This Righteous Gemstones review contains spoilers.
The Righteous Gemstones Episode 5
I feel like I’m beginning to repeat myself by praising The Righteous Gemstones for its character development and world-building, but “Interlude” further deepens our understanding of the Gemstone clan, particularly Eli and Baby Billy, by taking an illuminating trip to the past. That said, even if the episode title lets us know this was intended to mark the halfway point in the series first season, I do feel like the content within “Interlude” may have been better placed elsewhere. Though it feels logical to allow us to get to know Aimee-Leigh, who’s presence still looms large in the Gemstone’s world, it certainly feels like the battle with Johnny Seasons and the fallout from Jesse’s hit and run attack on Scotty has taken too much of a backseat, and perhaps this flashback episode could have come later in the season. Still, there’s the strong possibility that all of this foundation building will allow the story to feel more impactful when we return to more plot-driven material.
Casting Jennifer Nettles as Aimee-Leigh proves to be a stroke of genius by Danny McBride and company. Nettles frequently serves as a reliable TV presenter and variety-show mainstay on CMT and network TV holiday specials, so her role as a warm, singing evangelical TV host and star seems like a natural fit. Nettles brings sincerity to the part, allowing you to see that at one point the Gemstone empire was built on good intentions and genuine charisma. I also want to single out J. Gaven Wilde as young Jesse. Channeling Danny McBride is likely a more difficult task than it seems, but Wilde perfectly captures Jesse’s bluster and rigidity. Speaking of perfectly captured, the entire vision of the 80s show in “Interlude” is spot on without being too over the top, like the latest episode of Stranger Things.
The flashback episode serves two functions. One is to highlight the beginning of Eli and Baby Billy’s animosity for one another, but also their unhealthy sense of ownership over Aimee-Leigh. Both men are jealous of one another’s relationship with Aimee-Leigh and want to be her sole partner, whether out of love or a desire of financial gain. When Aimee-Leigh discovers that she’s miraculously pregnant, she’s forced to cancel an upcoming reunion tour with Baby Billy. Desperate for cash, Baby Billy pleads with his sister to carry on with a scaled back version of the tour, telling her that if she refuses to help him, he’ll have to start selling parcels of their family’s land. Eli is steadfast against his wife going on tour with Billie, who he sees as a selfish opportunist. When it’s revealed that Baby Billy has already sold many acres of their family’s property, Aimee-Leigh decides to cancel the tour once and for all, which pleases Eli and reinforces his point. The two men know that Aimee-Leigh is the true light in their lives, emphasized by a flash back to the present day with both men wistfully remembering her, but they both look odious fighting over her like she’s property.
The other function of the episode is to show how Jesse’s childhood is mirroring his own experiences as a father with children. The young Jesse worries about a new baby in their family and begins acting out because he thinks he has so little of his parents’ attention as is. With Baby Billy’s prodding, he even takes steps to embarrass his father in front of company. This appears to be exactly what Jesse is experiencing with Pontius, and his lack of attentiveness could help explain his relationship with Gideon, besides the hypocrisy aspect that Gideon discussed in last week’s episode. Eli’s late-night visit to Jesse’s room also perfectly mirrors the night time check-ins that Jesse does with his kids. Its history repeating itself and the apple not falling far from the tree rolled up into one.
“Interlude” gets a majority of its laughs from young Judy, who delights in Jesse’s torment just as much as the adult version of the character. Eli’s father worries aloud about Eli spoiling the Gemstone kids and the glimpse at their pampered childhoods shows just why they’ve become such contemptable people. Also, Aimee-Leigh and Baby Billy’s novelty Christian country hit “Misbehaving” is as accurate as it is ridiculous. Finally, Baby Billy’s son Harmon is a glorious little odd ball, and I was genuinely moved by the affection that Baby Billy shows for him just as everything in his life crumbles. Something tells me that we’ll either be meeting the adult Harmon soon, or his absence will have some sort of impact on the story.
Though I’m anxious to get back to the action that propelled The Righteous Gemstones’ pilot, “Interlude” showed genuine heart and helped color in the history of these characters, explaining how we got to where we’re at today. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more flashbacks in the future, because Aimee-Leigh is just too compelling of a character to not revisit, and we have to learn more about her passing. Something tells me Eli and Baby Billy’s feud is caught up in that as well.
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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.