I’ve been trying to put my finger on just what, exactly, wasn’t working for me with regards to Preacher ever since the second season started. It’s been years since I read the comics, and I only recall the broadest strokes of the plot, so I knew I wasn’t getting hung up on the differences between the adaptation and the original. In fact, I enjoy a lot of the differences! I understand why the show chose to focus more on Jesse’s time as an actual preacher, and I’m happy that the central trio is finally off on the hunt for God. And I happen to think the casting is spot on - Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga are captivating and pulling off the whole deep fried American thang. And Joe Gilgun seems to basically BE Cassidy, minus the bloodsucking. I’m on board.
Still, something wasn’t quite clicking for me, and it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I figured it out. That big flashback episode that finally showed what happened between Jesse and Tulip after the miscarriage but before she married another man. The one that explained why they’d broken up in the first place.
They broke up because they were being assholes to each other. And you know what? They still are.
This wouldn’t be a problem, except that I have read the comics and one thing that kind of makes Preacher the story it is, is the fact that Jesse and Tulip are made for each other. It isn’t smooth sailing, and they aren’t always nice to each other or even very good people, but you root for them — and in the end they literally ride off into the sunset on horseback together.
Both the comic and the show begin with these two characters encountering each other after years spent apart. But the reasons they had for BEING apart are very different. You see, in the comics you find out that Jesse and Tulip were on a lover’s petty crime spree. Jesse was even going to ask her to marry him. But what Tulip didn’t realize was that Jesse’d been on the run from his mother’s terrible family. People who killed his parents, and basically tortured him. And they finally caught up to him sitting on a park bench one day. If Jesse didn’t leave with them, they’d kill Tulip. There was no negotiation. And he knew without a doubt that they’d do it. So Jesse left, against his will, to save her. She never knew why he’d abandoned her. That was how Jesse became a preacher.
In the show, things go down very differently. Though there have been hints that the show may get around to Jesse’s family background, and you’ve heard him use the name L’Angelle around New Orleans, all the dirty details are still up in the air. Despite that, we do know exactly why and how Jesse and Tulip got separated, and how Jesse became a preacher. They were criminals, until the miscarriage. Then they tried to go legit. And rather than talking through their problems as they tried to cope with their new life, they pretended everything was fine while Jesse turned to alcohol and Tulip turned to crime. Eventually Jesse found the proof that Tulip had been lying to him, both about her job and about wanting to have a child (she was secretly using birth control), and he lost it. He beat the crap out of their friend, who was just a witness, and then he left Tulip to go to the only home he had: his father’s church in Annville. He turned to God out of desperation and spite and to get away from Tulip. There was no misunderstanding or outside force involved in their break up. They did it to themselves. And Jesse did not come off looking good.
Realizing this also highlights one of the issues the show has with the characterization of Jesse. He was always imperfect, prone to violence and lying, but he also had an underlying philosophy guiding him — one he learned from his father. You gotta be one of the good guys, because there’s way too many of the bad. The TV version of Jesse doesn’t seem to have a real moral core guiding him. And in this season especially he isn’t listening to his lover or his friend. He isn’t aware of anything but his own misguided mission to find God. And anytime Tulip tries to stick up for him, it makes you doubt her a bit more as well, because the version of Jesse she seems to believe in doesn’t seem to exist.
So what is Preacher without a Jesse & Tulip worth rooting for? When they say “until the end of the world,” it doesn’t feel like a promise the way it does in the comic. It feels like a mask to hide behind. It feels like a place holder for everything they should be sharing, but aren’t.
Maybe this is all a part of the plan. Maybe the show is crafting a new direction for all the characters, one driven by their own decisions. Maybe in the show, Jesse and Tulip aren’t actually meant to be.
But as much fun as I have watching Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy each week, I can’t say I’m really cheering for them. Hell, the show has literally made Hitler more sympathetic than Jesse. I’m mostly sticking around to figure out where they take the story from here.