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A change in perspective keeps The Righteous Gemstones rolling

Illustration for article titled A change in perspective keeps iThe Righteous Gemstones/i rolling
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“Is This The Man Who Made The Earth Tremble” begins before the final events of last week’s two-part series premiere. The shadily organized deal for the video of Jesse snorting coke is about to go down. As “The Devil” hilariously muses on the misconceptions about Thailand, Jesse, Judy, and Kelvin roll up with their duffel bags of money. We know how this ends because we saw it in the final scene of last week’s episode: Jesse gets the drop on The Devil, Judy and Kelvin join in on beating him, and then the second person in the van starts shooting. The chaos ends with The Devil and his partner both run over in the parking lot, and the Gemstones situation a whole lot worse than before.

Directed by David Gordon Green, this episode broadens the scope of The Righteous Gemstones immediately, and the opening scene is a perfect example of what makes the team of Green, Jody Hill, and Danny McBride click. It’s a scene that beautifully encapsulates the wild swings in tone that the show goes for. One minute we’re meant to be laughing at The Devil and his Thailand thoughts, then the next minute Green is framing the shootout through the van’s windshield, placing us right in the seat of the action and allowing us to hear the dialogue of the people we’re previously meant to think of as antagonists. But their dialogue, if not exactly sweet, at least grounds them as real people caught up in a bad situation.


It’s horrifying to watch The Devil—Scotty, as it’s revealed—lay on the ground, his face bloodied asking after his girlfriend Lucy, the other limp body in the parking lot while the third person can’t figure out what the hell to do next. The Righteous Gemstones pitches this moment, and the getaway in the van, as harrowing and frightening, even if these people are less than good. We feel something for them. Then, the punchline: Scotty tossing what he thinks is a dead Lucy down a hill, only to here her mutter “help” when she hits the bottom. Cut to the opening splash of the glittering The Righteous Gemstones title sequence, and you have a brilliantly executed bit of dark comedy.

That energy, that ability to swing for the fences and then rein things back in when needed, drives this episode, and gets the season moving in a more furious fashion than last week’s excellent premiere. The family dynamic that anchored “The Righteous Gemstones” is put on the backburner for 30 minutes, as “Is This The Man Who Made The Earth Tremble” spins into two stories, following the Gemstones trying to track down their blackmailers—the next morning, Jesse attempts to write off the missing bodies as a miracle, but even he’s tuned into his bullshit—while Scotty, Lucy, and the younger kid who got them to the hospital go on the run and try to come up with a new plan.

Scotty is quick to throw out an idea—I’ve been thinking about what we should do next. I think we should murder them.”—and his violent streak once again allows the show to find humor in the absurd and terrifying. Scotty is a cruel man, forcing Lucy to pick up her own food despite being mostly immobile in casts. The thing is, every scene with these people is a sight gag. They’re trying to be menacing, and it’s all undercut by the casts and neck braces and bruises. When Scotty records another threatening video to once again blackmail Jesse for more money, having made a backup copy of the cocaine video, he has to be covered in a blanket so that all of his damage won’t be revealed. It’s hilarious, and only gets funnier when Lucy and the third person criticize Scotty’s line delivery as “empty” and “a parody of itself, like you’re trying to be in a movie.”

Eventually, the stories dovetail in a way that’s easy to see coming, and yet still incredibly satisfying. At home, Jesse is taking out his stress on his family, yelling at them for hanging out in Gideon’s room. Gideon is the child he’s disowned, the one who went off to Los Angeles to become a stuntman. He’s apparently doing well for himself, and that makes Jesse even angrier. He hasn’t been able to track down his blackmailers, despite several truly terrible attempts, and now he has another problem on his hands: Gideon has come back home. Of course, the third person in the blackmail incident is Gideon, and now he’s on to Plan B to secure the money. After a funny, thrilling half hour, it’s a fantastic setup for the rest of the season.


Stray observations

  • I love the scene where Jesse and Judy argue about how to split the money, starting out by giving a share back to the church before deciding to just split it 60/40.
  • Kelvin’s buddy, who would kill himself if Kelvin asked him too, is like Chekov’s gun just waiting to go off.
  • Two classic ridiculous fights in this episode: one in the tire shop, and the other in the motel.
  • Fantastic reveal at the end. Definitely ready for Gideon to make this series a whole lot messier.

Kyle Fowle is a freelance writer based out of Canada. He writes about TV and wrestling for The A.V. Club, Real Sport, EW, and Paste Magazine.

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