In many ways, it feels like the entirety of Preacher has been leading up to this. The southern gothic aesthetic, the inescapability of its characters’ pasts, the comic-book outrageousness and irreverence — all of it culminates in Jesse’s return to Angelville.
The last time we saw our heroes, Tulip was dead, and the ribbing between Jesse and Cassidy had soured into outright animosity. As we dive into season three, we’re picking up right where we left off, with Jesse returning to his grandmother’s plantation to plead for her to bring Tulip back to life — but not before a quick flashback to let us know exactly what we’re going to be dealing with.
Gran’ma is not to be fucked with. If the fact that she’s played by living legend Betty Buckley wasn’t enough to clue you in (and if you’re not familiar with the comics the show is based on, Gran’ma’s ascendancy there as one of the best comic-book villains of all time), her pitch-black introduction ought to do the trick.
I mean this literally and metaphorically: Gran’ma is first seen wreathed in black fabric and shadows, and as the flashback unspools, she asserts herself as somehow even more frightening than the Killer of Saints. She’s a well-known witch, and what she might lack in physical brawn, she makes up for in sheer iron will (she cuts open her own daughter’s stomach to retrieve a picture of an infant Jesse and his father), and her henchmen Jody and TC. So when Jesse rolls up with Tulip’s body, it should come as no surprise that Gran’ma is completely unfazed. Sure, she’ll bring Tulip back, but not for nothing. Before they get started, she has Jesse cut open his palm and give her his blood.
Tulip, meanwhile, is stuck in purgatory. In Preacher land, the waiting room between life and the afterlife looks something like a black-box theater and a sitcom set rolled into one. Tulip sits in a room seemingly suspended in the middle of an endless darkness, watching her young self relive events from her life that seem to have been put through an I Love Lucy blender. Character entrances are met with applause, and all dialogue — except for Tulip’s — is delivered in an exaggerated style. It’s one of Preacher’s stranger sidebars, but effective as a way of making a point about rose-tinted glasses in a sequence that’s mostly made up of grays and blacks.
As Tulip watches, her younger self relives her father’s release from prison, and his short-lived attempt at staying on the straight and narrow before causing the kind of trouble that brings the cops right back to his doorstep. The more difficult it becomes to suppress her emotions, the more she involves herself in the scene, beginning to interject on behalf of her father, and ultimately taking up a gun to stand with him against the approaching police.
The set starts to crumble as two opposing forces start to come into play. The first is death, which has quite literally come a-knocking at the door. The second is Gran’ma’s intervention, which pipes in both the music that Cassidy plays (one of Tulip’s “favorite things,” which Gran’ma assigns the two boys to collect to help coax Tulip back to the land of the living), as well as Jesse’s confession as to how much he loves her. With Gran’ma’s witchcraft providing a little aid, Tulip manages to get the hell out of purgatory — but not before a quick chat with God, who shows up, as always, in a latex dog suit. She’s been chosen for greater things, He tells her. There’s something He wants her to get, but, naturally, she’s pulled back into the land of the living before we can hear what that thing is.
Though Jesse’s happy to have her back, it’s obvious that there’s trouble brewing. Jesse and Cassidy are still on bad terms over their respective feelings for Tulip, which Gran’ma seems more than happy to exploit. When she gets Cassidy on his own, she’s sure to tell him that she has ways of altering the contents of someone’s heart, though it’s a story that loses some of its love-potion appeal when she says that the man whose love she secured was completely enamored of her — right up until the day she killed him.
Jesse, for his part, is not happy to have had to turn to Gran’ma, who practically dares him to take his shot when he says that he could easily kill her and leave, if he wanted to. “Gran’ma loves you,” she says, “more than anything.” Notably, it’s the exact same thing she said to Jesse’s mother before cutting her open.
• I think my favorite thing about purgatory is its breakdown; as the illusion starts to fall away, little Tulip’s voice drops three octaves as she (he?) breaks character and says, “I’m a reenactor, I work here.”
• Speaking of favorites, I’m already bananas for TC and Jody. They’re unpleasant, to be sure, but Colin Cunningham and Jeremy Childs are a truly terrific twosome. There’s something weirdly thrilling about watching Jody (who is introducing while dismembering a gator) punch people so hard that clouds of blood form in the air, and something equally delightful about how TC keeps calling Jesse “li’l Jesse,” e.g., “li’l Jesse, that’s my swamp consommé.”
• The relationship between Jody and Jesse is also particularly fascinating, as there’s a semi-paternal vibe to it despite the fact that Jody killed Jesse’s real father; Jody’s way of welcoming Jesse back to is get him to fight him. It only serves to emphasize just how strong Jody is, as he literally picks up a truck to drop on Jesse’s head before Gran’ma tells him to cut it out.
• I have never been more scared of anyone than I am of Betty Buckley in this show, which is to say, it looks like this season is going to be a lot of fun. Buckle up!