I said in my review of the pilot that these write-ups aren’t going to be about comparing the comic book to the TV show, and I stand by that. But I do think it’s worth noting the strange space Preacher the show occupies structurally. It’s clearly a labor of love by fans of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s work, and at times, the result is something made to appeal directly to other fans. There are moments in both the first episode and “See” which are clearly designed to make people who are familiar with the material sit up and take notice, moments which are simply mysterious for anyone who doesn’t have that wealth of information to draw on.
For example, tonight’s cold open. It’s 1881 (quick shout out to the show’s delightfully gonzo title screens), and a little girl is sick. A woman sends a man out to find a doctor. The man doesn’t say much, but on his journey he runs into a group of settlers. Over dinner, the leader of that group waxes nostalgic about his love of America. “What do you say to that sir, yes or no? That this is paradise?” The man, who looks like Willie Nelson’s older, angrier brother, responds with his only line in the entire segment: “It ain’t.” The next morning, he rides past a tree of hanged men and women, so it’s hard to entirely argue his point.
This is a visually striking segment, with lots of quiet and focus to pull viewers in. But beyond the fact that it’s the first sequence in the episode, there’s no context for it. Nothing we see here is immediately relevant to Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy, the main characters of the show whose story we’re presumably watching. I understood what was going and was thrilled, because I’ve read the source material, but if you didn’t have that knowledge, all the sequence does is set a grim, despairing mood—a mood which the rest of the episode, full of slapstick gore, dark comedy, and loopy violence, doesn’t really match.
Anyone who watches TV regularly is used to off kilter cold opens by now, but this isn’t simply a sideways direction to get into the real plot. This a bit of story whose relevance won’t be made clear until a later episode, and that’s a tricky bet for a show to pull off. The same goes for a later sequence that introduces Jackie Earle Haley as Odin Quincannon (I can’t remember if he’s directly named in the episode, but that’s the listing on the IMDB). Quincannon shows up with his men at an elderly couple’s home, gives them a speech, pays them money, they all leave and the house is destroyed. Apart from Quincannon Meat & Power having appeared in the pilot, this has nothing to do with anything, and exists solely to bring out someone who, at some point down the line, will presumably be important.
Again, I know the comics, so I get the thrill of seeing a familiar face. But part of the process of adaptation is treating your audience as new eyes, and it feels like a dangerous expenditure of viewer faith to bring in new, seemingly unrelated narratives without making more than a token effort at connection. The saving grace here is that, these two examples aside, “See” is considerably more cohesive than the pilot, and that cohesion makes trust easier to come by. Last week we met the heroes, and this week, we spend some time getting to know them. Nothing exhaustive, but there’s decent world-building going on, establishing where everyone is in relationship to one another, and seeing how they exist together.
Best of all, Jesse gets an actual arc which has him dealing with his new power. Curiously the episode sidesteps poor Ted’s fate; there’s some discussion about it after church, but we never see Jesse’s reaction, which is an odd choice. Instead, he realizes what he can do when he assaults a school bus driver obsessed with a girl on his bus. It’s a slow burn that runs through most of the hour, as Jesse first hears the driver’s “confession,” tries to let it go and trust in people, but keeps seeing the man’s bus drive by. (With a scary music cue every time it does; the show really loves it’s ominous stingers.) Eventually he has about all he can take and goes to confront the man directly, on the assumption that beating the shit out of him will resolve the problem. Things don’t go as planned, and midst-beating, Jesse uses the Voice, and orders the driver to “Forget her.” The driver does, and Jesse flees, horrified and astonished by his newfound ability.
That’s a decent way to get to the point, one that doesn’t explain the specifics but gives us justification for how Jesse will be more active with his power from now on. And that’s useful, because for most of the episode, he’s a passive observer—hell, for a big chunk in the middle, he’s just passive. Tulip is still hounding him, but he’s committed to his, well, commitment. He’s going to do right by the people of his town now matter little they want his help.
But Jesse’s best intentions might not have all that much impact on what happens next. Case in point: the two men introduced last week tracking the progress of the Force From Outer Space (I really hope this gets a name on the show soon) go after Jesse at the worst possible moment—right after Cassidy knocks him out with some especially potent booze. (Cassidy and Jesse’s friendship has been quickly sketched in, but it makes sense; they’re like-minded in enough ways to bond, but not so much that Cassidy won’t consider taking advantage of him when the need arises.) The two men do a very odd routine involving a coffee can on Jesse’s stomach, a phonograph, and an Irish lullaby. When this doesn’t work, they bring out the chainsaw.
Clearly, they’re trying to get ahold of the Power themselves. They fail spectacularly; not only does the lullaby not work, Cassidy develops something of a conscience and comes back to the church just in time to murder both men, after a prolonged and hilariously bloody action set-piece. On the one hand, this means we never learn exactly who these men were or what they were doing (the only info we have is a quick flashback at the end where they tell Sheriff Root they’re from the “government,” which, sure); but we have enough information that the whole set-up doesn’t feel like a stall. We now know Jesse is in danger from some group, and that it’s more than likely that group isn’t going to let him go that easily. We also know the lengths Cassidy will go to to protect a friend, even if he’s not quite able to bury a trunk full of corpses in daylight.
All of which helps to create a sense of rising tension, a tension that pulls in all those extraneous scenes I mentioned earlier and give them, if not context, at least the impression of cohesion. So long as the show doesn’t pull the “Here’s some random stuff, we promise it’ll matter in a few weeks maybe” trick too often, it can probably hold together quite well. It certainly helps to end on a strong note. Jesse, having realized he has some kind of strange new ability, decides to go proactive, returning to the sickbed of a comatose teenager with a fractured skull and telling her “Open. Your. Eyes.” This could very well have horrible consequences—from what we’ve seen, the girl could be brain damaged, and waking up might make things worse for her and her family. Yet there’s something energizing about seeing Jesse taking a stand. It suggests a way forward that isn’t just about dodging creepy stalkers. The first two episodes have had a lot of build up; this feels like the start of something new.
- About Tulip: we see her playing cards and kicking ass in a brothel, and telling a sad story about her drunk uncle. (She claims it’s a joke, but who knows.) No more real info on what exactly she wants Jesse to do with her (apart from the obvious), but given how much craziness is floating around the preacher right now, it’s no doubt she’ll be sucked into it soon. The opening scene of her getting baptized (in very flimsy white) is hilarious, as is the “kidnapping.” She’s even more of a wild card than Cassidy, and it’s delightful to have a show where the woman is the one trying to convince the guy to break bad. (Even better: she’s clearly not a femme fatale. Whatever she wants out of Jesse, it isn’t just to use him as a patsy.)(I apologize for the number of parentheticals in this observation.)
- “Meantime, thanks for getting me all wet.” Tulip makes baptisms special.
- We learn a bit more about Eugene: Cassidy comes close to giving him the “Arseface” nickname, and we find out he got his looks when he shot himself in the face with a shotgun. We also hear a local calling him a “murderer.”
- “Boring’s not the worst thing a person can be, Cassidy.” “I think you’re wrong.” And I believe our little show has a thesis!
- Cassidy tells Jesse he’s a 185 year old vampire on the run from religious fanatics. Jesse reacts with some skepticism.
- “I like The Big Lebowski!” “No. No, that’s a shite film.”