SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the second season premiere of Preacher, “On the Road,” which has not yet aired on the west coast as of publication.
If you’re one of those fans who abandoned the first season of AMC’s Preacher due to its departure from the comics and/or its languid pace, you no longer have an excuse to avoid one of the best shows on television. “On the Road,” the second season premiere, begins with the explosive shootout between Jesse, the Saint of Killers and some very unlucky Texas State Troopers that kicks off the first comic. When it comes to pacing, things have been drastically sped up. If season one was a stretched out rubber band of a story, season two starts as one snapping back to normal. Well, normal for Preacher.
After narrowly escaping the shootout, Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy spend the rest of the episode gathering information on God’s whereabouts, first from a family friend and then from Tammy, a strip club owner who claims the truant deity paid her a few visits. The Saint spends the rest of the episode following Jesse’s trail and killing literally everyone he meets.
The season two premiere feels like it covers more ground in one episode than last season would’ve in three or four. The shootout alone introduces Jesse to the Saint, a character season one took nine episodes to fully introduce to us. It’s a drastic style change, but it works — in no small part due to the fact that the show is still chock full of everything that made it so good in the first place. The dynamic between Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy is still perfectly effing delightful, especially when they take every opportunity to remind us what hedonistic rebels they are at heart. In this episode alone, they blatantly discuss whether or not to rough-up Tammy for information as she’s sitting in front of them, start a car chase for fun, and when Jesse and Tulip finally get some private time, Tulip locks herself in the motel bathroom and sweetly asks Jesse to break down the door to get her. Spoiler alert: he does.
Another stylistic holdover from the first season appears when Jesse and co. escape the Saint and head to his friend Mike’s house. Mike’s a preacher, too, but he’s also keeping a girl in a covered cage in his garage — one that he doesn’t pretend to hide from Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy when they arrive. All three guests are aghast, but Mike’s intimidating enough that they don’t ask questions. Not to worry, though! Turns out she’s there voluntarily seeking Mike’s unique brand of rehab, not that he feels the need to make any of that clear.
This kind of misdirect hearkens back to the slowly unfolding backstories of characters like Odin Quincannon and the Schenk family in season one. The difference is, Mike’s personality bait-and-switch happens in the space of a scene, rather than several episodes. It’s still an effective technique, but condensing it has the added benefit of leaving more time to establish the show’s brand-new trajectory. There’s a lot of new information to disseminate, and “On the Road” doesn’t waste any time.
The Saint of Killers is aggressively introduced as the same cowboy murder machine we met last year, but this episode expanded on some of the practical details surrounding the character now that he’s back among the living. His guns are supernatural and unlike anything Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy have ever seen. When it comes to murder, as an unfortunate gas station owner finds out, he’s as unwilling as ever to make exceptions for the innocent. Finally, in what might be the most compelling scene in the episode, he alights on Mike’s house after the minister has sent Jesse and Co. to Tammy’s strip club. Mike senses the arrival of the demonic assassin and recognizes him when he arrives, implying that the Saint is somewhat known to theological scholars. He definitely is to Mike, who pours them both a shot of whiskey before insulting the Saint’s parentage and committing seppuku to protect the secret of Jesse’s whereabouts. P.S. Mike was so fucking metal. R.I.P.
Aside from fleshing out the primary antagonist, “On the Road” also gives us some well-placed hints about where else the story might take us this year. While Tulip’s looking at some old photo albums at Mike’s, there’s an ominous mention of Jesse’s mother’s family, the L’Angell’s of Louisiana. Jesse has an audio flashback of what sounds like underwater background noise, the implication of which will be painfully clear to comics readers, but probably just intriguing to the rest of the audience… for now.
As for the trio themselves, they’re far from operating at optimal harmony levels. Jesse still has no idea that Tulip and Cassidy shared an ill-advised tryst, and Cassidy and Tulip are at odds about whether or not to tell him. Cassidy desperately wants to come clean, but Tulip just as desperately wants to keep it under wraps. Cassidy, still very much infatuated with her, capitulates, but it’s obvious he’s chafing under the lie and the forced observation of Tulip and Jesse’s second honeymoon. His misery is compounded when his antics at the strip club wind up getting Tammy killed, and Jesse and Tulip rail at him for the accidental sabotage. At the end of the day, the show’s primary relationship has some serious cracks in its foundation.
But for now the cracks are just cracks, and it’s a good thing considering how the episode ends. Jesse steps out for a quick cigarette only to see the Saint of Killers approaching the motel. Jesse commands the man to stop, but is shocked to see that Genesis has no effect on him. The Saint raises a pistol and the screen cuts to black. It’s a testament to Graham McTavish’s incredible onscreen presence that even though Jesse will no doubt survive the confrontation, the cliffhanger still has us nervous.
As season premieres go, “On the Road” was ridden hard and put away wet. That’s probably how all of us will feel in ten weeks. Can’t wait!
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