Jesse tries to give up Genesis as Quincannon launches a darkly hilarious siege on the church
Credit: Lewis Jacobs/Sony Pictures Television/AMC
S1 E8
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Jesse Custer’s never been your standard-issue preacher, and in tonight’s outing — at turns dark, funny, and darkly funny — he defends his property with extreme prejudice. It’s hard to pick the best part of the episode, so let’s call it a three-way tie between the clever action sequences, the magnificent comedic score, and Jackie Earle Haley’s sly, subtle acting choices.

We open with a flashback to the big-haired Quincannon family plunging to their deaths in a ski gondola, and I hope the other students from my semester abroad were watching and are now ready to apologize for giving me a hard time when I refused to board a particularly rickety looking gondola in the High Tatra Mountains in 1999. I was right all along, jerks!

In Annville, John Custer’s attempting to provide spiritual comfort to Odin Quincannon, whose office is full of large crates containing the bodies of his family. But Quincannon’s grieving in a peculiar way: He butchered a cow and is now holding its intestines in one hand and his daughter’s in the other, unable to tell them apart.

“There is no difference. It’s all meat,” he tells John. “There’s no spirit, there’s no soul. There’s nothing.”

He screams at John to denounce God from the pulpit, but John declines and leaves with Jesse, who’s been waiting in the hallway (as we saw in episode 4). Ooh, this added context makes Jesse’s attempt to convert Quincannon even more high stakes than we imagined.

In the present, Quincannon’s meat men kick open the church door, intent on enforcing the land transfer Jesse refused last week. Another nontraditional fight scene ensues, and we hear a scuffle and see flashes of gunfire through a stained-glass window depicting Noah’s ark.

The team retreats and Donnie demands to know what Jesse told them to do. Nothing, they report, although he thrashed them and kept all of their weapons, which means Jesse now has a machine gun (ho ho ho).

This skirmish was actually a minor inconvenience for Jesse, who’s been working through the stages of grief since Eugene’s disappearance. Last week, we saw denial, depression, and anger. This week, we see bargaining, drinking, and acceptance.

What, drinking’s not one of the stages of grief, you say? Tell that to Jesse, who’s gripping his liquor bottle and swearing he’ll never use the power again if God just brings Eugene back from hell.

Miraculously, Eugene claws his way out of the hole Jesse punched in the church floor. Jesse croons, “I’ve got you, you’re back” and offers him some water. In the most amazing understatement in perhaps all of television history, Eugene says, “Yeah, I’m pretty thirsty.”

Thankfully, Jesse scrounges up a straw, and three glasses later, Eugene’s ready to talk a little, explaining Jesse’s “voice thing” called him, so he started digging up.

Jesse’s impressed. “You dug out of hell with your hands?”

“It’s not that far,” Eugene says in a tone that makes me shudder.

Jesse apologizes to Eugene, acknowledging it’s for God to judge his actions. Unfortunately, Eugene doesn’t take this opportunity to say, “Actually, preacher, that’s a misunderstanding and I’m not really an attempted murderer,” as I was hoping might be the case. Alas.

Jesse’s not done, though. He made a mess of things and tried to subvert people’s free will. Since he can’t be trusted with this power, he decides to give it back.

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Eugene asks if Jesse’s going to call the guys at the motel, and Jesse has the clichéd “But I never told you about the guys in the motel!” realization.

Yup, he’s been sitting next to a full glass of water, talking to a figment of his imagination. (Drunk hallucination? Manifestation of his subconscious? Whatever it is, Eugene’s still in hell.)

NEXT: Jesse shows off his sharpshooter skills

As Jesse experiences personal growth inside the church, Quincannon rallies his meat men with promises of the food court of their dreams on the site of the church, once they drag Jesse out.

Donnie in his Rebel grays leads the next charge, and as they approach, Jesse starts firing from the church tower — not to kill, just to blow off hats and whatnot. The best shot is one that knocks a machete out of one man’s hands and into the shoulder of another. Man, I love these little flashes of just how damn good Jesse is at casual violence and mayhem.

Quincannon’s disgusted when all his men retreat following a few warning shots, hollering that a preacher’s not going to hurt anyone. But a Quincannon employee named Clive — who made a final charge as he chanted “food court, food court, food court” — now strides out of the smoke as over-the-top hero music plays. The men all fall silent, and Clive announces, “Preacher shot my dick off.”

See? Darkly funny.

As the standoff continues, most of the town shows up, treating the armed hostilities like a tailgate by spreading picnic blankets and setting up grills.

Emily arrives, concerned for Jesse and the church, but Mayor Miles tries to make her see sense. Quincannon will help make the town strong, which requires sacrifices; furthermore, Emily’s idea of the good preacher in his church is just a fantasy. In reality, he’s a criminal, and she needs to face facts. She remains unconvinced.

Sheriff Root arrives, having gotten a call from Jesse about the return of Eugene, whom Quincannon refers to as “ass face.” (Holla, comic readers!) Root’s uneasy about taking church land by force, but Quincannon disagrees. “That church is nothing more than wood and paint and colored glass,” he says, vowing to tear it down peg by peg and grind it into dust.

Inside that wood and paint and colored-glass building, Jesse gets on the loudspeaker and demands Fiore and DeBlanc be sent to him, so here they come, dragging their huge trunk o’ weapons up the long driveway. They can’t enter until Jesse Words them to come, since he commanded them to stay way two episodes ago.

He asks the Adelphi to help “us,” but it’s clear they don’t see imaginary Eugene, who shrugs and tells Jesse, “Guess you’re the only crazy one.”

When the Adelphi admit there’s a way to fetch someone from hell, Jesse strikes a deal, saying he’ll return Genesis if they pull Eugene out — this despite the fact the Adelphi can’t tell Jesse why Genesis chose him or whether it was part of God’s plan. Instead, they taunt him for having the greatest power in the universe but not doing a single beneficial thing with it. That takes the wind out of Jesse’s sails, so he lies down on the tarp they’ve spread on the ground, which seems ominous, and prepares to have Genesis lured out of him through song.

Outside, the meat men are gearing up for yet another assault, with Quincannon offering this pep talk: “Just so everyone understands, this is going to be a night assault over open ground against an expert marksman in an elevated position. So, you know, drink lots of water.”

As Quincannon hilariously describes the concept of human shields to his men, Donnie walks to his car, where he kneels, sticks his head in the trunk, and fires his gun.

Inside the church, DeBlanc’s singing an eerie version of “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” while Genesis’ coffee can rests on Jesse’s chest. On the last resonant syllable, Genesis vacates Jesse, who looks up in surprise.

“Bad boy,” Fiore chastises the most powerful entity in creation. Then they roll up the tarp and start to leave, conveniently forgetting all about Eugene. Naturally, Jesse’s furious. “The kid’s rotting in hell over a mistake. How’s that right?”

Hearing Jesse’s distress, the coffee can blows apart and Genesis flies back into its favorite host. (As this happens, the three men hilariously respond in almost-unison with different expletives, all varying in severity.) The Adelphi depart, making plans for “the other option” to retrieve Genesis. With that, Eugene disappears, too.

NEXT: Oh, Tulip. No.

After the commercial break, Jesse’s sitting in a trancelike state as bullets rip through the walls of the church. Triumphant war music plays as the townsfolk, including the prairie dog mascot, watch raptly.

Jesse eventually comes to, holding off the attackers with his expert marksmanship while guzzling liquor from a fresh bottle.

Things go to hell (not literally, though) when Donnie enters the church armed with a pistol. Jesse Words him to put the gun down, but Donnie laughs like a madman, having outsmarted the good preacher by deafening himself with the gunshot in his trunk. Uh, is that a permanent thing? That seems like an incredibly rash action, at least until you remember how deeply torn up Donnie’s been about his run-ins with Jesse’s power.

Jesse seems to feel the same way, because he faces down the barrel without flinching. “Go on, Donnie. We both earned it.”

Instead, he gets a pistol butt to the face, and when he comes to, Quincannon and the meat men are inside. As Jesse signs over the land, he tries to figure out where he went wrong in his command that Quincannon serve God.

“I am, devoutly,” Quincannon says. It’s just that his god is the god of meat, of what’s tangible, touchable, and true. Jesse just laughs at the craziness. What else can he do? But Quincannon fires back that worshipping a silent god is equally crazy.

Inspired now, Jesse asks for one more Sunday. He failed to bring the town to God, and in fact it’s even more messed up than when he got here. So he’s giving God one more chance to speak to his flock, and if Jesse doesn’t like the answers, he’ll denounce God then and there.

Ugh, okay, fine, let’s check in with Tulip. She adopts a sweet hound named Brewski. She tosses him a ball, rubs his ears, and tells him what a good boy he is. And then she hugs him and sadly pushes him into a room with a ravenous, healing vampire, cursing Jesse’s name as she does.

Let us never speak of this again.

Back at the church, the sheriff loads Jesse into the back of his car, and the townsfolk mob him like he’s a messiah, begging to be saved. It’s like something out of Jesus Christ Superstar, and it makes you think that Jesse Custer — ol’ JC himself — will have a good turnout for his last service at All Saint’s Congregational.

So, Jesse doesn’t want to give up his mission. Quincannon doesn’t want to give up his vendetta. Emily doesn’t want to give up her faith. And Genesis doesn’t want to give up Jesse. Something’s got to give here.

Speaking of, the same nameless employee we’ve been watching this season is still dealing with Chekhov’s pressure gauge as it creeps into the danger zone yet again. He flips a button and sits down to resume his vigil, having relieved the pressure. For now.

Sounds like Annville’s in for one hell of a church service come Sunday.

Meditation points:

  • You were a good dog, Brewski.
  • Some viewers have been wondering if Jesse’s Word wears off, which might explain Quincannon’s actions. So it’s good to learn that while it doesn’t seem to expire (see the Adelphi needing an invite in), it’s definitely open to personal interpretation.
  • Did Quincannon order the murder of Jesse’s father when he didn’t renounce God? One of the thugs has the same tattoo on his arm that Jesse does on his back, which could be used as an argument for that theory (Jesse got his as a reminder) or against it (the tattoos are related in a non-Quincannon way).
  • I’m worried that part of the reason I liked this episode so much is because Jesse and Tulip didn’t interact at all. If so, that’s depressing.
  • Okay, four things, comic readers: Were you at first bummed and then relieved the adopted pooch didn’t turn out to be Skeeter? Does the Adelphi’s other option start with “S” and end with “aint of Killers”? If we’ve already done the, erm, groin injury here, will Herr Starr meet a different fate in season 10 or whenever that would be? And finally, MISS OATLASH!!! Of course she wouldn’t forget the mustard on Quincannon’s sammich.

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