This review contains spoilers.
One of the strongest things about comic books as a medium isn’t the writing, it’s the art. Comic book writing, even at its best, is fairly limited; there’s only so much space in a speech bubble and only so much patience for the written word in a funny book. The art ends up being what tells the story, barring the occasional outlier like Neil Gaiman. This is true even in Preacher, the comic book source material for the surprise hit AMC TV series. There are words, and a lot of words, but thus far the big star hasn’t been a monologue or a conversation, but incredibly impressive visuals.
Following in the footsteps of the pilot episode, this week’s episode opens up not with Jesse and Cassidy, but with another cold opening: 1881, outside of the town of Ratwater. As a fan of the comic books, I know just who they’re introducing from the very moment the man’s face appears in the doorway, but while we don’t get a good shot of The Cowboy (Graham McTavish), it’s pretty clear that he’s a rough customer. He’s going to town to pick up medicine for his sick wife and daughter, and while he grabs his coat and hat, he leaves his guns behind. It seems like an ominous warning of things to come; the shot of The Cowboy getting his coat makes sure to show the guns in stark relief to the cabin behind them, and the brief pause before he decides to not get his guns will undoubtedly come back to play. Even if you don’t know what’s going to happen, that’s too big a signal to ignore.
The whole segment with The Cowboy is incredible. The show’s opening segment looks as sweeping and grand as any John Ford movie. The shots of The Cowboy riding his horse with the beautiful desert sky in the background are stunning, and the show makes incredible use of depth in those scenes, making The Cowboy either larger than life and dangerous or incredibly tiny, dwarfed by the landscape around him. His few interactions reveal his nature: taciturn, brooding, single-minded… he rides past a tree full of dead, scalped Native Americans without blinking, and it’s only through the intervention of a child that he actually stops and eats—getting his ear talked off by some greenhorn in the process.
One of the big strengths of the show so far is that, at least as far as I can tell, they’re introducing characters in a way that will make fans of the comic book pleased, but also not leave newcomers feeling like they’re not in on the background information. Jesse is a frustrated preacher. Cassidy is an alcoholic, drug-chomping Irish vampire. Tulip is a bad-ass chick mixed up in some nefarious schemes. Jesse has two devils, one for each shoulder, and the show is doing a good job at establishing that through both character dialogue and character actions in Sam Catlin’s script. Custer clearly wants to do the right thing, even if he’s not sure what the right thing is or if he can make a difference while doing the right thing. Meanwhile, most of his church attendees, only real friend, and his ex-girlfriend are all pushing him in towards his darker side.
Another strong aspect of this show is casting. Dominic Cooper is solid, but Joseph Gilgun is a scene-stealer as Cassidy. The show’s newly introduced character, Odin Quincannon (also a John Ford reference for those keeping track at home), is going to be a great nemesis to Jesse and the gang when their paths inevitably pass, if only because Odin Quincannon is played by one of the acting world’s great creeps, Jackie Earle Haley. He makes an immediate impression, slight yet also dangerous, surrounded by goons but clearly above the fray himself. Between him and the eventually appearance of The Saint of Killers, it looks like Preacher will be digging into some of the comic’s more controversial aspects fairly soon.
To be honest, it’s crazy to think that this show could delve into any more controversial areas, particularly after two strange men—DeBlanc (Anatol Yusef) and Fiore (Tom Brooke)—try to draw Genesis out of Jesse using a hand-cranked record player before deciding it might just be easier to use a chainsaw to extract the weird ball of funky space glop from within the preacher who hosts it. Thankfully, Cassidy is there to save the day, and we get yet another excellent fight scene from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. More genital mutilation, of course, but a great fight scene nonetheless. Cassidy’s fights seem to be almost Peter Jackson in their execution; blood goes everywhere, a disembodied arm is dragged by a running chainsaw, Cassidy does a comic-style slip in the puddle of blood… it’s cartoonish, but in a fun way.
Given the tone of the show, and the occasional serious discussions of the role of God in the human world, it’s nice to have a little slapstick, be it Cassidy or Donnie Schenck fumbling a briefcase with a fractured wrist. Finding that balance between comedy, horror, and drama is going to be crucial for the show. So far, it seems like the show is going to be able to walk that tightrope. They’re taking baby steps, but that’s better than trying one big jump and then falling, Cassidy-style, from 30,000 feet.
Read Ron’s review of the Preacher pilot, here.