by Marc Reichardt
So now we’re arcing toward annoying
I’ve run into a few people over the years who felt that Breaking Bad started slowly. My typical response has been: “Are you kidding me? It opens with a guy in a gas mask and his tighty-whities, driving an RV at high speed across the New Mexico desert, with two corpses sliding around in the back. How can you open much faster than that?” But what they’re usually referring to is the few episodes after that where we find out about Walt’s dead end career as a chemistry teacher and his cancer and his somewhat shrewish wife and all the other dolorous things that make his escape from that life into the role of Heisenberg so obviously enticing. There was a change of pace, but I was so interested in the performances of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul at that point that I didn’t really care. This was a story and I wanted to know more about it. But that story was about Walt and there was enough depth there to build on, even if most people think it took a few episodes to really get up and moving. Preacher is supposed to be the story of Jesse and The Word. However, there are a number of other stories happening at the same time (Tulip, Cassidy, Arseface) and it looks like the showrunners are having a hard time figuring out how to introduce all of it in some kind of sequential fashion, so we’re getting a sine wave of pacing that makes all of it seem somewhat irrelevant.
Let’s take Tulip’s encounter with the cop. It lasted a few minutes and told us… what? That Tulip’s a veteran? Maybe. The ring could just be a highway dodge. That she’s really interested in “saving her man”? Maybe. That’s a nice story to tell someone when you’ve been hauled down for doing 60 over the limit. That she’s convincing enough to sell a state trooper a line of bullshit? Yeah. I think we know that already, so why are we visiting it again in episode 3? What purpose does it serve in the long-term, either for Tulip’s character or the story as a whole? What purpose does it serve for the story you’re telling in this episode tonight? (I’m reminded again of Jim Shooter’s famous dictum: Every comic is someone’s first. They all have to have a beginning, middle, and end in each issue.) There just doesn’t seem to be much there.
Similarly, Sheriff Root suddenly becoming Sheriff Ed Tom Bell doesn’t do a whole lot for me. Root was one of the more detestable characters of the comic series, not a guy you’d sympathize with because the world had gotten too crazy. He provided a focus for the animus of the readers toward the situations that were afflicting Jesse and Co. (not least to his son, Arseface.) In other words, he made a solid bad guy. And perhaps that’s the real problem here to begin with.
We seemed to have a bad guy in Sheriff Root, but now he’s just lost control of his world and seems more plaintive than like someone trying to reassert control. We seemed to have bad guys in the two hunters from heaven but they had a nice sitdown with the sheriff and now we know they’re basically just trying to do the right thing (as they describe it, anyway.) There’s still the lurking presence of a bad guy in the still-unnamed Odin Quincannon, but the audience hasn’t been shown enough of him to really make that determination, especially since he’s had all of a half-dozen total lines in three episodes. What we have is a bunch of people who are some shade of gray, rather than black or white, and I normally love that. I’m perfectly fine with the characters not being divided into white hats and black hats. Honestly, I prefer it. The problem here is that they’re all the same shade of gray, which makes it hard to determine why any of them are interesting at all, since everyone seems to be just one big, confused but happy family at this point. Perhaps once they finish stumbling into each other and apologizing, we’ll finally get someone who becomes annoyed and picks a fight; conflict being kind of essential to any decent story.
One would think that the showrunners are aware of the massive potential for conflict inherent to Cassidy. But so far, the latter has been reduced to comic relief (I did appreciate the appearance of the sun-blocking paddy hat, since that was a hallmark of the character in the comics. The production’s eye for detail is definitely apparent.) and little else. There isn’t even really a foundation for the level of affection that exists between him and Jesse, since all we’ve really had on camera is a couple minutes of them drinking and Jesse trying to get Cassidy to go all “exposition dump” on us. Why would Jesse have taken in this strange guy, other than being a preacher and trying to accept everyone as a child of the Lord, yadda yadda yadda? I guess that’s a foundation, but Jesse doesn’t strike me as mentally strong enough to take that position just yet, especially since he’s wandering around as confused as the rest of the cast, if not more so because he still doesn’t understand the presence of The Word.
I’m not burying it yet. I liked some of the technique employed by director Scott Winant. Quincannon walking from the theater into the light was a very comic-like splash page effect. And the flashback scenes to Tulip, Jesse, and the now-absent Carlos were well done, giving both a dramatic turn to an episode that lacked it and a nice flash of the roots of their relationship. But I’m not watching Preacher for directorial technique and I’ll go ahead and assume that over 99% of the rest of the audience isn’t, either. There has to be something for me to want to come back to and Jesse using The Word to make Cassidy dance and throw himself into walls really isn’t it. Tellingly, while watching the latest episode, I was actually dozing off, which was unusual not just because it was the middle of the afternoon, but also because, as most people will tell you, I don’t sleep that much. There has to be something soon that makes me sit up and take interest, because The Word clearly isn’t getting through to me.
Marc Reichardt is a life long fan of books and comic books who wrote for indie comics for a decade in the ’80s and ’90s. He now writes prose–both short stories and essays on film, TV, and politics. You can find more of his work at on his blog, Dichotomous Purity and in Ghostwoods Books Cthulhu Lives! and Cthulhu Lies Dreaming anthologies.