Following in an installment that appeared to be spinning its wheels a tad, “Monster Swamp” provides yet another grounded Preacher entry, albeit one that looks to more clearly push (however intermittently) both the characters and plot forward to the next level. With all the major players of the season having now been formally introduced (fingers crossed), the series now looks to be finally moving its various plotlines into some form of dramatic collision.
For the first time since “See,” flashbacks provide a sizable chunk of this installment’s structure. Given the Father’s Day timing, it’s only appropriate that they should center on Jesse’s complicated relationship with his old man. And while these ventures into the past remain a bit cryptic in regards to their exact plot purpose, it nevertheless works to propel Jesse’s character in an efficient way. We see in the flashback, for instance, showing that Custer Sr. had a more blunt, traditional way of viewing the world (hence, a healthy dose of corporal punishment) that has influenced some aspects of Jesse’s personality and how he chooses to handle his abilities. Specifically, his father’s failure to “save” degenerate local businessman Odin Quincannon nicely sets up Jesse’s own determination to pick up and succeed where he left off. Speaking of which—
After two episodes of being merely a disconcerting presence, Odin Quincannon finally becomes a legitimate concern here. In a cold open that initially comes across like a “Most Dangerous Game”-situation, we track one woman from a local brothel as she is chased down by what turns out to be a collection of Quincannon’s employees equipped with paintball guns. This bit of roughhousing quickly turns tragic when the girl falls into a sinkhole and dies. Quincannon’s response to the incident is a hilariously terse statement that essentially amounts to “watch where you’re stepping on my land.” Couple that with a scene wherein the businessman quite literally pisses on Mayor Miles Person’s plans to provide a shot in the arm to the Annville economy, and Quicannon quickly becomes the very personification for the town’s unfeeling, depraved nature.
Still attempting to use his abilities for a noble cause, Jesse makes a deal with the man—Quincannon will come to a church service and if he is not moved to God by Jesse’s oration, the preacher will gift his father’s land over to him. After a fiery sermon in which our hero announces to his congregation that the world has “turned to shit” and that it’s all their fault for turning their back on the Lord, he summons his abilities and asks if Quincannon is willing to serve God. And while the man agrees, such an approach is bound to have consequences. For one, there’s no telling how his corrupted mind will interpret the “serve God” commandment. Second, it brings up a spiritual issue for Jesse—namely, is it right to essentially “force” people to do something, for what one perceives as being a morally superior goal?
Whereas the lion’s share of the episode centers around Quincannon, “Monster Swamp” also works to create a better sense of the series’ less extreme characters—namely Emily and Mayor Miles. In the pilot episode, one gets the sense that, just as Emily is hopelessly in love with Jesse, Miles is hopelessly in love with her. This dynamic is all the more complicated when, after a late night in which Miles voluntarily babysits Emily’s children, she blurts out that nothing will ever happen between them, before beckoning him to her bedroom. Given that Emily comments that her kids almost caught them last time, the implication is that this is the latest in a series of sad, quietly devastating hook-ups. Again, while maybe not the flashiest thing in the world, the scene helps establish that even Annville’s more decent folks have their own dark secrets, and that one needn’t be a Quincannon-level monster to improperly exert pressure over someone.
In an episode that’s noticeably lacking in anything too crazy or supernatural, the notable exception comes when Tulip—in a fit of rage over the sinkhole incident—accidentally ends up tossing Cassidy out of a window (she had mistaken him for one of the men involved in the tragedy). Upon begging God to forgive her and spare his life, Tulip arrives at a hospital and quickly discovers Cassidy’s vampiric nature, after seeing him sucking down a few blood bank bags. In addition to providing an extremity in an otherwise even-keeled episode, this sequence works to finally introduce these two characters to each other in a big way, while still offering up layers to Tulip’s seemingly unflappable persona.
Despite initially coming across as enigmatic badasses, Cassidy quickly learns that British mercenaries are, one, from the lower end of Heaven’s totem pole and, two, here without permission from the higher-ups (the fact that they are using a coffee bean jug to capture whatever’s inside Jesse further speaks to their general incompetence). Rather than directly helping them, Cassidy has them supply him with a pharmacy of drugs—seemingly for use on Jesse, but purely for his own hedonistic means—and promptly tries to warn the preacher of their arrival. The fact that Jesse refuses to listen to him is perhaps the episode’s most glaring contrivance. Given all the weird crap that has happened in the town over the past few weeks (Cassidy included), it’s hard to believe Jesse wouldn’t even consider taking in what Cassidy has to say. What’s more, judging from the angels’ (?) ringing phone at the end, Annville may be soon receiving a visit from the two’s heavenly superiors.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.