“People love violence,” Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) opines to a down-and-out lounge singer early in Preacher Season 2. “Savages,” the man hisses in reply. It’s hard not to think there’s a commentary there on Preacher viewers, as AMC’s comics-based series returns for another blood-soaked and gore-filled season. For many who haven’t read the comics (like me), or even for those who did, the first season ended up a disappointment. What started off as a manic assault on the senses (I thought the premiere was bombastic, and one of the best episodes of the year) became, after a few more episodes, a slog. To add insult to injury, most of the characters the show spent its first season building up and introducing were all blown up in the finale, one that saw its core trio already on the road trip that should have started the series.
It was an odd choice to start Preacher with a full season of prologue, essentially, especially since Season 2’s road trip setting is instantly so much more engaging and interesting. Maybe the show needed that setup to get us to a point where we can appreciate, without much explanation, the idea of Fiore (Tom Brooke) becoming a casino showman who kills himself and reappears on stage each night. Further, the danger of not having more of an explanation of the world before diving into it is something that American Gods struggled with this season, as it too focused on a road trip to find god (or in that case, gods) in a way that championed visuals over a compelling plot for those unfamiliar with the underlying story.
For both series, it’s been difficult to feel invested in the stories of the leads, and instead, there are minor scene-stealers (like Fiore, in Preacher) who bring much-needed pathos to ground what is otherwise a completely cartoonish story. But there are also innumerable references on Preacher to the comics that won’t mean anything to those who haven’t read them, and a kind of shorthand with certain new characters that the series has not earned.
In Season 2, trio of Jesse, Tulip (Ruth Negga), and Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) are in earnest search of god, who has left heaven. In their minds, he has a lot to answer to. Jesse is still figuring out how to best use the powers of Genesis, the supernatural entity that has chosen his body as a host and gives him the power to make people do whatever he says, but the main dilemma the group faces is that they are being hunted by the Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish). The Saint was introduced in Season 1 as a being straight from hell, and he’s a particularly effective villain (though the fact that he walks everywhere means that the group can get relatively far ahead from him when they use their car as transportation). The Saint is on a mission to kill Jesse, and his mission of vengeance is one of unwavering intensity — the amount of gross-out violence and buckets of blood splashed everywhere proves it.
Though the show flirts very briefly with theological considerations, for the most part Preacher tries to keep the tone fairly light, especially with the banter among the core trio. The road trip aspect has helped their dynamic immensely (despite the show trying to push a love triangle onto them), and their quips and chirps to one another are playful fun. Traveling to a new town each episodes gives the group an opportunity to get purposefully lost in unfamiliar places, meeting people just long enough to have a drink with them or a conversation. From that, there are some interesting vignettes and a few thoughtful interactions, and it’s already a vast improvement over Season 1’s often aimless plot structure, as everyone was more or less trapped in Annville and forced into uninteresting or meaningless dialogue.
Still, there’s a lack of urgency that continues with Preacher’s new season, a kind of presumption that viewers will stick around to explore this world without a clear sense of what’s happening or why. Yes they are searching for god and avoiding the Saint of Killers, but Preacher never quite creates appointment television with its storytelling. It can be interesting (the second episode Season 2 is the show truly at its best), but it’s juggling a lot of elements without moving things forward enough. That’s the trouble with adapting a finished series, perhaps: a desire to dawdle because of a fear of running out of material too quickly.
Still, interested viewers — especially those who were burned out or disappointed by Preacher’s first season — should feel heartened by the show’s return this year (including the cartoony premiere episode, directed against by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg). Despite its narrative issues, it’s too stylish and unique to write off, and its cast is incredibly strong across the board. Still, it’s uncertain whether or not the show can really get off the ground and get going this year, even as the trio hit the road. Once burned, twice shy.
Rating: ★★★ Good — Proceed with cautious optimism
Preacher Season 2 debuts on AMC Sunday, June 25th.