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‘Preacher’ Is a Mutiny in Heaven

The second season of the obscene, funny, and sometimes nonsensical Seth Rogen–produced AMC show catches up to its source

(AMC)
(AMC)

Preacher returns for its second season June 19, and you should give it a chance.

The first season was both deliriously entertaining and a total mess — focus on whichever part of that suits you — but if you’ve forgotten how it ended, that’s totally fair. (I’d forgotten that the show had ever even happened, like some half-remembered fever dream.) A brief bit of catch-up: There were 10 episodes of aggressively random and/or languid world-building in which we were acquainted with the sad, strange, often bigoted citizens of Annville, a small Texas shittown with a crumbling local economy and two (2) nonwhite people, by my count.

With three exceptions, none of those people are of any tangible importance. In the Season 1 finale, Annville was wiped from the map with a giant and incredibly convenient townwide detonation of methane — yes, as in farts — gas. Viewers were left with the core characters: There’s Jesse (Dominic Cooper), a sickeningly handsome criminal turned pastor with a power called “Genesis” that makes everyone do what he says; his charming bestie, Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), a vampire who is addicted to everything; and Tulip (Ruth Negga), Jesse’s badass maybe/kind of/pls girlfriend. The trio has set out in search of an absentee God with the goal to either help him if he needs helping, or else, more blasphemously, to “kick his ass” for leaving us lowly, confused mortals all alone. The story upon which Preacher is notionally built — Garth Ennis’s Vertigo comic of the same name — begins here.

And that might’ve meant something if anything meant anything at all to showrunners Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Sam Catlin. But nothing seems to. Not pacing, not continuity, not Jesse’s inability to compel Cassidy to tell him who the governor of Texas is because Cassidy is Oirish and doesn’t know it, despite the good pastor being able to command a kid with a disfigured face named Eugene to an entirely separate plane of being (a.k.a. Hell. He said “go to Hell,” and Eugene literally went.) But, if you were willing to grant Preacher Coen brothers–sized allowances on the narrative level (which I was, it took only a few jokes), this show, which regularly tired of its own rules, was capable of some things that just don’t happen on television. Preacher understood that the lowest common denominator was fun and capitalized on that by seeing just how much it could get away with. Like a fight scene on a private jet involving axes and twirling maces. Or a different fight scene in an increasingly cramped roadside motel involving silenced pistols and ANGELS THAT KEPT DYING AND COMING BACK TO LIFE.

The violence was wanton and ultra, yes, but it wasn’t always devoid of meaning. Without getting too deep into the specifics because I sound ridiculous talking about them, in the final episode Jesse FaceTimes Heaven on an angel phone and finds out from someone that looks like God but is not God that God is missing. (This is how Jesse realizes his aforementioned “help The Almighty or hurt him” mission.)

What follows next — the townspeople ripping up church pews and beating each other with them — is violence as physically articulated fear. Fear that bad things happen to good people for no reason at all, fear that nothing happens after people die and that your loved ones aren’t waiting for you, fear that you’ve been mostly abiding by rules thought up by people as clueless as you are, that no one gets their just due. Fear that nothing matters, set to the tune of “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians. Preacher isn’t committed to being any one thing — not a slapstick comedy, not a prestige drama, not a sleepy Southern thriller, and certainly not easy to follow. Or “reverent,” duh.

But it is gross. The first episode of Preacher — the very first one — ends with a man carving out his own heart, and in its second season, I can comfortably report the show is still dedicated to probing the strength of your constitution. Before the first title drop, there’s a gratuitous close-up of a head getting slowly crushed like an overripe melon by the tire of an SUV. There’s also a tongue ripped out by hand and a small intestine used to siphon gas.

While the first season lacked a discernible, horns-and-pitchfork villain, Graham McTavish fills that void menacingly as the Saint of Killers this go-round. To backtrack, Genesis (that’s the power Jesse has) escaped from under Heaven’s less-than-watchful eye, and a demon cowboy with twin revolvers that shoot exploding tracer shells (I’m doing my absolute best here) was hired (by Heaven) to get it back or kill it.

I realize I’ve made this second season sound a little dire, which it is, but I can assure you that Rogen, Goldberg, and Catlin still don’t give a shit. The first line of dialogue is “70 million circumcisions, every year … that they report!” and the opening sequence is a Dukes of Hazzard–style highway chase set to “Come on Eileen.” In one sequence, with the Saint of Killers going door-to-door murdering a motel full of people, the creative team made time for the strangest thing: One guy, missing most of his left arm, walks to the vending machine for a root beer. He feeds the machine his last dollar, gets a ginger ale back, and curses said vending machine that couldn’t even grant him a root beer before his death, which would presumably be coming soon. Even in what should be its most tense situations, the show refuses to take itself seriously.

As for the rest of Preacher, it works way better on the road; we’re not asked to find fringe characters interesting beyond chance interactions. There’s just the more-than-capable trio of Cooper, Negga, and Gilgun, rambling across the country in search of answers and looking for them in casinos, strip clubs, and truck stops. Or rather, like every sad song ever says, in all the wrong places.