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The Righteous Gemstones wrestles with Satan

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After three straight episodes of The Righteous Gemstones putting the pedal to the floor, “Wicked Lips” feels like a necessary pause in the action. After near-murders, robberies, prostitutes, cocaine, and any number of family blowups, this is an episode that takes some time to focus on some of the season’s side stories. The show in general has done a good job giving space to a number of characters in each episode, not strictly focusing on Jesse and his attempts to find his blackmailers, and “Wicked Lips” continues that streak by giving Kelvin and Keefe their own episodic arc.

This week’s cold open is, as usual, fantastic. Keefe walks down the street eating an ice cream cone, which is a delightful and weirdly funny sight on its own. But then he runs into his old Satanist pals, and they try to lure him back to their world with the promise of new Satanic music and a party at a club Keefe is all too familiar with. He turns down the offer, and as he walks away the whole group bursts into crazed dancing as the new track, consisting mostly of the lyrics “Hail Satan,” starts pumping.

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It’s a great scene not only because it leans into that sensory-punishing maximalist style that Danny McBride and Jody Hill occasionally indulge, but also because Keefe is one of the show’s more interesting characters. The Righteous Gemstones is a stacked cast, but Keefe is a fascinating character because he’s someone who’s truly been saved by the Gemstones. He’s a true follower, a man who stands by Kelvin no matter what, and that makes him an intriguing lens to see the family through. While the Gemstones bicker and insult each other, Keefe lets us know that for all their dysfunction, this family is offering up something that has resulted in their tremendous wealth.

“Wicked Lips” isn’t quite as entertaining as the previous episodes, but it’s doing a lot of things right. The way it jumps between tones is particularly enjoyable, as various filmmaking choices point to certain influences and ideas. There’s the Scorsese-esque shots that make up the scene where Gideon takes in the entirety of his family’s business, from the moment the donations come in the door to the giant vault where a whole lot of money is stored. There’s aerial shots, quick cuts, tracking shots; it’s like the setup for a heist film—which it kind of is—showing us the goods that Gideon wants to steal while also giving us a peak at the sheer size of the Gemstones’ operation.

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Then the episode jumps to Kelvin’s storyline, which involves him being put in charge of “saving” a wealthy donor’s daughter from her bad influence of a boyfriend. The episode largely plays it straight, with Kelvin proving to be the most innocent of the Gemstones. He truly believes in his family’s purpose, he believes in his abilities as a youth minister, and he goes full bore with attempting to get the daughter, Dot, to come to youth group and maybe dump her boyfriend.

Of course, there’s plenty of craziness by the end, with Kelvin and Dot running through a Satanist night club while the cops raid the place, but for the most part the show goes a long way to make sure we understand what makes Kelvin tick. Sure, he’s trying to impress his father, just like Judy always is, but he’s also simply a true believer who thinks he can help some people out of bad situations. He’s not nearly as sinister as Jesse, who ends the episode chasing down the van of his blackmailers, and unknowingly almost killing his son when the chase causes the van to roll. Gideon and Scotty disappear into the woods, and Jesse is left holding his bright white gun, the purity clashing against the violence of the intent.

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There’s a lot of promise in that final scene. It’s the show kicking back into high gear again. The Kelvin-Dot story is great, and gives us some insight into how Kelvin views himself and his family, but it’s undeniably more interesting to see Amber start questioning her husband’s behavior with renewed scepticism after a series of leaked emails and the high speed chase. The Gemstones work because everyone is sold on an identity, told to stick to a role and not deviate. Amber’s role is to not question her husband, no matter what. But that’s changing, and that presents a lot of dramatic opportunities down the road. If the show keeps compounding twists and turns and shifting motivations at this speed, it won’t be long before chaos starts to reign in the world of the Gemstones.


Stray observations

  • Keefe tries to cover his new God-friendly ways by saying he’s just into homebrewing now: “I’m pretty busy with barley and hops and stuff.”
  • “Poverty person?” “That’s what rural means. Poverty person.”
  • How great is Adam DeVine? He’s perfectly cast as a go-getting youth minister.
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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.