A review of tonight's Preacher coming up just as soon I go with the John Travolta explanation…
“All of God's creation, inside of me. you know that kind of crazy?” -Jesse
The first two episodes of Preacher were at times only barely coherent even to me as a devout reader of the comics(*), teasing various mysteries and characters while rarely pausing to explain anything. But the energy of Sam Catlin's scripts, and of Rogen and Goldberg's direction, made them a blast to watch even when things were at their most gibberish-y.
(*) This is your weekly reminder to not discuss things from the comics that have yet to appear or be explained on the show.
“The Possibilities” is the first episode with a different director (Emmy winner Scott Winant) and writer (Chris Kelley) It's also by far the clearest and most straightforward installment so far, for good and for ill. There are still teases and mysteries to be explained, like the introduction of the man in the white suit watching some kind of horror or torture porn movie, but for the most part, the hour tries to proceed logically and coherently from what came before, as Jesse begins testing the nature and limit of his powers, even as Tulip keeps pushing him to leaving this good guy business behind and go back to being her charismatic bad guy. There are still unexpected bursts of comedy and/or action, like Cassidy running over the mysterious strangers – who claim to be agents of Heaven itself – with the church van seconds after they arm themselves to the teeth for their latest attempt to retrieve the thing inside Jesse, but on the whole, it's a more measured, at times bordering on slow, hour, focusing on the central character at his most dour.
We know from Dominic Cooper's other work that he can play the wily, charismatic rogue, and while I suspect we're going to get there eventually, for the moment I'm on Tulip's side of wanting him to get there already, rather than wasting time in a role that obviously doesn't suit him. The show is taking a slow burn, so that we can more fully appreciate who and what Jesse is trying to be at this moment when he gets this god-like power, which I can respect, but things for the moment tend to be more fun when they're focusing on the other regulars.
At the same time, that methodical approach to the narrative, which Catlin learned well on his last AMC series, allows us to see Sam do something that these kinds of stories sometimes skip over, which is to really test the limits of what he can do. He realizes, for instance, that his instructions are now taken exactly as phrased, and also that he can't make people do the physically impossible. He can make the brain-damaged girl open her eyes, but not cure her, and he can make Cassidy hop on one foot and sing Johnny Cash, but he can't give Cassidy the power of flight(*).
(*) This suggests that vampires in this universe can't fly – or turn into bats in order to fly.
The two questions – What can Jesse do? And can Tulip tempt him back to the dark side? – converge in the chilling scene where Jesse's on the verge of making Donnie blow his brains out. That he stops himself from committing murder by proxy closes the Tulip question for the moment (to her great frustration, once he bails on their mission to find the dreaded Carlos), but also will surely lead to more trouble from Donnie. After all, Jesse only ordered him to drop the gun, rather than some more wide-ranging instruction about leaving him alone, ceasing to bully others, etc. Jesse is gradually learning what he's capable of, but even with a power that Heaven wants back, he sure doesn't have the omniscience of God just yet.
“The Possibilities” demonstrates some of the trade-offs Preacher is going to have to make the deeper we get into this first season. It moves the story forward and explains things, both of which are very welcome, but was definitely lower energy than the first two installments.
Some other thoughts:
* The show doesn't explain who the man in the white suit is, but we do get a sense of Tulip's chief underworld contact, Danni, who is simultaneously tough and cool and yet would like Tulip to murder her abusive husband.
* A nice scene for W. Earl Brown, as Sheriff Root tells the Heavenly visitors the story of the children kidnapped from the amusement park by the pretzel vendor who had worked there for 30 years without complaint or incident. Root tends to see the world as a dark and awful place, but given what little we've watched of this corner of it, I can't exactly blame him for seeing the worst in everyone.
* The tombstone for Jesse's father lists his birth as 1955 and his death in 1990, which means he had Jesse in his mid-late 30s.
What did everybody else think?