The middle of a season, especially the first, can be a tough spot for a television series. The first couple episodes have to come out hot, packed to the brim with excitement, action, and character build-up so as to not lose any viewers to the ever-growing list of options a TV viewer has on a given night (especially when that night is Sunday night). That being said, you must also save something special for the end of the season, or risk losing people’s interest for good come episode ten’s final credits. So what do you do in the middle? The answer, at least for AMC’s Preacher, seems to be to dial back just a little bit of the crazy and search inward rather than outward, a strategy that works quite well for a series that actually needed some breathing room.
That being said, crazy is a relative term. For many shows, opening with a ten-minute sequence featuring an unknown character who lived more than 100 years before the rest of the action would be rather crazy, but for Preacher, it seems to fit perfectly. We’ll learn where the story of The Cowboy (Graham McTavish) seeking revenge in the delightfully comic version of the Wild West — which includes bar fights, scalp salesmen, and five-dollar whiskey — fits into the overall mythology of Preacher, but for now these short vignettes are good enough to stand on their own; an impressive feat, to say the least.
Back in the modern day Annville, Jesse (Dominic Cooper) has flipped from reluctant, bewildered owner of a powerful force of magic to a cocky man of the people. Where he once used his voice of persuasion only when forced to by circumstance, Jesse is now handing out decrees by the handful at the local Flavor Station, confident that there could not possibly be a downside to his god-like abilities.
Jesse’s lucky that the two on his trail, angels Fiore (Tom Brooke) and DeBlanc (Anatole Yusef), seem to be about as qualified as spirit catchers as Cassidy (Joseph Gilgin) is as an AC repairman. Watching the two fumble through various practice phone calls, while nervously putting off their conversation with whatever deity they report to, is yet another example of the two becoming the dark comic heartbeat of the series. This is compounded by the fact that as soon as they work up the courage to finally answer the constantly ringing portable phone, it ceases to ring, making them look even more incompetent.
While Custer is happy to flex his new preacher muscles to anyone willing to listen, Tulip (Ruth Negga) is becoming increasingly impatient. With the insistence from her new acquaintance Cassidy, Tulip expounds her hatred of the shadowy figure of Carlos we were first introduced to last week. She also, for seemingly the first time, reveals how Jesse’s resistance to join her in the revenge mission isn’t just an annoyance; it’s a betrayal. This is the first time we ever get any kind of hint at the romantic relationship the two shared, which went hand in hand with their illegal activities. Not only is Jesse done with the life of a vagabond criminal, but he’s done with his life with Tulip, a notion that seems to hurt her more than she lets on.
While Jesse elicits a mix of hatred and love from Tulip, he evokes only fear from our favorite squealing domestic-abuser Donnie (Derek Wilson). Interestingly, Donnie’s the only one, aside from the supernatural forces Cassidy and the Angel duo, who notices anything strange about the suddenly effective town preacher. Which makes sense, considering the last time we saw him he was putting a gun in his mouth at Jesse’s behest. Whether anyone will listen to the sobbing, broken former tough guy is doubtful, but he may be a sign of things to come, as more and more people begin to recognize the strangeness afoot in this small Texas town.
As I said, this episode was a relative lull in a season chock full of basically everything a show can have. Instead of continuing to expand outward, we learned more about what’s going to influence each character’s decision making in the coming weeks, as well as set up future battles to come. At episode’s end, Jesse finally meets up with the Angels and their coffee can, and Quincannon (Jackie Earle Haley) serves God in the most obscure way imaginable, each of which will surely have repercussions. For now, it was nice to get a chance to learn more about what makes our characters tick and get a chance, however slight, to take a breath.