“Boring’s not the worst thing a person can be.”
Near the end of the first half of “See,” Jesse expresses the above sentiment to Cassidy in the midst of an impromptu, alcohol-induced theological discussion. Luckily, for the next 30 minutes, Preacher loudly announces it has no plans to go anywhere near the general vicinity of “boring.”
In the case of a massive, high-concept show like Preacher, it’s not at all unreasonable to suspect that, following a premiere that appeared to throw in everything but the kitchen sink, subsequent episodes would take things a bit slower. Indeed, “See” proves to be every bit as rich as the pilot entry, with outstanding visuals, wonderfully demented set pieces and great character moments that provides the series with a thematic throughline beneath all the blood and carnage. Though audiences have yet to see how the series will fare when subsequent directors pick up from what Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg established in these first two entries, “See” certainly alleviates any concern of the show peaking too early.
‘See” opens with an immaculately shot, if intentionally disorientating flashback to 1881. On what appears to be an isolated homestead in the wild, a mother tends to her sick child while the mysterious, long-haired patriarch looks on, his face draped in shadows. After some words from his wife, the man grabs an arsenal of weapons and takes off on his horse, seemingly to find a cure before it’s too late. Even before the dramatic “Ratwater” chyron appears in a later scene, comic readers will quickly have identified this man as The Saint of Killers, the comic series’ overarching Big Bad. Here, however, he is referred to as simply “The Cowboy.”
On his journey, The Cowboy happens upon a caravan of pioneers who have abandoned their old lives looking to find fortune in this exciting new land. Only when pressed for his opinion on whether or not this territory indeed represents a new “paradise” does the laconic Cowboy utter his only speaking line of the episode: “It ain’t.” As if to properly underscore his point, the following scene shows him riding by a tree decorated with the scalped and mutilated corpses of a dozen or so Native Americans.
The sequence as a whole feels akin to the best Lost teasers, wherein certain episodes would open with evocative scenes that either cryptically teased a threat to come, or delivered an out-of-context moment that would later be skillfully wrapped back into the main storyline. Here, the audience might not be aware of who this Cowboy is and what significance he holds in regards to Jesse’s recent affliction, but it certainly works to establish that the story of Preacher extends across time and space. Moreover, Rogen and Goldberg film the proverbial shit out of these opening five minutes, toying with atmospheric lighting and embracing the feel of a sepia-toned acid western.
Much like with The Saint of Killers, whose presence was hinted at via a couple of liquor bottles marked “Ratwater,” the Preacher pilot also foretold the upcoming introduction of Odin Quincannon, the sleazy owner of Quincannon Meat & Power. We finally get a face to the name upon seeing the notorious cueball (played by excellent Jackie Earle Haley) discussing deal terms with an elderly couple, before having their house bulldozed to the ground for a new plant. In the comics, Quincannon was not introduced until much further down the line and, after a string of despicable personalities, somewhat paled in comparison to the villains that came before him. In his limited screen time, however, Haley successfully makes the character into a striking presence, affecting a casual business demeanor that clearly serves as the façade for a much more perverse and sinister personality.
Although “See” does not boast the multiple fight sequences as seen last week, it does offer up one bit of gory action/slapstick to rival that of early Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson. When the pair of Stetson-wearing men seen tracking the entity that possessed Jesse find their target passed out drunk on the floor, they attempt to remove the force—illustrated via a CSI-style digital rendering as a convulsing black mass interacting with Jesse’s blood cells—in comedically disparate ways. One employs a complex machine and recites excerpts from the Eugene Field poem “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” while the other resorts to simply whipping out a chainsaw to literally tear the power out of the unconscious Jesse. Before our hero is cut in half, he’s saved at the last second by Cassidy, who proceeds to engage the two in battle. Needless to say, whenever a chainsaw gets involved, things can get a tad messy. This sequence certainly does not disappoint in that regard. Undermining the gore factor is how, after quickly butchering the two, Cassidy must then rush across a bloody floor in order to stop the rogue chainsaw (still attached to one of the men’s amputated arm) from buzzing over and cutting Jesse.
Overall, the scene provides a great standout moment for Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy, although the character does lose points in my book for dubbing The Big Lebowski a “shyte film.” I can’t abide any undead creature that won’t acknowledge the brilliance of the Coen Brothers.
As Jesse tries his best at being a “good” preacher, the temptations to fall back into old take the form of Tulip. It starts with his ex approaching him during a baptism ceremony and requesting he give her a holy cleansing (“thanks for getting me wet,” she coos after he reluctantly obliges) and culminates with her knocking him unconscious and shackling a chain to his foot. Again, actress Ruth Negga completely owns her scenes, running the gamut from playful, to sexy, to mock-serious (at one point, she references the time her uncle drunkenly ran into a petting zoo, killing children and a goat, only to quickly reveal she made the story up). One can totally understand why someone like Jesse could be so easily sucked back into her orbit, as dangerous as she may be.
Jesse’s newfound powers, which resulted in poor Ted cutting out his heart last week, come back into play in a major way by the episode’s end. After promising to stick around and help his congregation, the preacher is facing two kinds of spiritual conflict. On one end, he finds himself helpless to provide comfort for the likes of Eugene/Arseface, as well as a local girl whose severe head injury has left her a braindead vegetable. On the other end, he finds himself forced to serve as confidante to Linus, a pedophile school bus driver. Finally, Jesse decides to do away with his godly demeanor in favor of granting Linus a brutal new baptizing in a tub filled with hot water. It’s worth noting, Rogen and Goldberg film the entire first half of this sequence—from Jesse breaking into the house, to wandering around the various rooms, to punching out Linus, to engaging in a tense stand-off as the tub fills with water—in one continuous take. Far from being attention-grabbing, however, it’s the kind of approach one only notices in retrospect, considering there’s so much inherent tension and drama baked into the confrontation.
In the midst of dunking Linus in scalding water, Jesse orders him to “forget” the girl and the force of his commandment knocks the preacher back like the recoil from a gun. He watches perplexed as Linus’ mind is wiped of any memory of his prey. No doubt recognizing the connection between this incident and the one with Ted, Jesse returns to the young comatose girl’s house and the episode ends with him asking her to “open her eyes.”
Considering how literal the past two cases have taken Jesse’s commands, the suspense lies first in whether or not this experiment will work and, if so, will she be cured or merely a vegetable with open eyes? At its heart, Preacher is still somewhat of a superhero origin story and the creative team’s decision to let its central character experiment with his powers in order to discover their ins and outs marks yet another welcome change from the comics, wherein the exact rules or limitations of Jesse’s powers proved to be a bit nebulous for long stretches.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.