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 One: On the Road – ****
Part One: Foreskins Conversation No. 1
Jumping off from a succinct first season, the writers for the show have a new challenge: how do you present the important parts of a series to people who are only now discovering it? As much as it may be a question that few people are asking, given that few viewers decide to start a series with the second season, the show nonetheless has an answer. THe episode opens with dramatic music, a speeding road, a gentle pan up to the car, and location titles tell us we are at “THE SEARCH FOR GOD”. The first thing out of anyone’s mouth is, “Foreskins,” after which Cassidy (because who else would would bring up this subject?) starts a persistent rant about circumcision foreskins being used in face creams. I don’t think I’ve seen a show establish its tone so quickly.
Naturally the first episode of this season will draw comparisons to the previous one, especially from me given I wasn’t even sure the show would get a second season. I enjoyed the first episode thoroughly, but I do think in lacks some of the tight writing of the past episodes. Looking back at the Annville season, several of the earlier episodes featured fairly little action but still felt packed with story moments, largely to do with character interactions. This episode has two fight sequences, a fair bit of gore, and high tension throughout thanks to the Saint of Killers (who’s finally named as such), but I feel like it could have been fifteen minutes longer with the same book ends and I really wouldn’t have minded.
It isn’t that the episode feels rushed; there are several character interactions and a balance of slow- and fast-paced scenes. I believe the slightly uncanny feel of this episode originates more from the content not fully meeting its potential. This is the first time all three characters are on more or less the same page and can interact organically without many narrative restrictions. The series can let the characters loose, and when it does so, they shine. But it places sort of artificial boundaries on the characters the rest of the time, limiting their personal subplot developments in favor of jokes and nice moments for the group. For instance, Jesse and Cassidy don’t really interact much in this episode. The bromance heart-to-heart moments, while not crucial to the series’ main plot, were nonetheless crucial to the development of these characters in the last season. Heck, Cassidy’s whole subplot revolved around his friendship with Jesse, and the last moment they even talk to one another directly was back in Episode Nine when they were digging up the angel hands.
That’s not to say there aren’t other significant character moments that do play out. We see that Jesse and Tulip have indeed reached the “fucking like bunnies” part of their relationship. Tulip and Cassidy have their first real conversation since probably Episode Seven of the first season. In an intriguing Angelville subplot development, Jesse hints about his mother’s side of the family, naming them for the first time. The cinematography in the first season wasn’t bad, but it’s improved greatly in this one. Some of the timing and effects look a little off, especially at the start of the episode, but the framing and shots are simple and elegant. Everything is clear; the shots are varied, but the structure of each is such that framing doesn’t impede the audience’s engagement with the story. You have to pay close attention to the structure of the shots to even notice when they do something interesting, like the scene in the gas station that keeps Tulip and Cassidy framed by the shelves and refrigerator but almost always in the same position relative to one another. Little details related to the cinematography come up throughout the episode, and they give it a good amount of rewatchability.
Part Two: Ah, I Know Who This Is… Wait, No I Don’t
Of course, the main drive audiences go to this show for is the comedy, and this episode is full of jokes. Not all of them land, and the comedic setups steal the spotlight from the narrative on one or two occasions, so I can’t exactly call the humor an improvement on the last season, but it seems to be more layered and there seems to be more of it.
One of my favorite comedic moments comes about a third of the way in, when the trio arrive at Jesse’s contact’s place. Now, as I mentioned before, this season has the potential to converge almost directly if the books if it chooses, as the events of the first season were largely made up based on only the first three or four chapters of the first book. Obviously there wasn’t anything wrong with setting up the first season differently, but this season starts off with the characters leaving Texas and going on a road trip to find God, as they did early in Book One. The first place the show characters decide to go is Mike, an old family friend of Jesse’s, whom Jesse claims to be a religious scholar. This should sound familiar to book fans who remember the minor character of Si, who was also a religious scholar and also the first lead the characters followed once they learned God was missing. There are minor differences, like Mike’s name, him being in Texas instead of New York, and him being known by Jesse instead of Cassidy, but the show is clearly trying to establish similarities between the two.
Case in point, while Jesse goes in the house to find Mike, Tulip and Cassidy stumble upon a frantic girl trapped in a covered cage in Mike’s garage. Their response is appropriately confused and disturbed, but unlike Si in the books, who turned out to be a casual psychopathic serial killer, Mike apparently has a perfectly reasonable explanation that is upheld on multiple occasions throughout the episode: It’s an urge-curbing cage. See, this girl is a social media addict and Mike is helping her detox. By locking her in a covered cage.
Other moments of note are the gut-siphoning escapade, and by extension Cassidy’s fool-proof way to remove the taste of blood (hot sauce and chocolate milk), the totally cannon nearly-threesome, God visiting a strip club, and the accidental death by security tape shoot-out through a tampon box. The banter in this episode is delightful and for what it lacks in deeper character-building moments, it makes up for in small gestures and looks interplayed with dialogue. There’s a moment when the protagonists are discussing Jesse’s parents’ wedding and Cassidy asks offhand what the L’Angelles thought of it, and Jesse responds “They weren’t invited.” His intonation is enough to tell the audience that he doesn’t like thinking about them, but before he answers, there’s a brief moment when he looks at a little treasure chest bubbler in a nearby fishing tank. It’s another one of those blink and you miss it moments, but the sound effects explain the scene: when Jesse answers, he’s not thinking about the L’Angelles, he’s thinking about the Coffin.
The tone is just as, if not potentially more, comedic than the first season. The show also establishes quickly that it by no means intends to closely follow the books now that it has the opportunity, and I don’t think that’s a bad idea. It gives viewers who have read the books new material to see, and so far, that material’s pretty good.
Part Three: This Show Does Not Like Dogs, Does It?
The major plot device tying everything together in this episode is, as expected, the Saint of Killers. His main role in the first season was to build anticipation for his involvement in this one, and man does it deliver. He was already established as an intimidating, merciless person with literally nothing in the world left to lose, and that was before he was brought back from Hell. The show demonstrated that killing is the one thing he does very well, and that he has the capability of killing pretty much anything, even things that aren’t supposed to be able to die.
The first introduction to the Saint of Killers in the second season is through an homage to the books, when the protagonists are stopped at a police blockade. In the book, this was the first moment Jesse discovered his powers. Because the audience and characters are well-familiar with them by this point in the show, the second season uses this moment as an excuse for the characters to have some fun, before bullets that sound like they’re being fired out of a cannon start blowing people’s brains apart. It does seem like the Saint has a little problem with aiming – not nearly Storm Trooper bad, but he does miss quite a few shots before Tulip puts up a smoke screen, considering how apt he’s supposed to be when it comes to shooting.
The music that plays whenever the Saint appears onscreen is the Ratwater music, and it is especially uncanny when tied to the character outside of his location in the last season. More threatening than his guns or his mere presence is the way he continues to follow the main trio, always just a step behind them and able to keep up on foot like a horror monster. He’s often framed so that his face can’t be seen, but every moment the character is visible he seems like a threat. The Saint pursues them for a long time before they even realize who he is or what he can do, and I’ll get into some spoilers for the next few episodes here (I know, shocking, what did I do, watch the first four episodes back to back when I got to the second season? Possibly…), but as it turns out, Genesis doesn’t even work on him. I think this is a good move at this point, simply because if the show were to follow the first book’s Saint who gets turned away as soon as Jesse tells him to stop, the tension established so far would be largely wasted.
Resolving the “why does the Saint not respond to Genesis and oh God how on earth are we supposed to stop him now” conundrum is something I’m eager to see. Clearly this is not a character who can be killed by normal means, so there’s some fun narrative potential for the series to explore.