With the climax of Preacher’s first season in sight, every character has plenty to forgive, and plenty to be forgiven for. That’s why, after spending the last few episodes on a self-righteous tear, Jesse Custer spends much of “Finish the Song” trying to make amends.
He starts, acting firmly within Christian tradition, by acknowledging his sins. When Sheriff Root asks Jesse about Eugene’s whereabouts, he doesn’t mince words: “I told you. I sent him to Hell.” But as guilty as Jesse feels, he’s not ready to accept punishment just yet — not when he can call God down to Annville and make Him answer for His sins. So Jesse escapes, biding his time until Sunday service by seeking forgiveness from Tulip, Cassidy, and Emily.
Conveniently, all three happen to be in the same place: Tulip’s uncle’s house, where Cassidy is still hurting from his sunlight wounds. Tulip has had Cassidy on a steady diet of rodents, but recovery is slow and painful. She can’t even go into the room with him, since he’d probably pounce on her and drain her blood out of desperation.
But Tulip also has her own blood lust to satisfy: Carlos (the man who betrayed her and Jesse, in a backstory that’s still pretty murky) is still alive and well in Albuquerque. So, she asks Emily to babysit Cassidy until he’s acting like the cheery, boozy, drug-addled vampire we know and love.
In a series with so many over-the-top characters, Emily’s story often fades into the background, but her story arc has gradually grown into one of the show’s most poignant. She’s a single mother who supports her family by working long shifts at a diner. She’s both underappreciated and overlooked by Jesse, whom she attempts to help with her very limited time. And she relies on the help of Annville’s creepy mayor, Miles Person, whose apparent generosity comes with the implicit (and occasionally explicit) expectation that she have sex with him. It’s quite satisfying to see her shed that meekness and take decisive action to change her lot in life — even if, in this particular case, it means tricking Miles into being drained by Cassidy.
Miles’s death has the welcome side effect of making Cassidy a little more himself again — but he isn’t really normal until he and Jesse hash out their differences. We finally learn whether Jesse used the fire extinguisher to save him from the sun. Jesse did save him, but by his own admission, “not quick enough.”
And that’s where mercy kicks in again. Cassidy could rail at Jesse for his hypocrisy, or his weakness, or his own sins. He could even attack him, getting the rest of the blood he needs to heal himself. Instead, he forgives him. “You put me out. That’s what matters,” Cassidy says, as they resolve to work together to get rid of Miles’s body and set the stage for Jesse’s big standoff versus God at the Sunday church service.
What’s the alternative to mercy? We get a glimpse of it in the Cowboy’s story, which offers a parallel narrative set more than a century before Jesse was born. The first time we saw the Cowboy, he journeyed to Ratwater seeking medicine for his sick daughter; the second time, he doubled back to rescue a family, only to discover that the whole town had been corrupted by an evil, sadistic preacher. By the time the Cowboy reached his home again, his daughter and his wife were dead.
“Finish the Song” finally gives us some resolution, as the Cowboy heads back to Ratwater to seek vengeance. Storming back into the saloon, he shoots every man, woman, and child in sight, then chops the head off the last man standing. As he heads to the bar to pour himself a whiskey, a storm sets in.
And that’s when the episode reveals the grim kicker: The Cowboy wraps back to his home, where his wife tells him to go to Ratwater to get medicine for their daughter. The Cowboy is in hell, forced to relive these horrifying days over and over again, unable to change the outcome.
This endless loop tells us a lot about Preacher’s world. “There is no sin so great that forbids entrance into the kingdom of heaven,” the Ratwater preacher says just before the Cowboy kills him, but he might not be right. If there were any way for the Cowboy to escape this fate, it seems like he would take it.
But on this series, the seemingly hard-and-fast rules of Christianity always have a loophole. As the Cowboy steps up to the bar for his whiskey, ready for the timeline to reset yet again, DeBlanc and Fiore arrive with an offer: Kill Jesse, and he’ll be free. With just one episode left in the season — and God allegedly on his way — all of these plotlines are on the cusp of crashing together. Whoever ends up on top will reveal the moral fabric of this particular universe.
- In a subplot that will undoubtedly pay dividends in the finale, “Finish the Song” also gives us an act of violence that doubles as an act of mercy. When Sheriff Root stumbles onto the dismembered angel Fiore and DeBlanc left in the bathtub, she begs him to kill her. We know that killing her will only make her powerful, but Root is one of the few characters in Preacher who has yet to learn that he’s surrounded by angels, demons, and vampires. What he sees is a distinctly human kind of evil: a woman left for dead in the bathroom of a vacant, blood-soaked hotel. He cries as he strangles her to death, but he believes he’s being merciful. The personal toll makes it that much more heartbreaking.
- Jesse makes amends with both Cassidy and Tulip, but one thing hasn’t been addressed: Cassidy’s relationship with Tulip. Jesse doesn’t know they’ve had sex, or that Cassidy told Tulip he loved her. I’ll be very curious to see how he reacts if he ever finds out.
- Carlos is tied to a chair, and Tulip holds that meat tenderizer in a very threatening manner, but we don’t actually see her kill him. Still, in an episode full of mercy, I don’t see Tulip changing her mind.
- Our glimpse into the Cowboy’s past is the clearest vision we’ve seen of Preacher’s version of Hell: repeating the most painful and violent scenarios over and over again, with no chance to correct the mistakes you made. After being damned to Hell by Jesse, is Eugene Root perpetually reliving the day when he shot Tracy Loach?
- I was willing to buy how Tulip and Jesse shrugged off Cassidy being a vampire; they’ve both seen a lot, and nothing much seems to surprise them. But Emily has no questions about the existence of a real-life vampire who needs to suck blood from bunnies and guinea pigs to survive? Really?
- Emily’s glowing description of Miles Person, just before she decides to leads him to his death: “Ginger goatee, khaki pants, average height.”
- Emily’s decision to kill Miles is inspired by a speech from Psycho, which she happens to catch on TV: “You know what I think? I think that we’re all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other — and for all of it, we never budge an inch.” It’s a great little speech, but maybe Norman Bates isn’t the best source of life advice?
- We still don’t know much about DeBlanc and Fiore, but the episode gives us an interesting hint about DeBlanc’s past. When they’re debating whether they should go to Heaven or Hell, DeBlanc pushes hard for Heaven, citing his previous experience in Hell: “You have no idea what what it’s like down there, believe me.” Is DeBlanc and Fiore’s partnership, like the angel and demon that spawned Genesis, some kind of cross-pollination between Heaven and Hell?
- The cost of a bus trip to Hell, per DeBlanc’s ticket: $348.50. (Beverage NOT included.)
- Jesse and Cassidy’s very elaborate, very grisly plan to make God appear at the All Saints’ Congregation: Use the severed hand of a reanimated angel to dial the heaven-phone Jesse stole from Fiore and Deblanc, ask to be connected to God, and have Jesse use the Voice to order Him to come down and answer for all the world’s evils. We’ll see if it works in next week’s season finale!