Preacher was a rather formative comic for me. When I first properly got into comics at a young, impressionable age I dove head-first into the darker end of the spectrum; specifically Preacher, The Boys and Hellblazer, as well as the Punisher and The Walking Dead. When the first season of the Preacher TV series was announced it looked like a waste of time to me; a generic, southern crime drama about a priest who’s really good at battering people and his misadventures in a town that shows up in the comic for all of five minutes before being wiped off the map. Fortunately that was just what the trailer showed off, and the actual series was a smart, fun, surprisingly goofy take on characters established in the comic. The town ended up destroyed anyway, after an entire season of solid character development, violence and surprising amounts of screwball comedy. Combined with the main trio of Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy being generally more well-rounded and likeable, I actually ended up preferring this adaptation to its source material, something very rare indeed. Now we’re onto Season 2, and I’ve already taken up enough time so I’ll keep my recap of Season 1 brief: Jesse Custer is a preacher with the ability to make people do what he says, after being possessed by a being called “Genesis”. His girlfriend Tulip O’Hare is an assassin and their Irish mate Cassidy is a vampire. They’re trying to find God, who’s supposedly walking the Earth.
Episode 1: On the Road
“THE SEARCH FOR GOD: DAY ONE”
Off to a good start with the previous season’s same wacky approach to violence: an excellent set piece in which Jesse, Tulip and a host of deputies (after Jesse uses Genesis to mess them about) trying not to be killed by The Saint of Killers (“The Cowboy” from season 1), firing lethal, accurate shots from a mile down the road. Meanwhile Cass is handcuffed and trying desperately to avoid any contact with the sun, at one point having to scooch forward to stay under a slowly moving car and using a dead cop’s head as a brake. One thing worth pointing out at this point is that the Saint’s powers are rather different to his comic counterpart; in the books he literally can’t miss, but he can here. His guns never miss, always kill (except for one scene that has different interpretations) and never run out of bullets. Anyway it’s nice to see him out and about, doing what he does best; being intimidating and shooting fools. The bulk of the episode is seeking and acting on the advice of Jesse’s old family friend Mike, another preacher who keeps young people locked in covered cages in order to “cure them of their urges”. This starts off looking pretty bad, as I’m sure you can imagine, (presumably a reference to Cassidy’s mate in the comics who turns out to be a serial killer), but turns out to be surprisingly innocent, as the woman in said cage is up for the whole thing. There’s a nice reference to Jesse’s backstory from the comics in Mike’s house, as a small chest in a fish tank behind Jesse ominously opens as he discusses his Mother’s side of the family. Given the changes they’ve already made to his origin story I figured they’d skip what this is a reference to, but I’m all for it being included, and it’s a cool moment even if it isn’t paid off. It ends with the confirmation that Jesse and friends are “On God’s trail”, and the shock reveal that Genesis does not work on The Saint which is, again, a departure from the comic, where Jesse got him once but The Saint learned to adapt, and threatened Jesse with a quick-draw death should he ever attempt it again. Overall a good episode; it knows how to use its well-developed characters, where to implement its own spin on events and when to directly adapt elements of the comic. I’m glad it’s doing its own thing for the most part- I still prefer this version to the comic, and I’m really invested as to where it goes next.
P.S, The episode features a somber, touching tribute to the comic’s illustrator (and my favourite comic artist of all time) Steve Dillon, who died last year. “For Steve”. It’s lovely.
Epiosde 2: Mumbai Sky Tower
Turns out that not only is The Saint completely immune to The Word of God (Genesis’ power), he uses it to track Jesse. I’m really enjoying Graham McTavish’s portrayal of The Saint; less grumpy, sick-of-your-shit old Gunslinger and more nightmarish force of nature. The tweaks to his backstory in the last season, his own personal Hell and his harrowing motif really sell this, and I look forward to seeing how he’s used as the series goes on. The bulk of the episode involves “The Amazing Ganesh” teased at the end of episode 1, who turns out to be the Angel Fiore; using his powers of almost immediate resurrection as a gory lounge act in the titular Mumbai Sky Tower hotel. He hired The Saint, and refuses to call him off, something Cassidy attempts to remedy by getting him completely of his tits and hanging out with him for exactly two hours and forty five minutes. Elsewhere there’s a nice mini-fight involving Tulip and an opponent with one hand wrapped around her throat and the other holding a phone in the air in an attempt to get a signal, a man who nearly gets the trio killed because a vending machine gave him the wrong drink, and a surprisingly touching ending to both the episode and Fiore’s story arc. Another good episode, this; some lovely shots, the standouts being Jesse talking to Fiore via a mirror, with it framed as them facing each other, and Jesse drinking and smoking with a lounge singer-turned Fiore’s assistant, bathed in blue light in a bar. The show handles serious moments well, and balances them with its screwball approach to otherwise horrifying violence and gore in a way that both works surprisingly well, and feels unique. Of the live action shows I’m watching at the minute it’s easily my favourite, and I look forward to the next episode, as Jesse, Tulip and Cass head to New Orleans.
Episode 3: Damsels
Some interesting stuff here, both new for the series and adapted from the comic. First of all comes the genuinely surprising revelation that Eugene did not shoot Tracy after she rejected him; after talking her out of committing suicide and then kissing her, Tracy rejected Eugene and then shot herself. Eugene, panicking (in darkly comedic fashion, naturally), eventually decides the best way out of the awkward situation he’s in is to follow suit with the other barrel. He’s now re-living this constantly in Hell, much like The Saint re-lived his slaughter of Ratwater’s citizens. Also Hitler’s there, because of course he is. Back in the A plot, Jesse and friends are in New Orleans, which I’m really into as a setting after “Mafia 3”, so this was a good episode for me, even though it didn’t really lean into the setting as much as I would have liked. Most of the episode involves Jesse on a city-wide pub crawl, asking bartenders if they’ve seen God and drinking whiskey when they inevitably think he’s mad. Cassidy and Tulip don’t really have anything to do; they go to ground in a massive house owned by Cass’ supposed mate (who I thought maight end up being his serial killer friend from the comic, but I’m not sure), with Tulip leaving by herself and being caught by her angry old boss Victor. This had to happen really, given how its foreshadowing has made up her entire character since the end of he last episode. Jesse gets to do all the good stuff: there’s another nice little reference to his horrible backstory (which I’m now convinced is going to make its way into this adaptation), he gets a nice action scene, and his story arc is largely just there to introduce The Grail; the super-secret religious organisation from the comics. Agents Featherstone (here reimagined as having spy skills used to snare Jesse with something of a honeypot operation) and Hoover make an appearance, as does Herr Starr (only briefly, and with no dialogue). I’m glad they’re introducing The Grail now, and I’m interested to see what they do with Starr, who was mainly a villain in the comics but had his own agenda and suffered a series-long spate of unfortunate “mishaps”. Overall a good episode, with Jesse’s side of the story being strong and setting up important plot points, but Tulip and Cassidy’s scenes didn’t really go anywhere, and I would have liked to see more of New Orleans. Having said that, there’s nothing that makes me think the series is going to change location anytime soon, and I really hope it doesn’t.
Episode 4: Viktor
In which Hitler is the most reasonable, pleasant person in the room, and giving him a good kicking is seen as the wrong thing to do. Didn’t see that one coming, let me tell you. After his brief appearance last episode I expected Hitler to be an antagonist (which seems obvious but given the state of the Internet these days, maybe not), but he turns out to be at least seemingly remorseful over his actions and genuinely kind and helpful to Eugene. I like the series’ portrayal of Hell as a grey, drab prison in which everyone is locked in a room with their own worst memory, and I like having Hitler as the one nice inmate Eugene has to beat up to ingratiate himself, because that’s pretty goddamn bold if nothing else. I’m interested to see where that goes actually, though I don’t need many scenes in Hell, as I feel it would diminish its impact, and really this is Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy’s story. Most of the episode is Tulip wandering ex-boss Viktor’s house having been captured by his goons, checking in on people who now all hate her for her apparent past betrayal. Presumably she’s primarily scouting guard locations and numbers, but that doesn’t go anywhere because she gets kidnapped, by neutralising three attackers and then stopping to strangle one instead of, y’know, keeping an eye on the open door behind her. Best part of the episode is Jesse finally learning (when Cassidy caves in and tells him) where Tulip is and stomping around Viktor’s mansion like her angry Dad, commanding people to sit down and not move before ending up in the silliest fight this season. Upon stumbling into the workroom of Viktor’s in-house torturer, Jesse has to fight off said torturer, who’s blasting “Uptown Girl” through a pair of headphones and is therefore immune to The Word; a fight around a strung-up corpse involving a fire hose, sledgehammer, a table football pole (with players attached) and even one of the corpse’s arms. Two big plot points revealed this episode; firstly, Viktor is Tulip’s husband, though this is revealed right at the end and so will presumably be elaborated upon next week. Second and most importantly: the “Fake God” from the end of season 1 is a local actor who, on his audition tape, gets the part and is promptly shot so he’ll go to heaven. My money’s on The Grail, who are now surveilling Jesse. Overall a solid episode, though not as good as the previous three. I do like this adaptation’s twist of The Word informing The Saint of Jesse’s location, and Jesse having to use it sparingly, which stops him being too powerful. I also really like how he doesn’t use it all episode until the end when he’s so angry he uses it several times in a row. This is how an adaptation should be- the same main characters and general plot but with its own spin on the source material, taking it in new and interesting directions, with characters and scenes new to this version. Good stuff.
Episode 5: Dallas
Interesting twist on Jesse and Tulip’s backstory in this episode. In the comics their relationship was going really well, only for Jesse to disappear due to a third party beyond his control. Here Jesse and Tulip are stuck in normal jobs, having quit their life of crime, and the daily grind wears them down. By “Daily Grind” I mean drinking, watching John Wayne flicks and desperately trying to get Tulip pregnant. This, combined with the revelation that she’s gone back to crime results in a violent outburst from Jesse (beating up his harmless pothead room mate) and triggers him becoming a preacher. Given the hints at Jesse’s more traumatic backstory from the comics I’m surprised they took things in a more mundane direction like this, but it works really well for this adaptation. I like how they’ve made Jesse more fallible, playing up his immense dark side that he’s not fully in control of instead of him being a cardboard cut-out of John Wayne. The show has a nice line in human drama, mixing it in with all the violent slapstick and jokes surprisingly well. The framing device for the episode is a little weak, admittedly; Jesse has Viktor strung up in the torture room but he’s clearly not going to kill him. If it isn’t obvious from the start it will be after the several-hour time jump when Viktor hasn’t been so much as nicked. It does, however, tie into the idea of Jesse’s immense anger issues and aforementioned dark side, and there’s a nice moment between him and Cassidy, so I’ll let it slide. Overall a solid episode; the character stuff with Tulip and Jesse is wisely put in focus, and the ending cliffhanger promises something of a shake-up next episode, and the shows the inevitable consequence of Jesse’s overuse of The Word on Viktor’s goons.
Episode 6: Sokoasha
This is a big one, both for the series and as an adaptation of the comic. First of all, people in this universe are able to transplant souls, either wholly or in part; this is new for this version, and quite smartly handled. Whereas it started off as a more spiritual, voodoo-based system it’s now been taken over and modernised by the Japanese, who buy and sell them via armoured car. It’s this soul trade which causes two major plot points; firstly Jesse refers to himself as Jesse L’Angelle; his Mother’s maiden name and another link to the tortured past I’ve mentioned previously. Secondly, by giving the Saint of Killers a small portion of his own soul, Jesse is able to use Genesis on him, which results in him disarming the Saint and trapping him in the aforementioned armoured car at the bottom of a swamp. This is quite a departure from the comic, in which Jesse and the Saint formed a fragile alliance based on a mutual grudge and did at least try to help each other. Here Jesse sees his chance and pulls on over on the Saint, which I look forward to seeing the repercussions of, even if the Saint now is now at something of a disadvantage. I liked the montage of Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy researching the Saint, who it turns out has a wealth of books written about him, including a trashy romance novel and the actual Preacher comic. I like the shifting dynamic between Jesse and the Saint, with the latter getting some solid character development as his backstory is explored. The reveal that Cass’ “mate” Dennis is actually his son was really weak, came out of nowhere and didn’t really go anywhere, but that was the only real weak link. Good episode, looking forward to where it goes from here; the trailer shown at SDCC promised a whole lot of Herr Starr.
Episode 7: Pig
“Like a ten-inch dick; I would need to see it, to believe it.” Herr Starr finally gets a proper introduction and it’s glorious. While out on a mission to deal with a flying pig being worshipped in Vietnam, flashbacks show him working through the Grail’s training program in a rather unconventional manner. His method of seducing a microfiche out of a female agent is to threaten the lives of herself and her family, his comic counterpart shooting his hand-to-hand combat instructor (“I never intend to be unarmed”) is replaced with Starr masturbating as a distraction before knocking the shit out of him, and a final firearms test is passed by shooting the other candidate in the head. They’ve nailed Herr Starr right out the gate, between his ruthless approach to anything he considers an obstacle to his odd references to sexual deviancy made amusing by his deadpan tone. He likens the frightened masses during the rapture as being “On their knees begging for direction like the ugly girl at a gangbang”, he kills his boss literally seconds after being assigned a position and treats having his bollocks hooked up to a battery as a pleasant distraction. He’s had about twenty minutes total screen time and he’s already the ideal villain for this adaptation, and I can’t wait to see what else they do with him. The reference to Christ being alive and well in a top secret location hints at Allfather D’Aronique and the more fantastic elements of the Grail, but for now it’s Starr’s show. Elsewhere everything was rather low key: Tulip was the stand-out, dealing with Saint of Killers-based PTSD while Jesse didn’t really do much. Cassidy’s continued dealings with his Son Dennis continue to be the weak link; they have no real weight or impact, and don’t get nearly enough time or development to remedy that. I understand they want to hint at the darker elements of Cass’ past from the comics and do the whole “Being a Vampire’s actually a bit shit when you think about it” angle, but so far it’s not working.
Episode 8: Holes
Wayyy they used Cass’ first name; Proinsias. Points for having him use it in conversation with an old friend, and nor him revealing it to Jesse or Tulip. Slow episode this, with mixed results. The stuff with Cass, his dying Son and the whole “Being a Vampire is shite” angle still isn’t working for me at all. Joseph Gilgun’s doing his best, and he has a nice reflective discussion with Tulip but despite his best efforts it’s just not landing. It’s not a problem with his character, mind, just this one aspect and story arc. A fair bit of time was spent on Hell this episode, with the key scene being a look at the previously mentioned “The Hole” as Eugene is thrown into it, and experiences a different, arguably worse (depending on your view point) version of his personal hell. I’m glad they only check in on Hell now and then, because it’s easily the least interesting aspect of the show, but I don’t mind it in short bursts. Elsewhere Jesse took the God audition DVD to a pair of self-styled tech nerds, in the hope of finding a serial number on the gun used to kill “God”. It didn’t really go anywhere, the only thing of real importance being dramatic irony; as the DVD is being shredded the camera lingers on the words “Property of Grail Industries”, an adaptation-specific front for The Grail. Speaking of The Grail, they tie in to Tulip’s story, which is currently the best character focused aspect of the show. As part of her slow adaptation/recovery to/from the PTSD she’s experiencing after the whole Saint of Killers debacle she wanders from apartment to blood-soaked apartment patching up the holes left by the Saint’s bullet. The last apartment just so happens to house agents Featherstone and Hoover, who have set up cameras in Dennis’ apartment to spy on Jesse and friends. I like what they’ve done with Featherstone, continuing the whole “Mistress of disguise” angle from her introductory episode. Her meeting and (as far as the latter knows) striking up a friendship with Tulip gives her an in, which I look forward to seeing exploited once Herr Starr turns up.
Episode 9: Puzzle Piece
I’d just like to take the time to mourn the loss of Bob Glover, whose mighty war cry of “IT’S BUGGERIN’ TIME” looks like it won’t be in this series, with both it and its creator lost in adaptation. Herr Starr’s mix-up with sex workers now involves three random dudes, and he takes the whole thing surprisingly well, I must say. I’m getting ahead of myself though. Denis (I’ve become aware that it only has one n) is a vampire now, to mixed results. On the one hand, his inexperience with vampirism and new found sense of joie de vivre will (and briefly do) cause issues with Jesse’s more serious plan to find out who the Grail are. On the other hand, Denis does absolutely nothing for me as a character, and the issues he causes aren’t particualrly entertaining: he kills the last surviving member of a Grail strike team before Jesse can interrogate him, and plays Edith Piaf at high volume when the trio are waiting for a follow-up attack the next night. Said attacks are the main set-pieces this episode; the strike team getting savaged (briefly, because his super strength is tenuous at best) by Cass before stumbling upon Jesse who ends the whole thing with Genesis, and the tension laced with multiple bait and switches later on both hit their mark. The stuff with The Grail is still excellent; Herr Starr works as a creepy, irreverent villain grown bored of extensive power and influence and Featherstone and Hoover’s dynamic works wonderfully. Case in point, the scene where they are to be executed by Starr for their failures: both simultaneously nominate Hoover to be killed first, and after the gun jams Featherstone takes it apart, frees the jammed bullet and hands it back all while offering a better plan to kill Jesse and spare their lives. These scenes are the highlight of the episode, alongside the continuing development of Tulip’s PTSD, and her finally managing to sleep when Jesse uses The Word on her. Solid episode, looking forward to the next one given that Jesse and Starr finally met at the end of this one.
By James Lambert