Sunday night’s episode of “Preacher” was an interesting turn for the series. The innuendo and dark humor was largely kept to a minimum; and aside from Cassidy’s self-immolation, the splatter and gore that had been slowly building through the series until last week’s corpse-riddled motel fight was heavily curtailed. Instead, fans were subjected to an extremely unsettling gaze into Jesse’s psyche, as the holy man of Annville began to show how his new powers are transforming him into an arrogant and callous man.
What’s particularly clever about Jesse’s transformation into a bitter, unmerciful judge is that the writers are using a preacher’s most essential tool, the Holy Bible, to show how far removed Jesse is from the men who walked with God whom he would surely like to compare himself to.
Midway through the episode, we see Emily rehearsing a play with some members of the parish. The play is a re-enactment of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, where God rains fire and sulfur on the two cities to punish its inhabitants for their wicked ways. Jesse’s parishioners are playing the family of Abraham’s brother, Lot, who are warned by angels to escape the city but to not look back as it’s destroyed. Lot’s wife does look back, however, and is turned into a giant pillar of salt.
When asked what he thought of the play, Jesse only has one thing to say about it: they need to be more scared. The actors have to show how horrified they are at God’s capacity for destruction. He’s turning into a fire-and-brimstone pulpit thumper, and the others in the room aren’t sure how to deal with it.
But pay attention to how Emily tries to diffuse the tension. She suggests they go back to an earlier scene, where Abraham asks God to spare Sodom if there are any righteous men living in it. It’s interesting that this passage is chosen for the show, because like Abraham, Jesse has found himself receiving some encounters from heaven. But in the Bible, that encounter encourages Abraham to be more merciful, as he tries to get God to not go into full smiting mode. “Far be it from you to slay the righteous with the wicked,” Abraham pleads to God. “Shall not the Judge of all the Earth do what is just?”
But after inadvertently sending Eugene to hell last week, Jesse’s reaction to seeing divine punishment being confirmed as a real thing seems to be “let ‘em burn.” He says as much when Cassidy pleads to him to find a way to save Eugene from the fate he forced upon him. Jesse rationalizes it by saying that the incident that led Eugene to become Arseface was an attempted murder-suicide, and that Jesse was only carrying out God’s plan by punishing him for that crime.
“If God’s plan, if his reason, if his judgment is to send one more sinner…one more lost soul into the fire,” he says to Cassidy, “then what can I do except stand aside and watch him burn?”
Jesse has become corrupted by his power to override free will and has confused his own irrational, destructive behavior with some imagined holy plan. Maybe if he actually read the Bible passage his flock was re-enacting for him like a preacher should, he’d recognize that a truly righteous man — the kind of man his father wanted him to be — would strive to save others through mercy like Abraham. By the end of the episode, his conscience has finally kicked in as he tears open the floorboards where Eugene stood before being cast down into eternal torment. What remains to be seen is whether Jesse is willing to make the sacrifices necessary to undo the damage he has caused.
“Preacher” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
Late to the “Preacher” party and need to get caught up? Check out our quick guide to who’s who in Seth Rogen‘s adaptation of Garth Ennis’ macabre graphic novel below.