Review: After another wild fight scene, 'Preacher' keeps dragging its heels
A review of tonight's Preacher coming up just as soon as I have a beer at 10 in the morning...
"Sundowner" opens with what appears to be significant progress in what's been a pretty sluggish series-opening arc. The visiting angels, DeBlanc and Fiore, are forced to tell Jesse all about the entity inside him: Genesis, the offspring of an unholy union between an angel and a demon, which could be "the most powerful being ever known." That's followed by the appearance of one of the Seraphim — who plays like a cross between a soccer mom, the T-1000, and the Waif from Game of Thrones — who doesn't know Genesis has escaped and is just hunting two fugitive angels who have no permission to be on earth. This in turn leads to Preacher's most impressive — or just plain fun — action sequence yet, as Jesse, Cassidy, DeBlanc, and Fiore have to battle the Seraphim in a motel room, with the catch that whenever any of the three angels dies, they are immediately resurrected somewhere nearby to resume fighting. Like the chainsaw fight from episode 2, or Tulip taking out the helicopter in the pilot, it turns the show's modest budget into a feature, rather than a bug, as the low-fi quality of the whole thing — much of it glimpsed through a hole in the wall between two motel rooms as the angel corpses begin to stack up — becomes part of its charm.
Those first 10-odd minutes suggest Preacher is going to stop coasting on atmosphere, the charm of its stars, and its ability to deliver at least one gonzo moment per week (though the motel fight is pretty damn gonzo) and start advancing the story, with Jesse exploring the nature of Genesis, and/or this war between Heaven and Hell, rather than continuing to try to save the people of Annville. Instead, the next time we see Jesse and Cassidy(*), our hero is adamant that his plan is "Same as before. Nothing's changed." Which is awfully frustrating.
(*) In their underwear, because it's an excuse to reference Vincent and Julies from Pulp Fiction, and because certain segments of the Preacher audience surely wouldn't object to Dominic Cooper and/or Joseph Gilgun in a state of undress. And also because it gives Cassidy an excuse to notice Jesse's back tattoo, and to have Jesse reference the "mean old lady" who put it there.
As I've said, I don't need Preacher the TV show to follow the plot of Preacher the comic beat-for-beat, or even at all. If Rogen, Goldberg, and Catlin can chart their own interesting course, more power to them. But this extended stay in Annville isn't really qualifying. The town has a few interesting characters beyond our core trio (the Root family, Quincannon, even Donny at times), but the show has never really sold it as a place Jesse would put everything — not his feelings for Tulip, not his discovery that God is real and he is in possession of a power to rival the Almighty's — on hold in order to save, nor has it made the do-gooder version of Jesse, even in his current smug rock star phase, compelling enough to make the audience in any way take his side over Tulip, Cassidy, or even the angels when they try to get him to do literally anything else.
Obviously, the show seems to be building towards that, and Jesse is making big mistakes along the way, including what appears to be banishing poor Eugene to Hell itself. (Which, if that actually happened — as opposed to Eugene somehow running out of the chapel before Jesse could turn around — would suggest his powers run a whole lot deeper than just mind control.) I appreciate the idea that the creative team wanted to ground the characters more in reality at first before things get too crazy. (Logistically, it's also a cheaper initial approach for a show that no one knew the audience would or wouldn't accept.) But Jesse the preacher's not a great use of Dominic Cooper — though his current drunk with power mode is a bit more interesting than the version from earlier in the season — and Annville hasn't come to life enough to feel like anything but the place where Jesse and the show are killing time until the real work begins.
Though the ratings have been solid enough to get AMC to order a second season (and a slightly longer one, at that), conversation about the show has been largely swallowed up by the internet's obsession with another religion-adjacent cable fantasy epic that's been airing in the same timeslot. With Game of Thrones done for the year, Preacher has some more room to breathe and to hopefully get people talking. It would help if the pace picked up a bit, at least when it comes to getting Jesse to accept what everyone else keeps trying to tell him about how ill-suited he is for this job.
Some other thoughts:
* I was on vacation last week and didn't review the previous episode, but it was fun to watch a friendlier, more gregarious Odin Quincannon turn out to be even more monstrous, as he matter-of-factly killed the Green Acre executives. Presumably, he felt that this was part of his Jesse/Genesis-mandated mission to serve God, and is another reminder that Jesse needs to learn to be extremely specific with his commands going forward.
* The Arseface prosthetic means that the only real expression Ian Colletti can make is with his eyes, but he's been doing a very good job of that, particularly as Eugene wrestled with whether the kids were really being nice to him or setting him up for more humiliation, followed by his wondrous reaction to the firecrackers going off inside the tunnel. He enjoys it in the moment, but still feels so much guilt over what he did to Tracy Loach that he can't accept the town's forgiveness, especially since he knows it wasn't really earned. He's by far the most success the show has had in getting the audience to invest in Jesse trying to be a better preacher.
* Emily, on the other hand, remains an unfortunate drag on the proceedings. It's much less the fault of Lucy Griffiths than the basic design of the character, who's there to be the down-to-earth yin to Tulip's crazy yang, and no character could reasonably compete with what Ruth Negga and the writers are doing with Tulip. Emily more than anyone symbolizes the pull of the town and church on Jesse — even though even she isn't entirely sure he should be there — and the fact that the show has, intentionally or not, so heavily stacked our sympathies towards her spiritual opposite isn't helping at all in making me want the story to stay here.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com