Synopsis of 1×9: Jesse goes on the run and tries to reconnect with his allies before Sunday Service. Emily is forced into helping Cassidy recover. Tulip makes good on a promise. Jesse sticks with Tulip until the end of time.
“Finish the Song” is all about seeing its characters bump up against their physical, moral, and ethical limits. Tulip finally decides to abandon Jesse and seek vengeance against Carlos. Emily questions how much further she can sink into the muck of Jesse’s supernatural world. Jesse goes on the run as he prepares to push Genesis to its limits to save himself and Annville. It’s a situation rife for exploring these characters’ personalities and increasing the horror intrinsic to their situation.
Terror is realty overriding tone of the episode and it’s built around references to two other pop culture touchstones that traffic in dread. Preacher has never been subtle about its homages to fellow AMC blockbuster Breaking Bad but “Finish the Song” repeatedly references the series penchant for elaborate montages as well as wide shot showcases of symbolic, barren desert landscapes.
The other touchstone is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which receives the far more explicit reference as Emily watches one of the film’s most iconic conversations while pondering how she’s going to feed Cassidy.
The scene, in which Norman Bates both obfuscates his place in the hotel and speaks to his deep sense of entrapment cuts off before the scene’s most famous line, “a boy’s best friend is his mother,” but lays out Emily’s predicament as well as the active role she’s readying to take in the chaos. The next time we see her, she’s using her prison as a killing ground, just as Norman before her.
My biggest complaint about Preacher has always been that it’s had a problem establishing who the characters really are. While the show’s done a good job with theming, it’s rarely used it in a way to really address who these characters are as people. Here, it works wonderfully.
Towards the end of the episode, Jesse sums up all of the characters’ struggles, muttering “You’ve seen the worse side of me.” He’s been pushed, letting his rage and wrath control him in the same way Emily’s desire and lust are beginning to rule her, Tulip’s restlessness and jealously control her actions and Cassidy’s blasphemous existence poisons everyone he touches.
These are characters that recognize what they’re doing is wrong and keep making more compromised decisions, fully aware they’re making those choices and unsure of where they’ll find themselves on the other side.
It’s the first time the show’s used this sort of theming to speak to the series’ secondary story, namely using it to color the would-be Patron Saint of Killers’ torture in Hell. The origin story of the saint, hewing pretty closely to his story in the comics, has been one of the show’s weakest subplots but “Finish the Song” establishes his blood soaked actions as coming from the same place as Jesse’s.
He’s overcome with a desire for fruitless, futile vengeance and pride and being forced to relive his actions over and over again. It’s a connection between the characters that isn’t established in the books until near the series’ end but it works well here, subtly damning both characters’ actions without glorifying the violence either commits.
In a way, “Finish the Song” is entirely about that damnation, that threat of divine justice resting just over the horizon. No one’s actions are excused in the episode and no one is able to justify their sins as Heaven’s agents set their endgame in motion. It’s an idea way to set the stage for a finale, letting the heroes unwittingly damn themselves as justice comes for them and is one of the show’s most compelling episodes yet.