As the so-called ‘Golden Age of Television’ has developed, we as collective audience have had to get used to off-kilter cold opens where we are shown something that seems to have no obvious immediate relevance to the central story at hand (Breaking Bad in particular was, rather appropriately, addicted to this trick) before tying things together in a bow before episode’s end. Preacher’s second episode has not one but two separate seemingly incongruous storylines start up but by episodes end effectively has left them hanging. This is probably something to do with Preacher’s status as an adaptation: There is a fine line to be walked between serving fans of the original comic book by giving sneak peaks of upcoming major characters and just being plain confusing for new viewers. Whilst the ghost of teenaged comic reading Feldman past gave a little excited “squee!” when the episode opened in 1888, the cold adult critic part of myself that isn’t any fun at parties was simultaneously wondering when the hell they were going to explain just who the hell this cowboy guy was and what did he have to do with anything?
Regardless of where you stand on the series sudden jump into Deadwood-lite, it’s certainly a cool sequence. We see a child sick with fever and a woman who sends a rather grim looking man out over the prairie to fetch medicine. Surrounded by the stark There Will Be Blood style beauty of his wasteland surroundings he encounters a group of settlers who have set out from St Louis to seek their fortune in The West. Drunk on the monumental beauty of the land, the patriarch expounds on his love of America: “What do you say to that sir, yes or no? That this is paradise?”, “It ain’t” responds the grim-faced man in his only line of the episode. The next morning, he rides past a tree festooned with scalped men and women hanging from its branches, then the segment ends and we’re back with Tulip, Cassidy and Jesse. The whole thing feels like the beginning of a Cormac McCarthy adaptation, not the second episode of a series that prominently features a character named Arseface. Regardless of the confusing tonal whiplash, it’s a fantastic sequence (plus a very exciting one for fans of the comic) and we will be seeing our taciturn friend again.
The rest of the episode expands on Jesse’s desperate attempts to be good when the entire world seems to know that’s he’s born to be bad. Tulip gives voice to the show’s narrative through-line (because let’s face it as an audience we’re all champing at the bit for this particular catholic to lapse) when in the midst of another attempt to tempt him back to the ‘dark’ side “It’s only a matter of time ’til you’re you all over again.” The over arcing theme of Jesse’s uselessness as a force for good is turned on its head though through the beginnings of his acceptance of “The Power” (a power I really hope has a name soon, as writing ‘The Power’ repeatedly feels a bit like I’m drafting a scientology pamphlet instead of a television review). One of Jesse’s flock who has freely admitted to his paedophilic urges in confession (because this is Preacher he is obviously the school-bus driver because this is a world of perversity). Stewing over how he should react for most of the episodes’ length, he finally goes to physically confront the bus driver which (surprisingly for this show) has no effect on the driver’s obsession. Finally, after telling him to “FORGET HER” whilst inadvertently using his powers literally wipes her out of the man’s mind, Jesse realises the potential of his powers and begins to apply it in a slightly more reckless manner, by striding up to a girl in a coma and commanding her to “OPEN. YOUR. EYES.” the potential side effects of (such as brain damage) are as yet unseen, but it certainly has the desired effect.