‘Preacher’ Episode 1.8 “El Valero” (7 out of 10) Developed by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg & Sam Catlin; Starring Dominic Cooper, Joseph Gilgun & Ruth Negga; Sundays on AMC.

For some time now, I’ve kicked around the idea that “Preacher” is a modern retelling of the 1989 film “Road House.” Both stories feature a powerful entity with a mysterious past that arrives to clean up a podunk town, and both stories feature an uncharacteristic absence of law enforcement when a rich supervillain decides to shoot up the place. I’m still on the fence as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, however.

The Standoff

Picking up from last week, Jesse (Dominic Cooper) has holed himself up in his church while Quincannon (Jackie Earle Haley) has amassed an army of employees at his meat packing facility just outside. It turns out that my theory about Quincannon’s idea of God was correct—when Jesse told the old codger to serve God back in episode four, Quincannon took that to mean service to “the god of meat,” which is the god to whom Quincannon has pledged fealty.

We’ve been getting little bits and pieces of how Jesse’s failure to consider the semantics of his language when using Genesis have gotten him into trouble, but this is his biggest screw up to date. It even causes him to allow Fiore (Tom Brooke) and DeBlanc (Anatol Yusef) to sing Genesis out of him so they can take the being back to Heaven—but Genesis seems to like being housed inside this hard-drinking man of God, and breaks its coffee can prison in the process.

There’s no question as to whether or not this episode is fun to watch. It’s cool to see Jesse go all John Wayne on Quincannon’s Meat Men, and the morbid realism that Jackie Earle Haley injects into Quincannon is darkly funny. It does, however, exhibit a level of camp that doesn’t quite match up with the tone that “Preacher” has set for itself—which brings me to “Road House.” Both Annville, Texas and Jasper, Missouri seem to exist in this weird universe where the town billionaire has somehow made local law enforcement completely impotent. When Quincannon whips up his meat packing cronies into a makeshift militia to bring Custer out of his church, I can’t help but think of how ridiculous it was when one of Brad Wesley’s goons drives a monster truck through a car dealership in “Road House.” Don’t get me wrong, I love “Road House” for taking its campiness over the top, but it’s something that feels tonally off in “Preacher.” There was a point in the show where it could have veered into “Road House” levels of camp, but it chose a path that was a bit darker instead. The town of Annville, with its population of garbage-humans that set up lawn chairs to watch a gunfight, is meaner than Jasper. Camp doesn’t work if it’s mean.

Tulip and Cassidy

Last week, Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) set himself on fire. Tulip (Ruth Negga) is once again tasked with taking care of him, though it’s important to note that she was not responsible for mutilating him this time. There’s a metaphorical grab bag behind her scenes, which were focused on a stray hound dog that she eventually feeds to Cassidy so he can regenerate. Does the dog represent her feelings for Jesse? Is she just keeping it alive for a short time so it’s complacent when she feeds it to someone else? Or does she feel some sympathy with this stray animal since its life bears some tragic similarities to her own? Regardless, these scenes of forced melancholy are a little hard to take seriously—can we start giving Tulip something to do? Please?

Verdict

Not a bad episode, but a definite step backwards. All of the problems with the show thus far—stalled plotting, uneven use of characters and an uncertainty about whether it wants to be funny or gritty—are present. We’ve got two more episodes left this season, and I hear tell that the Cowboy (Graham McTavish) is back next week. Here’s hoping that he can give the show a proper kick in the ass.

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Tags: Ruth Negga , Joseph Gilgun , Preacher , Dominic Cooper , AMC