This Righteous Gemstones review contains spoilers.
The Righteous Gemstones Episode 9
After an incredibly fun, strong first season that gave us such delights as Walton Goggins’ portrayal of Uncle Baby Billy, an earworm like “Misbehavin’,” and a new oddball Edi Patterson character, it’s heartening to see The Righteous Gemstones absolutely stick the landing with the season finale. If we didn’t know the show had already been picked up for a second season, “Better Is the End of a Thing Than Its Beginning” could even serve as a series finale; the episode wraps up virtually all of the season’s stories in a tidy bow. Still, “Better Is the End of a Thing Than Its Beginning” isn’t just a dutiful tying of loose ends, as it may be the season’s funniest, yet simultaneously most searching episode. It’s one of the most satisfying conclusions of the year and should be a contender on our Best Episodes list come December.
A flashback to Aimee-Leigh’s deathbed and the remaining Gemstone family members’ hysterical reaction to a bee sets the tone for the episode, highlighting that the moment Aimee-Leigh died, this powerful family immediately came unglued. Moving forward to the present day, we see that the descent has reached rock bottom. At the site of Scotty’s murder, Eli tears into his children, particularly Jesse, for hiding all of the blackmail business from him. In the process, Eli unearths other ugly secrets, like Jesse’s attack on Johnny Seasons and Judy’s money smuggling. Disgusted with his children, Eli fires them from their positions in the church and alludes to cutting them off all together.
It would seem that the Gemstone children’s natural inclination would be to point the finger at each other and in-fight even further, but just like in the premiere episode, they use a moment of adversity to come together. While watching the most infamous scene from Neverending Story, the Gemstone siblings take turns giving each other reassurance that everything will work out, even if it feels a bit half-hearted. It’s an accurate depiction of how sibling relationships can be; even if you have issues, you still are family, even if begrudgingly. The scene is oddly emotional in a way.
Disappointing their father is the least of their worries; Jesse and Judy are consumed with trying to mend things with their significant others, while Kelvin has a way more ridiculous internal crisis about whether he’s Jesus or Satan. Adam Devine has been doing solid work all season, but he’s never been better than in this silly moment where he’s worried that he may not actually be the son of God. Jesse and Judy’s reaction helps sell it even more as a comedic highpoint.
Off on their own to fix their issues, Judy meets with BJ to try and rekindle their broken relationship. I’ve praised Edi Patterson’s work repeatedly, but she’s never been better than when telling BJ about her relationship history, which amounts to one relationship with a former professor. Deadly serious, Judy recounts the story complete with details like her “snail trail,” how the professor “shot,” some light child kidnapping, and restraining orders. It’s batshit crazy and super funny, cementing Judy and BJ as my favorite pairing on the show. Later on, BJ tries to pull a Say Anything and stand outside Judy’s window to win her back, but gets tazed by Gemstone security in the process. Ultimately, the pair reconcile in a warped, raunchy version of an 80’s teen movie conclusion. It’s absurd and perfect.
Speaking of absurd, Kelvin’s dark transformation and resignation to his youth group is another great showcase for Devine, but it’s all overshadowed by the Keefe rescue mission. After seeing on Instagram that Keefe has regressed to his Satanic ways, Kelvin travels back to the industrial goth party factory to rescue his loyal follower. What he finds is twice as insane as anything that’s come out of Judy’s mouth. Keefe, now calling himself “the baby,” is in what looks to be a sensory deprivation-like chamber trying to recreate the womb, complete with milk and a leather body suit that leaves only Keefe’s penis exposed. It sure is, uh, something. After waking Keefe up, he immediately agrees to return to Kelvin’s side. Mission accomplished.
Jesse’s situation is a bit more complicated. Looking for sympathy for losing his job, Jesse goes to Amber, but he only angers her further. To her, Jesse is still being selfish, caring more about his job than his family. To really begin the process of healing, she tells him that he’ll have to travel to Haiti, where Gideon has gone to do missionary work, and bring him back. Dutifully, Jesse boards a plane and finds his son in Haiti, but Gideon isn’t keen on returning. Once again, Jesse and Gideon share an emotionally affecting scene where Gideon talks about his missionary work as a means of righting his wrongs and finding peace, and he chastises his father for wanting to make the bad things in his life go away, but not actually wanting to make them better. When Jesse returns without his son and makes a last attempt at a sincere apology, it’s too little too late. Amber tells Jesse that she wants him out of the house, and respectfully, he obliges.
Left with nothing else, Jesse dedicates himself to being “a detective” and takes it upon himself to search the scene of the crash for evidence on who may have stolen the money. Kelvin finds a Jesus figurine and Judy identifies it as the one from Baby Billy’s car. When they deliver their intel to Eli, it’s enough to help him forgive his children, but he also assures them that he will not forget. The entire family travels to Freeman’s Gap, where Baby Billy hasn’t even tried to hide his new influx of cash, sporting a new fountain, car, boat, swimming pool, and lots of fancy clothes. For the final time, a confronted Baby Billy rails against Eli and his grudge over having Aimee-Leigh taken from him, but in the midst of his angry rant, he’s struck by lightning. The lightning moment felt a little too telegraphed, but the episode immediately makes up for it by reintroducing the bee from the cold open as they pray over Baby Billy’s body, indicating that it may be the spirit of Aimee-Leigh watching over them.
What follows is a mostly heart-warming montage, finding Judy and Kelvin back working at the church, Keefe back in God’s light, and even sees Eli offer Johnny Seasons the church that Baby Billy was running. It’s a nice way to acknowledge a storyline that faded from focus and never really paid off. Though Jesse leaves home, we see him travel back to Haiti to work alongside his son. It’s the perfect cap on their reconciliation and feels like a real growth moment for Jesse, something that we don’t see happen very often for Danny McBride characters.
The Righteous Gemstones unsurprisingly turned out to be a compelling and truly funny comedy, but it also saw McBride and company stretch their abilities and deliver something more ambitious and poignant. What could have been a ruthless takedown of Christianity never really went for cheap shots or easy laughs, meditating instead on family, greed, and honesty. A successful season ended with a heavenly finale. Oddly angelic for this crew.
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.