Garth Ennis’s graphic novel Preacher, which Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have successfully ported to television, is not a “superhero” story, per se, but it’s close enough; its hero, Jesse Custer, is cursed with an unholy gift that might as well be a superpower. Still unnamed in the series (it’s “Genesis” in the books), the power is at first raw and unwieldy to the troubled preacher, but he begins to harness the ability to command people — while still grappling with the moral ramifications — in this week’s episode, “See.” He has whole lot left to learn, both about himself and about others, including Cassidy, his hard-drinking vampire pal.
After the hilarious and gruesome misunderstanding that led to one of his flock literally opening his heart to his mother, Jesse (Dominic Cooper) becomes aware he has the uncanny knack to make people do what he says. “See” spends its time with Jesse figuring it out amid very difficult circumstances: a casual confession from the Annville school bus driver who reveals that he’s a pedophile. He thinks he’s skirting by on Catholic guilt, but that’s not how confessionals work. You can see Custer’s trying to hold back his disgust at the pervert, fighting to channel his powers to rectify the situation, but failing. An empty school bus haunts Jesse throughout the episode.
Jesse will inevitably get a hold of his power, but what happens, then? Is it really his responsibility to exert the will of God into scum like pervert bus drivers? Moreover, why was he saddled with this ability in the first place? Cassidy (Joe Gilgun) outright asks Jesse why he thinks the Lord chose him over the other 6 billion on Earth, and of course, Jesse doesn’t have an answer. But he’ll find out, and a comatose girl and a pep talk with Arseface (Ian Colletti) later, Jesse takes it upon himself to rid the pervert of his unholy urges. It’s quite authoritarian, which is fitting for a man who represents an authoritarian denomination – but it also removes free will, a key element in Catholic myths. This makes Jesse an interesting avatar for God’s will: He’s got the strength of a superhero, but none of the soul.
There’s wide world waiting just outside Jesse’s doorstep, represented by the otherworldly Cassidy. Knowledge of Cassidy being a vampire is shaping up to become a major plot point in his and Jesse’s budding relationship. In the books Jesse and Cassidy are the best of friends, with Jesse knowing full well Cassidy is a vamp, but the series is taking its time with this development. Alongside Genesis, Cassidy’s supernatural presence helps take Preacher into the far-flung corners of New York City, San Francisco and France. But two episodes in, Preacher is restrained, firmly set as a southern gothic satire in a tiny Texas town. It’s telling that Cassidy’s first bloodthirsty defense in Annville occurs when Jesse is knocked out. He has bigger things to worry about, anyway.