Things are getting curiouser and curiouser over in Anneville, TX in the second episode of Preacher.
The episode opens on the Texas frontier in the 1880s, where a father is sent out by his wife into the dry flat landscape for an undisclosed purpose. The man rides alone through the desolate old west until he comes upon a family traveling in a covered wagon who invite him to eat with them around a campfire. The patriarch of the family chats at the man something fierce, yammering on about living in the city and striking out into the frontier, trying to engage the man in conversation. The man is silent until he finally tells the family that the frontier is not the happy, safe place they seem to think it is. Come morning, the man is alone with his horse again, passing by a tree full of swinging, scalped Native Americans. Annnnd, cut to commercial.
So, who is this guy, this seemingly unrelated cowboy? There is really no information given about him during his short introduction, and he’s never mentioned again in the duration of the episode. I assume they will continue to reveal his role in Jesse Custer’s story throughout the season, but for now, we really don’t know. This is a prime example of how Preacher is rolling out its story in a very methodical, almost glacial way. There’s very little backstory exposition, and very little information that’s just given to the audience. In a very skillful way, the story is quite truly unfolding in almost real time. Despite desperately wanting to know what the Sam Hill is going on, the slow build allows the characters to be more realistically motivated and moved.
Okay, enough with that. Onto the main story.
Jesse the preacher and Cassidy the vampire have become the most adorable besties, and it’s as wonderful for the audience as it is terrible for poor Emily, who doesn’t quite appreciate the missing communion wine and general freeloader attitude that Cassidy revels in. He’s living at the church, supposedly doing odd jobs around the place, but obviously he’s not the type to bring in new congregation members, which is exactly what Emily and Jesse plan to do. They–hilariously–stand around in front of the town grocery store asking for suggestions to improve the church. Good luck with that, y’all.
Another person who finds that plan hilarious is Tulip, who–of course–hangs around the local whorehouse, spanking the male patrons in poker. Good ol’ Tulip is still set on getting Jesse to help her with this mysterious job of hers–so set, in fact, that she kidnaps him and chains him up, forcing him to hear her out a little more. It sounds like the job has a personal element to it–an allusion to their shared, debauched past–that may just be the tipping point that convinces Jesse to get on board. But not yet. As a side note: I cannot say enough about Ruth Negga’s portrayal of Tulip. I love her so much. She’s so wonderfully take-no-shit, take-no-prisoners, that you can’t help but enjoy her subdued brashness. Seriously, the stuff of dreams.
We meet a few more members of the Anneville, TX community this week as well. Odin Quinncannon, played by Jackie Earle Haley, is the town’s big employer, and from the looks of his first introduction, he’s a hard bastard. He’s a small man, but he’s got the town’s biggest dudes in his employ, and he uses them to intimidate people into selling their property to him (and immediately bulldozing it). Donny Schenk, the nice, wife-beating, Civil War reenactor that got his arm broken and face smashed in by Jesse last week, is among Quinncannon’s lackeys.
We also meet the Loaches, a woman and her comatose daughter, when Jesse goes to do his preacherly duties to visit with the family. Mrs. Loach has an interesting conversation with Jesse, displaying a very pragmatic reaction to his insistence that one day, it’ll all be okay.
Meanwhile, back at the church, Cassidy is performing the duties of a best friend by getting Jesse drunk and listening to his drunken ramblings. Jesse tells Cass that he believes that God has a purpose for him–to help people and be one of the good guys. This is one of the most interesting things to me about Jesse Custer: he clearly has his demons and feels out of place in the church, but he’s not just some badass, ass-kicker wearing a preacher’s outfit. He has a real struggle with faith and with self-identity–is he a bad guy pretending to be good, or is he a good guy who just doesn’t fall into the traditional mold of a good guy? Man, all this thinking is making Jesse need another drink. He steals Cassidy’s vampire-grade super-alcohol (it’s pretty much poison) and passes out immediately. Honestly, he probably should’ve died.
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the weird dudes who have been following around Jesse’s spirit-thingy, are here to see to it that death is exactly what’s on the menu for Jesse Custer tonight. They break into the church with their weird spirit-catching doohickeys and get to work trying to extract the spirit from a completely blacked out Jesse. When that doesn’t work, they turn to their surefire weapon of choice: chainsaw. Fortunately, Cassidy comes back at the right moment and proceeds to earn his keep by killing the hell out of the old west Ghostbusters–though he thinks they’re vampire hunters there to kill him, not Jesse. Because Cass is a beautifully brutal vamp, he practically eviscerates the duo (and licks up the bloody remains), and saves Jesse from being chainsawed by a disembodied arm in the process. Cassidy sets about cleaning up the mess, but he can’t quite finish because the sun comes up. Damn sun.
When Jesse wakes up, extremely hung over but none the wiser about his near death experience, he heads over to one of his congregation member’s homes. Early in the episode, this particular churchgoer, a bus driver, confessed his pedophilic thoughts about a girl on his bus to Jesse. Understandably, Jesse remained haunted by the confession throughout the episode, seeing the bus driving by and feeling a desire to do something about it. Finally, he’s pushed over the edge, and confronts the bus driver, deciding to give him a real, cleansing baptism in his own scalding bath. As Jesse lets his anger take over, drowning the man and burning his face at the same time, the spirit awakens with the same powerful voice that caused another man to cut out his own heart. He tells the driver to forget the girl, and he does. Literally. He just forgets everything about her. This is the first time Jesse realizes that something weird is going on.
When he figures out that his words have power, Jesse goes back to the Loach residence to test it on Mrs. Loach’s daughter. He tells her to open her eyes, but we’ll have to wait until next week to see if it works. The fact that Jesse’s first move was to try to help this comatose girl shows that his good side is beating out his bad side–for now. As Jesse inevitably gets roped into Tulip’s games, we’ll have to see if his past has a strong enough hold on him to bring that bad, bad man he used to be back to the forefront.