[For Preacher “Pilot” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
Pilot. Jesse’s past slowly catches up to him and he struggles to escape it; a mysterious entity arrives on Earth, causing a wave of destruction.
“What kind of Preacher are you?”
AMC needed some help. After losing both Breaking Bad and Mad Men the last few years, they really didn’t have much in the prestige drama pipeline. So instead, they doubled down on their graphic novel fetish with both Fear the Walking Dead and Preacher. Fear the Walking Dead is basically an excuse for them to start off from scratch with their most successful brand and try and squeeze some more juice out of the zombies they’ve been living off of for the past 6 years.
Preacher on the other hand is something different.
Preacher was the brain child of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, and it initially launched in the 90’s. It’s a comic all about a hard drinking preacher with a tragic past who’s imbued with powers from some cosmic source and uses them to fight for redemption. He’s also friends with a vampire. So clearly this is the type of fanboy source material Hollywood thought they could work with, but it took them a while to figure out how to make it work (which is usually code for Kevin Smith was involved at some point). Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg stepped in as executive producers (they also directed the first episode) and being their first foray into television, they enlisted the help of Sam Catlin as their show runner, who was a producer and writer on Breaking Bad. The three of them have managed to create one of the best pilots for a show I have ever seen (maybe right behind Lost). In a pilot you usually want to be able to introduce the core characters as well as imprint your visual style on the audience, and they managed to do both very well.
The show opens in space, as we have a POV shot of some force travelling towards Earth and eventually busting through the doors of a church in Africa and colliding with a priest mid-sermon. At first it appears as though the force might provide the priest with some sort of power, but instead he explodes in a bloody mess among his congregation. This trend continues throughout the episode, as we see this force travel to different churches throughout the world and causing similar havoc. We also see two unidentified men appear at each site investigating the incidents.
The rest of the episode is spent introducing us to the three main characters. The preacher himself, Jesse Custer (played by Domenic Cooper, aka young Tony Stark’s father), is introduced to us giving a piss poor sermon in a church in Texas. We come to learn that this is his father’s church and he’s returned (after presumably doing some very sketchy things) to take it over after his father’s passing. Rogen and Goldberg do a good job of showing how Jesse is conflicted about being a preacher, in that he clearly wants to help people, but he just doesn’t know how to go about doing it. He goes through the motions, he listens, and tries and give advice, but he also realizes that it’s somewhat hypocritical to preach forgiveness and understanding given his past. Now, we’re not given much information about what he did prior to landing back home in Annville, Texas, but there are some scenes in particular that give you a hint. One scene involves him confronting a father of one of his parishioners he knows is beating both his wife and son. He takes a beating from him, and tries his best to avoid violence, but he eventually succumbs and does what he clearly does better than preaching, and that’s kicking ass. So now we’re made aware of what an actual bad ass Jesse Custer really is, because for most of the episode he was just a sad sack who drank a lot.
The second (and best) character introduction was of Tulip, played by Ruth Negga. We first see Tulip fighting with a man in the back seat of a car that’s plowing through a corn field. This is really the first scene where we see Rogen and Goldberg’s visual style really stand up and grab our attention. The fight sequence was fantastic, and they managed to use the space really well, similar to how the fight choreography is done in any great Korean movie you see (which we all know has the best fight scenes). She manages to kill the guy and then stop the car in front of a farmhouse where she’s greeted by two kids. She enlists them to help her build a homemade bazooka, then sends them down into the storm cellar as she finishes off whoever else is chasing her. They used a great technique where you don’t actually see the action, but rather the kid’s reaction to the sounds that are happening outside. It’s a great way to save money, but it also builds suspense and just a cool way to convey the action in a concise way. This introduction was great because we learn two very important things 1) Tulip is a bad ass and 2) she stole something very important/valuable from some very bad people. This sets her off on her trajectory right away, which eventually leads her back to her home town of Annanville to meet up with her old friend Jesse.
The third main character introduction was of Cassidy (played by Joseph Gilgun). Now some may say his introduction was actually the best, and I won’t fault you for that as it was pretty great. We meet Cassidy on a private jet drinking and telling a story to some men. Now, Cassidy is wearing a flight attendant’s vest and everyone is laughing, so you can’t tell right off the bat who he is or what’s going on. However after a few seconds Cassidy notices the plan is flying in a different direction than expected and that’s when all hell breaks loose. The men he was chatting up start pulling weapons from every section of the plane and a brutal brawls takes place. Similar to Jesse and Tulip, Cassidy can clearly fight and makes short work of his attackers. He also pops a bottle off in one of their chest cavities and starts drinking their blood. That and his concern for the sunrise clearly indicate that he was a vampire, but if you weren’t positive, he proceeds to jump off the plane without a parachute as the plane just so happened to be flying over Texas.
Both Tulip and Cassidy happen to meet up with Jesse and key moments when we learn a little about his past. Tulip tries and enlist him into whatever job she’s working, which lets you know that she was part of his (likely) criminal past and probably what he’s trying to seek redemption for. She clearly knows Jesse really well, and indicates that he’s wearing a mask of a preacher and not his true self. These words ring true later in his scuffle in the bar where he’s also introduced to Cassidy, who helps him out during the fight. The two end up in the same jail cell after the fight to which Cassidy asks, “What kind of Preacher are you?” That will be the question that Jesse will struggle with the whole series, and one that I don’t think he really understands yet.
The show then comes full circle, as the cosmic force we saw at the beginning of the episode comes plowing through Jesse’s church at night and slams into him, throwing him against the wall in the process. He awakes three days later, right before his Sunday morning sermon. He was planning on leaving town after succumbing to violence and being thrown in jail, but suddenly he feels differently. He gives an impassioned sermon about being “the preacher his congregation deserves” and vows to be better. Then the episode ends with the same two men who were investigating the other church incidents landing outside Jesse’s church.
The pilot really did a great job of both creating a rich and vibrant world, as well as outlining all of the journeys and challenges these characters are going to have to face in the episodes ahead. I’m not sure if the show will be able to keep up with the quality of the pilot, but I’m certainly going to watch and see.