AMC’s new Sunday night feature Preacher was able establish itself quickly and impressively in its pilot episode by doing one thing early-on better than some shows do during their entire run: having some fun. Even in the overpopulated television landscape in which we currently find ourselves, fun often seems to take a backseat to seriousness or weightiness or just plain emotional darkness; all of which have their place, but can become quite draining for the viewer.
This is why it’s such a pleasant surprise to have Preacher, a series about a possibly haunted church leader and a blood-guzzling vampire, bring some levity back to Sunday nights. Episode two, titled “See”, plays as almost an extension of the pilot, striking the same impressive balance of unadulterated rambunctiousness and clever, well-placed exposition, making its ongoing world-building process feel effortless.
Just as the pilot opened with a bit of a red herring in the form of a scene set in Africa, “See” has the action move back into the heart of the 19th century. There the action follows an unnamed man has he travels across the unsettled lands of what we soon come to learn is a small town called Ratwater, in what appears to be Texas. What these odd collection of scenes, which include the hanging of some two dozen Native Americans, mean to the larger picture of the story is left to the imagination, but its seems Preacher may be hinting that past and present will blend as we move forward.
From there it’s back to our favorite godly preacher, who’s well on his way to living a pious and arm-snapping free life. At the insistence of iPad-smashing number one fan Emily (Lucy Griffiths), Jesse’s (Dominic Cooper) doing the rounds a good preacher must do to win the love of his congregation; whether his heart is fully in it remains in doubt. This doubt’s highlighted during scenes in which he’s forced to listen to a confession from a local school bus driving who’s sexually infatuated with one of the young girls on his bus route, or when he visits with a young girl in a coma whose mother, despite Jesse’s moving words of encouragement, knows that nothing can be done through words alone.
This existential frustration is balanced out — for Jesse and for the viewer — with a night of bottle swigging and cigarette smoking with our favorite bad-mouthed 100-year-old vampire, Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun). It’s a short scene but undoubtedly the best of the episode, as the two continue to size each other up, trading jabs and bits of backstory as well as some truly hard liquor. That is, before Cassidy drops a bit of heresy, calling The Big Lebowski overrated, and subsequently tricking Jesse into drinking himself unconscious in order to steal his keys and take off with his car.
All this God talk, drinking, and Coen brothers-bashing takes a back seat to what Preacher really does best. For that, we must wait for the cowboy-hat wielding duo of Fiore (Tom Brooke) and DeBlanc (Anatol Yusef), who showed up in Annville at the end of the pilot, to knocking at the preacher’s door. Mere moments before they unceremoniously cut out the demon living inside Jesse, Cassidy shows up to stop them, creating a scene of blood, guts, and absurdity reminiscent of Cassidy’s pilot introduction. It’s gross and ridiculous and just a little campy, but above all else, this tight 3-minute action sequence is just good, old-fashioned fun, even if ends with all parties completely, and magically, unharmed.
The other great thing about the fight is that Jesse remains passed out on the church floor, unable to go back to his old fighting ways even if he wished. This means that his soul, at least for a little while, is still stuck between the bloodstained past and a Godly future. While he has Cassidy and Tulip (Ruth Negga) trying their best to pull him toward the former, it is actually Eugene Root/Arseface (Ian Colletti) who inadvertently convinces Jesse that maybe trying to change who he truly is will do more harm than good. Sure, he wants to be a good man who tends lovingly to his flock, but he also wants to beat the living snot out a man who seems poised to abuse a young girl on his bus route.
This resonates with Jesse, and clearly it’s forgiveness be damned when he decides to show up at the bus driver’s house and give him more than just counsel and prayer, testing out his newfound powers of persuasion to astonishing results. Summoning the voice that led to the horrific scene of self-mutilation at the end of the pilot, Jesse seems to render the man literally unable to even think, or remember, the young girl who dominated his every thought.
The push and pull for Jesse’s soul, both literally and figuratively, is going to be a driving force as Preacher moves forward; seeing Jesse come to terms with his new-found power is going to be an essential part of this battle. Whether it’s demon or angel inhabiting Jesse, or whether that distinction truly matters, is still a mystery, but how Jesse uses the powers will determine the kind of hero he’ll become. The fact that the episode concludes with Jesse attempting to wake the young girl from her coma is a good sign, but with forces like the ever-so-convincing Tulip and the joyously nasty Cassidy, it may be hard for Jesse to keep up his righteousness for very long.