When’s the last time the second episode of a TV show cut backward 135 years to the Old West? That’s where we begin with Preacher episode 2. A man on the frontier; his child, sick; his wife, offering him firm directions, set off on a journey, save their child. This mystery man — he looks a bit like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, a little bit like Jonah Hex — sets off into the wasteland. He stops for a night, to eat with some settlers. The patriarch of the family is a godly man; he has a wonderful vision of this American frontier, the stars, the birds, the elk. “Do you agree,” the man asks our cowboy friend, “That this is paradise?”
The mystery man turns toward his host: “It ain’t.” The next day, he rides past a hanging tree, dead Native Americans hanging scalped from the branches. He rides his horse straight into Ratwater; it sounds like a nice place.
That’s the last we see of the mystery man — for now. (Anyone who has read the Preacher comic book knows that we will see him again — and it won’t be pretty.)
In the present day, Preacher Jesse Custer is doing the work of a godly man. He baptizes people, young and old, women and men. “Do you admit you’re a sinner, and in need of a savior?” One of his baptizees is poor Eugene Root, who runs into Jesse’s new pal Cassidy. (Cassidy’s been drinking the communion wine; you have to drink something in a town like this.) Seems that Eugene tried to kill himself, which explains his current facial predicament.
Suicide isn’t the worst thing on the minds of Jesse’s practitioners. A local bus driver confesses to Jesse that those old urges are returning: He’s been having not-so-nice thoughts about one of the young schoolgirls who rides on his bus. Jesse has an idea about what he’d like to do to the bus driver — but that wouldn’t be nice, either. And Jesse has bigger problems. Like this Cassidy fellow. Who is he, exactly? “I’m a 119-year-old vampire from Dubin City,” Cassidy explains, “Currently on the run from a group of vampire-hunting religious vigilantes.” Surely he’s joking, though: Cassidy also says that he thinks The Big Lebowski is overrated, which any person can clearly see is a ludicrous thing to say.
Maybe Cassidy’s full of it; but Jesse needs somebody to drink with. They tie one on that night, and Jesse has a bit too much, falling over unconscious on the floor. Cassidy absconds with his wallet and his car — and doesn’t see the mysterious men with English accents who walk into the church. They sing a little song, attempting to draw something out of Jesse. They sing a song about Wynken, Blynken, and Nod – the words from a poem by Eugene Field, the subject matter about young children who sail among the stars. (We might remember where we first saw the strange force possessing Jesse: sailing among the stars out by Neptune.)
Whatever they’re trying, it fails. That’s when the tall man pulls out the chainsaw; and that’s when Cassidy returns; and that’s when all heck breaks loose. Cassidy battles the men, blood pouring out of all their bodies by the end. Cassidy is triumphant – although the sight of a chopped-off arm still holding a chainsaw isn’t something you can get out of your head quickly.
NEXT: Dead and buried, they return
Cassidy cleans up the horror inside the church. (He’s suspiciously good at cleaning up dead bodies; he chops the men into bits and buries them outside.) Jesse wakes up, hungover, a situation that doesn’t amuse Emily. It’s still hard to figure out Emily — a character with no clear antecedent in the Preacher comic book series — but she clearly doesn’t like Cassidy’s influence on Jesse.
She gives the Preacher a casserole and sends him to visit one of his parishioners. There’s a girl in a coma, her head half bashed in; her mother has no hope, and will feed the casserole to her dogs.
It’s another tough day for Jesse — and that’s before he gets kidnapped. But it’s a playful kidnapping, by his once-beloved Tulip. She latches Jesse to a chair and gives him the pitch. There’s a client who will give them some information — something to do with their old life, something that will perhaps bring them closer together. Tulip doesn’t believe this good turn Jesse has taken. “Deep down, you’re a bad, bad man,” she tells her man, before leaving him locked up without a key.
Jesse’s still there, held in place, when Eugene comes to visit him. Eugene has an existential problem. “No matter what I do,” he says, “I’m always the same.” I like how the show is treating Eugene’s crisis of faith with total sincerity: He wants to change, but has no clear idea of what he should change into (and no real hope that changing himself will change his lot in life.)
Something about that conversation sparks something in Jesse. He goes to visit the pedophiliac bus driver. It’s another kind of baptism: Instead of welcoming a parishioner into a new life in God’s light, Jesse half-drowns the man and demands that he forget about his obsession with the little girl. “FORGET HER,” Jesse says, his voice booming with unearthly energy. “FORGET HER.” And remarkably, the man does: He forgets why Jesse is even there.
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The Preacher figures out that something unusual is happening — that his voice has a new power. He visits that comatose girl and gives her a command: “OPEN YOUR EYES,” he says. Does she? Anything is possible. Across town, Eugene’s father Sheriff Root is talking to a couple men we know to be dead: the well-dressed English fellows in bolo ties. “We’re from the government,” they explain. Yeah, right.
In this week’s episode of Entertainment Geekly, we talk about the new TV show. (Like: Did we need a Preacher origin story? And: What are Tulip and Cassidy really doing on this show?) Then we dive deep into spoiler territory, addressing the complete run of the original Preacher. Does the comic book series hold up? Was it nasty for the sake of being nasty, or did it have a real emotional and intellectual depth? (Spoiler alert: It was pretty awesome.) Listen to the podcast below, and subscribe now on iTunes!