Preacher gets the ball rolling again by staging an entertaining action sequence and putting the series' adversaries in a room together.
Since devising a way to deal with the ever-present threat of the Saint of Killers, Preacher has been on the prowl for the kind of kinetic conflict the unkillable cowboy brought to the proceedings. Those episodes have been a mixed bag so far, as the series has introduced another persuasive adversary in Pip Torrens' Herr Starr, but it's taken its sweet time in making the bald sadist and the wayward preacher aware of one another, much less put them in the same room. This approach has allowed the series a chance to stretch the story out somewhat, especially since season 2 has to fill more episodes than the first, but it's also resulted in a show already prone to dragging its feet to want to drag them even more.
What's frustrating about episodes like last week's 'Holes' is that Preacher has demonstrated an ability to introduce moments of excitement into otherwise staid installments for the sake of simply assuring the audience the show has a pulse. So, when the series more or less spins its wheels for an hour it not only seems unnecessary, it puts what follows in the position of having to make up for that time. This sort of thing has happened before during Preacher season 2, and it's definitely the case with 'Puzzle Piece,' which not only infuses the hour with an inventive and entertaining set piece, but also pushes the plot forward by getting Jesse Custer in a room with Herr Starr.
The hour is mostly about fulfilling the promise made by Starr in 'Pig', which saw him dealing with threats to the Grail's mission with extreme prejudice. The idea of people turning a floating Vietnamese pig into a false idol was so great Starr not only permanently grounded the swine but also exterminated the small village where the animal was found. The message was clear: Starr doesn't mess around when it comes to his role in the world's most powerful organization, and Jesse Custer is next on his list.
Except it didn't quite work out like that. Rather than push forward with a Starr/Custer confrontation, Preacher stalled for a surface-level exploration of Cassidy and Tulip's personal crises, while Jesse's obsession with finding the absent Almighty saw him neglect his duty to his friends. Refusing to help Cassidy with the ailing Denis was one thing, but Jesse also hasn't been there for Tulip in the wake of the assault she suffered by the Saint of Killers and that, added to the whole Viktor debacle, has put a strain on their relationship.
Conflict stemming from resentment within the show's core group could send the series down an interesting road. There are hints of it layered throughout 'Puzzle Piece', but only insomuch as Cassidy is a little passive aggressive with Jesse while preparing some blood for Denis, who he apparently changed into a vampire in between last week's episode and now. That resentment grows when Jesse uses the Word to compel an exhausted Tulip to sleep. The chance for conflict seems too great to pass up, but Cassidy remains loyal to Jesse for the most part. Simmering conflict is only interesting if we know it's going somewhere, and Cassidy's allegiance to Jesse seems to keep him firmly planted in the passive aggressive side of things. Furthermore, putting Tulip to sleep is tantamount to the show saying it doesn't have any idea what to do with the character right now, so it's just going to push her off to the side.
Thankfully, 'Puzzle Piece' is intent on bringing a more physical conflict to Jesse's door – literally. The two Grail operatives in building orchestrate a raid on Denis's apartment that once again demonstrates Preacher's flair for action set pieces, but it also serves as a solid argument for why the show needs to aim for a greater marriage of its gleefully blasphemous tone and kinetic scenes like the one seen here. The first-person perspective brings a video game quality to the sequence that allows the episode a chance to deviate from the norm. We've seen Jesse, Cassidy, and Tulip brawl under various circumstances now, and this time they (well, Jesse and Cassidy) are not only taken by surprise, they seem to be seriously outgunned. The result is a welcome change of pace that offers a surprise when Denis jumps in to help at the worst possible moment.
The raid on Denis's apartment seems to reinvigorate the rest of the hour, as Starr and Grail operatives Lara Featherstone and F.J. Hoover serve as leavening agents for the story, in that they maintain a consistently weird, off-putting presence in their straightforward efforts to kill Jesse while also attempting to service the strange sexual proclivities of their boss. Given the expansive nature of the Grail, it would stand to reason that Starr could get any other flunky to arrange for him to live out a twisted fantasy and so his insistence that leads to Hoover consulting the Tourist's Guide to Brothels: New Orleans Edition becomes a welcome display of Preacher's bizarre sense of humor (one that sadly isn't followed up nearly as well by the reveal of how badly Hoover mismanaged Starr's request).
For the most part, the hour thrives on the tension surrounding the Grail's efforts to kill Jesse and his friends, and how much of that revolves around the mystery of Brad – who turns out to be B.R.A.D., a drone with a missile payload that winds up blowing up Harry Connick Jr. and his house. That makes yet another celebrity death in the world of Preacher, but it also hints at a return to form for the show that's been a little uneven the past couple weeks.
The hour ends on an unexpected note, with Starr joining Jesse for a drink and offering to help in his quest. The meeting was a long time coming, and hopefully it will result in a more propulsive kind of storytelling as Preacher heads into the final run of its second season.
Preacher continues next Monday with 'Dirty Little Secret' @9pm on AMC.
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