How long will Preacher keep spinning its wheels? The series remains strong enough to glide along on mood, style, and the strengths of the performances, but after three straight episodes that merely hint at a grander tapestry, I’m getting a little impatient. “The Possibilities” is noticeably flimsier and frustratingly opaque, as it follows a half-dozen characters around Texas, as they pursue goals that rarely intersect. And just as important: It lacks the gonzo action set pieces that spiced up the show’s first two episodes.
At least “The Possibilities” features some useful clarification on the limitations of Jesse’s powers. Yes, he can make people do whatever he says, and he doesn’t even need to be specific about it. (When he asks Cassidy to tell him a secret, Cassidy replies, to his horror, that he likes Justin Bieber.) But he doesn’t have the power to make people do things beyond their mental or physical capabilities. When Jesse tells Cassidy to name the governor of Texas, he shrugs because he doesn’t know. When he tells Cassidy to fly, he jumps into a wall and crashes to the ground.
And yet, information isn’t the same thing as forward momentum. In structure, “The Possibilities” is basically a series of discrete vignettes. When the episode ends, it’s still not clear when or how Preacher will start weaving all these stories together.
It starts with Sheriff Root, channeling No Country for Old Men as he tells Fiore and DeBlanc (posing, not entirely inaccurately, as federal agents) a horrifying story about an El Paso family who lost track of their child at an amusement park. As they frantically searched, they left their other two children in the care of a pretzel seller who had worked at the park for decades. When they recovered their missing child unharmed, they returned to discover that the pretzel seller had abducted and murdered their other two. “This world,” Sheriff Root finishes, ruefully.
What are we supposed to make of this world, anyway? “The Possibilities” seems to tilt away from Jesse’s childlike insistence on a world of good guys versus bad guys, and toward a world in which every character is capable of both good and evil — sometimes within the scope of the same scene. After another violent standoff with Cassidy ends in a stalemate, Fiore and DeBlanc reveal their true nature: They’ve been sent from heaven to reclaim Jesse’s new ability, which is way too much power for anyone to be trusted with. (Cassidy, ever-helpful, volunteers to negotiate a friendly détente, which will presumably come to pass in next week’s episode.)
It’s worth noting: By casting Cassidy as Jesse’s ally, Preacher is asking the audience to side with a vampire against two immortal beings that seem to be angels, for all intents and purposes. Like that inverted cross that opened the pilot, Preacher seems intent on upending what traditional Christian doctrine has held true for millennia — and that would be a fascinating story if the series ever committed to it.
But back on Earth, people are still people. They all still carry messy contradictions. Donny may have been Jesse’s dumbest, most violent foil — but as he attempts to explain the complexities of his consensually masochistic marriage to his confused son, it’s hard not to feel a little sympathetic. “Whatever you think you hear sometimes, through the bedroom walls, whatever … I don’t hurt your mom,” he explains, then attempts to clarify. “I do, but … grown-ups are complicated.” It’s a smart, humanizing moment for a character who could have easily be written off as a dumb redneck.
In another part of Texas, Tulip is speeding down a highway when a state trooper pulls her over for going 115 in a 55. Like her initial introduction in the pilot, this scene is basically a standalone short film, but it’s a pretty good one. As Tulip pulls a fake ID and slips on a ring that (falsely) indicates she served in Afghanistan, she manipulates her way out of a ticket — even as she criticizes the kind of women who cry to get out of tickets. As she attempts to justify her speeding, describing her haste to get to a friend who “started going down the wrong road a while back,” it’s clear that she’s not totally full of shit. Misguided or not, she genuinely believes that Jesse should be by her side. When the trooper lets her off, and we see that she was sitting on a gun the entire time, it looks like she’ll do just about anything to make sure he ends up there.
It almost works. Despite his desperate optimism about being changing the world for the better, Jesse is swayed pretty easily when Tulip approaches him with a shot at revenge. The details are sketchy — too sketchy, in fact, for this formative moment in their relationship to land with the impact it should — but at some point in the past, they attempted to rob a bank and were betrayed by someone named Carlos. With his his current address in hand, Tulip lays out a disturbingly specific revenge plot: She’ll use a hammer to break every one of his bones — “I mean every bone” — and then switch over to battery acid. All she needs is Jesse’s help, and he’s tempted to agree.
But in a twist of “fate” — every twist of fate on this show feels like the hand of God — Donny ambushes Jesse in the bathroom of a roadside gas station, seeking revenge for the beatdown he received in the pilot. In response, Jesse orders Donny to back up, sit down on the toilet, put a gun in his mouth, and pull back the hammer, before letting him drop the gun and run off in a panic. Having walked so close to the line of evil, Jesse chooses to reaffirm his goodness; when he reemerges from the toilet, he tells Tulip he won’t help her get revenge on Carlos after all.
Will this moral breakthrough put Jesse on the side of the angels for good? Given the strength of his powers — and the ever-present temptation to use them on anyone who gets in his way — I doubt it. He still seems more like a demon than an angel. Jesse may aim to be “one of the good guys,” but Preacher doesn’t let anyone stay confident in their righteousness for long.
- After two weeks of title cards, “The Possibilities” features Preacher’s full-length opening credits sequence. It’s a fairly by-the-numbers mishmash of images from the first few episodes, set to a short riff by composer Dave Porter — best known for the similarly brief, similarly Western-influenced Breaking Bad theme.
- In another vignette that lacks a necessary punch line, we’re reintroduced to Odin Quincannon, a meat magnate played by professional creepy guy Jackie Earle Haley. In an episode that blurs the lines between our heroes and our villains, Quincannon is the only character who seems unequivocally evil. He literally sits alone in his cavernous office, listening to the recorded screams of cows being slaughtered.
- Fiore and DeBlanc’s conversation takes place at a motel called the Sundowner — a colloquial term that has two meanings: a drink at sunset, and a person with dementia who gets increasingly angry as the day goes on. Sounds like a lovely place to stay!
- Shout-out to the news broadcast that carries a perfectly treacly report on Tom Cruise’s funeral: “LOSING CRUISE: EMOTION IMPOSSIBLE.”
- Jesse, on what it feels like to contain unchecked power: “It feels like there’s a big blender in my gut — and inside that blender, there’s everything. Love, hate, fire, ice, polonium, ice cream, tarantulas, everything. All of God’s creation inside me.”
- In a speech that gives the episode its name, Cassidy sketches out a few ideas for what Jesse might be able to accomplish with his powers: “Military, economic, mass-scale psychosexual mind control.”
- This week’s Bible verse, which Jesse reads at Ted Reyerson’s sparsely attended funeral, is 1 Corinthians 1:51-52: “Listen. I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”