It always felt like The Righteous Gemstones was going to stick the landing. There was never really any doubt. Across eight episodes, the show managed to maintain a remarkable level of quality. The show hardly ever wavered, balancing its comedy with pathos, thrills, family drama, and instantly infectious musical numbers. Now, there’s the finale, “Better Is The End Of A Thing Than Its Beginning,” an episode that somehow tops everything that came before it.
It begins, yet again, with a stunning cold open. McBride and company really nailed them all season long, and the one that kicks off the finale is every bit as funny and ludicrous as the others. In a flashback, Aimee-Leigh is laid up in her hospital bed during her final moments. Eli, Jesse, Judy, and Kelvin are gathered, and they’re praying at the moment that Aimee-Leigh’s heartbeat vanishes. Then, a bee buzzes around the room, everyone gets distracted, and the room gets torn apart while everyone sobs. It’s escalating comedy at its finest.
The finale is filled with bits just like that, ones that start out with an obvious joke and then just continue to beat it into the ground until it’s impossible to stop laughing. Take Judy’s attempt at getting BJ back. It’s the episode’s best scene, and Edi Patterson is simply rolling. The two meet at an Outback Steakhouse, and Judy tries to explain to BJ why she’s so bad at relationships. She confesses that she’s only had one boyfriend, and then goes into very lengthy detail about how she was attracted to her college professor, jacked him off against his will, and then kidnapped his child before the police stepped in. “Then we weren’t boyfriends and girlfriends anymore.” Only Edi Patterson can sell this winding, hilarious story, and it’s only compounded by the fact that BJ does come back to her, and says all sorts of disgusting stuff in front of a security guard when they reconcile.
Reconciliation and redemption is the theme of the episode, and it does a great job of wrapping up all the season’s storylines while offering up some real moments of change and reflection. This isn’t simple tidy storytelling, but rather something more complex and rewarding. As is often the case with McBride’s shows, the crude surface gives way to something more meaningful underneath. Here, it’s themes of family, forgiveness, redemption, and the need to reflect on one’s actions in order to grow.
We’ll get to the obvious and best example in a second, but this episode is peppered with ideas of trying to better ones self in order to live in this hellish world. There’s Kelvin, after a brief goth phase, realizing that while his family may be in shambles, he abandoned the one man who truly needed him. So, he goes back for Keefe, and finds him in the weirdest spot imaginable. McBride and company really went there with the dick-exposing suit and a milky bath, and it’s worth it. How can something be so sick and so sweet all at the same time?
There’s also, as mentioned, BJ and Judy. Their freaky romance gets a happy ending because they both decided to live more honestly, to try and be the people they want to be. None of it seems healthy or anything, but hey, those two weirdos definitely deserve each other. Then, after everything, there’s the final confrontations between Eli and Baby Billy after the Gemstone kids figure out that he slammed into Scotty’s van and took the money. McBride’s shows love to use outlandish scenes as a form of emotional catharsis, and that’s the case here too. Baby Billy tries to escape the confrontation, Kelvin tackles him to the ground and Judy slaps Tiffany, and then Baby Billy is struck by lighting and only brought back to life when everyone prays for him and he’s stung by a bee. Yes, the finale somehow manages to call back to that insane cold open in a meaningful way. Of course, this is still Baby Billy. He can’t help but go on and on about seeing Aimee-Leigh, which, knowing him, is probably a lie.
Finally, we get to the season’s central relationship: Jesse and Gideon. It’s been fraught with blackmail, violence, and lies, but here it gets the semblance of a happy ending. After coming clean, Jesse’s marriage is on the rocks, and a trip to Haiti where he can’t get Gideon to come home only makes it worse. Amber boots him out, and that leaves him flailing. Gideon sees right through this visit, accusing his father of wanting to make the “bad things go away” rather than actually reckoning with what he did and the consequences those actions brought forth.
It’s such an insightful bit of writing. This show understands Jesse, and isn’t willing to give him a break just because this is the finale. It isn’t just time to move on and set the table for the second season. And it’s in line with the Gideon we know, the boy who lashed out in a big way, but who always seemed out of place with Scotty. Here, as he’s trying to bring more clean water to the people of Haiti, he seems at home.
And so, Jesse joins him there. He shows up, without saying a word, and starts digging alongside his son. He commits to working towards forgiveness, and that freedom he’s seeking, freedom from a life defined by lies. Who knows if it will come, but for now, he’s working towards something bigger than himself.
- “Voodoo, chicken magic? Yeah, but not cannibals.”
- I can’t praise Edi Patterson enough here. What a gross, hilarious performance. “No one should have sat on that chair after me; it was damp.”
- I love that BJ thinks the Peter Gabriel song is called “Indoor Eyes.”
- “That wasn’t Jesus, that was a karate person.”
- Thanks for reading along this season, everyone. I really didn’t think McBride and company were going to be able to top Vice Prinicpals, but there’s a good chance this is their best show yet. What a ride.