Characters and Character Development: 9
Aesthetics and Style: 8
Overall Plot: 7
Audience Assumptions: Some familiarity with series (or my Preacher graphic novels reviews)
Episode Two: See – ****
Part One: It’s the Funny Kind of Death
The strength of both the graphic novels and television series is their humor. It sets them apart from most other horror action series that are popular at the moment because both series maintain a good balance of serious and light-hearted moments. The humor is sharp and witty, but also absurd, and most importantly, it doesn’t distract from the darker moments of the story.
Sometimes writers have difficulty keeping humor and drama cohesive but distinct. This is often the case any time a joke falls flat because it hits at the wrong moment, or any time a critical atmosphere is lessened by an unwarranted moment of comedy. The show and the graphic novel series are very good at placing intense dramatic or comedic scenes so that they don’t clash, but because they follow so close together, they combine to set the tone, and feed off of one another. The funny moments are funnier because they are needed whenever the show gets too dour, and the dramatic scenes are more intense because they are juxtaposed against a lighter backdrop.
Sometimes you need to keep a scene free of jokes to allow the buildup of tension, and the show does this in a particularly effective way. While the typical tone of the show blends humor and horror, the consequence of this is usually a more lighthearted tone. However, during important scenes, like the one at the end of this episode where Jesse breaks into a man’s house and nearly drowns him in his own tub, aesthetic cues signal to the audience that shit’s about to get real. These cues usually involve low, throbbing music or a single ringing tone, long takes (the first part of this scene is a two-minute shot), and some sort of unusual lighting. The acting, location, and story beat the show’s more serious moments fall on also influence the audience’s perspective of the scene, but all of it is designed to make the audience suddenly feel uneasy. The jokes return eventually, but they’re rarely the thing to break the tension of the scene itself.
By keeping the regular tone of the series a comedic fusion of innocent and dark humor, and juxtaposing this tone with brief moments when the humor drops out almost entirely, the series manages to build high stakes without feeling like it takes itself too seriously. When every other book or video game or film or show I encounter seems to favor an endless mire of artificial “grit,” a good dose of comedy is welcome, and even more so if it manages to hit that fine line between too inconsequential and too grim.
Part Two: Angels, Like Most Things, Die If You Hit Them Hard Enough with a Bible
Episode Two provides clear examples of those two major elements in the show, and I think because it takes a slower approach to the main plot than the graphic novels, at times its humor, and its drama, can even surpass its predecessor.
There are two main recurring storylines that are the focus of this episode, one serious and one humorous. The darker one is about Jesse listening to the confession of a pedophile and deciding to do what he can to keep the guy from hurting a young girl. The lighter one is about the two odd, supposedly government, agents trying to retrieve the thing that gives Jesse the power to force people to obey his words. These characters are not given names until some episodes later, at which point the audience realizes that they are the two degenerate angels tasked with guarding Genesis, Fiore and Deblanc, who feature as minor characters in the graphic novels. Their role here is much more central to the plot, as they go about trying to retrieve Genesis from Jesse for most of the first season.
This is their first interaction with the preacher, and it sets the tone for all their wonderful future interactions as well. The two are armed and act alien, speaking little to other people and demonstrating their unfamiliarity with things like motels, towels, etc. Their stilted mannerisms, their costuming, and the series’ slow slasher music gives them a sense of menace when they set out to retrieve Genesis. Unlike the break-in scene I described earlier, however, there’s enough absurdity to these characters that they don’t seem to be genuinely threatening — perhaps in the over-the-top-airplane-battle-royale sort of way, but not the might-unwittingly-kill-someone-innocent sort of way.
While the angels are unknowingly en-route, Jesse and Cassidy hang out in the church and talk religion, which ends in the former passing out drunk and the latter stealing his wallet. This leaves Jesse conveniently on the floor for the angel agents to do whatever they please with him. They shift him onto a tarp, open their steamer trunk, pull a small cylinder and a smaller box with gears and levers from inside, and proceed to set up some sort of elaborate device. One of the agents places the cylinder on Jesse’s chest, and that’s when things start to get unusual, because the cylinder is clearly an upside-down Old Timer Coffee can. The other device turns out to be a music box, and while one of the agents winds it, the other sings what has to be the oddest lullaby in existence, to the unconscious Jesse and coffee can.
When this technique fails, they decide to enact Plan B, and one of them pulls out and revs a chainsaw from the steamer trunk (with near pitch perfect comedic timing, I might add). Just as they’re preparing to cut Jesse open and, apparently, catch Genesis in the coffee can, Cassidy returns, either through guilt or, more likely, because Jesse didn’t have very much money in his wallet. Either way, Cassidy mistakes the agents for vampire hunters and another ridiculous fight ensues in which one of the angels gets beaten to death with a bible, the other gets his arm sawed off, and Cassidy has to chase a runaway chainsaw down the pews (with the arm still holding on) before it inadvertently saws the [still unconscious] Jesse in half. It’s a beautiful demonstration of the best parts of horror-comedy, and ends with Cassidy trying to figure out how to clean everything up.
Part Three: Jesse Takes His Baptisms Seriously
The pedophile subplot is the more important for Jesse’s character, as he spends the entirety of the angel fight unconscious. Characters like Tulip and Eugene have talked in this and the previous episode about people being unable to change, and reverting to their true natures when someone pokes at their facades. As in the graphic novels, this is an important theme in the series, and particularly relevant to Jesse. He’s pretending to be more peaceful and pious than he actually is, but his dilemma regarding this issue is more than simply a matter of whether he will be a religious beacon of hope for the community or revert to his darker past.
After encountering Genesis, he wants to believe in God, he wants to believe that people can change, and wants to change himself. Tulip continues to press him to help her with a job, insisting that his fascination with being a religious figure is a lie that he’s telling the people around him. But she’s not entirely sound in that assessment.
Whether or not violence is his inclination for solving problems (by the end of the episode, we find that it clearly is), from what we’ve seen so far in the series, Jesse does seem to be genuinely sympathetic. He doesn’t really want to hurt people, but he doesn’t want those people to hurt others either. This is his main internal conflict, because the people he is surrounded by are constantly doing just that. By the end of the episode, he decides that free will be damned, he’s going to make the pedophile a better person by waterboarding him. This of course leads to him inadvertently using his Genesis powers, and opens up a new can of worms regarding free will, and how little respect Jesse has for it.