PREACHER Review: “On The Road” And “Mumbai Sky Tower”

The comic adaptation’s two-part season premiere brings guns, God, and guts.

Season one of Preacher suffered what I like to call “The Walking Dead Effect.” Its concept was strong, adapted from a comic whose post-Pulp-Fiction edginess has dated but whose gleeful blasphemy hasn't, but due to (I assume) budget restrictions, the season kind of didn’t go anywhere. Antiheroes Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy were stuck in Annville, Texas for ten whole episodes, and though the stories that unfolded were entertaining and unique, there was little sense of momentum - especially to fans of the comic’s insane pacing. When we last saw the show's principals, they were finally fleeing that rinky-dink (now non-existent) town in search of a literal absentee god. As of the season finale, finally, the comic’s main thrust had come a-thrustin’.
 
Enter “On the Road” and “Mumbai Sky Tower,” the second season’s first two episodes, directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and aired over the past two days, more or less as a two-parter.
 
“On The Road” opens with a fifteen-minute-long bang. A huge caption proclaims the heroes to be on “THE SEARCH FOR GOD: DAY ONE.” After a brief Cassidy rant about foreskins, a police chase ensues - a fun chase, if a little brief, sporting artificial film grain and throwback shooting techniques that might please fans of winking nostalgia, but did little for me. The chase culminates in a police standoff, manipulated by Jesse’s newfound Genesis ability and escalated by the appearance of the Saint of Killers, whose divine six-guns prove highly effective at exploding cops’ heads. Not content to stop there, the show then gives us a good head-crushing effect, an exploding car, AND the use of an intestine to siphon gas, all in the span of a minute or two. This constant one-upmanship of action and grue, all taking place before the opening titles, feels as if the show’s desperate to prove something after the comparatively sedate first season. It’s too self-conscious to trust at this stage, but it’s still hella entertaining.

“On The Road” then follows through on its title, as our antiheroic trio continue their road-movie journey to find out where God has absconded to. It’s like a little detective story of sorts: Jesse’s first major stop is to see fellow religious man Mike, who’s the kind of guy who knows things. Mike, ever the attentive preacher, has a habit of locking parishioners in a covered cage to "curb their urges." How exactly he knows that “a covered cage works best” is not explained, but the fact that his current captive Ashley’s “urges” merely involve social media makes said captivity feel weirdly benign. It’s simultaneously not as bad as it looks, and every bit as bad as it looks.
 
Mike’s prisoner won’t be posting anytime soon, though, as Mike receives a visit from the Saint of Killers soon after directing Jesse and company to their next clue. Rather than give up his friend, Mike stabs himself in the heart. Ashley’s fate is left uncertain. Poor Ashley.
 
Next stop: a shitty strip club, wherein we learn that God has a taste for jazz and can make you shit yourself. One would assume that forced self-defecation would be on the lower end of God’s power spectrum, but I digress. The source of that information suffers an accidental (or divinely-ordained?) bullet wound before yielding anything further, so there’s little left for our heroic trio to do than hunker down at a cheap motel. As Cassidy watches TV, Jesse and Tulip have some door-breakin’, headboard-bangin’ sex. It’s not HBO sex or even Starz sex, but there are worse people to watch pretend to bone than Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga.
 
“Mumbai Sky Tower” is more contained than “On The Road,” taking place primarily in and around the titular casino. It’s there that our antiheroic trio flees after “On The Run”’s cliffhanger ending explodes into a bloody showdown between the Saint and a convention of gun nuts. Suffice it to say, you can’t solve your Saint of Killers problem with guns. 
 
Somewhat surprisingly, “Mumbai Sky Tower” focuses largely on lonely angel hitman Fiore, now carving out an existence killing himself repeatedly in a casino magic show. He’s reintroduced in a Wizard of Gore riff that manages to be blackly funny and melancholy all at once, largely thanks to Tom Brooke’s sweet, sullen performance. Upon questioning, Fiore reveals the Saint of Killers’ title, as well as the fact that he hired the Saint to kill Jesse; Cassidy then spends the rest of the episode trying to convince him to call off the hit, via a lengthy speedball bender sequence that’s nowhere close to the Trainspotting riff it clearly wants to be. It all culminates in what was surely an inevitable fate for the depressed Fiore: a final, blessed death at the hands of the Saint, as Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy drive away.

While all that’s going on, Jesse and Tulip come to the edge of marriage in the hotel lobby’s wedding chapel - a wedding that’s only prevented by the appearance of a largely unexplained figure from Tulip’s past (and the subsequent fight between him and Tulip). We don’t really know what Gary’s deal is, but the show sets him up as part of a shitstorm awaiting Tulip in New Orleans - which also happens to be where Jesse suspects they’ll find god. Jazz, you see.
 
Onwards to New Orleans, then, much to Tulip’s chagrin, with the Saint of Killers nipping at our heroes’ heels. After spending the first season largely disconnected from the action, the Saint is pretty clearly set up as a primary antagonist for Season 2 - though I question how compelling he can be, past his imposing figure. He’s effectively a mindless gun for hire, shuffling down the road after Jesse like It from It Follows, and though his backstory is tragic, it’s painted with broad strokes. Mythic, not nuanced. Casting tells us that the graphic novel’s main villain Herr Starr and secret society the Grail will be appearing (as will Noah Taylor as Adolf Hitler), but given the show’s propensity for remixing its source material, it’s unclear what their specific role will be.
 
Another clear direction for the season (such as can be divined at this stage) involves the use - or avoidance - of the power granted Jesse by divine bastard Genesis. The ability to issue irrefusable commands is a tempting one, and frankly Jesse’s a little drunk on its power. Plenty of screen time has already been devoted to debates around its morality, but I question how far that can go without getting repetitive. Having the Saint track Jesse’s use of Genesis is a nice touch, and it’s certainly more compelling than Tulip’s halfhearted lectures. The problem is: it’s just too much fun watching people interpret Jesse’s instructions literally, whether it’s a gas station attendant “pretending they weren’t there,” or a cop reciting “The Yellow Rose of Texas” even as he bleeds to death. Preacher is great at that kind of bleakly ironic tableau - hopefully there’s more in store in Season 2.
 
If this double-barrelled premiere is any indication, we’re in for a rollercoaster of a season compared to the first - one dotted with new locations and characters, with a clear trajectory towards finding God. We’re also, I suspect, going to see a lot of killing, a lot of backstory, and a lot of Texan black-comedy weirdness that may or may not come across as a little forced. The show’s core is still strong, though, with Cooper proving a surprisingly strong Jesse, Negga breathing life into the comic’s least-interesting main character, and Joseph Gilgun routinely stealing the show as cat-eating vampire Cassidy. God willing, we’ll see some confirmation of Cassidy’s foreskin conspiracy theory before this show is out.

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