For an episode title, the second season premiere of Preacher couldn’t be more on the nose. On the Road is an iconic novel by Beat writer Jack Kerouac about road-tripping through America. This episode of Preacher seems to ask the question: how can we make our own road trip distinctive from all that has come before? Easy: have the three main characters be chased by the literal Saint of Killers, Kerouac has nothing on this.
Season one of Preacher was a bit of a dud. It was at times anarchic, hugely entertaining, in possession of a savage sense of humour and a great central trio, but was ultimately undone by its setting. Annville was necessary to the show’s evolution in many ways. AMC weren’t going to shell out Walking Dead money on such a niche project without knowing whether it would be a hit: meaning that creators Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg had to ground the show in a single location and build up from there. This lead to an uneven season of television in which nearly half of the ten episodes had to slow the narrative pace. The fact that the town, and most of its inhabitants were blown up while indulging in all manner of sin felt like a bad joke, a mean spirited end that made you wonder why we even cared in the first place. What was only a few pages in the comic was stretched to breaking point.
Season two’s premiere feels like a reward to fans for their patience, with high octane action, lots of gore, and hilarious banter about the possible uses of babies circumcised foreskins, and that’s just in the first 15 minutes. On the Road isn’t just an exciting introduction to a new chapter of the story: it also highlights some of the strengths of the first season by how they inform the second.
Take Jesse as an example. In the comics Jesse doesn’t really have a character arc when it comes to being possessed by Genesis. He gets the power and uses it to find God, with his actual arc coming from that, being that he’s already got a moral code that he sticks to. In the show we got to see Jesse possess and abuse this power, learning how he should use it while doing so. This came to a head when he accidently sent Eugene to hell. On the Road shows us a Jesse who is still trying to figure out when he should use this power, with Tulip providing a moral viewpoint that informs this. Which brings me back to one of the most egregious parts of the season one finale: Jesse demonstrating his power to Tulip by making her kiss him. This culturally tone death scene brought up thematic issues of consent, and On the Road has wisely not forgotten what a shitty thing that was that Jesse did. Through that, Tulip becomes the voice of reason for Jesse about using Genesis.
This plot is reminiscent of Marvel’s Jessica Jones. In that show the villain, Kilgrave, had powers that were similar to Jesse’s and used them for selfish means that included sexually abusing Jessica. Tulip’s reservations about Genesis, a power that literally can take away a person’s right to consent, is that it’s dangerous in the wrong hands. Jesse isn’t the same as Kilgrave but the show, through Tulip, makes the smart move by holding Jesse to account for these types of actions.
Now to the fun stuff. The first issues of Preacher the comic are some of my favourite stories in any medium. So it was especially thrilling to see the most loving adaptation of Garth Ennis, and the late Steve Dillion’s, words and panels come to life in all their blood-soaked glory. Director’s Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg continue to dazzle with this show as they cram a car chase, some slapstick with Cassidy in the sun, and the first confrontation with our heroes and the Cowboy, now properly titled The Saint of Killers. When it was announced that Preacher was finally being adapted this is what I wanted to see, and it didn’t disappoint.
The episode managed to be thunderously entertaining even when the magic bullets weren’t flying. Each interaction that the trio had with anyone else never went the way you would expect: whether it was Jesse’s religious scholar friend keeping teenagers in cages to cure them of social media (although having a guy in the cage would have been just as effective, try to make at least some of the female characters as interesting a s Tulip, Sam), to Cassidy’s security camera fight that had deadly consequences. Preacher is finally letting its rebellious nature run riot making for an unpredictable viewing experience.
As a premiere, On the Road made light work of setting up the season’s major plots. We had numerous terrifying examples of The Saint of Killer’s ruthless efficiency, vague references to Jesse’s extended family, and the fact that God may be closer than they first thought, and he likes Jazz. It’s a glorious mess of an episode with excellent performances from the three leads, and especially Graham McTavish as the Saint. Preacher is finally free of Annville, and the road trip that Cassidy promised that this was all leading to has begun.
9/10 – This couldn’t have been a better start to the real beginning of Preacher. A fantastic adventure that the late Steve Dillon would have been proud of.