On the Road: Ultra-Violence and Car Karaoke in ‘Preacher’

‘Preacher’ looks for God and kills everyone along the way.
By  · Published on June 26th, 2017

‘Preacher’ looks for God and kills everyone along the way.

Season two of Preacher is here!

The first episode, “On the Road,” more than fulfills Cassidy’s last-season prediction of “a road trip with buckets of guns, sex, drugs, and shady characters dressed in bikinis.” All the promised elements are here, and while the characters in bikinis aren’t particularly shady, they’re made up for by the appearance of the shadiest character of all, the Saint of Killers.

The opening is a great moment of comedic bathos. Intense music plays and a full-screen title card announces Day One of the Search for God. The camera pans up the hood of a speeding car… and drops us into the middle of Cassidy’s foreskin conspiracy theory. It’s the ultimate in dumb, senseless talk, and it’s a fitting introduction to the kind of humor the show is going to be dealing in.

It then blends seamlessly into a karaoke car chase set to the tune of “Come on Eileen.” As soon as the song comes on the radio and the characters acknowledge it, you know what’s coming. But that doesn’t make it any less fun.

Together, these two halves of the same scene serve as lovely counterpoints to each other, setting the comedic tone of the show. They also work well to establish the dynamics of our three protagonists. Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), Tulip (Ruth Negga), and Jesse (Dominic Cooper) are destined to be the team we root for in this season.

But this wasn’t totally evident in the first season.

While it could be argued that they were the standout characters last year, they weren’t the definitive protagonists. And although they spent plenty of time in the spotlight in ones and twos, it took the better part of the season to get them working together as three. We’re familiar with the characters by now, but we haven’t seen them interact in a group all that much.

This opening scene really helps to remedy that.

And after letting us know the way things will be, the show reminds us of the way things have been. Our heroes are brought up short by the sheriff’s department, and we’re given a few solid reminders of how things work, in case we’ve forgotten. Jesse uses his Genesis power. Cassidy starts burning up in the sun. And the violence comes on sudden and extravagant.

Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga)

As an introduction to the show’s treatment of gore, nothing will beat the exploding African preacher of last season’s premiere. But this highway shootout (a direct reference to the highway shootout of the very first book) is a solid reintroduction.

And it leads to the much more effective casual violence of the gas station scene. Tulip does, in fact, use a dead man’s intestines to siphon gas from her car. Cassidy does, in fact, suck all the blood out of a cat. And Jesse takes it all very much in stride.

These are our heroes—they’re fun, they sing a good “Come on Eileen,” but gosh do they have problems. Nobody here is exactly a shrinking violet.

And that’s nice. It sets the tone of our show and its characterization. There’s just as much joy to be found in the fact that Tulip never completely wipes the blood off her face as in the fact that all three of them secretly like Dexys Midnight Runners. The violence is hyper-stylized, and the only real consequences of it are comedic.

Except when they aren’t.

The deaths brought about by the Saint of Killers are a little darker, a little more horrific. And they’re especially bad when paired with Jesse’s use of Genesis. The gas station attendant wants so badly to tell the Saint that he’s seen Jesse, but he can’t. The Baby Faced Deputy can’t stop reciting The Yellow Rose of Texas, even as he dies. Jesse seems to grasp the implication, if just a little bit, holding the deputy’s hand as he sings through his own blood.

The show isn’t a complete cartoon, after all.

The Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish)

This is especially evident in the treatment of the Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish). We got to know the Saint in bits and pieces over the course of the entire first season, and we came to empathize with him. But now we’re made to question that empathy as he plods across the landscape, killing every halfways-decent character we meet.

This hearkens back to the difference in characterization that I discussed in my preview article. The Saint of Killers in the comics does indeed have a backstory justifying his actions (he’s one of the few characters who does) but it’s not revealed for a long time. This inversion of the Saint of Killers’ story, making him a man before a murderer, plays up the show’s humanization of the characters and its ambiguation of morality.

This ambiguity is the most obvious in the introduction of Mike. The first thing we see of Mike is a dirty, pleading woman in a covered cage. Of course, it comes to be revealed that Ashleigh really does need to be in that cage, and Mike is the only traditionally upstanding person we’ve ever met on this damn show.

That makes his death all the worse.

A less moving loss is that of Tammy, proprietress of She She’s. The scene leading up to Tammy’s death is a lovely play on how much information each character has. Tulip and Jesse are deliberately kept in the dark as Cassidy’s own scene plays out silently on a monitor behind their heads. Tammy sees everything we do, but she doesn’t have the information to make what she’s seeing meaningful. Only we know the full score, but even we’re surprised when the gun fires through the wall and the two worlds collide. It turns out no one is aware of everything in this pleasantly multi-layered scene.

These multiple layers of understanding come back that night in the motel, again with characters separated into adjacent rooms. Watching TV with Jesse, our view moves away deliberately with his eye line just before a certain face is revealed. (We do get to see a very distinctive side of a head, but Jesse’s understandably too preoccupied to notice).

Cassidy does notice in the next scene. But we’re focused on his face and have only the audio of the TV and his reaction to go on. It’s a fun and unusual device for conveying information (and in the case of Tammy’s office it’s a delightful way to block a scene). But it also hints at the layers of knowledge among the characters and, even, among the audience.

As I said last week, a lot of cards are finally on the table, but new cards are starting to come into play. Jesse doesn’t know that Tulip and Cassidy have had sex. Tulip doesn’t know how much that sex seems to have meant to Cassidy. Tulip and Cassidy don’t know the truth about Jesse’s mother’s family, the L’Angelles. (Though fans of the comics sure do, and can’t help but notice that chest in the fish tank behind Jesse’s head when he mentions them).

The inclusion of the audience in these layers of knowledge, deliberately orienting the camera to keep us in the dark along with certain characters, insinuates that we’re going to be included in these layers. We won’t be omniscient, and we won’t be able to trust entirely everything we see.

It’s an exciting implication.

Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun)

Don’t want to wait a week for more Preacher? You’re in luck! The second episode, “Mumbai Sky Tower,” airs on AMC Monday, June 26 (tonight!) at 9/8 central. This is the show’s new time. Don’t go looking for it next Sunday—it won’t be there!

Or it’ll be a repeat and you’ll be out of the loop.

Related Topics: ,

Liz Baessler is a frequent contributor and infrequent columnist at Film School Rejects. She has an MA in English and a lot of time on her hands. (She/Her)