You couldn’t ask for a harder reset than the one “Preacher” unleashed at the end of last year’s first season. Even though much of the show’s first ten episodes had the familiar beats of a trial-by-fire origin story, it was a methane-induced farewell blow that effectively cleared the board of all but a handful of main characters.
And it left “Preacher” in a precarious situation, one where its title character has the most powerful weapon in any plane of existence and is leading an unlikely gang of folks on a road trip/deity hunt. Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy, a motley crew of ex-lovers and ex-humans, escaped that fateful blast with a common goal: find God, who went missing some time before Jesse came into control of Genesis, the cosmic power that can compel people in his path to obey his will. Because when they find God, they have some questions for him.
Armed with a greater knowledge of the tool that Jesse has at his disposal, the outset of Season 2 finds “Preacher” at an even more solipsistic level. And it’s working to the show’s advantage. More than ever, Jesse and the power inside of him become the specific mechanisms powering the story forward. But with every passing interaction, Jesse’s web of influence is regrowing, catching in more side characters after so many were wiped away by last season’s explosion. There’s a rich world lying right outside the boundaries of what this preacher is concerned with, and the show has taken full advantage of its quick breather before the rest of the calvary catches up.
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Catch up it certainly does, showcasing an even more solid handle on the whirlwind action that “Preacher” already did fairly well. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg waste little time recapturing that thrill of the chase far outside the former Annville city lines, this time with a grindhouse-tinged highway shootout in the first episode that plunges viewers into Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy’s strange new world.
Violence in the world of “Preacher,” especially when an all-powerful force like Genesis is involved, has become a means of expression, not merely a means to an end. As last season’s finale filled in some major gaps in Jesse and Tulip’s past, the new ways in which they respond to outside threats help to show who and what they value most. For good measure, there’s even a sly “good guy with a gun” commentary slipped into one of these early-episode standoffs. (One particular Michael Slovis-directed fight sequence also shows that the series has some new tricks up its sleeve as well.)
Thankfully, this action evolution hasn’t come at the expense of the irreverent banter that carried Garth Ennis’ warped vision from the comics into the TV realm. There’s an endearing nature to the way that the show uses some well-timed whimsy to cut through the overbearing implications of an all-consuming, heaven-hell throwdown. One standout winking quip that sounds like a secondary series mission statement: “The Internet is a soul-killer. Stay clear of it if you can.”
Yes, the Saint of Killers, a terrifying and timeless cowboy assassin with a Groot-esque vocabulary, is lurking right behind every one of this trio’s pit stops, even when Jesse and Tulip and Cassidy pause to enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company. But with every confrontation that this ragtag gang can escape from with everyone still alive, the show keeps a steady rotation of vices to help ease the journey on their way to finding God.
It’s a fitting addition, given that “Preacher” has left much of its grimy palette behind, trading it in for one that still acknowledges the show’s nihilist streak but leaves room for plenty of color. Those neon lights and bright casino interiors make for an indicative shift as its central cast of characters try on some tiny, added doses of hedonism and — dare we say it — happiness.
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Dominic Cooper is as dutiful as ever as Jesse, handling the soft-spoken charge of a man of God with a quiet stubbornness. Though “Preacher” has yet to fully unleash Tulip’s potential, Ruth Negga continues to be a highlight, whether or not bullets are flying. Tulip hasn’t fully escaped the consequences of last season’s late revelations, but whenever the show slightly veers from Jesse’s quest, any added layers to Tulip’s character are a welcome chance for Negga to show why she’s one of TV’s most versatile actresses.
And even as vampire Cassidy is put through physical torment, it’s hard to imagine an actor having more fun in a role on TV right now than Joseph Gilgun. After the persistent “Lebowski” criticism from last season, Gilgun continues to dig into Cassidy’s perplexed reactions to human nature with delightful results.
With Jesse still taking much of the main focus, this newest season of “Preacher” benefits from his sense of singular purpose. Having an overarching goal and a shortened list of distractions has left the humans and immortal beings in his inner circle with the perfect antidote to a world where God is missing and an honest mistake can trap a teenager in Hell. There are plenty of miles on the odometer still left to travel, but few shows have done a better job tidying up the roadmap.
“Preacher” Season 2 premieres Sunday, June 25 at 10 p.m. on AMC.