Preacher slows to explore the various literal and figurative hells holding each of its characters that only sort of feels like spinning its wheels.
Throughout season 2, Preacher has had a mild fascination with Hell; both as a physical location and as a figurative place signifying the emotional anguish or torment felt primarily by the three main characters Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy. This being a series that can move freely between the two, venturing into the actual construct of Hell to check in on Eugene, after Jesse inadvertently sent him there with a too literal Genesis-enhanced utterance, there is room for an episode like 'Holes' that aims to contrast the two kinds of hell and to use that as a way to plumb the unexplored depths of its earthbound characters while also setting up at least one potential endgame, as far as Eugene's time in the underworld is concerned.
After last week's oddly refreshing look at Herr Starr's extended interview process for Grail Industries, though, 'Holes' feels a lot more like 'Viktor' and 'Dallas', in that the sense of wheel-spinning is more readily evident as the hour unfolds. That has more or less been the show's methodology throughout the second season: shifting between two dramatic extremes wherein any given episode is either moving at a frantic clip or it feels stuck in place, essentially asking the audience to wait until next week for the plot to progress, or for something in keeping with the tenor and pace of past episodes to happen.
The effect of the stop-and-go nature of the season is easy to forgive when the series introduces a character like Herr Starr in the way Preacher did last week, but on the flip side that introduction winds up being undermined to some degree when Starr himself fails to appear in an hour like 'Holes', essentially going from the star (no pun intended) of the hour to a side note mentioned off handedly by a pair of Grail operatives who haven't been seen for several episodes themselves.
The idea that Preacher would want to have greater equanimity in terms of the screen time and depth of storylines prescribed to the likes of Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy has been one of the more interesting aspects of this second season. Since the premiere -- or especially because of the premiere, and the episode that immediately followed -- the series has felt much more like an ensemble than it did in season 1, where it felt more like Tulip and Cassidy were satellites to Jesse's planet-sized presence. But while the season has been far more generous to them in terms of their screen time and taking the time to develop distinct storylines, the increased exposure hasn't necessarily yielded the sort of threads that actually justify the added the attention.
Cassidy's adventures in fatherhood at the end of his son's life examines his experience as a vampire from a much more emotional vantage point than watching him survive horrific injuries only to be restored to normal the next episode. That's a welcome new angle to approach the character's perspective from, but the series has boiled the father-son relationship down to a will he or won't he choice that Cassidy has to make. The trouble is: Preacher hasn't effectively developed the relationship between Cassidy and Denis in a way that will make the former's decision have the kind of impact the writers have intended, both by virtue of the nature of the actual relationship and the amount of time that's been dedicated to it since the crew arrived in New Orleans.
Furthermore, as much as Cassidy's vampirism and the benefits that come with it are the driving force behind his personal subplot with Denis, the Irish vampire's supernatural durability also seems to be fueling Tulip's recent obsession with tempting fate by repeatedly being shot while wearing a bulletproof vest. The interest in the fragility of human life seems to stem as much from her run-in with the Saint of Killers as it does her exposure to supernatural elements since her return to Annville and, of course, its destruction at the end of season 1. Again, there's something fascinating here that Preacher is just scratching the surface of. The problem is, the show seems content to continue scratching without actually getting any deeper. In the end, Tulip's storyline suffers from the same lack of urgency as Cassidy's. The show has managed to uncover interesting aspects of each character in both cases, but the reluctance to pay those threads off in a reasonable amount of time, and use then that to send the stories after something new doesn't do either much justice.
While 'Holes' seems to find it difficult to get going as far as most of its plot threads are concerned, it does find some momentum in Eugene's story, as the show reveals a startlingly simple explanation for why the residents of Hell are living a weird prison drama, rather than a Groundhog's Day version of the worst day of their lives. It's a strange moment hearing the warden deliver what amounts to an info dump before Ian Colletti is given the rare opportunity to act without the extensive facial prosthesis that give his character his distinctive features as the titular Hole twists Eugene's worst day into a nightmare wherein he's cuckolded by the very man who sent him to Hell in the first place.
To be fair, the nightmare gives Dominic Cooper far more interesting work to do than the rest of the episode. While Eugene's adventures during the hour don't take him any further than the other characters, at least there's a clearer idea of where he's headed, thanks to his bunk mate Adolf suggesting they stage a prison break.
It's not a terrible hour of Preacher by any means, but it is another example of how the show can fall back on some bad habits when trying to stretch out the story to fit the extended episode count of the season.
Preacher continues next Monday with 'Puzzle Piece' @9pm on AMC.
Photo: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television