It’s hard to top a first season climax where your entire setting and its characters are wiped off the face of the earth.
In the case of AMC/Sony TV’s Preacher, we’re talking about Annville, Texas which went up in flames and fumes from a methane reactor accident.
Arguably, such a feat has never been pulled off before in the history of TV, but that turn-of-the-corner immediately put Preacher Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), girlfriend Tulip (Ruth Negga) and flunky punk vampire Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) on a roadtrip to New Orleans to find God this past season.
Tonight’s season 2 finale “The End of the Road,” directed by Wayne Yip and written by Sam Catlin, wasn’t as much a jawdropper as season 1’s, but it provided enough chicken soup to fill the soul.
And even though the trio didn’t find God this season — Jesse, thanks to the uber Christian Grail group, essentially met the inbred descendant of Jesus Christ named Humperdoo in a remote part of the globe in episode 10 — we’re given closure in tonight’s parting shot that the big guy is still around, hiding in some littered hotel room. The search continues.
For the time being, Jesse is being paraded around the country as the next Messiah by the Grail org’s Herr Starr. This includes being booked on Jimmy Kimmel Live and saving a Catholic school classroom of students from Armenian terrorists, which Jesse soon learns was a complete stunt. Jesse isn’t impressed by his new role, and upon learning of his beloved Tulip’s fate (see below), couldn’t be more happy to flee, which he does. Jesse can see right through Herr Starr so it’s plausible we’re bound to see another battle with him at some point down the road.
Which leads us to the other cliffhanger of tonight: Tulip is shot dead by Grail spy Featherstone (Julie Ann Emery) in a duel that was bound to happen. Tulip knew she was lying, and upon finding a hidden camera in her New Orleans apartment, finally realized that the Grail was watching Jesse, Cassidy and her all along. Now, it’s hard to imagine a Preacher season 3 without the sublime Ruth Negga, however, the big season 3 set-up here is that Cassidy and Jesse are about to tangle with the latter’s evil grandmother, Gran’Ma Marie Angell (Julie Oliver Touchstone). We know this as the duo drive Tulip’s dead body up the driveway of Gran’Ma’s plantation. In the wake of the Saint of Killers being subdued, Gran’Ma is the big baddie, and she isn’t known for her cookies.
We first met her a couple of episodes ago in “Backdoors” during a flashback: Jesse is left with her following his father’s death and we see that she punishes the boy by throwing him an airtight coffin and dropping it in the bottom of a swamp. Tonight’s episode opened with another flashback showing young Jesse clad in a Colonel Sanders-like white string-tie suit, scamming money from people stopping at the side of the road. A woman stops by young Jesse: Her cat Dusty ran off, but she’s been told that his grandmother can help track him down. Jesse confirms Madame L’Angell is the real deal. After killing a chicken out of anger, young Jesse takes it back to grandma, presumably to resuscitate — she is one comprised both of black magic and Christian ways. “Everything has a price, you understand?” Gran’Ma tells Jessie, and we can only imagine what that means when he asks her to bring Tulip back to life. Gran’Ma is a twisted woman, and how the TV show decides to play out her fate versus the comic book will be intriguing. Gran’Ma in the comic book is killed by Tulip before God brings her back to life. In addition, Tulip and Jesse burn Gran’Ma and her house down.
Another story finally resolved tonight: Arseface (Ian Colletti) finally escapes hell in a boat thanks to Hitler, who knocks out Ms. Mannering (Amy Hill). This B plotline was dragged out for too long to the point of ennui. Does Arseface make his way make to present-day and reunite with Jesse? In the comic book, Arseface wanders to Salvation, Texas where he finds love with Lorie Bobbs, a visually impaired girl who is not swayed by the boy’s deformity.
Another clue that the tide is turning is that it seems Jesse’s all-powerful Genesis voice (a gift from God by which he can command anyone to do anything) is failing slightly. Jesse notices this when he falls short of quelling one of the terrorists. In addition, he’s unable to save Tulip.
It’s no surprise that Preacher has the gritty, urban crime underpinnings of Breaking Bad. That show’s former Emmy-winning EP Catlin is Preacher‘s showrunner. But it’s always a wonderful surprise that Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen are hands on with this Vertigo comic adaptation, which originally struggled to be a feature film, only to be rightfully realized as a TV show. Rogen and Goldberg continue to prove in season 2 that their creative fruits are so much more than stoner and raunchy comedy films. Preacher is beautifully shot (tonight’s opening scenes in the deep South echo Don Burgess’ color and DP work on Forrest Gump), designed (the trio’s shotgun New Orleans apartment doesn’t ring any false bells in its messy, dirty details), and continues to balance its hip factor with hyper action and riveting, emotionally grounded, storylines without overdoing it in any one of those departments. Many have acknowledged that the show is a great Tarantino mimic and that’s a justifiable comparison in regards to its style, but the series is strong enough to stand on its own with its Confederacy of Dunces strings and characters. Above all during its second season, Preacher has mastered one of the best cold opens on recent TV (HBO’s Six Feet Under is the standard), with each set-up tightly wound, set off by a built-in spring before the harmonica-Gospel Preacher theme rocks in.
It’s Negga who continually steals the show, her Tulip is so much more than your run-of-the-mill La Femme Nikita or Foxy Brown. Sure, she’s got that Grier yell down pat, but Negga exudes Tulip’s pain through her eyes, her nuanced facial movements and the drop in her voice. She hasn’t exactly been a Happy Camper this season: She’s fed up with Jesse’s God quest, saw the murder of the rich husband we didn’t know about, and suffered PTSD in the wake of the Saint of Killers’ rampage. Negga’s tender scene for Tulip comes toward the end of tonight’s episode, before she meets her fate. Tulip sits in the car, waiting to begin a road trip with Cassidy sans Jesse, and she croons softly and mournfully the first few lines of James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James.” It’s Taylor’s cowboy lullaby that he wrote for his newborn nephew years ago. In this great minute, we see that Tulip is lovelorn, exhausted and calling out to the universe as she so wishes to settle down, having tried and failed so many times before. As cool and kickass as Tulip is on this zany sphere of Preacher of monstrous men, ridiculous miracles, bar brawls and broken teeth, it is she who keeps Preacher sober and takes its sermon to a heavenly place.
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