In the aftermath of a battle that cost Jesse Custer his church and the land it stands on, Odin Quincannon taunts our hero with the history of the Alamo. "Great men. Great Texans. Heck, heroes, each and every one of ’em," Odin says, rattling off names like James Bowie, William Travis, and Davy Crockett. "But the thing we forget, which no one ever wants to talk about: In the end, they lost."
For a series about a man who has the power to make anyone do anything, Preacher often wraps itself in failure. The series introduced Jesse as a bad priest at a dying church. With the help of the Voice, he has since managed to attract larger crowds, but his success has done little more than prop up his growing ego. His allies have all been pushed away, his parishioners haven't been saved, and one boy has been unjustly damned to Hell.
To Jesse's credit, he's doing everything he can to make that last injustice right. As Odin Quincannon's army of violent lunkheads march up to take possession of the church, Jesse is preoccupied by his attempts to bring Eugene Root back from Hell. At first, it seems like he might have pulled it off: After begging God to set Eugene free (and vowing never to use the Voice again if he does), Eugene swims up through the dust under the ripped-up floorboards, and Jesse pulls him to safety.
Or it appears that way, until Jesse gets the creeping sense that something doesn't add up. Bringing Eugene back was too easy, and he knows a little too much. Fortunately, Preacher is wise enough not to draw out the twist for more than a few minutes; Eugene isn't really there at all. "Are you mad, Preacher?" Eugene meekly asks. Both meanings of the word "mad" could plausibly apply.
It's an unsettling development, but despite his flirtation with the dark side in last week's episode, Jesse is never going to be straight-up evil. Still, as he makes his last stand against Quincannon in the nave of the All Saints' Congregation, Preacher muddies the lines between our heroes and our villains — in this case, by making the latter a little more complicated.
Take Donnie, who's haunted by being forced to stick a gun in his mouth at Jesse's command. In "El Valero," he finds an effective (if bloody) countermeasure: sticking his head in a car trunk and firing a pistol, which blows out his eardrums, making him immune to Jesse's powers. Donnie may not be the show's most likable character, but he's not the roided-out idiot Jesse clearly believes him to be, either — and there's something oddly courageous about the smile he gives his wife before risking his life in another standoff with Jesse.
Even Miles — a creep who helped Quincannon cover up the murders of the Green Acres representatives — ends up making a little more sense by the end of the episode. When Emily challenges him on allowing Odin to wrest control of the All Saints' Congregation from Jesse, Miles raises the very real question of whether Jesse or Odin will be able to do more good with the land. "Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the better of the community. That's the reality," he argues, describing the enormously positive ripple effect that an expanded Quincannon Meat & Power would have for the rest of Annville. "The good preacher, up there in his church? That's the fantasy. Fantasy, or reality? Sooner or later, we all have to choose."
Is Jesse's last stand, like the battle for the Alamo, an allegedly heroic but ultimately doomed gesture? At the very least, he acts like one of the good guys, taking warning shots at Quincannon's men without doing any real harm. (Well, almost no harm: Pour one out for Clive, the brothel-frequenting man who gets a little taste of God's dark sense of humor when Jesse shoots his penis off.)
But as Quincannon's army fills the church walls with bullet holes, and rubberneckers set up barbecues and picnic blankets to watch the big show, Jesse's focus remains on Eugene. He summons Fiore and DeBlanc, agreeing to give Genesis back on the condition that they help him save Eugene from Hell. As it turns out, they don't actually have that power, but it doesn't matter anyway. As soon as Genesis is returned to its caretakers, it rockets away again, right back into Jesse.
Why is Jesse the host to such a power? We still don't know what makes our big hero such a hero, but we do finally get an origin story for Preacher's big bad. "El Valero" also takes us back to the moment when Odin Quincannon broke bad. Decades before the series began, his entire family died on a Vail ski trip after the cable taking them up the mountain snapped, sending their car crashing to the ground. In his grief, Odin called John Custer — but when John arrived, Odin revealed that he had already sorted out his feelings about the tragedy. "Which is my daughter, which is the cow?" Odin asked, holding a trail of intestines in each hand. "There is no difference. It's just meat."
Back in the present, Odin reveals how he was able to buck Jesse's command to serve God: Jesse never specified which God. Odin declares that he proudly serves the God of Meat: "What's tangible. What's touchable and true." Jesse laughs and dismisses Odin's (admittedly unconventional) belief system as "batshit crazy," but it's enough to make him consider whether his own belief in the silent Christian God makes any more sense.
In a season filled with so many horrors, Jesse feels entitled to some answers. He strikes a bargain with Odin: one last Sunday church service before he hands over the property to Quincannon Meat & Power, during which Jesse plans to command God himself to come down and answer for the state of the world. "He's gonna talk to us. Spread the word," Jesse promises. "He's gonna speak, and He's gonna answer all our questions. And if we don't like His answers, I will denounce the bastard then and there."
What will God say? It's a question that has bedeviled Christians for centuries, but unlike every other theologian in history, Jesse might actually have the power to get a reply.
- "El Valero" sneakily answers the question of what happened to Cassidy, in a seemingly non-sequitur subplot that finds Tulip adopting an adorable bloodhound named Brewski. Just when it looks like Tulip has finally found a companion to bring a little compassion into her life, she leads Brewski into a bedroom … where Cassidy kills him and drinks his blood, presumably to recover from his sun-induced burns. It's not totally clear, but it certainly looks like Jesse decided not to use the fire extinguisher on Cassidy after all.
- "Mex, Tex-Mex, Oriental." Odin might want to broaden his palate a little before he builds that food court.
- And while he's at it, he should also work on his motivational speeches. "I don't want you to think you're human shields … but you are human, and you're going to be acting as shields of a sort," he tells his club-wielding employees.
- Preacher gives us Jesse's big fight with Quincannon's men through a thick, stained-glass window. It's a cute move, but also one of those moments when the series' relatively modest budget sticks out.
- The song DeBlanc uses to suck Genesis out of Jesse's body is a musical arrangement of Eugene Field's poem "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod."