but he’s still so, so far away from the show’s core world and setting. Of all the enemies Jesse will face, the Saint of Killers is the biggest, even more than Quincannon. But his elongated tease will either annoy or alienate casual viewers. He better hurry the hell up, and not dilly dally like he did in his prologue.
“South Will Rise Again” gives the illusion that Preacher is moving forward, but its plot is static, almost frozen in time, and this is Preacher’s most egregious sin. TV viewers are tuning in and talking about Preacher, which is great because Preacher is great and deserves an audience. But if the show doesn’t start going anywhere and simply soaks in its 15 minutes of fame, time will run out and impatient viewers — and they are impatient, because a lot of Preacher viewers are actually The Walking Dead fans killing time until October — may tune out.