Four episodes in, Preacher's second season is firing on all cylinders. It’s almost like a different show compared to last year, delivering a greater density of laughs, complexity of action, and variety of scenarios, while telling a much clearer and more propulsive story. I’d be shocked if someone didn’t edit the first season down to feature length just to make it easier to jump into season two. It certainly seems plausible - the difference is that stark.
“Viktor” splits the cast into three separate plotlines, all of which deliver on entertainment, and none of which advance the story very much. The A-story sees Jesse and Cassidy following up on another clue caught in a TV commercial (after a similar plot device in episode 2) in their search for God. Turns out the “God” seen in last season’s heavenly Skype call was literally just an actor, in a step up from gigs like Frankie Muniz-fronted charity infomercials. And he's represented by an agent by the MacGruber-adjacent name of Teddy Gunth.
Jesse and Cassidy’s meeting with Gunth is one of the highlights of the episode, sustaining a hefty chunk of running time purely through James Hiroyuki Liao’s performance. Gunth works out of a shitty little office and books shitty little late-night commercials, but acts like he’s the most powerful man in Hollywood. That's an inherently funny notion, as is that of God auditioning actors in New Orleans of all places, and Craig Rosenberg’s script makes the most of both. Ditto Cassidy’s bullshit Game of Thrones offer: Gunth’s on it like a golden retriever on a plate of sausages, virtually begging for a taste of that delicious HBO money.
Also a great bit: the audition video Jesse procures from Gunth. Playing himself (with godly white hair that, hilariously, is presented as his own), Mark Harelik goes from awkward nervousness to Hestonic booming within minutes, before being unceremoniously shot dead. It’s a well-crafted scene, full of acting in-jokes and performance details, though it's more or less a dead end for the story. Given that Harelik had to be killed in order to send him to his shoot location (Heaven), Jesse likely won’t be catching up with him anytime soon, but I suspect we will find out who pulled that trigger. Jesse seems to think he can identify people by their hands, so all the best to him.
The second storyline picks up where "Damsels" left off, seeing Tulip shipped off to a mansion full of gangsters. Tulip's familiar with the folks there, but when attempting to talk to them, they either ghost or openly attack her. Upstairs, there’s a torture room, occupied by a sadist named Pet, adjacent to the office of the mansion’s owner, to whom the episode owes its title. Played by conveniently-named character actor Paul Ben-Victor, Viktor's a bit of a type at the moment: he’s big, he’s menacing, he’s been slighted by Tulip at some point in their past. That’s...pretty much where the storyline stalls, with Tulip unable to affect any movement.
It’s only Jesse’s appearance on the scene that brings about any change. Barging through the mansion with the Word of God at his command, he makes his way to the torture room, where he and Pet get into the episode’s sole bit of action. Though the decision to score the fight to Pet’s torture jam (“Uptown Girl”) unfortunately recalls the self-consciously Tarantinoesque comics, it’s an energetic, well-staged sequence, with Pet’s poor torture victim taking all the collateral damage from the many, many torture implements utilised by the combatants. With that over with, Jesse tracks down Tulip and Viktor - who, as it turns out, are married. So that’s a thing - but we’ll have to wait a week for any meaningful exploration of it.
Meanwhile, in Hell: Eugene joins Hitler in his own personal Hell. I suspect Preacher’s creative team thought they were being super-clever in making Hitler’s Hell a quiet cafe scene in 1919 Munich instead of some Holocaust horrorshow, but nowadays, that playing-against-expectations approach is almost more obvious than the alternative. Though we don’t see it play out in full, the scene in question is full of telltale signs that could have made it Hitler’s worst ever: Jews, Communists, art critics, and bad relationships all threaten to push him over the edge. It’s a curious sequence that doesn’t go out of its way to paint a specific “origin story,” offering instead a checklist of elements that could have created that particular monster - much like Elephant with for school shooters.
More intriguing than Hitler’s Hell is Hell itself, which appears to operate much like the underground facility in Cabin in the Woods. Hell, as led by Superintendent Mannering (Amy Hill, wonderfully cantankerous), has all the issues of an underfunded prison, plagued by overcrowding and equipment breakdowns. Hell as bureaucracy isn’t a new idea, but Preacher’s version has a wearied air of believability. Much like with Cabin, I’d love to see a show entirely about its operation.
Oh, and the underworld has a strict morality code. “This is Hell. Act accordingly,” Mannering tells Eugene, before throwing him into a bunk room with Hitler and a bunch of other sinners. After making a string of jokes about Eugene’s appearance - including the first onscreen utterance of “Arseface” - the unpleasant inmates take their anger out on Hitler. But while Hitler’s depiction here is of an angry wimp more than a tyrannical dictator, his beatdown is likely not meant to humanise him. The scene's focus is squarely on “sweet, upright, loyal” Eugene, so amicable he won’t even harm the twentieth century’s worst villain - until peer pressure gets the better of him. Hell is going to turn Eugene into the violent sinner it thinks he is before he undoubtedly escapes; kicking Hitler while he’s down is simply an easy first step.
The episode culminates with the Saint of Killers finally It Follows-ing across the Mississippi, somehow managing to avoid being run over by freeway traffic in the process. I’m not sure what the show’s timeline is, but even with his lengthier-than-average stride, the Saint would’ve taken at least a week or two to make his trek - and that’s not counting naps, toilet stops, or snack breaks.
Do we learn anything else about Herr Starr and the mysterious cult he’s running? Barely: their only mention comes via skepticism from Cassidy and the appearance of some unmarked vehicles outside Dennis’ safehouse. There’s always next week (at least until August 28th).
All in all, “Viktor” is an entertaining hour, filled with memorable sequences and details even if it only inches the search for God forward a little. More forward momentum is required, but I’m sort of okay with the show spinning its wheels a little if it’s this much fun doing it.