Aka Angel-Demon Baby Daddies and The Bad Stuff.
I left talking about Deblanc and Fiore till the very end for a few reasons – to give more people time to catch up (have you watched Preacher yet? HAVE YOU?) and because I love them so obviously, I saved the best for last. In the comics, Deblanc and Fiore are barely there cardboard standouts that exist to provide some more jokers for Jesse to beat up in his search for God. They come to Earth to look for Genesis, but give up fairly early on in favour of the pleasures of doing cocaine and masturbating. Oh, Garth Ennis, you wacky scamp.
Beware the spoilers for all of Season 1 below, as well as a trigger warning for discussions on suicide & racism.
In the show, they’ve become something quite different. Granted, the first few episodes, they clearly exist for Cassidy to murder in increasingly hilarious ways to protect his best mate, and to establish what Anatol Yusef says is the fact that “you expect them to be impressive and scary angels, but they’re really quite terrible at the job they’ve been given” (apologies to Yusef for the generalization of his articulate interviews). But around the time “Sundowner” aired, people were starting to theorize there was more going on.
Let me establish for the record that this shit is my jam. When True Blood was on, I spent an inordinate amount of time down the rabbit hole of what my friend called “mystic housewives conspiracy theory chat” where forum members got together to analyse new episodes for ‘tells’ that the story was being told from different perspectives. The theory was overall that Bill Compton was the Trickster figure, and often had a hold of the narrative to make him seem better than he was. (His counterpart was Lafayette, as the truth-teller/oracle figure, and Sookie was somewhere in the middle, trying to puzzle these out.) Anyway, True Blood ended and that was obviously not the show’s endgame, because Bill got redeemed, and Sookie got married and popped out a bunch of kids. Borrrring.
Back to Deblanc and Fiore. The theory first got established on reddit that Deblanc and Fiore are the parents of Genesis. It quickly gained traction for two reasons: one, that is an amazing change, since the original storyline in the comics is, as even Jesse calls it, some Penthouse letter bullshit. And more importantly, the canon supports it.
It’s subtle at first, considering we’re talking about a show where a vampire pour himself a glass of blood from a human wine bottle. You see that Deblanc and Fiore stand out by their attempts to blend in – watch Tom Brooke walk in the first two episodes, and tell me that isn’t a perfect little “how do humans even use these leg things?” gesture. They’re comfortable in each other’s spaces, walking in sync together, carrying their enormous trunk together, making music together to sing Genesis home, and so on.
Then the hints drop a little harder. Deblanc is afraid of the angel phone. He always shuts down the “other option” whenever Fiore brings it up. He seems deeply upset by Genesis’ absence, staring at the coffee can. He’s offended when Fiore calls Genesis a “bad boy”.
Finally, they’re desperate enough to purchase tickets to hell, and the narrative makes it pretty clear we’ve been looking at Genesis’ dad and dad all season. Deblanc stops Fiore from twenty minutes in the back with the Travel Agent. Fiore doesn’t want to consider going to Heaven for help because they’ll separate him from Deblanc forever. When they’re getting on the bus, Deblanc consoles Fiore with a “my dear” and a really sweet touch on the cheek. And then it blows up in everyone’s face, because this is Preacher and that’s what it does.
This really ties into the Bad Stuff section, because I’ve mentioned earlier here how much I hate the LGBT bait and switch. This isn’t anything so explicit as what happens in The 100, in terms of “lesbian sex is punishable by death” in the media (Tara on Buffy, the Silhouette in Watchmen, etc.) but it does seem to throw “it’s canon!” and “one of them dies” at us in the same episode. And just for good measure, the two mascots of Annville (implied to be gay with Cassidy’s “leave it on Brokeback Mountain” comments, but we never see Pedro without his prairie dog costume) kill themselves together in the episode after that, either overcome by the despair of their Romeo/Juliet rivalmance, or existential terror over a world without God, or both. It’s not a good track record, and while there are fierce debates online over whether or not Deblanc is really dead (is the Cowboy the Saint of Killers yet, with his guns that will kill anything?), no one can say anything until next season, so for the meantime, we have to run with the assumption that Deblanc is dead-dead. And narratively, that would be a logical decision to move Fiore forward, whether Deblanc is gone forever, or something is holding him up in Hell, like fetching Eugene. We can’t take logic into account though, without also thinking about the homophobia of the media industry, whether it’s intentional or not. So while I did genuinely like this twist, it was still heartbreaking for more reasons than just Tom Brooke’s sad sad eyes.
There was also the racism. For all intents and purposes, and I do honestly think Seth & Sam & Evan did their level best, there was just some stuff that didn’t quite work, especially in the flashback scenes to 1881. On the one hand, it more accurately displays the fact that scalp bounties against aboriginal peoples was the practice of the day, rather than the other way round, as Hollywood tends to present it. On the other hand, it displays it a lot. The nature of the Cowboy’s back story ends up with the viewer have to look at hanged Natives, Native scalps or both at least once during half the episodes in the short season. It’s not balanced out at all by any living Indigenous characters – unless you count Annville’s racist caricature ex-mascot, which I don’t. Overall, I get what they tried to do, but it really needed some deep critical thought about the message it sends about aboriginal peoples being extinct objects of history.
Though narratively, the way the Cowboy’s story is told comes together so neatly, and the cinematography is so good, on par with Breaking Bad, it’s also the space for a lot of ugliness, including the only on-screen rape in the entire season. And again, I get it – this is the grimdark Hollywood history vision. But I am real damn sick of rape being used as a short-hand for “hey, these characters are evil”, when it doesn’t match with the reality of sexual assault at all. In a show that’s meant to be so over the top, but ends up being quite nuanced about the banality of evil and the seductions of power, it’s a let down when they get lazy like this.
The absence of Annville residents, aside from Tulip and her uncle (who is at best, scenery), that are not white is pretty glaring for a show set in Texas. Tulip gets to at least call attention to it from time to time, right down to complaining that of course God would make a baby cry, he’s a white dude. She’s up there with first season Tara Thornton for sticking it to racists, though she tends to do it with a subtlety that Tara didn’t (but that’s ok, because Tara was great). I get the sense some of this is borne out of Ruth Negga’s experience as an Irish black woman. (Or: “You don’t look Hungarian.” “What do I look like, then?”)
This is only the beginning, so I hope that some of these things are being reflected on and worked over for season two. In the meantime… when does The Leftovers come back?