Hope is a commodity that’s hard to come by in Annville, the setting for the first season of AMC’s Preacher. Throughout the first 10 episodes, Preacher journeys through all of the dark corners and thoroughfares of the town, providing a good look at its troubled inhabitants, and the coming of Jesse Custer only intensifies the town’s sense of hopelessness. As Sheriff Root makes plain once again in “Call and Response,” the place has become a Monster Swamp, full of weird government agents, a psychopathic preacher (and vampires), not to mention a meatpacking company that’s armed to the teeth. In “Finish the Song,” Jesse offered a promise that might just bring hope to the city: a promise to bring God down to Annville.
Near the middle of the season finale, Jesse keeps true to his promise, and God himself appears before the gathering throng within Jesse’s church, complete with a white beard and holy robes. After some grandstanding and general levity, God begins answering the town’s questions, much to the town’s delight. As Preacher has a habit of doing, however, things are not as they seem. The rug is pulled away, and the show revels in the true identity of this figure while providing the first real turning point in the series: God is gone, and no one knows where to find him.
This leads to the moment of which the entire season has been building, when all the bubbling tension and turmoil in the town reaches a fever pitch. With the knowledge that God is gone, moral systems go out the window, and debauchery runs free in the streets. Murder, suicide, violence and all manner of sin encompass the town, leading to an explosive finale that was all but inevitable. Those who were worried that Preacher was shying away from the cynical, pessimistic tone of the comic can rest at ease, as all of the characters the first season had spent building up are gone in the blink of an eye, and even Jesse’s beloved church crumbles to dust.
The hope that once drove Jesse has departed, as he finally departs Annville. Though he redoubles on his promise to Eugene to free him from Hell, he seems to not care about the fate of the other citizens of Annville, disheartened as he is by the absence of God. The last time Jesse appears, however, he’s flippantly discussing The Big Lebowski as news of the destruction of Annville plays on a TV in the background, showing no sign of sorrow. Instead, he, Tulip and Cassidy head out on a road trip to hunt down God — either to help him, or to kick his ass.
The destruction of Annville represents a major turning point for Jesse Custer, and for the Preacher series itself, as it turns away from showing a hopeful preacher trying to help his town, and instead presents one who is out for blood. Whether it’s because he’s so angry at God for leaving his children, or that he’s simply upset that he couldn’t find the forgiveness or clarity he so sought, the answers will have to be left for future seasons to decide, but one thing is for certain: next season of Preacher will depict a much changed Jesse Custer.
Ryan E. Johnson (@atxtheaterguy) is a theatre and film critic from Austin, TX. He enjoys the films of Sion Sono, Wong Kar-Wai, Ingmar Bergman and loves experiencing films told from bold, new perspectives.