This Righteous Gemstones review contains spoilers.
The Righteous Gemstones Episode 3
At the beginning of The Righteous Gemstones’ “They Are Weak, But He Is Strong,” Baby Billy Freeman (Walton Goggins, in his second collaboration with Danny McBride) tell his much younger wife, “Aunt” Tiffany, that they’re about to enter a much larger world. The pair are preparing to leave behind the Freeman ancestral home, shamelessly converted to a museum to sell Aimee-Leigh’s legacy. That promise of a larger world from Baby Bill to Tiffany also doubles as a promise to the audience, as three episodes in, the scope of the Gemstone’s world and their cast of supporting characters continues to expand.
Casting Goggins as the fame and self-obsessed con-man preacher Baby Billy is a stroke of genius. From his white hair to his slow hobble, Goggins is able to evoke laughter without uttering a line. When he does get a chance to speak, Goggins imbues him with the same oddball Southern eccentricity he brought to his role in Vice Principals. Baby Billy is being brought back into the Gemstone fold to head up the Locust Grove church, which happens to sit in a shopping mall’s abandoned Sears. Despite the fact that Baby Billy and Eli don’t quite see eye to eye, Eli needs someone he can trust, and Baby Billy is a famous name to lead the new church in an area that already has so much competition. Baby Billy and Eli’s conflict-filled past is just another chapter in the Gemstone family history, which continues to sprawl outward. The world building done in the hour-long premiere was impressive enough, so it’s exciting that there’s still more of this world to flesh out.
After Baby Billy’s first service, he senses that there’s something off about Eli, and Eli’s children explain how Eli has been sad and distant since Aimee-Leigh’s passing. After Eli and the family leave the mall, they find that someone has placed fliers on all of the cars in the parking lot detailing the Gemstone family’s past troubles and crimes. They immediately identify Johnny Seasons as the man behind the flyers, and Billy and Eli head to service at Seasons’ church to hash things out. Billy, a grown man that still calls himself “Baby” and refers to church-work as “the industry,” believes himself to be capable of relating to “the common man,” but when his brief interaction with Seasons starts to go South, Eli retaliates by throwing a church through a stained-glass window. That dust up then causes Eli and Billy to fight, with Eli attacking Billy’s character and Billy revealing what Eli’s children have been saying behind his back. In the end, Eli pushes too far, and Baby Billy quits in a huff.
Meanwhile, Jesse is both still bitter about Gideon running away and jealous about the attention that he’s receiving now that he’s returned home. Blustery with a bruised ego is McBride’s go-to move, but unlike his past characters, Jesse’s hurt seems deeper. Family clearly means a lot to Jesse and the fact that he’s having issues with Gideon and now Pontius is impacting him more than he’s let on. Gideon is playing the good son all while pricing out his family’s belongings on behalf of Scotty, but when Scotty makes it plain that he’s not interested in anything other than cash, Gideon shifts is strategy and tries to feign interest in learning the ins and outs of the church so he can get closer to all of the cash their evangelical empire makes.
The episode’s best scene comes after a contentious family dinner, when Eli confronts is children about the things they’ve been saying about him. The Gemstone children just explain that they’re worried about their father and hate seeing him upset. The four of them quickly shift to making fun of Baby Billy, and laughing and enjoying each other’s company, they seem like a happy family. It’s the least cynical scene in any of McBride’s HBO comedies and proof that this show’s stealth heart could be its strong suit. The warm moment allows Eli to see that he should apologize to Baby Billy and he heads off for the mall.
Unbeknownst to Eli and Baby Billy, who’s cleaning out his belongings from the church, Johnny Seasons has also sent a posse to the Gemstone church to do a little vandalizing. Baby Billy gets noticed by the masked thugs and they move to attack him, but just in the nick of time, Eli arrives with a gun. He orders Seasons’ men to strip down naked and forces them to walk themselves out through the mall as a message to Johnny Seasons. After the pathetic nude men leave, Eli and Baby Billy share a hearty laugh and makeup. Once again, it’s refreshing to see the constant sniping and barbs stop for a moment and see these people act like a real family.
If the Righteous Gemstones has more aces up its sleeve like Baby Billy, then we could really be in for something special here. With the flashes of genuine heart and the extensive world-building, Gemstones is adding delicious layers to its twisty Fargo-esque crime story. McBride and his brain trust clearly know what they’re doing here, and I can’t wait for the Gemstones’ world to sprawl out even further.
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Nick Harley is a tortured Cleveland sports fan, thinks Douglas Sirk would have made a killer Batman movie, Spider-Man should be a big-budget HBO series, and Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson should direct a script written by one another. For more thoughts like these, read Nick’s work here at Den of Geek or follow him on Twitter.