Sunday, June 25, 2017

REVIEW: 'Preacher' - Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy's Road Trip Gets Off to a Lethal Start in 'On the Road'

AMC's Preacher - Episode 2.01 "On the Road"

Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy hit the road in search of God, and quickly realize they're being stalked by a killer cowboy from Hell.

The first season of Preacher was often very good and really frustrating at the same time. The performances from the leads were quite compelling and fun while the action sequences were so exciting and inventive. It proved to be a show of strong moments but less good in the overall narrative. It suffered from a main story that just wasn't that compelling. It focused on Jesse trying his best to be a good guy and a preacher even though it was clear to the other characters and the audience that he just wasn't good at it. That was very frustrating and kept Dominic Cooper from embracing the full potential of the character. And yes, the story got a ton of great and exciting energy whenever a fight broke out. But it was too stuck in its location. The action of blowing up Annville at the end of the season essentially proved that the entire season was a waste of time. There was no reason to get attached to or care about any of those supporting characters. It was all about bringing Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy together so that they can go on this road trip in search of God. It was a season that was just setting up the premise of the show so the real story could begin in Season 2. That is such a frustrating way to tell a story though.

But now, Season 2 of Preacher has officially begun. The story picks up in the immediate aftermath of the finale. The road trip in search of God is just getting started. Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy have no idea what has happened in Annville. The show barely mentions that disaster at all. The characters have no reaction to it. That's perfectly fine because their new adventure is already much more entertaining than the boring lives they were living in small town Texas. It doesn't take long for this road trip to go awry. It's fun to see Jesse push Tulip into creating a police chase instead of simply pulling over for driving too fast. He doesn't do so because of Genesis either. That's an important distinction. The banter is already so fast and loose between these three characters. The bonds of friendship feel real and genuine. They understand and accept each other's craziness. Yes, the fact that Cassidy and Tulip slept together is still a secret from Jesse. They are choosing to still keep that one at the moment. But overall, they are very open with each other about the craziness in their lives. That allows for a more fun and playful approach to the story at the start of this season.

The action kicks off with that police chase. It's a fantastic visual sequence because it's shot like an old 1970s movie. It's a throwback complete with a nice, over-the-top musical accompaniment in "Come On Eileen" which everyone mocks at first then sings along to during the chase. It all ends with Jesse revealing just how easy it'll be for this trio to avoid any kind of punishment from law enforcement. It's still deeply unsettling for Tulip when she sees Genesis in action. She doesn't think it's charming at all. She understands how manipulative and violating it can be to have no control over one's actions. Jesse doesn't see that. But they don't get to debate the morals over these new powers because it's not long until the Cowboy shows up firing bullets. It's yet another impressive action set piece. One that feels more like a war film with all of the police officers getting shot and killed. Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy manage to escape unharmed. But it's not a great start to this road trip for them. It's fun that they play it off as bad luck too. They don't really understand the severity of the situation. They don't know that the Cowboy was sprung from Hell to kill Jesse. The Angels released him at the end of last season. He's now relentlessly pursuing them which only adds more tension to the overall hour.

Meanwhile, the quest to find God takes a number of interesting turns. Jesse reaches out to an old friend of his father's. It's a preacher named Mike who keeps his parishioners in a locked cage covered with a sheet in order to heal them of their vices. It's one of the first details that the audience learns about this guy. It makes him seem perverted and psychotic. But it's again the show messing with the audience's own expectations. The action sets things up to be one thing only for new information to reveal that it's something completely different. It's pretty amusing to watch. In its own twisted way, this is Mike serving his community to the best of his ability. He's being generous while still being a strange, old man. He's only able to point the gang in the right direction. He leads them to a woman named Tammy who runs the local strip club where God was apparently a customer for awhile. She claims to have seen God and it's only now that Mike believes she was literally telling the truth. The scene of Jesse and Tulip questioning her is very delightful as well. It starts civilly. They have questions about God and she's providing answers. But there's a deeply unsettling quality to it as well. It starts with being able to see Cassidy get into an altercation with the bouncer on the videos beyond Jesse and Tulip. But it also turns into a conversation over when Jesse can use Genesis and when he can't. He needs to know Tulip's rules so that he can still be a good boyfriend for her. Of course, it's all ultimately useless because Tammy is killed by a stray bullet because of Cassidy's fight in the next room. The only information she gives up is that God is a fan of jazz. That's just such a peculiar detail to know about him. And yet, it's completely in line with everything that this show does so well.

"On the Road" also confirms that the Cowboy really is The Saint of Killers. That was teased a lot in the first season but he was never really referred to by that name until this moment in time. It's a very stylized reveal as well. It appears in bold text on the screen as he confronts Mike for information about Jesse's whereabouts. It's fascinating to see just how easily the Saint is able to track down Jesse and where he has recently been. That makes Jesse's pursuit even more dangerous because the Saint will constantly be a worry. He can show up at any moment in time and potentially destroy everything for Jesse. He suspects that something more is going on with the people trying to kill him and his friends. But he still forges ahead on his journey and rekindling his romance with Tulip. That's an important development as well. They aren't able to sleep together the first night of being back on as a couple because Cassidy is in the bed with them. But the next night, they are able to have sex again - all while keeping Cassidy up in the process. It's a moment of connection that shows their humanity throughout all of this. But there is still the fear that the Saint will show up. He finally does in the end too. The show doesn't delay that confrontation any longer. The Saint is there face-to-face with Jesse. The powers from Genesis aren't working on him either. That's a very exciting and ominous tease to end the premiere on. Without these powers, who is Jesse Custer? He's a sly and cunning man who knows how to survive. But how is he going to deal with this latest supernatural threat when his powers don't work on him? That's an answer that should be fascinating to watch at the start of the next episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "On the Road" was written by Sam Catlin and directed by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg.
  • The opening credits reveal that Ian Colletti is still a series regular despite not appearing as Eugene in this first episode. It also reveals that Pip Torrens, Noah Taylor and Julie Ann Emery are new cast additions this season. They don't appear here either. But it should be intriguing to see how they fit into the road trip feel of this year.
  • In the opening sequence, the police officers don't believe Cassidy when he says he'll start on fire in direct sunlight. But once it's proven to be the truth, the guy in charge has no problem using it to torture him. Nothing really happens with that because the Saint starts attacking. But it is amusing to see Cassidy extremely worried about getting caught in the sun. That's a concern for him at all times.
  • The Saint of Killers ripping the tongue out of the guy at the convenience store is such a brutal image. It's perhaps the most shocking moment of the premiere because it's so surprising and unexpected. It's a different form of violence that hasn't been done a whole lot in this medium. As such, it only adds to the upsetting quality of the story.
  • Mike doesn't survive his encounter with the Saint of Killers either. And yet, he chooses to kill himself instead of getting tortured for information. He is fully aware of who this guy searching for Jesse really is. That's what gives the show the confidence to reveal his identity. Killing Mike now though robs Jesse with a resource to better understand this crazy world. Now, he'll have to experience it himself.
  • Jesse, Cassidy and Tulip leave a path of death and destruction beyond them but they don't really know it yet. They aren't aware of what has happened in Annville or to the people they've encountered on this road trip. They know the journey is full of death. They are very casual about that. But realizing everything that has actually happened lately could begin to wear on them. Or it could produce even more amusing reactions. That could be fun too.