When the first things you see on a TV show about a preacher in Texas are the words “Outer Space,” you know you’re in for something special. And special is exactly what the first episode of AMC’s Preacher is. The long-awaited live-action adaptation of the 1995 comic series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon done with respect for the comic, but plenty of entry points for new viewers.
(Since there’s a chance I’ll be doing these recaps for awhile, let me give you a quick background. Hi! I’m Germain. I read the Preacher comic books in the mid-2000s and loved them, but I haven’t read then since. That means I’m going to be coming at this series from a pretty fresh point of view, so don’t expect many huge breakdowns of differences between the comic and TV show. I’ll be judging the TV adaptation on its own merits, but with a little baseline knowledge of the original.)
As show’s first caption promises, the show begins with a white light flying through space. This... thing is going to put the story in motion for every character we’re going to meet in this premiere episode, but it first arrives in Africa where it explodes into, and then out of, a priest there. Whatever this thing is, it’s not good.
We then meet Jesse Custer, played by Dominic Cooper. He’s got scars, he’s got bottles of whiskey everywhere, and it’s pretty obvious this guy isn’t your traditional man of the cloth. Jesse loses Sunday’s speech, screws up his sermon, and just wants to get outside to drink. It’s here that we meet many citizens of the show’s primary setting of Annville, Texas. There’s single mother Emily (Lucy Griffiths), Sherriff Root (W. Earl Brown), and Donny Scheneck (Derek Wilson), the last of whom plays an unwitting but major role in this first episode as his son asks the preacher to hurt Donny. Apparently, it’s just as obvious to the residents of Annville that Jesse has some sort of sordid past.
Next we’re on a plane, where a bunch of suits are partying with a cussing, Irish madman named Cassidy (Joe Gilgun). The suits are actually hunting Cassidy because he’s a vampire, although who they are and why they feel okay partying with a target in tantalizingly unknown. When the party ends, Cassidy defeats them, crashes the plane and dives out, only to land in, you guessed it, Annville, Texas. Directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg set a high bar for action with this scene, not only executing a violent, visceral, surprising sequence, but infusing it with crazy suspense—if Preacher can keep this up after the pilot, we’re going to be in for a treat.
There’s one more main character to introduce, Tulip, played by Ruth Negga. Again, we get her introduction in an action scene that feels more Hollywood than cable television as she fights some mysterious men inside a car that she’s driving. The fight is rough, beautiful and ends with the absolute certainty that Tulip is going to be one of our favorite characters. She then meets up with a few kids, builds a bazooka, and single-handedly destroys a helicopter (offscreen, of course). Later, we’ll find out that Tulip and Jesse have a past, which centers on whatever information Tulip was fighting for in the car. The pull of his past is a central theme for Jesse, and Tulip is the personification of it.
At this point, Preacher has introduced most of its main characters and it’s a motley crew of awesome. Plus, the show has set a precedent that it can literally go anywhere and do anything: Space, Texas, airplanes, vampires, bazookas, but all centered on a very familiar-feeling Southern town.
As this is happening, that being of light continues to travel the world. First it’s in Russia, destroying a church. Then it’s in Hollywood, killing Tom Cruise, a pseudo-preacher of Scientology. (By the way, lots has been made of the Cruise joke but it’s almost kind of a compliment rather than an insult. The show is saying the light thinks Cruise is such an important religious figure it wants to try and possess him... it just so happens it doesn’t work with him.)
With introductions out of the way, Jesse goes around town to take care of some preacher business. He meets with Eugene (Ian Colletti), a well-known character from the comics who has yet to earn his much more well-known name Arseface. He meets with Donnie’s wife Betsy (Jamie Anne Allman) who reveals the beatings she gets from her husband Donnie are sort of a kinky sex thing. As Jesse travels around Annville, we learn more about the town and its residents, namely how it’s not immune to crazy outside influences. It’s a quiet portion of the episode, but needed after the insane, action-packed introductions of Cassidy and Tulip.
After feeling overwhelmed with the town’s problems, Jesse needs a drink. He heads to a bar where he meets Cassidy, and is then confronted by Donnie, who’s none too pleased Jesse talked to his wife about their personal issues. And here, finally, we get a glimpse of the old Jesse. He taunts Donnie and then proceeds to absolutely beat the hell out of him and his goons. To make things even creepier, Jesse does it literally with a smile on his face. If this isn’t the real Jesse, then it may be a look at who Jesse may become as this show goes on. And it’s kind of terrifying and awesome.
After the fight, Jesse and Cassidy are thrown into jail and he has a realization—he doesn’t want to be that guy anymore, and he can’t be the preacher the town needs. It’s time to quit. Then, at his lowest point, Jesse’s possessed by the light that has been traveling the world. Happily, it doesn’t make him explode. Instead, he wakes up a few days later, and changes his mind. He’s going to turn the page. He’s going to be a great preacher, and he starts by telling one of his parishioners to go settle things with his mother.
As readers of the comics already know, the light has given Jesse power—namely, the power to make people do exactly, and literally, what he says. In this episode it has at first cathartic, then catastrophic, consequences as the parishioner confronts his mother, then opens his heart to her. Literally. This is not a power to be taken lightly.
Which is why two mysterious men are looking for it.
Honestly, whether you’re already a die-hard Preacher fan or just accidentally tuned into the episode, you’d be hard-pressed to see a better, more digestible, adaptation of the material that what we get in this pilot episode. It’s a show that has the edge the comics are known for, but still perfectly accessible for non-fans, too. One episode in, and I’m already loving this show—and I hope you do too.