The following will contain spoilers for season 2, episode 5 of The Righteous Gemstones. For a recap/review of last week’s episode, click here.
The Righteous Gemstones, I’m sorry for ever doubting you. After a hum-dinger of a fourth episode of the season, HBO’s most underrated series returns with an episode equally as good. Albeit, for different reasons. This week’s episode, “Interlude II”, does not correspond to any Bible verse so we’ll skip the formalities and jump right in.
Like the first “interlude” from season 1, this is another flashback episode. Set in 1993, right after “Baby” Billy Freeman (Walton Goggins) abandoned his son, the Gemstone empire is at a (more) humble place than usual. Its facilities are a simple theater, although Eli (John Goodman) wants to open an arena. His accountant shuts down the idea, leading to Eli firing him. In his place, the familiar, eager Martin Amari (Gregory Alan Williams) takes point.
Being that it is Christmas, the Gemstone children run wild as ever. The young actors match their adult counterparts perfectly. Judy and Jesse’s actors once again spout off one-liners as if it’s nobody’s business, and the young actor playing Kelvin does a bang-up job. Really, though, it’s a pleasure to see Jennifer Nettles return to the role of Aimee-Leigh Gemstone. She radiates a matriarchal warmth that begs the question of what the alleged misconduct was the reporter was investigating in the first couple of episodes. Never mind that, as an even bigger storm comes in the form of Baby Billy.
Crashing the Gemstone family Christmas, he immediately frames his story in tragedy. He claims that his wife and son abandoned him. Thus, he reaps the rewards of the family’s sympathy. Being the snake he is, he even convinces the Gemstones his wife talked behind their back. I won’t lie, I let out a major guffaw when he tells Kelvin that his wife thought he “had the most boring haircut [she]’d ever seen. Boy needs some mousse!”. You can’t go wrong with a classic Walton Goggins line read.
More is going on in the world of the Gemstones than just Baby Billy’s arrival. Eli’s old wrestling promoter/Junior’s father Glendon Marsh (Wayne Duvall) makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Glendon wants to invest a million dollars into the Gemstone business. At first, it seems too good to be true, and it is: Glendon intends to launder money through the Gemstone business. Upon Martin’s strong advice, Eli declines the offer. As fun as it is to see the younger kids, these “Interlude” episodes are surprisingly crucial in providing some key insights into the mythos behind how the Gemstones came to be how they are.
Now that he has cast sin aside, Eli joins the family for a wonderful Christmas morning. The kids all get the gifts they want. Kelvin getting a Double Dragon arcade cabinet is a nice callback as that’s what Kelvin and Jesse referred to bonding over in the modern-day. Baby Billy is sullen as he thinks he isn’t getting a Christmas present, but of course, the Gemstones surprise him with a boombox. That’s not the only surprise. Aimee-Leigh tells Baby Bill she knows the truth about him abandoning his son.
Backed into a corner, Baby Billy of course weasels his way out of it. He plays the victim card, saying he left because he felt inadequate. Eli, out of pity, invites him to join them on their annual Christmas telecast. The telecast is a typical Gemstone spectacle. To commemorate, Eli prematurely announces that in the next year they’re hoping to build a new arena in the new year. He has faith, and he has his family’s faith behind him. The Gemstones go back to their compound to end their Christmas celebration.
This is where things get real. Martin shows up in the dead of night, but he’s not alone. Glendon is there, holding a gun to him. He’s clearly on the path to extortion, a pipe dream that is ended by a gunshot. Eli’s dementia-ridden father, Roy (M. Emmet Walsh) shoots Glendon dead. Panicked, Eli and Martin take the body and go hide it underneath their new rollercoaster, Exodus, pouring concrete over it. Eli takes his father back to his home, none the wiser.
Cut to the present day. Eli is riding the roller coaster again. Now, things are coming into focus. It makes sense why the coaster made him sick in the past and why now he can’t stop riding it, coinciding with the impending downfall of the Gemstones. At the same time, Junior (Eric Roberts) is looking over old photos of his father, cocking a gun as he does it. It’s clear now that Junior is involved somehow in the recent misfortunes involving the Gemstones. But here’s where I make a little fan theory of my own: I don’t think Junior is working alone. I think he’s working with a coalition of people who have been wronged by the Gemstones, including Baby Bill’s estranged son.
No matter the amount of theories I can make regarding this episode, one thing is crystal clear: The Righteous Gemstones is still very much at its peak. Filled with great bits galore, it’s astounding how much this show is leaving its mark as a bonafide crime drama. That’s what happens when you get David Gordon Green to direct, I suppose. No, that’s what happens when you have a team this talented allowed to see their vision through. The wait for next week’s episode just got unbearable. –James Preston Poole
Episode Rating: 10/10
Season Rating: 9/10
The Righteous Gemstones season 2 episodes 1-5 are now streaming on HBO Max, along with season 1.