Well, at least no one died this week. In the present, anyway.
After the Saint of Killers-inspired bloodbaths of the opening of Season 2, “Preacher” set its gaze on New Orleans, the ultimate destination teased at the outset. The camaraderie that made those first few installments so freeing and energizing fell by the wayside in “Damsels,” but what took its place was a mystery that dug deeper into the philosophical and delivered another prime action set-piece as a chaser.
Before we resumed with Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy in the Big Easy, it was high time the show finally addressed the Hellephant in the room and gave us some Eugene-related answers. Seeing the unfortunate teenager lively and spry and free of any physical or emotional scars was even more jarring than the Jesse and Tulip flashback at the close of Season 1.
“Preacher” is no stranger to irony, but the triumphant orchestral flourish underneath Eugene’s bike ride to Tracy Loach’s house should have been Clue #1 that this was going to be a fateful peek into the past for all the wrong reasons. One poorly-timed kiss in Tracy’s hour of need turns tragic in a split second. When the shotgun turns on Eugene, it’s the answer to a question that comic-blind viewers have been wondering since the show’s pilot.
After a nightmarish, “Groundhog Day”-esque montage of splattered brains and teenage disgust, that answer also made for the ideal segue into our newest view of Hell (those all-caps, full-screen title cards may never get anything less than unsettling). Eugene has yet to speak more than a handful of words this season, but as his episode-closing companion indicates, Godwin’s Law apparently applies to fictional depictions of damnation, too.
As we highlighted in our season review, seeing “Preacher” leave the drab palette of Annville behind is a welcome change. But Eugene wandering around his clinical Hell barracks is all the sadder when we get a glimpse of the kaleidoscopic new locale for Jesse’s search.
Up topside, far away from the heavenly video chat back in Annville, God (or the lack thereof) continues to be a joke. In their first New Orleans stop, when asking around about the disappearing deity, the trio gets unwittingly led to an underground kink operation. Before Cassidy can cough up the pocket cash to see what the dog-suited fuss is all about, Jesse pulls the group back toward a different establishment.
Jesse breaks off from the group to follow a lead, making for the first bit of quality solo time we’ve had with the man of the collar in a while. As he takes up a perch as the city’s newest barfly, “Damsels” reinforces the idea that this character is a conduit. It’s not just Genesis that’s exerting its power through Jesse as its host. Jesse’s purpose is leading him to absorb the city and people around him. With tiny violent outbursts, late-night jazz show visits, Jesse seems to think that the best way to find his target is to acclimate.
Skip Bolen/AMC/Sony Pictures Tel
In the process, “Preacher” will not only test whether Jesse’s all-consuming search is sustainable, but if that one-track mind approach means an end to his and Tulip’s reemerging romance. Jesse isn’t the greatest multi-tasker, and if this episode’s slight diversions to Denis’ apartment and hinting at Tulip’s inescapable past are any indication, the show isn’t always either.
Luckily, a well-staged brawl was here to the rescue. Michael Slovis has long been one of TV’s best directors — this episode was another fitting showcase. Jesse’s brawl against a handful of white-suited henchmen is as entertaining a setpiece as the all-out highway gunfight that kicked off the season, even in a protracted runtime. It’s an ideal medium between a choppily-edited sequence meant to disguise stunt involvement and the constricting choreography of some of the early “Daredevil” showdowns.
But Jesse isn’t interested in shows of force, really. He’s too busy being caught up in the music.
A tip sends him on a post-blackout trip to La Cheminée, where his encounter with a lounge singer (Julie Ann Emery) eventually moves from a sultry performance of Elvis Costello’s “Almost Blue” through a perplexing riddle of patriotism through a living room encounter that serves as Genesis’ latest cameo. Of course, Jesse doesn’t know that he’s the mark in a sting operation, that this is the first emergence of Featherstone and that this “super-secret, crypto-religious fascist organization with designs on total word domination” might be back on his doorstep sooner than he’s anticipating.
For now, before “Preacher” resumes its cosmic duel of Heaven and Hell, this episode’s biggest value was in pausing to take a deep breath, backed by atonal deep cut. It’s rare that a show can poke fun at a cultural institution like jazz while still extolling its virtues. Much like the Almighty that the unlikely trio is chasing, “Preacher” finds a helpful place for it right between punchline and devotion.
As Jesse bids farewell to who he assumed was just a streetwise New Orleans songstress, he explains of thinking about God: “Not many people have.” At the moment, it’s occupying most of the waking thoughts of “Preacher.” It might not be sustainable, but if those ominous parting shots of Herr Starr are indication, the reinforcements are on their way.
“Preacher” Season 2 airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. on AMC