Second episodes are rarely good. They often have the unfortunate responsibility of repeating the pilot's key points, and occasionally must familiarize the audience with any changes made between shooting the first and second episodes.
But whether it's because co-creators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg stuck around to direct another effort or because they and fellow creator Sam Catlin effectively planned before shooting a single frame, Preacher's "See" is one of the better second episodes in recent memory.
Rather than worrying about what the audience may or may not understand about an admittedly bizarre story, Preacher's creative team made the smart choice to simply keep pushing forward. While "See" covered some of the same thematic territory as the pilot — Jesse's (Dominic Cooper) uneasy commitment to his faith and doing good, most notably — the episode managed to do so without stalling out. That would be a moderately impressive feat for any show, but for a surreal one like Preacher it's a legitimate accomplishment.
One of the biggest ways "See" successfully navigated around second hour doldrums was through Jesse himself. Predictably, Jesse's bold assertions at the end of the pilot that he would now strive to help the people of Annville met some early resistance; and we learned Jesse's newfound abilities to control people with his voice don't always work.
Whereas the pilot showed us a preacher with no shame in not doing his job, "See" offered one who was working really, really hard to convince himself and everyone around him that he could back up what he said the previous Sunday morning. Baptizing true believers, and soliciting feedback from locals was a nice start, but Jesse was equally distracted by the ever-persuasive Tulip (Ruth Negga), who turned up the heat trying to convince Jesse to partner up on a big job.
In lesser second episodes, Jesse would have probably walked back all the promises he made at the end of the pilot, only to have some kind of experience that reaffirmed his commitment to doing the right thing. Here though, his confidence was shaken, but only because those promises weren't producing any immediate results. The preacher's experience with his new skills shouldn't be any easy transition, but it also doesn't need to be a slow-moving, stop-and-start kind of deal either. "See" maneuvered that fine line ably.
Another major reason that Preacher avoided typical hour two problems was how it handled the weirder, mysterious stuff that permeated many scenes. It's early, and the show is rightfully in world-building mode. Things are happening on-screen that the non-comic book readers in the audience can't really comprehend. If you thought the pilot's opening minutes — with a powerful, unexplained energy moving throughout the solar system — were wild, chances are you were similarly stupefied by the teaser in this one, which introduced a mostly silent frontiersman type from 1889, and an extremely graphic depiction of some scalped, hanged Native Americans.
What does that have to do with Jesse, Tulip, or Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun)? No idea. Was the sequence tremendously evocative, complete with awesome smash cuts crafted by directors Rogen and Goldberg? You know it.
Meanwhile, back in the main story, none of the characters got bogged down. Something significant happened to Jesse: he knows it, and Tulip can sense it. But there was no moping around about it, no extensive self-reflection or questioning about the why or the how. This supernatural occurrence was treated as unexplained, but not entirely debilitating to the show's main character.
The same can be said for Cassidy's admission that he was a vampire. Jesse being hammered drunk sure helped that one go down easy; and the subsequent all-out assault on the church by the two shady figures that have been trying to track down the entity inside Jesse side-tracked the discussion. Once they busted into the church, there were no silly questions asked, and more importantly, no questions ignored with half-truths or empty platitudes.
Instead, the show provided another well-orchestrated and unbelievably gruesome fight sequence, as Cassidy barely fended off the duo and an errant chainsaw. Much like Cassidy's showdown with the vampire hunters on the airplane in the pilot, the church sequence ran the gamut from intensely violent to surprisingly comedic, striking a tonal balance that simply shouldn't work... But does. It will be interesting to see how Preacher keeps that balance moving forward without Rogen and Goldberg behind the camera, but that's a concern for another week.
Point being, the characters simply act, react, move forward... Just as Preacher doesn't seem concerned about becoming immediately and heavily serialized, it also isn't fretting about crafting the kind of "mysteries" we see from most TV shows: the ones where characters never speak directly, where those with the answers avoid the proper conversations, and where the proverbial goalposts shift every time it seems like characters get close to The Truth. Limiting the focus on the mystery of it all has allowed Preacher to hit the ground running with one peculiar, spectacular sequence after another.
Of course it's only been two episodes, but that it managed to produce such a fun, propulsive second episode without the normal post-pilot drop-off is both an achievement in of itself, and a great sign for the rest of Season 1 and beyond.