Following that barnstormer of a pilot, Preacher comes back strong with a second episode that recommits to the balance between cartoon violence and genuine emotional turmoil, and to giving Joseph Gilgun the opportunity to have a dangerous amount of fun.
Jesse’s trying harder to be a good preacher following his little lapse into bar fighting but he’s got two people in his life trying hard to get him to unleash his dark side. Cassidy’s now living in the church, pretending to be a handyman but actually looking for a handout and some boozy fun with Jesse, while Tulip is dangling the prospect of a big job in front of the preacher’s nose.
Meanwhile, two mysterious men are coming for Jesse, intent on removing his powerful new gift by any means necessary.
Second episodes can be a tricky business, but ‘See’, written by show runner Sam Catlin and directed by Michael Slovis, does an excellent job of rooting the story firmly in Annville while showcasing the kind of ultraviolent lunacy that fans of the comic will demand.
Speaking of fans of the comics, the episode opens in 1888 with a brief but tantalising introduction to The Cowboy (played by Graham McTavish), who readers will recognise as The Saint Of Killers. Jackie Earle Haley also pops up for a brief scene as Odin Quincannon, the Meat Man himself, and the brilliant character actor drops a tantalising hint about Odin’s strange proclivities, drifting into his own thoughts as he explains the production line all the way to the butcher and beyond…
However, despite these Easter eggs, the focus here is squarely on Jesse. Cooper didn’t get to have too much fun in the pilot, but this episode allows him to show off his range as Jesse struggles to stay good despite being repeatedly confronted with the idea that people don’t change, from Tulip’s cajoling him back into a life of crime to Eugene’s mournful notion that maybe this is how God wants him.
We see the character putting on a brave face as he meets and greets outside potential parishioners outside a supermarket, we see him realise the depths of the pain Mrs Loach (Bonita Frierdericy) endures as she cares for her comatose daughter, and we see his revulsion as Linus (Ptolemy Slocum) casually reveals his lust for one of the girls on his school bus during confession. He’s telling people that God’s listening, but what possible evidence can he offer?
As Jesse starts to realise the power of what’s now inside him, he realises that he might be able to actually change things. In the case of Linus and his violent second baptism, Jesse’s mission looks like it may very well veer into murder before he summons the convincing power of Genesis, while there’s a real desperation as he pays a visit to Loaches at the end of the episode, nearly begging the poor girl to open her eyes. It’s genuinely compelling and affecting stuff, and Cooper sells all of it.
Of the lead trio, Negga is the hardest done by, effectively acting as the devil on Jesse’s shoulder, but it’s another strong, funny and assured show performance. It’s also worth noting Lucy Griffiths’ good work as Emily. Hopefully she’ll get more to do than look disapprovingly at Jesse as he bounces back from another bender, and noting that Cassidy is bad news.
Speaking of Cassidy, there’s another gory set-piece featuring Gilgun which is an absolute triumph. The church showdown is an Evil Dead-channelling fight involving the gobshite vampire, the two men tracking Jesse (Fiore and DeBlanc, played by Tom Brooke and Anatol Yusef), and a chainsaw. If Cassidy getting shot in the gut halfway through his threatening monologue wasn’t enough, the sight of him dragging himself across floor after a chainsaw, which still has an arm attached to it, before it reaches the prone Jesse is an absolute joy.
The fact that Preacher has the confidence and the ability to pull off an hour of television that hops so nimbly between gory silliness and raw emotional pain remains hugely impressive. So, was that two-week post-pilot wait worth it? Damn right, it was.