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The Righteous Gemstones allows the family's outcast to shine bright

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Eli Gemstone spends a lot of time worrying about his sons. He frets over their performance, their ability to carry on the family name, and what they’re doing with their personal lives. The first season has threatened some sort of coming apart for this family; namely, the looming threat of the leaked video tape forever tainting Jesse in the eyes of his father. Eli’s always assumed his boys were the ones that needed to be watched, because they were the most likely to disappoint him. But in doing so, he neglected his daughter, Judy, and “Now The Sons Of Eli Were Worthless Men” shows that she’s the one with the power to divide the Gemstones.

“Now The Sons” might be the funniest episode of the season so far. It begins with a cold open that features Jesse and Kelvin trying to hide the blackmailer’s totalled van, Keefe creepily eating a slice of processed cheese, and Judy commenting on Keefe’s “mushroom tip.” It’s a hilarious start to the episode, and it doesn’t let up from there.

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Two events drive the jokes and plot this week. There’s Jesse trying to wrap up this whole deal with his blackmailers, and there’s Judy getting fed up with being sideline in the family business, and finding a compassionate shoulder in Baby Billy. These two stories work in tandem to show how the Gemstones family dynamic is one of competition and one-upmanship, as encouraged by the family patriarch. While Jesse tries to cover up his misdeeds, Judy tries to get noticed. Neither attempt will probably work out how they hope.

For his part, Jesse believes he’s put his problems in the past. When Scotty calls him and says he’ll release the video unless he gets his van back, Jesse calls his bluff and leaves the man flustered. Jesse celebrates, proud of his moment of bravado, and arranges for a symbolic ceremony to declare the end of this nonsense. Of course, his problems aren’t going away. They literally show up on his doorstep in the final moments of the episode.

That storyline is moving along nicely, but it’s also the least interesting part of the season. Skyler Gisondo is doing good work as Gideon, portraying a young man increasingly torn between rebelling against his family and embracing them for who they are, and any shouting match between Jesse and Scotty is worth a few laughs, but the whole thing is just missing something. It doesn’t quite have the emotional undercurrent happening elsewhere in the show, even as Jesse does his best to reconcile with Gideon. It also feels a little too predictable, too by the numbers. The planned heist, the eventual acceptance of Gideon back into the family, and the moment that should be coming soon, where Gideon must choose between Scotty and the Gemstones. It’s all entertaining, but it’s lacking that extra substance that’s present in the feud between Eli and Baby Billy.

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That feud is tremendously intriguing because it carries so much history. Walton Goggins and John Goodman are able to do so much with so little. They’ve taken a silly story and imbued it with gravitas and emotional heft. You can feel the bad blood between the two, even in the rare moment when they’re getting along. Having Aimee-Leigh as this hallowed figure, adored in different ways by both men, gives the relationship a complexity that’s fascinating, and that grounds all the middle fingers and insults.

Last week’s flashback episode was a perfect bit of storytelling, a funny, compelling ode to the joys and frustrations of navigating the family unit. This episode isn’t better, per se, but it does expand on Aimee-Leigh’s story in a way that feels more consequential. Last week’s episode was necessary to understand what happens here, as Eli and Baby Billy go toe-to-toe once again, this time as Baby Billy recognizes that Judy is feeling unappreciated by her father. So, he brings her on as the new Aimee-Leigh, adorning her in clogging shoes and performing “Misbehavin’” at the next church function.

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We know Baby Billy. We know he’s doing this for his own good. He’s using Judy—she’s billed on the poster as “Aimee-Leigh’s daughter”—and Eli knows it too. What Eli doesn’t understand though is that Judy doesn’t care. She just wants a chance to prove herself, and Baby Billy, no matter how manipulative he is, has given her that opportunity, and it comes on the heels of yet another dismissal from her father.

Once Judy is given that moment, she shines. Eli sees that, and the episode executes a truly beautiful moment of recognition and regret. As Eli watches Judy sing “Misbehavin’” he sees Aimee-Leigh. He sees that Judy is the purest connection to the wife that he loved so much. He’s spent so much time mourning the loss of his wife that he failed to see he hasn’t completely lost her, because Judy is still here, ready to step into her momma’s shoes. Eli, standing in the back, smiles. It’s a smile of mixed emotions. He’s proud, but he’s also filled with regret. Goodman, so great in these small moments, conveys Eli’s realization with the slightest change of expression; a face that beams, and then subtly falls, a pit-of-the-stomach reckoning settling in. The Righteous Gemstones is so good at executing these types of moments.

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Stray observations

  • “When you’ve got star talent like this, a little Jesus house in shit town don’t seem so hot.”
  • Judy: “I’m going to move to Malibu, shave my pussy, and learn to surf.” Jesse: “Shave your pussy? Why are you going to shave your pussy?” Judy: “So I can surf faster, Jesse!”
  • Those Gemstones family photos, my goodness.
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About the author

Kyle Fowle

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.