We might not be in Annville anymore—no one is—but Preacher still kicks off its second season in a similar spot as its first. When Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s adaptation of the Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon comic premiered last year, it showed the right combination of deference and deviation from the source material, and was poised to be a raucous good time. But keeping the action in that small Texas town, where Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) was doing his damnedest to lead his flock, squandered a lot of that good will. It’s not that the season one villain Odin Quincannon (Jackie Earle Haley) was a dud—he wasn’t—or even that there wasn’t a need for some foundation work early on. But season one ended up mostly just laying a foundation, which seemed all the more wasteful when the finale flat-out razed it.
That methane cloud looms in the first three episodes of season two, both in the characters’ minds and the viewers’, but season two otherwise gets off to a rollicking start. We jump right into the car with Jesse, Tulip (Ruth Negga), and Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), who are in hot pursuit of a deity. There’s tension from the love triangle that keeps trying to assert itself, as well as the added suspense of none of them knowing exactly what they’ll do when they find God. Jesse’s talked of bringing him to account with the Word Of God, a power he got from the union of an angel and a demon. And while that may not be as straightforward a premise as slumming it in the heart of Texas, it’s what fans of Ennis and Dillon’s comic have been waiting for, and really, anyone who watched Jesse bungle in deploying the Word Of God in the first season.
By now, Rogen and Goldberg, who directed the premiere, have a handle on balancing the humor and horror, as they fill the first hour with a car chase, a “Come On, Eileen” sing-along—though not without the requisite chorus of “this song sucks” first—and evisceration. It’s a hilarious, bombastic start to the season-long road trip, and is reminiscent of the series premiere. In fact, as the first three episodes unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that the showrunners, along with executive producer Sam Catlin, are treating them as a second chance to make a first impression. This time, they’re more efficient with introductions, showing off Tulip’s coolness under pressure, Jesse’s arrogance, and Cassidy’s literal blood thirst in the first 10 minutes or so. Even as bodies and vehicles are shattered by a plodding stranger’s (Graham McTavish) bullets, the trio’s dynamic is established and their mission made clear.
The first third of the season is practically a reset, which won’t prove to be a problem for Preacher readers, but there’s also some exposition to help the novices play catch-up. It’s integrated much more seamlessly, though, wafting in and out of what would just be a Technicolored dream on a different kind of show. But here, the avenging saints and wayward divine beings are grounded in the same reality as gun nuts, gas station attendants, and one really thirsty hotel guest. Despite setting an undead 19th-century cowboy on Jesse’s trail, Preacher never dips into the gritty pitfalls that tend to trip up comic book movie directors. There are very real consequences to everything, but the tone and cast remain so exuberant that it never comes close to being dour.
For better or worse, Annville remains on their minds, but still only gets a cursory treatment from the script. It’s too soon to tell if there’s anything left to that story, but Preacher seems ready to do its penitence and move on. If you’re still annoyed with the first season’s finale, season two works hard to earn your forgiveness, touching on the comics’ New Orleans arc, as well as presenting the first proper look at the Grail. Prior knowledge will help you pick out an Easter egg or two, but it’s not necessary to appreciate the bawdy new setting or understand the new threat.
For all the fun to be had in the first part of the season, Rogen et al. also lay some groundwork, because there are, after all, 10 episodes left (season two got an extended order), and we haven’t even seen God yet—though we do learn he’s a bigger fan of jazz than gospel. There are some more revisions to the comics, including the relationship between Jesse and Tulip. It’s more of an update, really—while in the comics, she wanted to be treated as an equal, there’s no question of that here. So instead, they debate the nature of consent whenever Jesse uses the Word. That change works slightly better than the one to Eugene “Arseface” Root’s (Ian Colletti) backstory, though, which has more of a Superbad feel to it than the darker original.
Those are relatively small gripes; overall, Preacher recovers a lot of ground from the first season, thanks in part to improved pacing. And it’s really just looking better than ever, from the costuming to the sun-washed cinematography and gorgeous saturated colors. That vibrant color palette pairs perfectly with the heightened focus of the season, which will hopefully remain just as sharp as the rest of it unfolds. A hunt for god(s) has recently played out on the small screen, but the focus and dynamic of this hell-bound road trip (yes, the underworld pops up, too) is different. There is a swindle going on in Preacher, but the audience is no longer the one being taken for a ride.