‘Preacher’ Season 3 Goes Into the Beyond to Rescue Tulip

The gritty satanic battles of AMC’s “Preacher” return for a season that promises more gore, politically incorrect humor and romantic competition. One of TV’s oddest comic book adaptations, it is also one its most devilishly entertaining. It has the trippy visual allure of “Legion,” but combined with a rugged western aesthetic, with a dose of holy war.

Picking right up where the last season left off, renegade preacher Jesse (Dominic Cooper) and feisty demon Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) rush to Angelville with a dead Tulip (Ruth Negga). Tulip was taken down last season while battling the forces of evil in the form of the cultish Grail, who still wish for Jesse to be their new messiah. Jesse’s plan is a major risk, it involves bringing his (and Cassidy’s beloved) to his Gran’ma (Betty Buckley), a witch who has few soft spots for anyone. The plan is to get Gran’ma to bring Tulip back from the dead. But the evil granny won’t do this favor for nothing, and she demands Jesse give her his blood. Meanwhile Tulip’s soul is in purgatory, quite literally. She is in a recreation of her childhood home where she watches herself as a young girl, re-experiencing her father’s release from prison and subsequent brawls with the law. As we learn more about Tulip through her wanderings in the afterlife, Jesse and Cassidy hope she returns, despite the fact that both men remain in love with her.

This season premiere is an engaging stand-alone hour, which still threads into the conflicts that will only get bigger. “Preacher” has defined itself with a gothic visual style that fuels the comic book antics. The opening scenes are a black and white flashback where Gran’ma carries out quite the gruesome ritual, including cutting open Jesse’s mother to get a picture of the preacher as a baby. Like “Ash vs Evil Dead,” this is the kind of ghoulish programming that is not meant for the squeamish. Jesse is sent by Gran’ma to pick up a special bottle containing an ingredient for her ritual and getting the stuff develops into a massacre. The scenes inside purgatory mix comedy with drama as the tone takes on a twisted sitcom vibe. A laughing track sounds off while Tulip remembers violent events from her past, it’s almost an homage to the famous sitcom section in “Natural Born Killers.” But it isn’t necessarily funny, but a commentary on how behind the façade of family sitcoms, there is always a hint of darkness. Dramatically this is the best section of the episode because we get to know Tulip on a more personal level. We can see the origins of the scars that have made her such a tough criminal. “God” reappears later as well, in a dog costume of course, apparently telling Tulip she has been chosen. For what, we have to keep watching to find out.

“Preacher” is also continuing to employ an old but useful trick, unrequited love. Amid all the violence and voodoo magic, the storyline that is emerging more and more is Jesse and Cassidy’s mutual feelings for Tulip. Cassidy will try and tell Jesse to do something specific for her, then Jesse, with great passive aggression, reminds Cassidy that he has known Tulip since childhood. Just as Gran’ma begins to conjure Tulip back from the beyond, Jesse will cling to her hand while Cassidy rushes to play her favorite song. It is a nice addition to the usual devils and ghouls combat that goes on in this show. 

With Tulip resurrected, now Jesse has to face his own lingering personal business. The character of Gran’ma is a little more than just your average TV witch. As Jesse’s grandmother she will no doubt take the story to interesting places. Now that she has Jesse’s blood (well, more like a sample), she will extract a heavy price.This season continues the show’s tradition of adapting outlines from the original comic book, while also spinning whole new storylines and angles. This is understandable considering if you have ever dabbled in a “Preacher” comic, you soon realize absolute fidelity to the source material would be too much for AMC’s usual dose of programming.

In a sense “Preacher” is comic book entertainment with an iconoclastic spirit. It takes old religious imagery and spins it into action TV goofiness, with lots of broken bones and splattered blood. But it also unites some interesting pop culture identities. Geeks may rejoice, but viewers who like tough guys fighting over a girl while smoking a pack day can tune in as well.

Preacher” season three premieres June 24 and airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.