I’ll be damned if I can figure out what the hell is going on with ‘Preacher’. For one thing, AMC waited two weeks after the pilot to air the second episode. Even accounting for the Memorial Day holiday in between, this seems like a really dumb way to premiere a brand new series.
More importantly than that, the show’s plot is utterly confounding. It jumps all over the place with non-sequitur scenes that are never explained and don’t seem related to anything. The second episode opens with an extended flashback to the Old West of 1881, in which an unnamed cowboy (always seen hidden in shadow) rides away from home on what’s supposed to be a two-day trip and encounters a group of friendly but naïve pioneer settlers in the desert. This doesn’t tie into anything else in the show and is never mentioned again.
That’s just the first example of something weird and inexplicable happening in the episode. I’m told that this scattershot structure is faithful to the spirit of the original comic book series, and I’m hopeful that some of it will make more sense over time (that cowboy will surely come back around again), but it’s damned frustrating to watch as a TV show.
I’m not sure that I’m capable of writing a traditional point-by-point recap for a show like this. Instead, I’ll just list out some random notable events and things we learn about the characters, not necessarily in the order they occur. Somehow, that feels appropriate.
Stuff That Happens
Jesse’s ex-girlfiend Tulip (Ruth Negga) harasses him throughout the episode to join her on an unspecified “job” that is surely illegal. All we know is that it involves a map and someone named Danni. Jesse resists and insists that he’s a different man now (hinting at a dark past that we still know nothing about), but Tulip is confident that he’ll eventually revert to his old ways.
The boy Eugene (a.k.a. “Arseface”) was disfigured after trying to commit suicide with a shotgun. Why he was suicidal isn’t known. He seems pretty happy-go-lucky these days, even despite the mutilated face.
Cassidy is a 119-year-old vampire on the run from religious vigilantes. He tells this to Jesse with a straight face, but Jesse assumes he’s joking. Cassidy is currently broke and hangs around the church doing odd jobs.
A mysterious man whose name isn’t mentioned in this episode, but is credited as “Odin Quincannon” (Jackie Earle Haley), rides through the area in a convoy of trucks marked “Q. M. & P.” He appears to be a shady businessman of some sort. He intimidates people into selling their property and then demolishes their homes. His men turn up later at a whorehouse where Tulip wins a lot of money off them at poker.
Jesse takes confession from a pedophile named Linus who drives a school bus. He tells Jesse about urges he has to molest a young girl on the bus. Despite saying that he’s repentant about this, he really doesn’t seem like it. Jesse knows it’s only a matter of time before he hurts the girl. Although he tries to handle the situation using his faith and counseling, Jesse eventually has enough. He breaks into the man’s house, beats him up, and yells at him in a frighteningly deep voice to, “Forget her!” Linus immediately does indeed forget the girl. His memory is wiped and he has no idea what Jesse is talking about.
Jesse visits a girl in a coma whose skull was caved in during an accident. The girl’s mother isn’t religious and has little patience for him. After discovering what he was capable of doing to Linus, Jesse returns to the girl and uses the same voice to tell her to open her eyes. (We don’t see the result.)
The two weird men who’ve followed the trail of exploding religious leaders all over the world spend most of the episode spying on Jesse. (I hate to risk spoilers, but I had to do a little research to discover that their names are Fiore and DeBlanc.) They know that he was hit with the same extraterrestrial/supernatural power they’ve been tracking, but are baffled that he’s still alive.
After Jesse gets drunk with Cassidy and passes out on the floor of the church, Fiore and DeBlanc enter dragging a large trunk, an elaborate music box contraption, and a tin can. In a bizarre, comical scene, they place the can on Jesse’s stomach while one plays screechy music from the box and other sings. They clearly expected something to happen. (We catch a glimpse of something pulsating inside Jesse’s body, and I suspect they were trying to draw it out.) When that doesn’t work, they fall back on “Plan B” and pull a chainsaw out of the trunk.
As they’re about to get to work on Jesse’s body, Cassidy interrupts. He assumes they’re the religious nutjobs and were looking for him. He tells them they’re about to be very sorry, but one of the men shoots him in the gut. This leads into a blackly comic but frustratingly incoherent action set-piece where Cassidy fights and kills both men (hacking one in half with the chainsaw) and causes a huge, bloody mess in the church. He licks up some of the blood and heals from his own injuries, then chops up the bodies, shoves them in the trunk, and cleans up the church before Jesse wakes up. While dragging the trunk to the entrance, he throws open the door and pauses for a moment to look up at the sky, where he sees what look like meteors falling in the distance.
Cassidy buries the trunk in the desert. However, lest we assume that’s the end of Fiore and DeBlanc, both men show up in town the next day fully intact, as if nothing happened. When the local sheriff (W. Earl Brown from ‘Deadwood’) questions them about who they are, they reply, “We’re from the government.”
This show baffles me. I have no idea what’s going on or what anything means. As much as I get that it’s supposed to be confusing on purpose, it seems overly confusing for no good reason. I think it would work a lot better if it didn’t try so hard to be weird.
Additionally, scenes that are obviously meant to be big showstopper set-pieces, such as the church brawl here (or the private jet massacre and cornfield chase in the pilot episode) are almost ineptly staged. If this is intentional for some reason, it doesn’t work.
For all that, I’m not ready to give up on the show yet. I feel like it has interesting ideas at its core struggling to get out, and I enjoy some of the characters – especially Tulip and Cassidy. Since it’s the summer and most of the other TV shows I watch are on hiatus, I’ll cut this one some slack and give it a little more time to find its footing.