Preacher: 2.09 Puzzle Piece
The following review contains full spoilers for the ninth episode of Preacher season two.
No TV show can be good at everything. You'd be hard-pressed to find a show more emotionally compelling than The Leftovers, or with a more thought-provoking take on religion than American Gods. In this era that so many writers call Peak TV, the shows worth watching are the ones that find what they excel at and stick to it.
Preacher simply doesn't hold up when you compare its dramatic or thematic ambitions to other shows. It works best as a stylish action show with strange powers, dark humor, and some seriously twisted villains. The characters are far more compelling as bad-ass antiheroes, and even though it might seem like a smart choice to explore their vulnerabilities -- that's what all the most acclaimed dramas do, right? -- it actually has an adverse effect on a series where momentum and bad-assery is key.
After last week's snooze of an episode, Puzzle Piece piles on the good stuff. We get a lot more Herr Starr (Pip Torrens), a thrilling bit of violence, and a deeper look at the wacky organization that Starr heads. It's simultaneously one of the creepiest and funniest episodes this season, almost entirely thanks to Torrens's performance. His scene on the computer perhaps best encapsulates why this episode is great: when the pop-up ad blocks his screen, Starr's incredulous reaction -- "Do I like cats? No. No. No. No." -- and his inability to press "No" was the exact breath of fresh air Preacher needed. I've never wanted to take the show too seriously, so it's always best when it presents itself in the same way.
Back at Denis's apartment, the Grail's failed attempt on Jesse's life gives some new life to their faltering stories. Jesse is back to using the word, commanding an entire group of police and keeping constant lookout for a second wave of attackers. His paranoia is a nice touch, especially since he's been a real grump as of late. Also, Cassidy stopped doing a whole lot of nothing and finally made a decision regarding his elderly son. Yup, Denis is a vampire now, which provides a shocking thrill this episode and will certainly cause problems in the remaining hours.
Unfortunately, Tulip, who has received the short end of the stick for most of the season, is still sulking after the Saint of Killers touched her. I get that, in an ordinary TV drama, that kind of event would have a huge fallout. But this isn't an ordinary drama: the more it keeps its foot on the gas, the more compelling it becomes. Every scene with Tulip feels more like a foot on the brake, which is very disappointing considering that she was the standout character of the premiere season.
Don't get confused by all this complaining: Puzzle Piece was the exciting and entertaining side of Preacher that I've come to love. But this season has a habit of following a good episode with a boring one, and that has certainly tempered by expectations for what is to come this season. Even though it's hard to say with four episodes to go, but it really feels like a 13-episode season was the biggest mistake Preacher could make. If they could cut out all the less-interesting filler and delivered a shorter, meatier season with less breathers between the action, then this could be a consistently great series.