The Righteous Gemstones Recap: A Little Write-up Piece


The Righteous Gemstones Recap: A Little Write-up Piece

Jesse, Judy, and Kelvin Gemstone are constantly at odds with each other. They squabble during every Sunday brunch. They relentlessly savage each other’s romantic partners. When one of them fails, the others radiate schadenfreude like baby Jesuses bathed in heavenly light. They all imagine themselves leading the Gemstone flock after their daddy is gone, and so naturally they’re inclined to chart their own path and hope their siblings’ paths lead to deep and lasting humiliation. And yet, when Eli Gemstone asks everyone in the family not to mess with the journalist who’s investigating the Gemstone empire and to refer any inquiries to the church’s legal team, the Gemstone children are absolutely a unified front. Daddy’s strategy is crazy. And it’s now up to them to save their family from his unfathomable prudence.

The only question is how. Do they get a crew together and attack him at his Airbnb, as Junior and the Maniac Kid might have done in late ‘60s Memphis? Or do they let Judy work her seductive charms and “jack him off just a little bit”? (“Daddy, I can just get him hungry.”) That they have no actual plan cuts to the heart of The Righteous Gemstones as a satire of American power. It’s not just that Eli’s strategy seems weak to them — a passive acceptance of fate rather than an active attempt to stamp out a threat. It’s that the very idea of a strategy is anathema to the Gemstone kids. They have spent their lives barreling full speed into every situation — or valet stand — and the universe hasn’t punished them for it. Why stop now?

However, it would appear these mealy, worm-filled apples haven’t fallen that far from the tree. After the last episode reacquainted Eli with Junior, his malevolent buddy from his wrestling/thumb-breaking past, something has shifted in him, too. We’ve never seen this Eli Gemstone before, and it initially seemed to me like a mistake in the writing to have him behave so out of character, especially in the sobering light of day, after his run-in in the parking lot. He has been, relatively speaking, the most outwardly serene of the Gemstone clan, a steady steward of corruption who raises his voice mostly to put his children in their place. When he first meets the journalist, a flagrantly snooty Manhattanite named Thaniel (not “Nathaniel,” you rubes!), he is the picture of soft power, confidently dismissing the threat that had undone the Butterfields, even as Thaniel talks about going after Eli’s late wife. “Good luck with your little write-up piece,” he tells Thaniel, projecting confidence that nothing will harm him.

But Eli is not himself on this day. Or maybe he’s simply fallen off the Godly wagon. Earlier in the morning, Judy and BJ arrived to find him sleeping off a hangover on his couch while Junior comes strolling through from his bedroom with an open robe and “morning chub.” Judy got the wrong idea about Eli and Junior’s relationship — or maybe just the wrong idea about how a gay tryst of any kind might actually work. (“Y’all are hanging out here being rough with each other like grizzly bears doing donkey punches, tussling each other, getting each other hard.”) But the real weirdness she missed is how Eli seemed completely at ease with Junior, laughing at his crude jokes and slipping into his role as the Maniac Kid before he found a way to combine pro wrestling and religion.

We cannot yet know all the details of what happened at Thaniel’s Airbnb other than what the Gemstones siblings witnessed (and slipped on like the Three Stooges). There’s one unidentifiable body that’s been torched beyond recognition, another that’s strewn up in a tall tree, and Thaniel lying in a pool of blood with a bullet hole in his head. Another figure approaches Judy’s Tesla with the flashlight on as the three try to make their getaway, a hilarious folly involving an onboard computer and a set of doors flailing every-which-way. We also know that Eli and Martin had some involvement in what happened because Eli turns up to his house in bloody pants after the kids, two of whom are trying to wash away the evidence in a fountain.

This would appear to be the incident that propels this season forward, much like the attempted blackmail last season, and suggests many twists to come beyond introducing a famous actor in the first episode and killing him in the second. (Cue the special guest stars on Police Squad!) There’s a big difference between attempted blackmail and a possible triple homicide, but maybe there’s not that huge a difference to the Gemstones, who haven’t yet met a sin they couldn’t absolve themselves for committing. What’s new is that Eli is at the center of these gruesome shenanigans alongside his children, and Junior can probably claim some credit for that. If the Maniac Kid remained a distant memory, perhaps he’d have followed his own advice about handling the journalist.

Elsewhere, Jesse and Amber are trying to move forward on the Lissons’ Christian timeshare scheme, which is given further legitimacy by Joe Jonas — albeit with the other brother conspicuously absent. (“You know what? All love for the Jo bros, but sometimes you’ve got to go solo.”) The Gemstones and the Lissons both have a gift for mixing the sacred with the profane: Jesse and Amber convert their giant couples therapy group into a hype session for the project (a romantic retreat at 15 percent off will save those broken marriages!), and the Lissons hold a splashy barbecue on their ranch as a fundraiser. Jesse and Amber don’t have the $10 million “initial investment” money to pour into the timeshare, however, which opens up an interesting angle into how the Gemstone children are treated with an allowance like actual children.

Credit the younger siblings for seeing what’s coming, however. When Joe Jonas talks about breaking with his bros, Jesse shares all the terrible things his siblings say to him about this investment opportunity. Like, “You’re a fucking moron.” And “This is the dumbest thing to spend fucking money on.” And “This seems like a ripoff or a pyramid scheme.” The Lissons have clearly summoned the right dupes.

Uncut Gemstones

• Love the way the show plays up Thaniel as the ultimate Big City cliché in the opening, particularly him casually snorting a line of cocaine on his armrest.

• Junior’s interest in prayer seems genuine, if only because he wants “a piece of the pie,” as his boss put it in the flashback sequence during the last episode, when they were driving through a civil rights protest in Memphis. Junior may not care for virtue, but he does understand power.

• “The point of this group is not to treat each other like assholes. The point is to rebuild what was broken, to re-establish relationships with family, friends, colleagues, the lord, and ultimately, yourself.” I’d complain about Jesse using this behind-the-scenes language among the public congregants gathered for this couples therapy group, but funny is funny.

• Jesse, after plowing through the valet stand: “I come big, or I don’t come at all. I almost clipped her. I almost did a manslaughter!”

• Jesse, bitterly lamenting his buddy back home: “Fucking Levi is damn Joe Jonas without the money, talent, or charisma. Just fucking handsome with a great head of hair and that’s it. Fucking makes me sick.”

• Great episode for Edi Patterson as Judy, especially when she realizes why Amber is wearing a revealing dress to sit near Eli at the head of the table. “Nice work, Dr. Tits,” she sneers. “Your little bag party is a shit show.”