Tonight’s episode of Preacher doesn’t waste any time resolving the big cliffhanger at the end of the season-two premiere. We left Jesse as he stared down the Saint of Killers, realizing that Genesis doesn’t actually work on his all-time deadliest adversary. As the Saint’s bullet flies toward Jesse, he gets an unlikely reprieve: A truck driver speeds between the two men and takes the bullet, giving Jesse enough time to flee to safety.
It isn’t the first time Jesse has been saved by what looks like pure luck, which makes me wonder if there isn’t some as-yet-undisclosed higher power helping to guide him on his journey. But it’s also a reflection of the fundamental imbalance at the center of Preacher’s narrative: With Genesis, Jesse is so unfathomably powerful that any conflict should be a cakewalk. To counteract that problem, we have the Saint of Killers, an incredibly deadly assassin who can’t be affected by Genesis. (In fact, it has a detrimental effect on Jesse: Whenever he uses Genesis, it shows the Saint exactly where he is.) And to counteract that problem, we have an assembly line of coincidences and innocent bystanders to ensure that Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy don’t die in the second episode of the season.
Fortunately, “Mumbai Sky Tower” is enough giddy, bloody fun that I’ll happily go along for the ride. Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy escape by the skin of their teeth — leaving a burnt-out motel and a pile of bodies behind them — and head for the Mumbai Sky Tower casino, where the fallen angel Fiore is moonlighting as a stage magician who specializes in gory, self-inflicted deaths.
Tom Brooke did fine work as Fiore in Preacher’s first season, but the character was always a little ill-defined beyond his relationship with DeBlanc. Here, Brooke gets to play Fiore in the wake of DeBlanc’s death, and it gives him a meaty chance to come into greater focus. In a montage set to a “Frank Patel” cover of Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” Fiore joylessly indulges in a bunch of earthly pleasures — drinking, gambling, sex — before killing himself in a variety of creative ways. Every time he dies, he quickly regenerates. (As far as we know, the Saint of Killers is the only one who can actually kill an angel.)
Fiore’s tragicomic inability to die has an unlikely side effect: an adoring audience, who turns up to the casino every night to watch him kill himself in some gory way, then instantly reappear. By the time Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy show up, Fiore seems glumly resigned to his fate as a stage performer, half-assedly greeting a terminally ill child who unsuccessfully begs him to reveal the secret to immortality.
What Fiore won’t do is call off the Saint of Killers. At least, not at Jesse’s behest. It takes Cassidy — who shows Fiore an illicit drug he hasn’t yet experienced — to win him over, and only after a breathless monologue that includes basketball, frisbee, a bunch more drugs, and an extended dip in a hot tub with a stack full of Archie comics. Along the way, Fiore develops a crush on Cassidy, and it’s an oddly poignant reminder of the “legendary friendship” he shared with DeBlanc, as well as the loneliness that came after the sudden absence of his eternal companion.
There’s been a lot of loss on Preacher, which is a large part of what inspires Jesse to make an impromptu marriage proposal to Tulip. But when the couple head down to the casino’s quickie wedding chapel, Tulip discovers a face from her past: Gary (Bloodline alum Michael Beasley), whose warm smile conceals a capacity for tremendous violence and cruelty. Tulip excuses herself and meets with Gary in her hotel room, where he attempts to convince her to get back in touch with someone named Viktor, who lives in New Orleans. When she refuses, they fight. Tulip wins just in time for Cassidy to stumble into the room, and in yet another secret they’re keeping from Jesse, Tulip convinces Cassidy not to mention her big, bloody fight. Gonna be a wild day when all of these secrets come bubbling to the surface.
In the wake of this chance encounter, Tulip calls off the wedding and the whole gang decides to continue their search for God using the only clue they have: his penchant for jazz music. Fiore agrees to summon the Saint of Killers and call him off, so Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy hit the road with his blessing.
But Fiore has a change of heart following Jesse’s gentle, Genesis-tinged instruction to “find peace.” When the Saint arrives, Fiore reaffirms his original deal, believing that Genesis is still too dangerous in Jesse’s hands — and then orders the Saint to kill him onstage. It’s a final performance that comes without the customary regeneration, and the audience hates it, booing his limp corpse. It’s a particularly trenchant critique for this show to make. Preacher invites the audience to cheer and laugh at all this bloody carnage without thinking about all the people being felled by those bullets. Are we supposed to look at the audience that shows up praying for as much bloodshed as possible — much like us, watching Preacher every week — and recognize ourselves?
Maybe! But Preacher is at its best when it zips along, so we don’t spend too much time on this little tableau. And so we’re on the road again, a welcome change of pace for a show that seems to have an inexhaustible appetite for weird places filled with weird characters who can mess with our heroes. Next week, we’re off to New Orleans. Nobody ever gets into trouble down there, right?
• Along the way, Tulip catches a stray news report that confirms all of Annville was destroyed in the methane-gas explosion. The episode slows down to allow her a moment to grieve (and namecheck Walter, one of the many characters we’ll never see again), but it’s clear that the writers are more interested in where Preacher is going than where it has already been.
• While we’re on the subject, though: I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one of the Annville residents — maybe Odin Quincannon or Donnie — survived in some horrifically scarred form, ready to pop up and wreak havoc on our heroes when it’ll hurt them the most.
• The episode makes a sneaky nod to Breaking Bad: The location where Fiore waits for the bus to the Mumbai Sky Tower is the John B. Robert dam — a.k.a. the exact same place where Jesse Pinkman and Walter White waited for Ed the Disappearer to take them away.
• Unfortunately, Archie comics exist in the Preacher universe, which means a Riverdale crossover is probably out.
• The gun nuts shot down by the Saint of Killers are the Greater Association of Gun Aficionados, or G.A.G.A — as in “excessively and foolishly enthusiastic.”
• In a hilarious meta-gag, Jesse and Cassidy can’t remember which of the angels is DeBlanc and which is Fiore — the same confusion that plagued many viewers and recappers (including, full disclosure, me) over the course of the first season.
• Between Preacher and Twin Peaks, it’s been a great year for purgatorial, supernaturally tinged TV casinos.
• Where do dead angels go? As Fiore says, “That’s the question, isn’t it?”