Let's get the fun stuff out of the way first: Season Two of Preacher does not fail to deliver on the dismemberment. Nor does it forget to cover every available surface with blood spray, turn outrageous violence into humor, or get very weird just for the hell of it--basically, everything you need for a good TV show.
Perhaps more importantly, however, this season improves on its predecessor by starting to delve into its source material. Despite the serious buzz surrounding Preacher's initial season, one complaint from viewers was that the show strayed too far from the comics. Showrunners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's decision to keep the action in Annville for Season One forced them to mostly rely on original plotlines, which might be fine for other comic-based TV series, but isn't a great plan when your source text is created by people as hugely skilled as Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. There will be a disparity between Ennis and Dillon's work and your work, and viewers will notice.
Although Preacher Season Two doesn't stick 100 percent to the comics, it draws much more story elements from them than Season One. As a result, the characters are allowed to move in something closer to their natural environment, which gives them greater scope for development. Ruth Negga's Tulip, for instance, has softened up a tiny bit--not in any way that looks like appeasement, but just enough to suggest that she might be a decent person underneath it all, at least by Preacher's metric of decency. We're also starting to see how Dominic Cooper's Jesse handles ideas of tradition and masculinity now that his entire social structure has exploded. Meanwhile, the darker side of Cassidy's roguish hedonism is beginning to show, underscored by the gleefully self-destructive edge Joseph Gilgun lends to the role. (By the way, Cassidy's accent, which was a little they're-after-me-Lucky-Charms in Season One, has now bypassed the character's supposed Dublin origins entirely and veered all the way into Northern Ireland for some reason.)
It helps, too, that the changes made to the source material are more in keeping with the overall themes of the comics than they were in the previous season. In the comics, Jesse is preoccupied with protecting Tulip from any collateral damage incurred by his acts of violence and his disturbing past, which is part sincere concern and part outmoded masculinity; Tulip is more than capable of holding her own when bullets start flying, and provides backup to or rescues Jesse on several occasions. While this isn't entirely absent from Jesse's character in the show, some of those concerns have been reassigned to Tulip, who continually strives to keep Jesse from finding out about her contract killing career. With both lovers trying to shield each other from their pasts, the focus shifts from Jesse learning about gender equality to a couple needing to learn about emotional openness. It's a 21st-century update on their relationship.
Another thematic gem that shines through these alterations is the source material's dark comedy. Ennis and Dillon were masters at going from harrowing to hilarious in the blink of an eye, and original sequences like this are woven throughout Preacher Season Two, such as a man less worried about the limb that's just been blown off his body than he is about getting quarters for a soda vending machine. It's not an easy line to walk, as a sequence where a character undertakes a series of increasingly cartoonish suicide attempts reminds us. Here, the scenes are played for laughs, yet never without shying away from the emotional trauma that has driven the character to this point; the camera lingers on the person's face, reminding us that their actions come from a place of heart-freezing loss. The balance could have gone horribly wrong at any moment, especially considering the sensitivity of the subject at hand, but the show pulls it off. Just like the comics would.
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It's a very good sign, not only because it makes for a better show, but because it implies that Rogen and Goldberg are looking at what made the comics so wonderful in the first place. If they're applying deeper levels of insight to the adaptation process, the show is likely to continue on an upward trajectory, which means this ride is going to get wild. And if that's the case, we should definitely stick around to see how far it goes.
RATING: 4 OUT OF 5 BURRITOS
Season Two of Preacher premieres Sunday, June 25th on AMC at 10 PM EST.
Images: AMC/Sundance TV