During its first season, AMC’s ‘Preacher’ was a go-for-broke crazy and sometimes hugely entertaining supernatural action comedy, but it was also wildly uneven, needlessly confusing, and often enormously frustrating. The second season brings a change of setting, a fresh start and, with luck, a new focus on buckling down to tell a somewhat coherent story without losing the fun parts.
Producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg returned to direct the two-night season premiere, which aired on Sunday and Monday this week. Thankfully, they’ve put some effort into learning how to stage a visually comprehensible action set-piece since the last time they’d directed early in the first season. That’s already a big improvement.
Episode 2.01, ‘On the Road’
The town of Annville was wiped off the map in a huge explosion at the conclusion of Season 1, but our main trio of Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), Tulip (Ruth Negga) and Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) are too wrapped up in their own new adventure to have noticed. They left town before the disaster to go on a road trip in search of God, who has gone missing from Heaven and is believed to be hiding somewhere on Earth.
The premiere opens with a very fun car chase designed in imitation of 1970s grindhouse B-movies, complete with film scratches and dirt all over the picture. Eventually, the three antiheroes are pulled over and surrounded by police. Jesse uses the power of Genesis to make the cops do silly things, like hold hands and sing. He finds this pretty amusing, until sniper shots suddenly ring out from the distance and all of the cops are mowed down in a hail of bullets. Far down the road is the cowboy bounty hunter from Hell. Because his storyline never intersected with the main characters last season, none of them knows who he is or why he’s shooting at them. They hop back in Tulip’s car and hightail it out of there before he gets to them, chalking up the experience to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Jesse directs them to visit a friend of his, an alleged “religious scholar” named Mike (Glenn Morshower), a gruff and foul-mouthed preacher with some unorthodox methods for curing his parishioners of their vices. He’s not very helpful at first, but later tells Jesse that one of his congregants claimed to have seen God at a so-called “dance hall.” He assumed that the woman had been drinking again, but after hearing Jesse’s story, he’s not so sure anymore.
The next morning, Jesse and friends leave. Soon after, the cowboy arrives at Mike’s house. Mike has heard his legend and isn’t surprised to see him. He smartmouths the gunslinger and stabs himself in the heart rather than be tortured into revealing the direction Jesse went.
The dance hall turns out to be a strip club called She She’s. Jesse questions the manager, Tammy, about God. She says he was a regular customer for a while. Tulip believes that he must have fallen in love with one of the strippers. While Jesse and Tulip talk to Tammy, Cassidy gets in an altercation with a bouncer in the next room, and their struggle results in an accidental gunshot that tears through a wall and hits Tammy. Before dying, she tells Jesse that God didn’t come for a girl; he came for the jazz. She also warns Jesse that he’ll shit himself when he meets God.
At the end of the first episode, Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy rent a pair of motel rooms. Jesse and Tulip finally consummate their rekindled relationship with energetic sex that Cassidy has to listen to through the wall. Afterwards, Jesse steps outside for a smoke and sees the cowboy walking towards the hotel. Jesse uses Genesis to command the gunslinger to stop, but it has no effect on him. He just keeps coming.
Episode 2.02, ‘Mumbai Sky Tower’
The cowboy fires a shot at the dumbfounded Jesse. Fortunately, at that very second, a truck just happens to pass between the two of them. The bullet kills the driver, and the truck swerves wildly until smashing directly into the cowboy. Jesse is amazed at his good fortune. Hearing the crash, a bunch of gun nuts who’d been staying at the motel for a convention run out brandishing their weapons. Cassidy also pokes his head out to see what’s going on.
With incredible supernatural strength, the cowboy lifts the truck off him and trudges once again toward Jesse, who uses Genesis to command the gun nuts to stop him. They unload on the cowboy with everything they’ve got, including machine guns and a grenade launcher. At their apparent success, one hilariously hollers, “Another problem solved by guns!”
Not so much, unfortunately. The cowboy keeps coming, and picks them all off one after another with his own super-powerful hand cannons.
Jesse and Cassidy run into the motel to collect Tulip, who is transfixed watching a television news report about the destruction of Annville. Even in the middle of the chaos, Jesse and Cassidy stop for a moment to watch with her, until a stray bullet takes out the TV and snaps them out of their daze. With a little luck, they manage to dodge the cowboy again and escape in their car.
Cassidy has an idea for where to go next. He saw TV ads for a stage magician called The Amazing Ganesh, who’s performing at a casino with an over-the-top Bollywood theme. (Get it? Indian casino…) Jesse is skeptical that someone like that could be any help, but Cassidy recognized The Amazing Ganesh as none other than the angel Fiore.
We then segue to an extended flashback showing what became of Fiore after hiring the cowboy, who murdered his partner DeBlanc. Normally, angels regenerate in a new body immediately after dying, but getting killed by the cowboy appears to be permanent. After returning from Hell, Fiore was depressed and wandered into the casino, having nowhere better to go. Feeling suicidal, he attempted to kill himself in a variety of ways, none successful. At a certain point, he interrupted a lounge singer named Frank Patel (Vik Sahay from ‘Chuck’) with one of his suicide attempts and inadvertently wound up becoming a huge sensation as a stage magician. Audiences of course believe that he somehow fakes his deaths and resurrections, and they eat it up as Patel murders The Amazing Ganesh on stage in increasingly gruesome and gory ways, always for Fiore to step out from behind the curtain totally unharmed afterwards. Fiore does not enjoy this performance or his success any more than he enjoys anything else, but it keeps him occupied and he’s got nothing better to do.
Jesse asks Fiore about the cowboy. He has no interest in helping, but does reveal that the cowboy is called the Saint of Killers, is totally unstoppable, and is drawn toward Genesis anytime Jesse uses it, which explains how he keeps finding them. Fiore was not aware that God is missing, but ultimately tells Jesse that he doesn’t give a shit. He’s still not helping.
Cassidy convinces Jesse that he has a rapport with Fiore and can bring him around within about 2 hours and 45 minutes, just before Fiore’s next scheduled stage show. Jesse and Tulip agree to wait. At first, it looks like Cassidy’s going to torture the angel, but it turns out that he actually offers him drugs to take his mind off his worries – a lot of drugs. Fiore is dubious but consents to try. It’s not like he has anything to lose. What do you know, he actually enjoys the hell out of heroin. What follows is a manic montage of Cassidy and Fiore getting high af (in the parlance of the kids today) and trashing Fiore’s hotel room. I imagine that Seth Rogen had an absolute blast directing this scene.
While waiting on Cassidy, Jesse gets a crazy impulse and asks Tulip to marry him at the casino’s quickie wedding chapel. She smacks him across the face for even suggesting something so absurd and foolish, and then says yes.
They almost go through with it until Tulip spots someone she recognizes in the building lobby. She feigns an excuse to slip away for a few minutes and meets with a hulking man named Gary in her hotel room. She pretends to be pleased to see him. Gary works for someone named Viktor (a crime boss, it sounds like) and is at the hotel to oversee a money skimming operation. He’s very insistent that Tulip needs to call Viktor right away and tell him where she is. Tulip refuses. Gary punches her. The two have a brutal fight until Tulip eventually gets the better of him and kills Gary. Cassidy happens to pop in at the end. Tulip asks him not to tell Jesse.
Tulip returns to the wedding chapel and tells Jesse that she changed her mind, getting married is too crazy an idea. He’s disappointed.
Fiore agrees to call off his contract with the cowboy, but warns Jesse that he can never use Genesis again because it’s too dangerous. Jesse won’t make that promise. He believes that Genesis chose him for a reason.
Remembering what Tammy told him about God liking jazz, Jesse announces that they’re heading to New Orleans next. Tulip can’t say anything, but is concerned because that’s where this Viktor guy is.
Before leaving, Jesse uses the voice one more time, as a lure to draw the cowboy to Fiore. Rather than command Fiore to call off the contract, which would have been the smartest play, Jesse tells him to “Find peace.” Fiore realizes that there’s only one way he’ll ever find peace. When the cowboy arrives, he betrays Jesse and points the killer in their direction. He just doesn’t trust Jesse to have Genesis. He also asks the cowboy to do one more thing for him.
As Fiore begins his next performance as The Amazing Ganesh, the cowboy shoots him dead right on stage. This time it’s permanent. The crowd eagerly awaits his magical resurrection, and boos loudly when he doesn’t come back from the dead.
Already, Season 2 seems to be on much stronger footing than Season 1. Leaving Annville and killing off most of the characters there was a pretty effective method of clearing the slate and writing out some of the show’s less interesting storylines. Making the new season a road trip brings a lot of possibilities for fun adventures, and the cowboy is a compelling antagonist.
Most importantly, I actually have some idea of what’s happening in the show now. That wasn’t always (or even often) the case in Season 1, which was a confusing mess. If the series can continue on this track without diluting its signature craziness (which is still plenty in evidence so far), the season could be a big improvement over the first one.