The following review will contain spoilers for season 2, episode 3 of The Righteous Gemstones. For the review of last week’s episode, click here.
Coming off of the heels of a firecracker episode of The Righteous Gemstones, this week’s installment pops the brakes for something a little more light. First things first before we get into the nitty-gritty: let’s analyze the title. Episode 3, called “For He Is a Liar and the Father of Lies”, is a rough translation of passage John 8:44. This passage refers to the Devil, Satan himself. Are we meant to draw an equivalency to the Devil and Eli, or is the title merely referring to the lies that so often pervade the Gemstone family? Let’s dig in.
The rocky climax of the prior episode carries into the opening moments of this one. The Gemstone siblings are in the car with their father, Eli. It doesn’t seem as though they’ve broached the subject of his potential involvement in Thaniel’s murder. Before they can, however, they arrive at Thaniel’s residence together, seeing it burst into flames. Eli stresses the importance of the siblings saying nothing about their intended visit to Thaniel, further putting their doubt on Eli.
This doubt continues into a chuckle-worthy family meal with Jesse, Amber, and their children. As they enjoy their meal at a chicken joint, complete with a soda fountain-like gravy dispensing machine (nice touch), Jesse attempts to assuage their fears of Eli’s involvement in Thaniel’s death. Instead, they all just end up talking about hypothetical ways in which Eli could’ve dispatched Thaniel. Each more morbid than the last. It’s a fun bit, the type The Righteous Gemstones can do in autopilot.
Faring similarly is Kelvin’s storyline. Training up his musclebound stable of men, “The God Squad”, Kelvin’s latent homosexuality is played for easy laughs at one of their demonstrations. The adonis-like crew puts on an (almost) unbelievably extra performance for children in a gymnasium. The piece-de-resistance is a human pyramid. Kelvin up top, of course. You know where this is going. After repeated requests from a pyramid member below him that he’s putting too much weight on his neck, God Squadee Titus gets seriously injured. Kelvin is left with a member of the God Squad in the hospital. More pressingly, he’s got a lawsuit on his hands.
Perhaps rightfully chewed out by his father, Kelvin is left sulking in Eli’s office. There, he gets a devious idea. The three siblings call a meeting. There, Kelvin presents his evidence. A series of sketchy text messages paint Eli and Junior’s relationship in a negative light. Meanwhile, BJ brings up evidence of his own. He claims to have seen Eli riding a roller coaster that he usually refuses to ride. Having all the evidence they claim they need, the trio decides it’s confrontation time. They call Eli into a meeting at the church and, expectedly, Eli has an alibi.
Eli claims that he and Junior had gone bowling the previous night. A series of voluptuous women came to join them. Eli, out of the game for a long time, goes home with one of the women. Before going to get in the hot tub with her- wink wink, nudge nudge – he takes it upon himself to do some “manscaping”. This leads to him tearing apart his scrotum, leading to his bloodied appearance at the end of last episode. After hearing this story the kids are… not at all relieved. In fact, they’re horrified at the notion of their father “cheating” on their mom! They storm out angrily, as the truth has done anything but set Eli free.
It’s hard to know whether to take his story at face value. If it’s a lie, it’s an elaborate one. Then again, it’s a bit of lowbrow, though admittedly funny, way to take Eli off the board. Still, Junior’s clearly on the prowl for Eli, showing up in his back seat at the gas station. This is where Eli declares they’re no longer friends. Junior, rather dramatically, declares them enemies then. This is a development we all knew was coming, though it’s surprising to see their rekindling of friendship being snuffed out so soon.
The last major event of note in this episode involves Titus coming back to the fold of God Squad. When he refuses to do Kelvin’s exercises, Kelvin makes him a challenge: if he can carry a cross like Jesus Christ he can lead the God Squad. The ever-cocky Titus attempts the Herculean, or should I say Christian, feat and injures himself once again. Kelvin throws him in a cage, declaring him in “solitary confinement” for seven days and seven nights. Should this be the start of a cult arc for Kelvin, Keefe, and their squad, I’m all for it.
Like some of the jokes therein, “For He Is A Liar and the Father of Lies” feels like The Righteous Gemstones on autopilot. That being said, it continues to be sharper than any other television comedy currently airing. Danny McBride and Jody Hill are a TV dream team who could make watching anything entertaining.
The problem with this episode is that there are too many red herrings, too many beginnings of arcs to make this particular installment stand on its own. At this point, I’m unsure if either Eli or Junior are involved in the murder at all. The whole thing smells like the conspicuously absent Baby Billy Freeman (Walton Goggins). That’s not to discredit some fantastic stuff here. The laughs come steadily and Kelvin’s God Squad aspirations are sure to bloom into something darkly gut-busting. As part of the greater whole, it’s sure to be an integral episode. As a standalone, it’s merely good. –James Preston Poole
Season Rating: 8.3/10
The Righteous Gemstones is now streaming on HBO Max.