‘Preacher’ Season Two Finally Finds The Missing ‘Puzzle Piece’

A review of tonight’s Preacher coming up just as soon as you tuck the butter under your chin…

Much better.

When I complained last week about the state of things in season two, it was as much about the spotty character work for the main trio as it was the sluggish pace of it all. Too many things like Cassidy and Denis’ relationship have been unfolding in unsatisfying bits and pieces that add up to less than if we got a concentrated burst at once, while both that story and Tulip’s PTSD (while a good showcase of Ruth Negga’s versatility) have rendered the show’s two most colorful and purely fun characters glum and introspective. That leaves Jesse Custer to carry things, and while that should be easy as the title character, it still feels like, close to two seasons in, the writers and Dominic Cooper are still refining their take on him and the influence that godlike powers have had on him.

“Puzzle Piece” still offers a subdued Cassidy and Tulip, plus a Jesse growing more and more relaxed about his use of the Word — getting a traumatized Tulip to finally sleep, forcing one Grail soldier to murder his comrades, turning half a police precinct into his private security force for several days — without a thought of its impact on other people. But at the same time, the episode has Denis loving his new immortal existence (and blasting Edith Piaf at a particularly inopportune moment), has some memorably shot action (both the silent night vision goggle POV of the raid on Denis’ apartment and the first appearance of the drunken giant who turns out to not be the mysterious BRAD), and has an awful lot of Herr Starr and Featherstone, who jolt the series with energy whenever one or both are onscreen.

Starr’s realization that Jesse is not a threat to be eliminated (leading to Featherstone re-routing the drone to murder poor Harry Connick Jr.), but a potential ally to be cultivated in whatever his scheme with the Grail is, was the most excited I’ve felt about the season since those first couple of episodes with the gang on the road running from the Saint of Killers.

The series definitely needed to spend some time showing Jesse’s search for God hitting a dead end, and also on Featherstone and Starr learning about Jesse, before we could get to this point. But it didn’t necessarily need to take this much time, particularly since certain segments like the Viktor interlude had little to do with either aspect of things, and since the season as a whole has been so somber and at times claustrophobic. For all the problems I had with season one, at least Annville had so many different characters of note that the show could bounce around more, where here the villains often disappear for long stretches, leaving us with just the three leads, none of whom is exactly a barrel of laughs to hang out with at the moment.

That’s clearly the point of the season’s larger character arcs, as Cassidy and Tulip have both shifted from blind adoration of Jesse to recognizing just how difficult it is to be around him when he’s this combination of self-righteousness and megalomania. If Jesse actually seems open to whatever Starr’s pitch is, it’s easy to imagine Tulip and/or Cassidy splitting from him over it. But if Catlin and company want to make the heroes a drag, they need to provide other entertainment value to compensate. This week, Team Grail provided enough of that. The Grail may not be able to save the world, but they can perhaps rescue this season from its recent doldrums.

I’ll be taking some vacation time this month, so won’t be recapping the next few episodes. I’ll be back for the finale (and maybe the penultimate episode, depending on how busy that week winds up being), and am hopeful the rest of the season is more consistent and feels more purposeful.

As I occasionally do with these reviews, a few thoughts on a notable deviation from the comics:

* So, in the comics, Hoover’s mix-up with the prostitutes plays out — hilariously for the mid-’90s! — as an actual rape of a protesting Herr Starr, and the experience is the start of both his step-by-step degradation and a complete rewriting of his sex life, much to his frustration. That part has not aged well at all, and the show’s vision of Starr as a man with very particular sexual desires but also no hang-ups — here simply bored and a bit annoyed until his Eureka moment, and completely casual with the men once they’ve finished their business — not only eliminates the gay panic of it all, but makes him seem like a more formidable opponent than the comic book version. (See also his skill at hand-to-hand combat from the training montage a few episodes back, where Starr on the page tended to get his butt kicked whenever he didn’t have a gun handy.)

* Similarly, this take on Featherstone — still in love with Starr, still dismissive of Hoover’s crush, but vastly more assertive and unflappable than her two-dimensional counterpart (gladly fixing Starr’s jammed pistol even as he was preparing to use it on both her and Hoover, in part because she suspected she could talk him out of it) — is a big improvement, and a great use of Julie Ann Emery.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast.