After an eye-popping, if slightly nonsensical debut Preacher settles into the kind of show it intends to be.
One still peppered with the same world-building and fan-service that made the first episode so frustrating but with a goal in mind. Now all the setup feels like a bigger part of a self-contained story rather than a slow attempt to get things moving. In fact the episode opens very effectively with one such scene.
We open on a rural farmhouse in 1881 where a mother tends to her daughter, sick with fever, all while the father stands silently in the background. When he sets off to retrieve medicine from the distant town of Ratwater fans of the comic will immediately recognise what’s going on.
Preacher is only into its second episode an already we’re dedicating time to one of its staple characters; The Saint of Killers. Graham McTavish only speaks once yet reveals a jaded and disconnected man. With its wide, barren plains and sharp string score the whole sequence has a subtle foreboding tone. The feeling is of something terrible waiting in the distance, more evocative of an atmospheric horror than a western.
Soon though we return to the present where Jesse is making good on his vow to do right by his congregation. His focus is clear as a re-baptises sinner after sinner, including Tulip despite the fact that no amount of holy water would do her any good. Truthfully though she’s just there to toy with Jesse and remind him about the job she’s got lined up. It’s a short, fun and sexually-charged moment that shows off how much chemistry the two have. For anyone who left Warcraft doubtful of Cooper and Negga’s considerable talents then this is a nice reminder.
However the relationship that really forms the backbone of this episode is between Jesse and Cassidy. Jessie is content for the lovable rogue to hang around, mostly as a pleasant reminder of his own disreputable past. Cassidy meanwhile makes it clear he’s just slumming it until he can acquire the means to escape Texas, or at least enough drink to forget he’s in Texas. Like all addicts Cassidy is driven by what he needs at any given moment. So when he finally has a chance to swipe Jesse’s wallet and car he hightails it not as some great betrayal but as a casual part of his lifestyle.
Cassidy’s weakness of will is a major part of his character so it’s nice to see Gilgun lay the foundation for this under Rogan and Goldberg’s direction. Another welcome improvement is massively toning down Gilgun’s performance, including the accent. This wasn’t brought up when I reviewed the pilot but yeah Gilgun’s Irish accent was atrocious. Thankfully he seems more comfortable with it here, though that won’t be enough to please fans of The Big Lebowski (overrated; in, just like, his opinion, man).
In terms of the bigger story Preacher is still taking its sweet time. Jessie doesn’t seem to be entirely aware of the power he now wields, nor of the nefarious folk looking to take it back. In fact he’s entirely unconscious when two apparently immortal agents try to force Genesis out of him via chainsaw. When Cassidy intervenes the ensuing fight is as every bit as goofy and visceral as anything from the previous episodes. Concluding with one of the henchmen beaten to death with a bible and, need I remind you, liberal chainsaw action.
That Jesse sits this fight out is apt as for him the bigger conflict is still his responsibilities as a priest against his desire to return to his wild days. It’s important to see that the frustrations of his job are still there, his experience has only made them easier to tolerate. When temptation arrives in the form of Tulip it’s easy to see how much he wants that life back.
Illustrated neatly, if a little heavy-handedly, in a scene where Tulip abducts him and tries to get him to return. The only issue is that the job she keeps bringing up is talked about so vaguely that it’s impossible to become invested. Her storyline will have to be developed more if Jesse’s really going to come on board.
All this leads Jesse to finally snap and use the Word of God on a sinner. His first convert is a middle-aged man unhealthily fixated on underage girls who has been harassing Jesse all episode. Cooper has been performing admirably as a man desperately willing to do better, here he lets loose Jesse’s wrath. When it’s over it’s clear a line has been crossed, Cooper for his part looks horrified and the consequences of this will be interesting to watch.
‘See’ has much better character development than its predecessor and cements the differences between the show and the comic. For now Jesse’s small town is the show’s home and characters like the Saint of Killers and Odin Quinncannon, played briefly by Jackie Earle Hayley, will simply be woven into it as time goes on. How that will impact Preacher’s future will have to be seen but for now it retains its exciting energy and charismatic characters.