‘Preacher’ Season 2, Episodes 3-6: The Big NO

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After that nutbar opening volley police and gun-aficionado shoot-out in the opener and Fiore’s death-a-palooza in the follow-up, “Preacher” headed to its main venue for the season, New Orleans, where his search for God began in earnest, the reasoning being that, if God was a huge jazz fan, what better place to go?

While Jesse (Dominic Cooper) pounded the pavement, Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) visited an “old friend” that turned out to be something much more, and Tulip (Ruth Negga) tried her best to avoid the mysterious Viktor (perennial mobster specialist Paul Ben-Victor, “The Wire”)- until she didn’t.

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This led Jesse down some dubious paths, including whatever that was with the guy in the Dalmatian suit, to a prototypical jazz club, where the femme fatale type Lara Featherstone (sexy Julie Ann Emery, “Better Call Saul,” decked out in a bewitching blonde wig) belts out, um, Elvis Costello? Well, I suppose he’s jazz adjacent, being romantically linked with Diana Krall, who covered the song here, “Almost Blue” in a more suitably jazzy fashion.

I’d take Krall or Costello alike over the recurring actual jazz song “A Walk to the Peak,” though, which, as one character puts it, sounds like “cats screwing at the airport under an ice cream truck” or, as another does, “the end of the world.” Sorry, jazz fans, but John Coltrane notwithstanding (gotta give some credit where it’s due), jazz is just not my thing. But it’s God’s, so I expect to hear a lot of it throughout the series.

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In true Noir fashion, Lara isn’t the damsel in distress she appears to be, but rather a hook looking to sink the line that is Jesse, to prove to her superiors that his Genesis power is the real deal. The group in question? The Grail, who, as she puts it, are a “super-secret, crypto-religious fascist organization with designs on total world domination,” which should ring some bells with comic readers.

Other things that should also get the attention of fans of the comics, the Angelville reference, the appearance of Herr Starr (Pip Torrens, “Poldark”) and Hitler (Noah Taylor, “Game of Thrones”), and the recurring John Wayne imagery/references. Not that I mind the sort-of prequel vibe of the first season- after all, the comic was just as predisposed to a good flashback- but it’s nice to see more and more of the show reflect the comic as it progresses.

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Only time will tell how much makes it on the screen this season, but so far, so good. I liked the way the show has deepened the characters considerably with various back-stories, including the reveal of Tulip’s shadowy past as both a gun-for-hire and the wife of a mob boss (the latter wasn’t in the comics, so it was a nice diversion), a look back at her and Jesse’s past and what led to their initial break-up (he wanted a “straight” life and kids, she wanted neither), and the big reveal that Cassidy’s “old friend” was actually his son.

We also got a great re-envisioning of the past of the Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish), featuring animated sequences and comic book-derived “splash” pages illustrating his legendary exploits- to say nothing of a book on tape excerpt. (The next chapter of “American Psychopaths”? Dick Cheney!) There’s even a few Saint-themed romance novels, complete with Fabio-esque depictions of the same on the cover. All of which helped the gang to determine what, if anything, could possibly appease their relentless pursuer.

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In the end, it was a soul- specifically Jesse’s- that did the trick, though it was not without repercussions, and possibly on both sides, although Jesse ultimately only had to sacrifice a measly 1% of it. Still, he did so by high-jacking the business truck of a soul-gathering service and using Genesis to command representatives of yet another shadowy group, Sokosha- or is it “Soul Happy Go Go”? I think that’s just what the armored truck service was called.

Whatever the case, I’m assuming Sokosha, or whoever, will want to retaliate in some way once they find out about Jesse’s actions. Well, assuming their workers don’t stay “lost” forever, that is. I suspect that they will be found, as will their vehicle, in turn freeing the Saint to wreak havoc once again. But sidelining him in the short term was a necessary evil in order to deal with everything else, and I thought this was a clever way to do it.

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By giving the Saint a portion of his soul, however small, Jesse was able to order him around like anyone else. Jesse had originally promised to send the Saint to Heaven, to be reunited with his family, but as he points out, God has left the building, and even if he hadn’t, the Saint hardly deserved to go to Heaven, with all the wrongdoing he’d done over the years.

However, as the Saint pointed out, Hell wasn’t really an option, either, as it would doom Jesse himself in the process. Still, what does it say about Jesse that a mere 1% of his soul was not only enough to incapacitate the Saint, but that his soul was a “match” for the Saint’s in the first place? Is Jesse really THAT evil?

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So, instead of taking that risk, Jesse opted to disarm the Saint, order him into the armored truck that Sokosha operated out of, lock him inside and drive the whole she-bang- souls inside intact, one assumes- into the swamp. No way this is the end of the line for the Saint, but it solves the show’s inherent problem of Jesse and company needing to stay on the run by sidelining their relentless enemy- in the short term, at least.

This, in turn, allows them to stay in New Orleans longer, so that Jesse can continue his search for God, though the rest of the gang is already growing weary of looking. In addition, the Saint himself took care of Tulip’s major problem, by eliminating Viktor and his crew, though, to be fair, he had basically opted to abandon his pursuit of Tulip after having a sit down with her- and an extended, not particularly welcome visit from Jesse, who very nearly took out the whole outfit his own damn self.

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On other fronts, we paid a visit to poor Eugene, aka Arseface (Ian Colletti), who, sure enough, has been banished to Hell itself, where he is forced to relive the worst moment of his life, when love of his life Tracy (a returning Gianna LePera, who actually got to talk this time) attempted suicide right in front of him. The irony is, contrary to what he let people believe, Eugene had actually successfully talked Tracy down from the ledge, before the most ill-timed kiss ever sent her over the edge.

Faced with having botched his mission to save her and the impending arrival of her mother, to say nothing of a lack of evidence to the contrary, as the two had burned her suicide note after Eugene talked Tracy out of doing the deed, Eugene opted to shoot himself rather than face the music. As we know, he failed miserably, not only condemning himself to being eternally deformed (literally, it would seem), but to being perpetually hated by everyone in town.

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That was, until Jesse put a stop to all that, ironically to Eugene’s chagrin, who demanded he put things back to “normal,” feeling he deserved everyone’s hatred. This, in turn, led to Jesse sending Eugene to Hell, really just to shut him up- never guessing Hell was an actual thing and he’d just put someone who really didn’t deserve it into an eternity of suffering. Whoops! Don’t you hate when that happens?

Interestingly, Hell, as with Heaven, is having problems of its own, due to a glitch in the system, which is causing things to go awry, mainly the projected Virtual Reality simulation that is everyone’s worst memory played ad infinitum. As such, repairs are in order on what amounts to Eugene’s cell block, which allows him to meet some of his fellow “inmates,” which include none other than Hitler himself.

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In Hell, Hitler is reduced to a sniveling weakling, seemingly reliving the moment his art was rejected (we don’t see the entire flashback, but I’m assuming), which, of course, inadvertently led to his becoming a full-on fascist dictator. Recognizing one of his own, as it were, he befriends Jesse, who is instantly bullied by some of the other inmates after his “cellblock” is evacuated.

But after the woman in charge, Mrs. Mannering (Amy Hill, “Mom”), tells Eugene he’d better toughen up or he’d be in for far worse- like being literally raked over the hot fires of Hell by a demon, for instance- he betrays Hitler’s friendship and joins in on the bullying and beatdown of Hitler with the others. Might this be the end of the innocence for poor Eugene? Either way, it isn’t often that one is made to feel sympathy for freaking Hitler, but such is the world of “Preacher.”

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Other random stuff worth noting: Loved the extended, elaborate commercial starring Frankie “Malcolm in the Middle” Muniz (where you been, Malcolm?), and the “God audition” videotape by actor Mark Harelik (“The Big Bang Theory”)- talk about the audition of a lifetime! Also cool to see “Heroes”-vet James Kyson as the Happy Soul Go Go “Technician.”

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And that was a nice, inspired touch, setting the go-for-broke fight between Jesse and the torture guy to the mellow, soothing sounds of his apparent torture music of choice, Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” I guess American Psychos really do love their AOR. The fight itself, with its mix-and-match weaponry, was also a lot of fun, and the touch of having the torturer being immune to Genesis because of an iPod was also amusing.

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Though, once again, the show missed the golden opportunity to shoehorn in some of Genesis’ music, even though I suppose it would be a bit on the nose. Still, it would have been perfect, nonetheless. Might I suggest this track for future use? Or maybe this one, if you want to go deep cut?

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Beyond that, some great performances all around. Though Gulgin was a bit underutilized- the direct result of everything else going on- he still had some nice moments, notably the ones with his son- which I suspect will play even better the second time around, given what we know now- and the quieter interactions with Jesse and Tulip. Note the subtle way Cassidy tried to edge Jesse towards letting his evil side take over, after Tulip said she’d never forgive Jesse if he killed Viktor. Obviously, that torch he’s carrying for Tulip is still burning.

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Meanwhile, Negga nailed her frustration with both Jesse’s complacency in the flashbacks and her own self-loathing for sneaking around behind his back continuing a life of crime, to say nothing of stashing away those birth control pills. That look on her face when Jesse prayed to God for help in Tulip getting pregnant, all the while knowing it was likely to never happen, was completely heartbreaking. This show is lucky to have an actress of her caliber involved, that’s for sure.

It’s times like that you wish that the level of quality of the writing was higher, even though it’s nothing if not essentially true to the tone of the original comics. Still, it just goes to show how much a solid actor can do with an underwritten role if given half a chance. That certainly goes for Cooper, who brings a wonderful undercurrent of darkness and barely contained rage to the character that is much appreciated.

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Witness the rare moments when he snaps, such as when Jesse hauled off and beat the crap out of his “friend” during his argument with Tulip in the flashback, or, of course, his interactions with Viktor, in which he battled his desire to outright kill the man- and eventually won. At the same time, Cooper never forgets to let the humanity and essentially well-meaning nature of Jesse shine through, even at his worst.

Hopefully, we’ll get to see more of Jesse’s back-story in the weeks to come- the show already dropped a hint about it, via the subtle reveal of his “real” last name, L’Angell. Hopefully, we’ll get the full story soon, and this time, I do hope they stick closely to the comic book version, though I haven’t minded the changes to the story on the whole so far. If anything, some of them are vast improvements.

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You can only communicate so much in the oft-limited approach of a comic, so it makes perfect sense to fill-in-the-blanks more in a completely different medium. Not that I’m bashing comics, mind you- there’s a wonderful efficiency of communication in them, in that they can often boil down complex scenarios into short bursts of visuals and dialogue.

Movies and TV shows can do that, too, obviously, but in a different, less static way. The best comic adaptations, to me at least, are the ones that marry the best of both without being too on the nose, though even that can work sometimes- witness the late, great George A. Romero’s “Creepshow,” a near-perfect marriage of comics and movies, particularly visually.

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For me, though, the best comic adaptations are the one that capture the spirit of the comics, if not the exact content. Think “The Crow”– but only the first one- or Christopher Nolan’s superlative “Batman” trilogy, still the benchmark of how to do a superhero movie right. On the other hand, I also love the more anarchic spirit of the new wave of comic adaptations, such as “Deadpool,” “Logan” and the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies.

Nothing wrong with having a little fun with the material, either, especially if it’s already present in the source. “Preacher” manages to be both fun and soul-searching by turns, and that’s not a bad approach to take, as it offers up the best of both worlds. It’s also a bit tricky, as you don’t want the fun to outweigh the drama, or the drama to overwhelm the fun. For the most part, “Preacher” pulls it off, and much more so this season than the first one.

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As we head into the second half of the season, I do hope to see more of the Grail, which was completely sidelined by all the other stuff, to the point of being a little too noticeably absent- what happened to the people watching over Jesse? But I also don’t mind the flashback-oriented stuff, either, and like I said, I hope we get to dip back into Jesse’s before the season is out. Some back-story on Cassidy would also be nice, and much welcome, as well.

My fear is that the show might have bitten off more than it can chew, but on the plus side, this season is longer than the first, so maybe they can handle it. Hopefully, the show will continue to find the balance between fun and drama moving forward as well as it has thus far. But if not, I suspect it will never cease to at least be entertaining, and keep you guessing. You could do a lot worse for a summer show.

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What did you think of the last few episodes of “Preacher”? Did I miss any of the comic book references? How are you comic book readers enjoying the show, in comparison to the comics? Any plotlines you’re looking forward to/hoping to see this season, or on down the line? How about characters? For those unfamiliar with the comics, how are you liking it so far this season? Sound off on this and more down below, and I’ll check back in a few weeks!