After last week’s hour-long premiere, The Righteous Gemstones settled into its 30-minute format with, “Is This The Man Who Made The Earth Tremble.” Granted, series creator Danny McBride and Jody Hill have a proven track record landing half-hour episodes of pure, dark comedy goodness (See: Eastbound & Down, Vice Principals), I can’t help but feel that Gemstones deserves a full hour. The show has chops. We’re only on the second episode, and there is an ambition here that almost seems to buckle against its time limit. Then again, that could just be me freaking out because I set out to do recaps that focus on the show’s portrayal of Christianity, which has already taken a huge backseat in service to the plot. I’m actually sweating right now, but I’m fine here. Everything’s fine. How are you?
When we last left the Gemstones, Jesse, Judy, and Kelvin had just run over the blackmailers who were threatening to release a damning video of Jesse doing coke with a topless woman who is definitely not his wife. And while it seemed like the siblings protected the Gemstone name — provided no one links to them to a double murder — the opening of episode two reveals that not only are both blackmailers surprisingly alive, there’s a third one. If you thought last week’s ending was hilariously brutal, it was goddamn nothing compared to reliving those moments from the receiving end as Gemstones continues to make it very clear that it has absolutely no problem veering from dark to comedy and back again on a dime. The show also nails another pitch-perfect piece of casting by bringing in Scott MacArthur who was great on the criminally underrated The Mick. MacArthur is the man behind the devil mask, but he’s not exactly the brains behind the operation. That would be the mysterious third blackmailer played by Skyler Gisondo who goes unnamed until the end of the episode because — Surprise! — he’s Jesse’s prodigal son Gideon who ran away from his righteous upbringing to become a stuntman in Hollywood.
In the midst of watching the blackmailers unravel after their first run at the Gemstone fortune ended in body casts, Jesse and his siblings slowly learn that backing over a problem doesn’t make it go away even if it looks and sounds like you crushed at least one skull. More importantly, while Kelvin comes off as the doofus younger brother, he proves to be remarkably resourceful at tracking down their very much alive adversaries. So it’s probably not the smartest move for Jesse and Judy to literally split a pile of embezzled church money right in front of Kelvin’s face without even once pausing to offer him a cut. On top of that, Kelvin’s boy Keefe is very primed to do anything Kelvin asks, so underestimate the youngest Gemstone at your own peril.
Like I said earlier, despite being centered on a family of filthy rich televangelists, the show’s religious angle is significantly back-burnered in order to do some table-setting for the rest of the season. But there’s still enough here for me to do the bold topics thing.
As the blackmail plot reached a crescendo last week, Judy tipped her hand by pulling a quick million in cash out of an HVAC vent at the family church like it was pocket change to her. (That would be the embezzled cash that she split with Jesse right in front of Kelvin’s face.) Needless to say, embezzling church funds is obviously a thing that happens because it’s stupid easy to do. The first episode showed ushers carrying offering plates brimming with cash. Whoever dropped that money trusts it’s going from their wallet to the church coffers, but there’s a distinct lack of paper trail in that transaction.
However, there is a widespread belief amongst evangelicals that keeps embezzlement to a minimum: Pastors who steal from the church will drop dead in the pulpit. I’m not even joking. I’m going to assume this is more urban legend than statistic, but it’s very telling that Christians thinks its totally normal that God steps in if someone f*cks with his money. Children dying of cancer, mass shootings, world hunger? Can’t be bothered. Stealing from the offering plate? REAP THE THUNDER, BITCH.
After a brief glimpse during the premiere when Jesse’s son called him a “f*ggot” for giving him a kiss on the forehead, Gemstones continues to hint that a confrontation is brewing with Christianity’s backwards views on homosexuality. First, we see Jesse’s son continue to taunt him about the good night kiss after Jesse shoos his wife and kids out of Gideon’s room where he catches them lamenting his absence. Later, we see Kelvin getting a generous eyeful of Keefe’s testicles while the two are working out, so there’s clearly a situation brewing there. Granted, his older siblings seem to be committing worse acts like murder, drugs, prostitution, embezzlement, you name it, Kelvin is in for a world of pain if he’s a gay member of the Gemstones. I’ve seen this situation unfold in real life, and I wouldn’t wish that shit on my worst enemy. It’s extremely depressing. Fortunately, Kelvin has a ride-or-die ex-Satanist in his back pocket, so that should be neat.
John Goodman’s Eli is barely in this week’s episode. He literally has two scenes, and the first one is just background noise. But he does have a very symbolic moment that’s either a heavy-handed metaphor for the state of the Gemstone family or a foreshadowing of things to come. Maybe even both! While grabbing a piece of pie from the kitchen, Eli finds a hissing snake coiled up right in front of the fridge. At first, he’s slightly startled, but not overwhelmingly concerned. Sure enough, we return to find Eli expertly gripping the serpent without a single bite on him.
While the overwhelming theme of these recaps has been, “Yup, all this stuff happens,” snake handling is actually frowned upon. A lot. In fact, mainstream evangelicals will even joke about how crazy it is. It’s generally regarded as backwoods, Deliverance-type shit to the point where it’s illegal in Kentucky. Kentucky! Which is funny because the New Testament — the part of The Bible that’s supposed to be more hip and jiggy with it — has several passages that specifically say picking up serpents is totally safe if you have Jesus powers. It’s right there in the instruction manual, yet oddly, most Christians will take a pass on pissing off venomous snakes by jabbing their delicious hands at them.
So if Eli’s Van Damme move was a literal sign of things to come, you know what will topple a televangelist empire faster than one of your idiot’s sons doing coke on YouTube? Going full snake-handling at a megachurch. That’ll do it real quick. These people just want to dress up nice and tip 10% for riblets later. What the hell, man?
Header Image Source: HBO