The title of this week’s gloomy episode, “He Gone,” could refer to any of Preacher’s male characters. Eugene, who Jesse accidentally doomed to hell at the end of last week’s “Sundowner.” Odin Quincannon, who abandons the All Saints’ Congregation so soon after he was saved. Tulip’s uncle, Walter, who spends the episode passed out drunk on a stoop. John Custer whose tragic death — which sets Jesse on to his present course — is finally explained in detail. Even Cassidy, whose fate is deliberately obscured until the episode ends.
Of course, the most interesting answer is Jesse himself. If “Sundowner” ended by hinting that Jesse’s quest to be a good man may drive him straight into the arms of the devil, “He Gone” takes him straight into the pits of hell. Whatever good Jesse may have had at the beginning of the series, it’s certainly gone now.
The episode begins immediately after Eugene’s disappearance, as the program he was holding — bearing the verse “With God All Things Are Possible,” which now carries an ominous undertone — falls to the ground. There are a million things a person might do in this scenario: scream, cry, or pound at the floorboards. Jesse has another option: He can try using the Voice to command the devil to send Eugene back. It might not work — the limits of his powers are still pretty fuzzy — but he could still try. Instead, Jesse looks at the spot where Eugene once stood, does everything short of shrugging his shoulders, then turns to begin his Sunday church service.
In that moment, we saw hints of the much darker show Preacher could become. There’s a fascinating story in the concept of a corrupted preacher, unwittingly spreading evil to an ever-growing flock of devoted followers. (If you watched HBO’s odd, underpraised period drama Carnivale, you can imagine what this might look like.) If the series were to continue on this track, Preacher would flip its fundamental premise, casting Jesse as the show’s big, maniacal villain, as Tulip, Cassidy, and Emily become the former allies standing against him.
But if there were any chance that Preacher might dare to take such an unconventional left turn, it’s undercut by the flashbacks to Jesse’s childhood, which are clearly designed to help us understand why he’s taken such a hard-line road to perdition. Previous episodes have offered glimpses of John Custer, but it isn’t until “He Gone” that we get the full story behind Jesse’s obsession with the past.
The roots of Jesse’s daddy issues are pretty grim. It starts when 10-year-old Tulip turns up at the Custers’ doorstep. With her mother in jail and her uncle stinking drunk, she has nowhere else to go, and Jesse wants her to stay. Instead, John calls the Texas Department of Home Services and has Tulip taken in as a ward of the state. Jesse, furious, adds an impulsive wrinkle to his evening prayer: “Please take care of Tulip wherever she is, and please, please kill my dad. Kill him and send him straight to hell.” Later that night — by coincidence, or by the hand of God — a group of men arrive to kill John while Jesse watches. “Jesse, much bigger things are coming for you,” John tells him. “Much bigger things than this here. So you gotta be one of the good guys.” As Jesse tearfully confesses that he prayed for his father to die, the attackers shoot John in the head.
Like so many things in Preacher, there are two ways to read John Custer’s final words. Were they merely a father using his last moments to comfort his son? Or did he have some premonition about the much bigger things that would happen once Jesse acquired the Voice?
Whatever the truth, it’s clear to everyone in the present that Jesse has failed in his promise to be one of the good guys. After banishing Eugene, “He Gone” follows Jesse as he systematically alienates everyone close to him. After a particularly unpleasant dinner, he openly berates both Tulip and Emily, then orders them to leave his side for good.
What’s responsible for such a sudden and dark turn in his personality? Cassidy has a theory: Genesis has warped his brain as it occupies his body. When he grills Jesse about the strangeness of his apparent lack of guilt for damning Eugene to an eternity in hell, Jesse doesn’t even second-guess himself — he breaks out a fire-and-brimstone case for why Eugene actually deserved it.
The backstory behind Eugene’s disfigured face is, indeed, pretty horrifying. (Also, it’s quite different from the comics, where he shot himself in an attempt to emulate his hero, Kurt Cobain.) As Jesse explains it, Eugene had a crush on Tracy Loach, the girl in the coma. When she rejected him, he shot her in the head, then turned the gun on himself. “He’s not that innocent,” Jesse snarls.
Cassidy — the quasi-immortal hedonist that he is — is unimpressed. We’re all sinners and we all deserve forgiveness, he reasons, playing the New Testament to Jesse’s Old. To prove his point, he walks into the sunlight, revealing himself to be a vampire as the sun sets him aflame and starts burning his flesh. “Will you let me burn, too?” he asks Jesse, gesturing to the fire extinguisher nearby.
We don’t actually find out whether Jesse saves Cassidy, but we do get a sign that Jesse’s seemingly unshakeable sense of moral righteousness has been rattled by his argument with Cassidy. As the episode ends, Jesse rips up the floorboards under the spot where Eugene disappeared, screaming for him to come back.
It’s a belated attempt to right his wrong — and a sign that Jesse may still have it within him to be one of the good guys. Although I’m sure we’ll see Eugene again at some point in the series, Jesse’s desperate attempt to bring him back at the end of “He Gone” is unsuccessful. In Preacher, it turns out, even the Voice isn’t all-powerful.
- As Jesse continues his moral crusade, Odin Quincannon remains a looming threat on the horizon. When he attempts to force Jesse to give him the land on which the All Saints’ Congregation is situated, Jesse refuses. But Odin won’t take no for an answer: As the episode ends, he leads an army of construction workers to the church, where Jesse is sitting alone.
- One thing I don’t understand: How did Odin shake off the effects of the Voice? Is his violent quest to revitalize his company a perverted version of Jesse’s command to serve God, or does Genesis’s effect simply wear off after enough time has passed?
- John’s killers were definitely sent on behalf of Odin, right? The episode doesn’t come right out and say it, but I can’t think of anyone else who would have the motive to murder a preacher.
- “Please take care of my mom, wherever she is,” young Jesse says in his evening prayers. That certainly sounds like a character we’ll meet.
- More ominous undertones: Jesse and Tulip’s childhood promise to stay together “’til the end of the world,” which is a thing that could actually happen on this show.
- The prayer recited by Jesse’s congregants at the beginning of the episode comes from The Book of Common Prayer: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”
- The flashback casually reveals that Donnie, Odin’s right-hand man, also grew up with Jesse and Tulip — and that Tulip bit off his nipple in a schoolyard fight.
- Cassidy continues his Big Lebowski rant: “Don’t sell me shite and tell me it’s gold. Plot matters.” For what it’s worth, he does like Miller’s Crossing, No Country for Old Men, and — gag — The Ladykillers.
- Odin and Jesse share an affinity for William Barret Travis’s 1836 letter from the Alamo: “I have answered the demand with a cannon shot […] I shall never surrender or defeat.” What the two men don’t recite is the postscript, which has some intriguing implications for the battle to come: “The Lord is on our side.”
- Here’s a recipe for hash browns that calls for vanilla extract, à la Tulip. Sounds tasty!