'Preacher' Showrunner on Season 2's "Perverse and Absurd" Search for God

Preacher S02E02 Still 5 - Publicity - H 2017
Skip Bolen/AMC

[Warning: this story contains spoilers for the first two episodes of season two of AMC's Preacher, "On the Road" and "Mumbai Sky Tower."]

"Find peace."

Who knew two calming words could yield such violent results? Certainly not Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), the wandering holy man imbued with the powers of Genesis, a divine entity that speaks with the Word of God. Season two of AMC's Preacher sees Jesse and his fellow traveling companions — trigger-happy girlfriend Tulip (Ruth Negga) and blood-sucking vampire Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) — channeling the preacher's power in a quest to find God, who has abandoned his post in Heaven for as yet unexplained reasons.

In the process, they find Fiore (Tom Brooke), a down-on-his-luck angel turned hotel magician, who has hired a literal monstrosity from Hell called the Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish) to assassinate Jesse and Genesis. Cassidy convinces Fiore to call off the hit, using nothing more than almost three hours of drug use and heaping helpings of charm. But Jesse's power screws up the whole deal as he offers those two divine words as a command unto Fiore: "Find peace." The fallen angel's interpretation of those words leads him to not only keep the Saint's killer contract in place but to commit suicide as well, permanently killed at the Saint's own hands.

Heavy, right? There's certainly a lot of meat on the bone (and meat on the ground, thanks to the copious scenes of violence) in the first two episodes of the new season, which aired on AMC across two nights as a special premiere event: main character deaths in the case of Fiore, a massive new force to be reckoned with in the form of the Saint, a complete overhaul of the show's structure as it takes to the road and leaves season one's small town of Annville behind. And while many if not most of the story beats are unique to the show, the second season of Preacher feels more spiritually linked than ever before to its comic book source material, which was created by writer Garth Ennis and the late illustrator Steve Dillon.

Showrunner Sam Catlin talked to THR about killing Fiore, unleashing the Saint of Killers, turning Jesse Custer's search for God into a literal journey and more.

Even though the first two episodes of season two feature characters from the comics, the events themselves are new for the show. But there's still a sense of channeling the spirit of the original work. Exiting season one and heading into season two, what elements from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillion's comics did you aim to emphasize or lean on more to further distill what it means to tell a Preacher story?

First and foremost, it would be Jesse. Jesse's drive last year was largely an internal one, almost a theological one — the search for God in himself, and sort of redeeming himself through becoming a good preacher. None of that is part of the comic. I think we were excited to get to the point when Jesse isn't looking for God in the abstract; he's looking for God in the horizon, or down the road, or at a bar. That seemed to us the part of the comic that we were excited to get to: basically a manhunt, a god-hunt.

It gives the show a propulsive quality that maybe didn't exist in season one, given that you were in Annville for the whole year. This year, it looks like you're truly taking the show across America.

That's one of the things that was so exciting about the comic when I read it: the scale. But it's also what made me initially wonder if we could even make the show. There's this sense of globe-trotting, of a road show. They're definitely out in the wide world now. They're in New Orleans, which in a way could not be any farther away from Annville. They're in a big city. With Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy, whatever qualities of themselves were being kept in check by having a day job, which in Jesse's case was being a preacher, all of those limits have been taken off now. All three of them are now back in their natural environment: chaos, debauchery, drugs and drinking. It's not like they shied away from those things too much in the first season, but now they're just in the city of sin there. 

You mentioned how when you first engaged the comic, you were wondering if a show would be able to tackle the road trip quality. How did you solve that obstacle heading into season two? 

Obviously, or maybe not so obviously to some of the comic book fans, there's just no way we were going to be able to create a narrative where we were in the south of France in one episode and San Francisco in the next. We had to dig into each one of these places along the way that they stop in and still give the show that epic quality and that sense of how even though they may be in New Orleans for an extended stretch, it still has that sense of movement and searching and going into unfamiliar worlds. We really, really stressed in season one that we wanted to ground the show in a familiar and almost archetypal small-town America setting with familiar characters that people could identify with and recognize. Now, with the benefit of being in a place like New Orleans, and the benefit of Jesse actually looking for somebody called God, it's created so many opportunities for us to just make the world that much more Preacher and that much more perverse and absurd and foreign. 

Speaking of God, the late, great Tammy from She She's tells Jesse before she dies: "You're going to shit yourself when you meet him." That's a pretty high bar for the almighty, whenever we get to meet him on the show. How do you plan on clearing it?

Well, he's probably going to have to shit himself, I guess! (Laughs) We think of God, at least in the writer's room...we've talked about him a little bit as kind of a Keyser Söze, this mythical character who is real. People have seen him, or people know of people who have seen him. But he's still larger than life, almost a mob boss. We want Jesse to find him, but we're also a little worried about what's going to happen when he does. 

The Saint of Killers is an active force on the show now after first appearing in flashbacks and hellscapes last year. He's described as "a beast straight out of Hell," and even Jesse bristles when he hears the Cowboy's name; he's heard of the Saint through ghost stories. The Saint is an exciting character to have in the mix, but a challenging one as well, given how powerful he is. Can it almost be limiting in some respects?

Yes, the Saint of Killers is in a lot of ways the hardest character to write, in the sense that…especially since we removed the ability, initially, for reasons we'll delve into as we go, that [Jesse's] Word doesn't work on him.

Right, which is a departure from the comics.

It's a difference from the comics. We felt that if Jesse could use the Word on him, does that diminish the Saint? How is the Saint the ultimate and perfect choice as an assassin for Genesis if Genesis can work on him? So we made a conscious decision, at least initially, that the Word wouldn't work on him. It leaves us with a force of nature, a Terminator. Jesse is in a way defenseless against him, at least in terms of his obvious powers. He's going to have to use his wits to escape him. Later on, that's not always going to work. He'll have to find another method for how to deal with the Saint. But it's a very challenging character. It's also a really fun character. It's very fun to have this character we've seen now let loose in the 20th century: this pitiless force just laying waste to everything in his sight. We're very much in our hero's point of view about the Saint, that he's somebody on their heels, he's somebody who's coming, he's somebody who's just over the horizon, he's somebody they're escaping from. But as the season goes on, we'll learn more from the Saint's point of view. We're going to learn more about his past, more about his own relationship with God, more about his own life before the fateful journey into Ratwater, and more about the deal he struck with DeBlanc [Anatol Yusef] and Fiore and what he gets if he's able to kill Genesis and Jesse. 

Speaking of Fiore, "Mumbai Sky Tower" sends him out the door in grand fashion — multiple death scenes, an epic drug interlude, even a complete makeover as the Amazing Ganesh, with plenty of heartbreaking beats to boot. It's a great episode for Tom Brooke, and killing Fiore marks the end of an era of sorts on Preacher. How did you arrive at the choice to move on from this character, to fully end the legendary friendship of DeBlanc and Fiore?

It was a very painful decision, to be honest. I'm a huge fan of Tom Brooke, and Anatol as well. It was very hard to kill off DeBlanc last year. And then Fiore was just as difficult a decision we made. We had a plan for him. The reason why we loved the idea of him being on his own was this idea of him as Starman, experiencing the Earth and its pleasures and temptations and disappointments. He would be the ultimate immigrant, in a lot of ways. We were going to have that story play out over many episodes. But then as we started talking about other elements of the season and other stories we wanted to tell and other stories we were going to bring forward that we haven't even done yet, it felt like we were shortchanging some of those other stories. So we decided to make it a little bit of a one-act play or a short story, and try to condense it into one episode. In Preacher, you can die, but it doesn't mean it's the last we've seen of you. We all love Tom so much as a performer, and even more as a person. So we have some plans. We have some plans to resurrect, if not his character, then his persona at some point down the road.

Fiore brings up the big question of what happens to angels when they die. I don't know that even the comics have an answer for this, despite killing off more than a few angels along the way. Do you have an answer for the question on the show?

Absolutely. All of the questions we ask, it's only in Garth and Steve's world of Preacher where you can ask questions like that and hope to answer them. Absolutely, there's ample opportunity for us to go to Angel Heaven or Angel Hell.

One of the most compelling aspects of the Fiore story is how it relates to Cassidy. The drug bender works as a distilled example of what it's like to be Cassidy's friend: he makes you fall in love with him, then he breaks your heart and leaves you behind to pick up the pieces. In Fiore's case, he can't pick up the pieces at all. Was that a conscious decision, to show the full scope of what it means to let Cassidy into your life?

Exactly so. To me, Cassidy's greatest super power is one of…"conviviality," let's put it that way. He was able to get Jesse to open up to him in that first minute in the jail cell. There's something about Cassidy where he's a great listener. You really trust him. And yes, most people — as we'll learn more and more, especially as this season goes on — the people who trust him usually end up regretting it. It's a double-edged sword with Cassidy.

Check back with THR next week for more from Catlin as the third episode reveals all-new corners of the Preacher universe — some that comic book fans are expecting, and a few that are bound to shock us all.