Preacher’s second season was such a leap above the first that the third season had a high bar to clear. Pitched, via last year’s finale, as a visit to Jesse’s troubled childhood home, it sprawled into typically wild scenarios, as really only this show does. It also saw a significant change in structure, with its three protagonists split up for most of the season. Less friendly repartee; more individual adventures.
Of the three principals, Jesse certainly has the most eventful time. His story goes to areas personal, settling a decades-old beef with Gran’ma L’Angelle - and professional, worsening a more-recent beef with the Grail. The more emotional beef is, unsurprisingly, the familial reckoning, taking place on Jesse's family plantation in Louisiana. Jesse wants revenge on his grandmother for killing his parents, while she wants him to fetch fresh souls so that she might live longer. It's not a constructive family situation, and Betty Buckley (Carrie, The Happening) does a fine job of making Madame L’Angelle completely despicable.
But Jesse isn't that much better. He's a far darker character this season, plagued by resurfaced traumas and willing to do meaner things to get his way. For all his introspection (including a long-overdue chat with an imaginary John Wayne), he's a total antihero now, intent on making his enemies suffer. That includes TC and Jody, mere archetypes in the comic but given surprising depth by Colin Cunningham and Jeremy Childs in the show. And it most definitely includes his grandma, who suffers a horrifying Dorian Gray-style end. Once Jesse regains his “Word of God” powers, he's honestly a terrifying presence.
Jesse’s excursion into Grail territory is altogether sillier. That organisation has serious leadership issues, between Herr Starr’s escalatingly silly hats and the morbidly obese Allfather’s thirst for nuclear armageddon. Jesse’s quickly made their pawn, in an attempt to grant his powers to endless genetically-engineered clones of Jesus’ imbecilic, tap-dancing descendant Humperdoo. (What a sentence.) But the resultant string of grisly Humperdeaths have nothing on Jesse's sentence for the Allfather himself, who fulfils his Mr Creosote destiny by exploding all over Starr’s office. There’s a fight scene in his remains! His severed anus farts out Jesse’s soul! This show is utterly fucking bonkers.
Tulip (an always-reliable Ruth Negga) has decidedly less to do, spending much of the season under Madame L’Angelle's thrall, but she still manages to snag some great scenes. Her imprisonment in Purgatory is a disturbing and surreal plunge into her own family traumas, making you wonder how bad her Hell could get. On the other hand, she gets to meet God, now concretely depicted as a man in a dog costume. She also gets a delightful odd-couple teamup with the Grail's fanatical and long-suffering Agent Featherstone, staging a heist on a Japanese soul warehouse under the cover of some rather unorthodox workplace harassment training. I like these characters and I like them together. Hopefully they get to square off properly next year.
Irish vampire Cassidy doesn't escape the family trauma theme - but his trauma comes via a new, adopted family. After unpleasant treatment at the hands of TC, Jody, and their underground fighting ring, he ventures outward, meeting powerful vampire dandy Eccarius (a spectacularly debonair Adam Croasdell), who introduces him to his “Children of Blood.” Eccarius’ wannabe vampire cult is pretty hilarious, as nakedly a ploy for popularity as it is for blood. Indeed, his inevitable betrayal is hardly surprising. But it's a hell of a lot of fun, and the story's resolution - which sees Eccarius devoured by his own followers - is incredibly satisfying. What a tragedy, then, that they all burn to death soon afterwards.
Preacher's trio of Hellbound miscreants - the Saint of Killers, Eugene “Arseface” Root, and Adolf Hitler - sadly spend a lot of time not doing much this season. It revolves around the Saint, sent on a mission by Satan himself (Jason Douglas, wonderfully hammy) to capture the two Hell escapees. The Saint experiencing little real resistance extracting Eugene from his orphanage and Hitler from his sandwich-artist job, despite protestations. After a few hitches, the Saint brings the pair back to Hell, gets his weapons back, and promptly shoots Satan - who evidently isn't immune to the Saint's bullets. And thus, the Saint and Eugene strike out to kill Jesse Custer, while Hitler takes his inevitable place as ruler of Hell, alongside Erinn Ruth's put-upon Angel of Death.
All in all, a satisfying season of television, then, delivering plentiful blasphemous weirdness while also peeking under its protagonists’ emotional hoods. We saw more of this universe's approach to religious lore, including a Doomlike vision of Hell. We also experienced tweaked and remixed versions of plotlines from the graphic novels, in some cases told better than the source material. And the sight gags just keep getting more ridiculous. Fun!
What will happen next season, if there is one? This set of episodes concludes with a multi-pronged cliffhanger. The L’Angelle situation may have come to a close, but Jesse now has to contend with the Grail, armed to the teeth and led by a freshly-minted, bloodthirsty Allfather Starr (who, I've realised, is basically Evil Blackadder), and a similarly rearmed Saint of Killers. That Tulip's with him is small reassurance. Cassidy is also under Grail captivity, as bait for Jesse, while Humperdoo clones are apparently roaming free. There's also the greater looming conflict between Heaven and Hell, given God's continued absence, Hitler's new rise to power, and the increased intervention of holy beings into Earthly happenings.
Put it this way: if Preacher's fourth season turns out to be its last, it's all set up to be an enormous blowout of a conclusion.