Preacher’s pilot ended with Jesse Custer outlining his plan to serve God: “Offer peace to the restless. Avenge the innocent. Cool the wrathful. Welcome those who are lost. And, last but not least, speak forth the word of God.” And when you put all those steadfast moral imperatives in a row like that, the job seems pretty straightforward.
“See” follows Jesse in the wake of that triumphant speech, as he baptizes parishioners in the yard outside the All Saints’ Congregation. It’s immediately clear that saving his little community in Annville — let alone the rest of the world — will be a challenge. You can dunk someone’s head in a basin of water, but in the end, it’s up to the baptized to decide if the religious rite has any tangible effect on the way they approach life. Eugene Root, with his damaged face, is almost painfully eager and credulous about the possibility of a transformation. Tulip, by contrast, just smirks her way through one of the church’s holiest rituals, and thanks Jesse “for getting [her] all wet.”
And then there’s Linus, Annville’s school-bus driver, who pulls Jesse aside for a private confession that pushes the whole concept of preacher-flock confidentiality to the absolute brink. Linus is sexually attracted to one of the young girls on his route, and although he’s never acted on that urge, he finds himself struggling with it. Linus wants to be forgiven, and Jesse grimly puts him through the standard-issue formula for absolution: Don’t act, repent, and be forgiven. “I’ll never be the same,” Linus promises, as if eliminating your worst self is as simple as flipping a switch.
While he’d undoubtedly bristle at the comparison, it’s a problem that Linus and Jesse share. Jesse’s decision to turn his life around came with the blink of epiphany, and when he tells Cassidy his new life plan is to “be one of the good guys,” he means it. It takes Tulip, who knows Jesse better than anyone else, to remind him that change doesn’t come so easily. “I know that deep down you’re a bad, bad man,” she purrs, trying to convince Jesse to join her on a distinctly extralegal job involving some shady characters and a treasure map. “And sooner or later, Mr. Bad Man’s gonna come around, and he’s gonna say yes.”
Can a person instantly change so much of himself through willpower alone? It’s a question that haunts Jesse until he meets up with Eugene, who admits that because he doesn’t feel any different, he’s not convinced that the baptism worked. When a defeated Jesse, talking to himself as much as he’s talking to Eugene, suggests that all he can do is keep trying, Eugene raises a different possibility: “What if this is the me God wants?”
Throughout the episode, Jesse applies the time-honored Christian methods for goodness and salvation to every problem that arises, and finds that they all come up short. Despite Linus’s reassurance, he’s unsettled every time he sees the school bus drive by. When he visits a grief-stricken mother whose daughter is in a coma, delivering a genuinely moving speech in which he promises that God will reach them, the mother stops him flat. “Those are lovely words — but unfortunately, that’s all they are,” she says. “Words won’t open her eyes again, or help her ride a horse again. They won’t even help change her diapers. No offense, but that casserole you brung is worth more than all the words in the world. At least when you’re gone, I can feed it to my dogs.”
The irony, of course, is that Jesse’s words do have value — real, tangible, real-world value, because he can theoretically make anyone do anything he wants. (Though Jesse, like us, is still a little fuzzy on how the whole thing works.) And that’s when he decides to abandon the abstract principles of faith and forgiveness to ensure that Linus never molests that little girl. Jesse breaks into Linus’s apartment and drags him into the bathroom, as Linus babbles about being sick and addicted. Drawing a scalding hot bath, Jesse gives Linus a much more painful baptism, and insists — in that unquestionable voice he has occasionally pulled out since he was hit by that ball of energy — that Linus forgets all about the girl. Linus follows his orders so completely that he doesn’t even know whom Jesse is talking about.
Is this the person God wants Jesse to be? Has he been given these powers because the world needs to escape this never-ending cycle of sin and absolution? Is it wrong to force God’s will in such a violent and unstoppable manner? Is it wrong to do so in a way that removes all accountability from the sinner — even if the end result is unquestionably good?
We’re just two episodes into Preacher, but the series has already raised difficult, fascinating questions. Jesse is certainly grappling with these questions as he tests the limits of his powers. As the episode ends, he revisits the mother whose daughter is in a coma, armed with words that, despite her skepticism, may actually do some good. “Open your eyes,” Jesse whispers to the daughter, but “See” ends on his eyes, not hers. We may not know how much power he really has, but for the moment, he’s seeing the world in a different light.
- The TV series takes plenty of liberties with the comics … but nevertheless, I would strongly encourage those who have read the comics to avoid spoiling anything in the comments.
- “See” opens with an extended prologue, circa 1881. It follows a mysterious, ornery Man With No Name–type as he wanders through the wilderness to a little town called Ratwater. There’s not much payoff yet, but it certainly suggests that Preacher plans to weave a grand tapestry.
- The episode’s bloody-comic centerpiece pulls Jesse out of the action altogether, as Fiore and DeBlanc, the two strangers investigating the spate of spontaneously combusting preachers around the world, attempt to cut him open with a chainsaw while he’s passed out drunk on the floor of the church. Cassidy intervenes, taking out both men and stopping the chainsaw as it bounces along the floor toward Jesse’s body, a bloody arm still attached.
- “See” also introduces Jackie Earle Haley as Odin Quincannon, the ruthless owner of a meat-processing company. Like our Man With No Name, he doesn’t have much to do here — aside from a particularly deadpan land-grab gag — but he’ll clearly play a larger role in episodes to come.
- In just three sentences, Cassidy sums up everything you need to know about him: “I’m a 119-year-old vampire from Dublin City. And I’m currently on the run from a group of vampire-hunting religious vigilantes. And I think The Big Lebowski is overrated.”
- Cassidy’s moonshine recipe: rubbing alcohol, coffee-machine descaler, “shit dripping out of the air conditioner.”
- The Toadvine whorehouse is presumably named in tribute to Cormac McCarthy’s western epic Blood Meridian, which features a character of the same name.
- Ted Reyerson, the sad-sack mama’s boy who sliced his own heart out at the end of the series premiere, just has to be a nod to Groundhog Day’s wonderfully irritating Ned Ryerson, right? (“Watch that first step … it’s a doozy!“)
- Next week: Jesse tests his new superpowers, with more than a little prodding from Cassidy and Tulip.