A review of tonight's Preacher coming up just as soon as I'm a right-handed Sagitarius who's never seen the Pacific and thinks The Big Lebowski is overrated…
“What if this is the me God wants?” -Eugene
Two episodes in, and Team Preacher doesn't seem particularly worried about storytelling that explains itself to any large degree, trusting that the style of it all will be so undeniably fun that the audience will just go with it until answers (hopefully) begin to reveal themselves. And so far, stylishness has, indeed, carried the day.
“See” opens with a lengthy 19th century vignette that won't make much sense to anyone who hasn't read the comic(*), with a former man of arms making a desperate ride to get medicine for his ailing daughter. There are no hints at all of how it connects to Jesse Custer's story (other than the town the gunslinger rides into has the same name, Ratwater, as the whiskey Cassidy got served last week), but the look of it – a mix of John Ford imagery, particularly from The Searchers (the former killer standing in a doorway, bathed in light), and desaturated colors suggesting he is going to find something very bad in Ratwater – is compelling enough to keep things interesting until we find out the point of it.
(*) Hey look, kids! COMICS! Also, this is your weekly reminder that we are here to discuss Preacher as a TV show, and not to discuss plot points and character details from the comics that the show has yet to reveal. Y'all know who the gunslinger is, but keep all that information (including his name) to yourselves until the show begins to fill in the details.
Again and again, “See” (like the pilot, directed by Rogen and Goldberg) presents some gorgeous bit of imagery: Jesse baptizing his flock (mirrored in the later scene with the pedophile and the tub of scalding hot water), the camera remaining lock still as the house Odin Quincannon has just bought is bulldozed; Cassidy staring wistfully out at the open plains when he realizes it's now too light for him to safely go outside (another shot evocative of The Searchers), and every beat of bonkers, intricately-choreographed action when Cassidy takes on the two mystery men at the church.
Almost none of that is explained in the moment: exactly who these men are, how their device is meant to take the power out of Jesse (or do worse to him), or, later, how both strangers are alive and well and chatting with Sheriff Root at the local motel not long after Cassidy carved them up with a chainsaw and disposed of all their severed parts. It doesn't matter, though, because there's so much energy and weird detail to that sequence (including the shorter stranger singing “Wynken Blynken and Nod” as they play the olde-timey music box). I had little idea what the hell was happening for a lot of that church sequence, but as the chainsaw began pulling the severed arm along the floor towards Jesse's prone, vulnerable body, I nearly burst into applause at the craziness of it all.
Now, the show can't get by forever on crazy alone (even Twin Peaks stopped being fun after a while), and it's a bit concerning that the least exciting part of the episode is the most straightforward part, where Jesse begins exploring the nature and limits of his new powers, attempting to play vigilante and miracle man in one so he can prove Tulip wrong about his ability to change who and what he is. That stuff's much more in the vein of a superhero origin story, and is the one area where the show seems to still have training wheels on, trying to get the audience used to the idea in the same methodical, almost reluctant, fashion Jesse is taking to this ability.
But I also can't blame Rogen, Goldberg, and Catlin for wanting to have one semi-conventional element in the midst of all the unexplained lunacy unfolding throughout the series so far. I just hope that eventually Jesse gets to actually join in on the fun part, rather than sleeping through it because Cassidy slipped him one chemical too many.
Some other thoughts:
* Say hello to Odin Quincannon, head of Quincannon Meat & Power. He's played by Jackie Earle Haley, who has some experience starring in adaptations of allegedly unadaptable comic books. (As previously discussed, Preacher is going for a much less literal translation than Watchmen, which I suspect will turn out better in the end.) Though Haley's appearance should generally be too distinct for him to fully disappear into any one role, the makeup and the performance – particularly his extremely minimalist vocal affect – did a good enough job disguising him that, even though I knew in the back of my head that Haley was on the show in some capacity, I still wasn't entirely convinced until I looked it up after the first Quincannon scene ended.
* The show so far hasn't shied away from the source material's fascination with extreme disfigurements: not only Eugene's sphincter-like mouth, but the mutilated strangers, the scalped head with the exposed brain, and the teenage girl with the dented skull.
* That girl became the latest test of Jesse's powers in the final scene, and it's interesting that the show isn't bothering to do any kind of change to Dominic Cooper's voice whenever Jesse deploys his powers, though the photography usually shifts as he does it. Jessica Jones also stuck with Kilgrave's regular speaking voice, but he was also controlling people all the time, whereas (for now, at least), Jesse's only done it a handful of times, but sounds the same throughout. UPDATE: Several of you have noted that his voice does sound different in the final versions, so perhaps effects were added after the screener versions AMC sent out.
* I like that rather than having a cartoon devil on one shoulder in Cassidy, and a cartoon angel on the other in Tulip, Jesse so far is basically being tempted by two devils at once, each of them a chaos figure with no interest in Jesse's newfound devotion to improving the lives of his flock.
* Cassidy meets Eugene, has about the reaction you would expect him to.
* As Root and Eugene are going to their car after the baptismal service, someone loudly accuses the sheriff – or Eugene – of being a murderer. Hmm…
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org