Character Study: Preacher’s Cassidy

Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy in Episode 3.01 (“Angelville”). Photo Credit: Alfonso Bresciani/AMC/Sony Pictures Television.

By Mlgagne

It’s no secret that I believe that Preacher is one of television’s most underrated gems; it’s one of the first series that I always recommend to people. On its surface, the content presented can be very over-the-top and controversial for some viewers (for instance, I distinctly remember the sex scene featuring Jesus from last season causing quite the hubbub in more conservative communities online). To put it more bluntly, the series is not for those who are easily offended (and especially not for those who are easily offended by religious satire)…but if you are willing to embrace its more outrageous elements just go with the flow, you will open yourself up to the very intelligent social commentary going on just below the surface.

Moreover, watching the series from this perspective opens the door for viewers to see the characters in a different light; simply put, they become extremely relatable rather than being “larger than life.” One of the characters on the series that I think most exemplifies this is Cassidy, portrayed by actor Joseph Gilgun. On the surface, Cassidy is a hard-drinking, drug abusing 119-year-old Irish vampire; he’s the life of the party, he thrives on chaos, and he frequently offers quite a bit of comedic relief for viewers. However, underneath that exterior is a complexity that is simultaneously fascinating, tragic, and human, something that has quickly made him a favorite character of mine (little known fact: Gilgun’s performance in the season 2 finale is what truly rekindled my love for acting and inspired me to take up the study of the craft once more). The character Featherstone pretty much sums him up in two words in episode 2.10 (“Dirty Little Secret”): “charming and damaged.” This is because Cassidy is a heartbreaking antihero at his core – and, by digging further into both his characterization and his relationships with both Jesse and Tulip, we can begin to understand why.

(A word of caution: some spoilers from the comics below).

Characterization

Cassidy is definitely not presented to viewers as a stereotypical “hero”; in fact, he is usually anything but. Because of his skeptical nature, he is presented as a foil to Jesse, the title character, right from the get-go. In contrast to Jesse’s blind faith in religion, Cassidy is quick to question the world. He often voices his belief in conspiracy theories and his doubt that God has a “plan” for Jesse; he is already questioning Jesse’s faith in God the same night that they first meet.

Cassidy in Episode 2.01 (“On the Road”). Photo Credit: Skip Bolen/AMC/Sony Pictures Television.

With Cassidy’s lack of belief comes the personality to back up that stance. He is generally extremely honest when it comes to what he is; he has described himself as selfish, destructive, jealous, and an asshole (all of which often ring true – and none of which are typical of a “hero”). He also lives life the way he wants with no regard for the consequences – something that probably came easily to him after all the years of being a vampire, where his only true concern is burning to death in the sun. Since nothing else can kill him, he frequently engages in behavior (i.e. fighting, drinking, drug abuse, sex, etc.) that he probably doesn’t see as a risk to himself. However, these things have certainly – and maybe even unexpectedly – taken their toll on his life.

Underneath all of that noise, Cassidy is a very lost soul. This can be easily seen through his status as a drifter prior to falling in with Jesse and Tulip; the fact that his clothing often looks like he found it in some random person’s backyard indicates that he doesn’t tend to stay in one place for very long. Moreover, he was extremely quick to fall in love with Tulip and to start calling Jesse his “best mate,” both of which imply that he really isn’t close to anyone. This makes a lot of sense when you consider the conversation he has with Tulip in season two about being a vampire, particularly when he says the following: “Everyone you ever cared [about] or loved just dies…except you.” (Episode 2.08: “Holes”) This implies that Cassidy lives in an endless, repetitive pit – and, when added to the fact that he claimed that “most people” have died hating him (in Episode 2.07: “Pig”), we are given fairly clear insight as to how he’s dealt with many relationships in his life.

Cassidy and Denis in Episode 2.06 (“Sokosha”). Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television.

For example, take Denis, Cassidy’s son. It is clear that their relationship is strained when we first see them interact in season two; in fact, Cassidy appears to have been absent for most of Denis’s life. Cassidy is ridden with guilt over that, and because Denis is old and dying, it has a lot to do with his decision to give in to his son’s wish to be turned into a vampire (even though he knows it’s wrong). Of course, that whole plan ends up backfiring; Denis can’t control his urges as a vampire, which begins to have an adverse effect on the normally in-control Cassidy…and he ends up having to kill his son anyway in a moment of self-preservation. But it can be argued that the whole scenario came about because Cassidy abandoned his duties as a father when Denis was a child – and one has to wonder if he didn’t sabotage this relationship on purpose because he knew that Denis and his mother would both grow old and die while he watched on helplessly (in other words, maybe he abandoned them before he could be abandoned).

Cassidy in Episode 2.07 (“Pig”). Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television.

However, something else may be a factor in this; it hasn’t been heavily touched upon in the series just yet, but it was an important enough plot point in the comics that I believe it will undoubtedly make its way on screen soon. Specifically, Cassidy’s substance abuse is more of a problem than he generally lets on, and the circumstances surrounding this addiction are often what led to the detonation of most of his relationships in the comics. This was hinted at in season two, when Cassidy gets so drunk at a bar that he passes out in the street and is mistaken for dead. He eventually wakes up in a morgue – and upon being discovered and walked out of the hospital, he tells the nurse, “I’m used to it. Alcohol and a lack of vital signs will do it to you every time.” (Episode 2.07: “Pig”) This implies that this isn’t the first time Cassidy has overdone it with alcohol or drugs to the point where he has been mistaken for dead, and though the series hasn’t really delved into the depths of his problem just yet, in the comics it isn’t until the second half of the story that it truly comes to light. In other words, I think it’s bound to come up within the series soon, and I’m intrigued to see if it is touched upon at all in season three.

Relationships with Jesse and Tulip

Cassidy’s relationships with Jesse and Tulip are pretty complex – partly because of his defining characteristics, and partly due to the events that have taken place throughout the series. However, those relationships have allowed viewers to see the inner workings of Cassidy’s mind more clearly, shedding light onto just how psychologically damaged he is – and also onto how he has the potential to be the unsung hero of the series.

In the series, Cassidy meets Jesse first, and they become fast friends. They have a mutual respect for one another, and Cassidy seems to believe that Jesse is truly a good person at his core. Furthermore, Cassidy and Jesse are two sides of the same coin; they are both savvy fighters, and both seem to have a certain “moral code” that they tend to adhere to (though that code differs between the two). Because of this, Cassidy seems to see a lot of himself in Jesse – to the extent where the viewer has to wonder if he wishes he actually were Jesse at times. He really appears to value Jesse’s opinion as well – but unfortunately, this means that Jesse frequently lets him down. Interestingly, Cassidy tends to lash out the most in these moments; a good example of this is in season two, when he goes to try to talk Jesse out of killing Tulip’s estranged husband Viktor and ends up spitefully attempting to talk Jesse into killing Viktor instead after Jesse passes along some harsh judgment against him. As a result, viewers gets the impression that criticism from Jesse can hurt Cassidy quite a bit.

Another thing that tends to cause friction between the two is Jesse’s use of the psyche power known as “Genesis.” Jesse believes that he has been given Genesis for a reason and that he should be actively using it whenever needed in his search for God. However, Cassidy continuously disagrees with Jesse’s decision-making when it comes to Genesis; not only is he quick to see the dangers of its use (i.e. he is the first one to suggest that the Saint of Killers may be following them as a result of Jesse’s use of the power – and he ends up being correct), but he also often seems to wonder what gives Jesse the right to cast judgment. Because Jesse has his own set of morals, he decides to use Genesis whenever he sees fit – for example, to make Tulip sleep when she is having PTSD-like symptoms after a dangerous encounter with the Saint of Killers. However, when Cassidy asks Jesse to use Genesis to somehow help Denis when he is dying, Jesse refuses – thus leading Cassidy to make the decision to turn Denis into a vampire. As a result, Cassidy often seems to be irritated that Jesse behaves like he is “worthy” of casting this judgment; after all, he has a dark past, just like Cassidy does. For example, when Herr Starr and The Grail decide that they want Jesse to be their replacement “Messiah” for Jesus’ direct bloodline, Cassidy expresses that he thinks the whole thing is ridiculous; he asks Jesse, “Have you met yourself?” and goes on to state, “You’re just a person like the rest of us.” (Episode 2.12: “On Your Knees”)

Cassidy, Tulip, and The Saint of Killers in Episode 2.06 (“Sokosha”). Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television.

In contrast, Cassidy’s relationship with Tulip is much less volatile – though it comes with issues all its own. When Cassidy first meets Tulip in season one, he falls for her pretty quickly, as previously mentioned. At this point, he doesn’t know that she and Jesse have a history – so when Tulip tells him that she “has a boyfriend,” he has no idea who she’s referring to. Soon after, in a moment of loss when Tulip thinks that she and Jesse are truly over, she and Cassidy sleep together (which is something that is completely on her terms, as previously discussed in my character study on Tulip last year). However, she and Jesse rekindle their relationship soon after…leaving Cassidy seemingly heartbroken and definitely in quite the predicament.

In my opinion, Cassidy’s feelings for Tulip are genuine. There are moments throughout the series where he conveys how he feels for her only with his eyes, and it’s pretty clear to viewers that those feelings run deep. One example of this is in the season two premiere, when he is watching her from the back seat of the car after the showdown between the Saint of Killers and the police. I have literally never seen someone look so in love with a person who is currently pulling bits of flesh out of her hair. Furthermore, his actions tend to indicate that he cares about her; at one point, he literally grabs the Saint’s saber with his bare hands to save Tulip from being killed, severing his fingers in the process (they grow back, of course).

However, there are even more layered moments than this describing how Cassidy feels about Tulip, my favorite one being the fantasy that he has in the season two finale. In a nutshell, the scene starts out with Cassidy and Tulip discussing their future now that Jesse has decided to partner up with The Grail, and it leads to them hooking up. And even though the fantasy plays out with Cassidy giving into his urges as a vampire and killing Tulip at the end (he’s struggling under Denis’s influence at the time), there are a few takeaways that I understood to be solely about his feelings for Tulip:

Tulip and Cassidy in Episode 2.13 (“The End of the Road”). Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television.
  1. Cassidy is doing drugs in the fantasy, and Tulip takes them away from him – which is a stark contrast to the way the scene then plays out in real life, where she just lets him continue (of course, Tulip is dealing with her own demons at this point in the series). In my mind, this implies that he wants someone to care about him enough to intervene when it comes to his drug and alcohol abuse – and he wishes that Tulip were that person.
  2. Tulip actively chooses to be with him over Jesse…and it doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. I think this means that he would like for this to happen in reality – i.e. Tulip will fall for him, and Jesse will be okay with it (even though I’m sure he knows that this would never happen).
  3. Cassidy ends up giving in to his inner darkness and sabotaging the situation by killing her, which is clearly a fear he still has when he comes back to reality. This indicates that he doesn’t necessarily want to be alone with her because he knows himself well enough to be deeply concerned for her safety – and that maybe he believes she is better off with Jesse after all.

When broken down like this, Cassidy’s feelings for Tulip are abundantly clear – and all the more heartbreaking. It’s obvious that he craves companionship…but deep down, he it seems like he doesn’t believe he’s deserving of it because he sees himself as a monster (despite the fun-loving front that he puts up).

Things become all the more complicated when these feelings are added on top of Cassidy’s relationship with Jesse. For one thing, Cassidy’s loyalty between the two is tested, as he considers Jesse to be his closest friend. Even though he’s done nothing wrong, Cassidy seems to feel that he’s betrayed Jesse by falling for Tulip; he even tells Tulip at one point that he feels bad keeping it a secret that they slept together. However, he also doesn’t want to betray Tulip’s trust, so he tends to withhold information from Jesse whenever she asks him to (unless she is in immediate danger) – often putting himself between a rock and a hard place.

What makes things even more difficult is the fact that Jesse’s behavior tends to put Cassidy and Tulip on the same side of any given argument. For example, both frequently disagree with Jesse’s use of Genesis, both are irritated by how Jesse handles the situation with the Saint of Killers in season two, and both strongly believe that Jesse is not fit to be “The Messiah.” This pushes Cassidy and Tulip closer together as a result and leads to situations where Cassidy can see what Tulip needs more clearly than Jesse can – which probably sparks Cassidy’s jealousy towards Jesse and makes him resent his friend even more. Basically, the whole thing is a mess.

This all comes to a head in the season two finale, when Tulip’s life hangs in the balance after being shot by Featherstone. By the time Jesse arrives at the scene, Tulip is unconscious, and Cassidy is in a complete state of panic; he literally doesn’t know what to do. He and Jesse attempt to help her…but it becomes abundantly clear that Tulip isn’t going to make it. Cassidy and Jesse disagree with how to handle the situation from there; whereas Cassidy is painstakingly desperate to save Tulip’s life and is willing to bite her so they won’t lose her, Jesse refuses to let him do so. This results is a physical brawl between the two, ending with Jesse holding a struggling Cassidy down, telling him to “let her die” (though as the episode ends, it is clear that Jesse has a different plan to save Tulip, likely where the series will pick up in the season three premiere).

To me, Cassidy’s behavior here is nothing short of heroic. Even though he gave into his instincts in the Tulip fantasy and was still clearly concerned for her safety around him when he snapped back to reality, Cassidy shows incredible restraint by doing everything possible to save her life without going that route – and he only chose to make the attempt when he was convinced that there was no other way to keep her alive. On top of that, he struggles against Jesse’s grip until Tulip is no longer breathing, indicating his desperation; his only concern in the situation is to keep her safe and alive, and he refuses to stop fighting for that until she has died. The fact that Cassidy was able to put his darker thoughts aside and focus only on saving Tulip’s life in that moment means that he is a hero at his core – even though most of his characteristics scream otherwise. And for fans of the graphic novels, this is likely no surprise; at the end of the day, it is Cassidy who truly ensures that Jesse and Tulip have their happy ending in the comics (of course, there is no indication that things will go this way on the TV series as of yet). This implies that we have not seen the last of Cassidy’s heroism – and though his road ahead will likely be rocky and morally gray at times, I believe that he will play a large role in saving the day at the series’ end.

Conclusion

Behind the Scenes: Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy in Episode 1.09 (“Call and Response”). Photo Credit: Lewis Jacobs/Sony Pictures Television/AMC.

Overall, the characters on Preacher are fascinating because they are larger than life in many ways, but they are simultaneously layered and nuanced, grounding them in reality. A prime example of this is that Cassidy’s over-the-top personality is what initially draws viewers in, but to me, it is the below-the-surface subtlety that truly makes him an interesting character. He is not simply a comedic and chaotic vampire; rather, he is an extremely complex and tragically damaged individual. This makes him extremely relatable to viewers; we all have our personal demons, we have all fallen for someone who will never feel the same way about us, and we all struggle – or know someone who struggles – with trying to find our way through life. Being able to tie Cassidy’s story back to the real world in this way really makes him heartbreaking to watch at times – but the fact that he was able to navigate through all of that in the season two finale to try to do the right thing gives viewers a sense of hope that things will turn out okay for him in the end.

As we look ahead to season three, it is not entirely clear what Cassidy’s future on the series holds – particularly regarding his relationships with both Jesse and Tulip. With the way things ended between him and Jesse in the season two finale, their friendship seems to be severely broken; however, we also know that Tulip is immensely important to Cassidy, and he isn’t likely to leave her behind (since I doubt she will stay dead for long, as previously suggested). Because of this, the only thing I’m sure of is that the season ahead will be a tumultuous one for Cassidy – and I look forward to the character development that will undoubtedly follow.

Do you watch Preacher? Be on the lookout for Miclpea’s weekly episode recaps following the season three premiere on Sunday, June 24. In the meantime, join the conversation on FoCC!

Mlgagne

Melanie (Mlgagne) is an actor/producer and a lover of pop culture and the entertainment industry. She is a passionate fan of various TV shows and films, including (but certainly not limited to) PREACHER, GAME OF THRONES, THE WALKING DEAD, RIVERDALE, and X-MEN. She is a regular attendee of San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), and she has attended New York Comic Con (NYCC), WonderCon, and Walker Stalker Con in the past. You can follow her on both Twitter and Instagram @mlgagne.

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