Where does evil come from? Preacher hasn’t gone all the way back to the Garden of Eden — at least not yet — but it does trace Annville’s godless to the horrifying violence of its past. “South Will Rise Again” begins in Ratwater circa 1881, at the dusty settlement we first glimpsed in “See,” where a gruff, mysterious cowboy rode off to purchase medicine for a young girl who desperately needed it.
Although Ratwater contains the cure the cowboy needs, it also contains the disease — a debauched, cynical state of perpetual violence that permeates the entire town. Even religion has been perverted: In the middle of a hellish saloon full of brawlers and prostitutes, the cowboy listens as a preacher delivers a boozy sermon that turns the story of Noah’s ark into a dirty joke. (“Why won’t you release that rooster?” asks God after the flood abates. “After 40 long nights on that ark, forgive me, my lord — but I cannot stop stroking my cock,” Noah replies.)
This is what passes for religious wisdom in Ratwater — and if the preacher’s idea of a parable is a little blasphemous, his inaction turns out to be truly damning. Later, the same preacher ignores a group of drunks attacking a family as they pass through town, as they kill the father, rape the mother, and force their young son to watch. The cowboy — who knows that time is running out to bring the medicine to the young girl — reluctantly turns his own blind eye as he begins to ride back to the homestead. But when he sees another innocent-looking family with a young son heading toward Ratwater, he can’t quell his conscience, and he rushes back to the town to save them from the mob.
And that’s when the extended flashback delivers its grim punchline. As the cowboy rushes in to save the family from the evils of the town, he discovers that the family is just as callous and violent as everyone else, handing over a bag full of scalps in exchange for a pile of cash. And the blasphemous preacher, convinced he recognizes the cowboy from the Battle of Gettysburg, seeks postwar revenge by shooting his horse. By the time the cowboy manages to walk back to his homestead with the medicine, both the young girl and her mother are dead, with a swarm of crows pecking away at their corpses.
Preacher still hasn’t established exactly how (or even if) these Cormac McCarthy–esque vignettes will connect with the present-day narrative, but one thing is clear: Annville, which stands where Ratwater once stood, is haunted by literal and spiritual horrors of the past. In the aftermath of his successful conversion of Odin Quincannon, Jesse stands proudly, surveying a beautiful sky under a tree where corpses hung in 1881. Later, a crow that looks identical to the ones that pecked at the girl’s dead body is seen rummaging inside a discarded container of Chinese food. It doesn’t matter what century it is, or if you call this blasted patch of land Ratwater or Annville; this is a place for scavengers.
If this town can somehow be saved after more than a century of evil, Jesse is determined to save it, no matter how much he needs to use his superpower. This is the first time we’ve seen Jesse lean so hard on the Voice, and his orders have grown increasingly flippant and glib — the kind of broad, bland counsel that probably doesn’t require enforcement with the Voice. “Be patient,” he tells a man who’s irritated with his mother-in-law. “Just use your best judgment,” he orders two parents who are arguing about how much time they should allow their kid to look at screens. The sole exception to Jesse’s newfound laziness with the Voice comes when Eugene Root approaches him with a problem: His father is miserable, and Eugene is convinced (perhaps not incorrectly) that it’s his fault.
With the Voice, there are plenty of easy solutions to Eugene’s problem. Jesse could approach Sheriff Root and order him to be happy, or to treat his son with more kindness. If he didn’t want to be bothered with the hassle of driving all the way over to Sheriff Root’s house, he could just order Eugene to believe that his father is the happiest man on Earth — or, alternately, order Eugene to stop caring.
Instead, Jesse attempts to get to the heart of the problem by driving Eugene over to the Loach residence and snuffing out the tensions between the two families, which seem to originate in an incident that led both to Eugene’s facial deformity and Tracy’s coma. When Tracy’s mother, upon seeing Eugene outside her home, runs out to the truck and starts smashing the windows, Jesse uses the Voice to order her to forgive Eugene — and she extends her arms, embracing him in the full view of her shocked neighbors.
This imposed détente is an act of generosity that doubles as an act of cruelty. Forgiveness is a deeply personal decision, and often hard-won; whatever role Eugene played in putting Tracy Loach into a coma, her mother is absolutely wracked with anger and grief over it. Jesse can flip people’s emotions as easily as turning on a light switch, and he’s increasingly comfortable doing so, but it’s unsettling to watch him steamroll all these God-given human emotions with such casual ease.
In the end, Jesse decides to let Eugene handle his own relationship with Sheriff Root. “Now you can tell him not to worry anymore,” he tells Eugene. It’s an order Jesse could enforce with the Voice. Instead, he attempts to solve the problem, then let Eugene and his father hash out their differences on their own. In theory, this is a more nuanced use of the Voice: giving people the nudge and the tools they need to solve their problems on their own.
But even when he uses it with extra care, the Voice leads to unpredictable consequences. Days after putting his gun in his own mouth at Jesse’s command, Donny is wracked with depression and PTSD, relating his own helplessness to the look he saw in the eyes of the cows he used to kill at Quincannon’s slaughterhouse. He can’t explain what happened in any rational way, but he knows some deep part of his psyche has been violated. “Don’t you worry about Preacher,” Donny’s wife reassures him. “Sooner or later, your moment will come, and he’ll get what he deserves.”
That reckoning already seems to be on the horizon. After his conversion at the All Saints’ Congregation, Quincannon seems like a changed man: cheery, warm, generous. “This town is in trouble. It needs help,” he concludes early in the episode. He even agrees to meet with the businesspeople from Green Acre about Miles’s proposed merger. When they arrive, Quincannon is so warm he seems like a different person, cracking jokes and pouring generous glasses of brandy.
And then he pulls out a shotgun and murders them all. “We grow or we die, Miles,” he says. “We grow or we die.”
How did Jesse’s seemingly straightforward order to “serve God” lead Quincannon to such direct and horrifying violence? In the episode’s chilling coda, the angels Fiore and DeBlanc finally meet Jesse in person, warning him about the power he’s been using with such frequency. “What’s inside of you, it isn’t God,” they say. We won’t find out exactly what they mean until next week’s episode, but as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
- “South Will Rise Again” offers a big hint about what happened to Eugene’s face: Someone sneaks into his bedroom and graffities “FINISH THE JOB,” painting an arrow pointing to a shotgun.
- We get another very brief flashback to the moment when Carlos betrayed Jesse and Tulip. Given that Tulip’s motivation is totally wrapped up in her revenge scheme, I really wish Preacher would just give us the whole story already.
- In what I hope is the first of many bonkers stories about Jesse and Tulip’s criminal past, she recalls a time when they were smuggling exotic reptiles. When the buyer of a Komodo dragon made a pass at Tulip, Jesse retaliated by shooting the lizard in the head. “They were gonna eat it anyway!” he says.
- In a rapid-fire conversation with Tulip, Cassidy explains the basics of being a vampire in the Preacher universe: He doesn’t have fangs; he can’t turn into a bat; he doesn’t sleep in a coffin; he’s not affected by the cross beyond his personal distaste for “a 2,000-year-old symbol of hypocrisy, slavery, and oppression”; and, while drinking blood can heal his injuries, he prefers to drink single-malt scotch.
- As seen from Tulip’s perspective, her subsequent parking-lot tryst with Cassidy is about as joyless as it gets.
- Eugene’s mother makes a small cameo (though we get a better look at her in the show’s opening credits), and it seems like she is totally catatonic.
- Next week: Fiore and DeBlanc reveal where the Voice comes from, and why Jesse needs to give it back.