Week three of Preacher (dubbed “The Possibilities”) sees lead trio Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg/Sam Catlin handing the reigns of their demented chronicle over to veteran TV director Scott Winant and writer Chris Kelley (of the equally violent Banshee). How smooth is the transition? Well, let’s dig in.
After a semi-cliffhanger last week, we quickly learn that, yes, Jesse did succeed at getting the comatose girl to open her eyes. Granted, his newfound powers did only that—open her eyes. She’s still very much braindead. Nevertheless, this revelation allows our hero to recognize the rules and limitations of his power. Namely, his commands are taken very literally (see “open your heart” in the premiere) and he cannot force anyone to do things that are impossible, or beyond their abilities (i.e. despite his orders, Cassidy can neither fly nor sing Johnny Cash). Here, it becomes quite obvious why the creative team have decided to slow down Jesse’s development from the comics. As written now, he appears to be all-powerful and there’s nothing more narratively dull than being all-powerful. Thus, rather than simply toss Jesse before a gang of villains he could easily dispatch, the writers have structured the character’s current journey as a spiritual one. Having realized he has God-like abilities, Jesse must now determine what he plans to do with them and whether or not he will allow it to corrupt the humanitarian portion of his soul.
For the first two hours of Preacher, Tulip has served as the very model of a confident, cool chick. Thus, seeing her frazzled reaction upon learning the last known address of Carlos, her and Jesse’s former crime companion, says something about the trio’s dark history. Indeed, merely evoking the man’s name is almost enough to single-handedly push Jesse back into his old ways. It’s a cool, effective means of both fleshing out the duo’s complicated past, as well as planting the seeds for a new adversary, although—at this point—the show might be frontloading on potential adversaries (already we have the mysterious British stalkers, Donnie, Quincannon, Carlos and the Cowboy from last week’s opening).
Unlike the first two installments, much more of the episode’s dynamics and action is centered on dialogue—specifically, monologues. Such an approach boasts mixed results. At times, as when Sheriff Root relates a horrific story about a family’s gruesome visit to an amusement park, the show appears to be aping (in a good way) Fargo and its predilection for delivering long-winded tangents that, while not necessary to the story, often help color a character’s worldview. Then, there’s Tulip’s confrontation with the patrol cop wherein she attempts to talk him out of reporting her, all the while preparing for violence if this peaceful approach fails. Per usual, Ruth Negga’s performance sells the sentiments of the monologue, which has her alluding to her relationship with Jesse, but the sequence can’t help but feel like a variation on a scene that we’ve already seen plenty of variations on (i.e. Winter’s Bone and complementing moments in both seasons of Fargo).
Last week, viewers might have done a quick double-take upon seeing the two Stetson-wearin’ British mercenaries talking to Sheriff Root in a scene following their supposedly brutal deaths at the hands of Cassidy. But, yes, they’re back as if nothing at all has happened. Cassidy seems equally confounded and, rather than get into another skirmish, he demands an explanation. It’s here we learn the two men have been sent from heaven to recapture the entity that now resides in Jesse. As soon as you kill them, they merely resurrect and continue onward like video game characters. Recognizing he’s up against something he doesn’t fully understand, Cassidy volunteers to be the middle man between them and Jesse. Given that we don’t know the extent of Cassidy’s loyalty, it’s hard to tell whether he’s legitimately looking to benefit from this transaction or merely using it to help buy time for his friend (perhaps a bit of both). Whatever the case, it provides a nice wrinkle in the two’s relationship.
Certainly compared to episodes one and two, “The Possibilities” is a much quieter, more straightforward affair. And while that’s to be expected (nothing drives a flashy new show to the ground quicker than trying to one-up itself week-after-week), the episode sometimes feels a bit more like a bit of connective tissue than a solid episode unto itself. We’re treated to another scene with the villainous Quincannon, only to have the moment that focuses less on his villainy—horrific cow slaughtering methods aside—in favor of humiliating Donnie (who has now earned the nickname “Bunny Man” after the funny squeal he made when his arm was snapped). We have the British cowboys again prepping to head after Jesse. We have Jesse and Tulip teaming up to pursue Carlos, only to have the preacher experience a crisis of conscience and head back into town. Overall, it’s a lot of scenes that either tell us things we already know or push the characters forward, only to just as quickly move them back.
All that said, the episode’s big climatic confrontation between Jesse and Donnie in the gas station restroom does carry its own sort of power. Firstly, Jesse has yet to (knowingly) kill someone in the series timeline, but he comes awful close here. Certainly, the way in which the camera captures Dominic Cooper’s face as he orders Donnie to cock the gun and place it in his mouth makes him look all kinds of malevolent. Plus, given Donnie’s abhorrent behavior, it wouldn’t exactly be an unjustified killing. Yet, as referenced earlier, Jesse stops just short of committing and returns to his pulpit. One can imagine that the creative team is building up Jesse’s first kill of the series to be something monumental.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.