One of the best things about the TV shows created by Danny McBride and Jody Hill is the way every episode expands the created world just a little bit more. Every season/series premiere acts as a setup in some way, but there’s never a full reveal of all the cards. Instead, the creators hone in on a certain dynamic or theme, and then use the rest of the episodes to complicate, challenge, or completely upend the expectations.
The series premiere of The Righteous Gemstones gave us an intimate look at the Gemstone family and how they operate both personally and professionally. We met Jesse and his family, including a docile wife, estranged son, and another son all too happy to rebel against the Gemstones’ religious ways. Eli Gemstone sat at the top of the family, a widowed patriarch. Then, the episode shifted, turning the light satire of megachurches into something more resembling a comedic crime film, and following that up with a hilarious look at the inept criminals doing their best to blackmail their way into some church money.
“They Are Weak, But He Is Strong” continues the streak of the show indulging different tendencies and tones, while grounding it all in the slightly turned up absurdity that makes the show such a solid black comedy so far. The third episode of the season begins by introducing us to Baby Billy Freeman (Walton Goggins), in all of his bare ass glory. Baby Billy (everyone calls him that) is outside his rundown home, sitting in a bathtub looking out over a pond. His much younger wife, Tiffany (Valyn Hall), comes outside to hear him state that this is their time, and that life is about to turn around. The great Baby Billy Freeman will finally return to his glory as he becomes the latest head pastor under the Gemstone church banner.
As the episode rolls on, more about Baby Billy is revealed. He’s Aimee-Leigh’s older brother, meaning he was once truly part of the Gemstone family, his sister married to Eli. He also used to have some sort of successful musical duo with Aimee-Leigh. Now he’s on the outs though, just grateful to be taking his rightful place within the church. He believes he’s a star, and that the Gemstones have finally recognized that.
While Baby Billy learns about his new situation, running a church inside a mall, located where the Sears used to be, Gideon must also adapt to his new situation. He’s regaling his brothers with stories of meeting Vin Diesel, but his father isn’t moved by his tall tales of life in Hollywood. He’s cold with Gideon, still hurt by the way he left his family behind. Amber tried to get him to ease up, but the Gemstones are nothing if not focused in their grudges.
“They Are Weak, But He Is Strong” plays with this family trait in interesting ways. The episode is structured around the complications of “coming home” in one way or another. For Baby Billy, that’s once again aligning himself with the Gemstones. Jesse, Judy, and Kelvin are glad to have him back, but Eli eventually unloads on him, taking him to task for not being there when Aimee-Leigh was dying. It’s similar to the reception Gideon gets from Jesse.
And that’s the essence of McBride’s “misunderstood angry men” trilogy. Just because they’re misunderstood doesn’t mean they deserve sympathy at all times, but it does mean these men are more complex than they seem. Jesse doesn’t fit neatly into the coke-snorting, dictator father type that he plays up, just as Eli isn’t simply a distant patriarch who’s only focus is on the expansion of his religious empire.
Rather, there’s depth of feeling here, and that’s a complicated thing for men like Jesse and Eli. They don’t know how to handle the contradiction that comes with being hurt by someone and also wanting them in your life. They have no clue how to navigate that murky area, and that results in bursts of anger. The best moment of the episode comes when Jesse can see that inability in his father, criticizing him for making Baby Billy feel unwelcome despite being family, and yet doesn’t have enough self-awareness to see that he’s repeating the same pattern with Gideon. Eli calls him out on it, and both men have to sit there and ponder how they’re failing to live up to their own ideas of what it means to be a man of family and God.
- “Okay, now we don’t know who Telly Savalas is?”
- “All across America capitalism is crumbling, and that’s where we step up.”
- Baby Billy immediately plays to his former Sears audience, acknowledging that while they can no longer buy appliances and furniture, they can buy Jesus now.
- “You are forgiven for my suspicions of you.”
- Baby Billy diagnoses Eli’s problems when it comes to dealing with Reverend John Seasons: “You have elitist tendencies, which are not pretty.”