When a television series adds a slew of new characters to its cast, it can be cause for concern or it can represent a welcome disruption of the status quo. As far as AMC’s Preacher is concerned at the start of its third season, the irreverent adaptation of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s comic book series fits firmly into the latter, moving the story of Jesse Custer’s (Dominic Cooper) search for an absentee God forward by taking the character and his cohort of vampire Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) and the recently deceased Tulip (Ruth Negga) on a tour of his old stomping grounds, Angelville.
It’s a familiar setup for the series that is in it heart a road show but, for logistical and financial reasons, has to set up shop in one location for the better part of a season. The series began in Annville, before a methane gas explosion wiped it and its cast of characters clean off the map. Switching gears, season 2 largely spent its time in New Orleans (minus a stop off in Las Vegas and a quick trip abroad to meet the disappointing descendent of Christ). That stay proved to be less fruitful than intended, as, by the time the season was nearing an end, there was a powerful need to get the heck out of dodge, since the narrative possibilities of Big Easy proved far more limited than one might have hoped.
For what it’s worth, Preacher showrunner Sam Catlin, executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and the writing staff seemed just as eager to get the show back on the road, as it were. Season 2 ended with a cliffhanger of sorts, wherein Julie Ann Emery’s Grail agent Lara Featherstone shot and killed Tulip, leaving a quarreling Jesse and Cassidy no choice but to make a hasty excursion to Angelville for a little black magic and an unwelcome trip down memory lane. The result, then, is a season 3 premiere, appropriately titled ‘Angelville,’ that doesn’t so much get the series back on track as restructure its characters’ current state of affairs with positive results.
Throughout the premiere, Preacher takes a certain joy in upending the power dynamic of the show. Placing Jesse at the mercy of his gran’ma, Marie L’Angelle (Betty Buckley), in order to resurrect Tulip, and forcing him to spend time with Jody (Jeremy Childs), the man who killed his father and the person Jesse’s never beaten in a fight, makes for an appealing start to the season. Throw in an unrecognizable Colin Cunningham (Falling Skies, Blood Drive) as a doltish but compliant T.C. and you have a recipe for change that plays havoc with the show’s normal state of affairs, without throwing the whole program into disarray.
Buckley, Childs, and Cunningham are all strong additions to the show. The latter two bear an uncanny resemblance to their comic book counterparts, which, if that’s something that’s important to you will likely increase their onscreen appeal. Cunningham doesn’t have a lot to do in ‘Angelville,’ but still manages to make his presence known with a terrific performance that brings a weird sense of humanness to a character who, on the page, anyway, is strikingly absent such a quality. Buckley, too, makes a statement early on, imbuing Marie with a dark, sinister magnetism.
There’s a welcome economy to the L’Angelles' introduction, too. An opening flashback sequence focused on Jesse’s mother expands on the nature of Angelville and the sort of day-to-day goings on there. In addition to necromancy, Marie is skilled in using spells to curb addiction and presumably more, for a price of course. The result of this quick download of information instantly makes Angelville into a more compelling place than just a rickety old house in the middle of nowhere that Jesse has no desire to return to. The desire to know more about Gran’ma, Jody, and T.C., however, makes their interactions with Jesse and Cassidy more meaningful than if the hour spent its time focused on the characters re-hashing the reasons why they’re estranged.
That doesn’t stop Preacher from illustrating, in its uniquely over-the-top fashion, how the beef between these characters manifests itself. In particular, while Gran’ma is preparing to bring Tulip back from her sitcom purgatory, Jesse and Jody go mano a mano in a knock-down, drag-out brawl that sets a high bar for the show’s increasingly well-choreographed fight scenes. As with the flashback sequence, round one of Jody vs. Jesse gives viewers a fascinating new character — his mostly off-screen, one-man raid on a rival clan is the sort of exaggerated moment the series revels in — who is also the rare antagonist with the potential to afford a greater understanding of the series’ protagonist.
While Preacher teases the details of Jesse’s painful backstory, the premiere goes the opposite route with regard to Tulip’s past, turning her time in purgatory into a surreal observation of the character’s childhood. It’s an expansion of what viewers already know about Tulip’s relationship with her father, one that parallels Jesse’s relationship with his own father in some interesting ways.
The series has been so dependent on the overarching narrative of Jesse’s obsessive search for God that this return to an admittedly disturbed domestic situation is a welcome change. The absent Almighty still makes an appearance shortly before Tulip returns to the land of the living, but that is more a tantalizing piece of the season 3 puzzle than anything else. Shifting gears to these characters’ fractured and confused interpersonal relationships likely won’t be the norm for the season’s entire run, but it nevertheless makes for a compelling start to season 3.
Preacher continues next Sunday with ‘Sonsabitches’ @10pm on AMC.