After the grand return of the Gemstones clan in the two-part premiere, “For He Is A Liar and The Father Of Lies” finds the show dialing things back in a plot-heavy outing that sacrifices the laughs but appears to set the story in motion for the remainder of the season.
As episode three opens, the Gemstone children, alongside Eli (John Goodman) and trusted confidant Martin (Alan Williams), return to the scene of the crime where Thaniel Block (Jason Schwartzman) was murdered, his Airbnb now ablaze. Jesse (Danny McBride) and Judy (Edi Patterson) reconvene with Kelvin (Adam Devine) the following morning at his God Squad headquarters where the youngest of Eli’s children expresses that he doesn’t want to be a youth minister the rest of his life. Kelvin, surrounded by his cadre of sweaty beefcake, plowing fields, chopping wood, offers his mission statement: “We lift, we pray, and we are mindful of our diets. Clean livin’, being ripped, getting high on Christ.”Jesse is convinced that Eli and Junior are behind the murder of Block but Judi and Kelvin are not as easily persuaded. Meanwhile, Junior (Eric Roberts) attempts to visit Eli at the compound but is turned away.
At a performance by Kelvin’s God Squad where the men break boards, rip phone books, and perform other feats of strength—displaying “their virgin power”—before joining in a Christian muscle man pyramid with Kelvin on top. It ends badly with several of the men injuring themselves when the pyramid collapses. Eli tells Kelvin that the “injured muscle boy” is now suing the church as he lambastes Kelvin to grow up. This leads to a scene full of steamy—and extra weird—erotic tension Kelvin reveals to Keefe that he and his siblings discovered the dead body of Thaniel Block and that he thinks he may have murdered him. As I mused in last week’s recap, I’m curious how far the showrunners will take Kelvin and Keefe’s relationship this season or let it bubble underneath the surface for more of the show’s run.
Gideon, now moved into the late Granddaddy Roy’s old mansion, reveals to Jesse that he discovered an old steamer trunk full of photos and articles from Eli’s Memphis wrestling days explaining that Eli was an enforcer for his former promoter—Junior’s dad—Glendon Marsh. Meanwhile—while out rollerblading—B.J.(Tim Baltz) finds Eli riding The Exodus, a roller coaster in the Gemstone amusement park, over and over again, a ride that Judy explains Eli always hated and would never ride with her because it gave him “bubble guts.” Judy thinks it’s part of the case, Jesse disagrees.
Kelvin gets his hands on Eli’s and delivers it to his dim-witted siblings and in one of the episode’s funniest bits, the kids try to figure out what their dad’s birthdate is—it’s the password to the phone—and not only do they have to Google it, but it turns out they all missed it a week ago. A sharp encapsulation of self-involved and selfish the Gemstone kids are. They discover two text threads, one from Eli and Martin and one from Eli and Junior, that appear to incriminate the Gemstone patriarch: Eli asking Martin to clean up a mess and Eli texting junior: “Last night reminded me of old times; you set ‘em up, I knock ‘em down.” Jesse is the most pleased with the suggestion that his father is involved in criminal activity as he’s looking to take over the Gemstones empire sooner rather than later—and to get in bed with the Lisson’s Christian time-share—and sees this as a perfect opportunity to do so.
When the kids finally do confront Eli, he reveals that he and Junior went out bowling with some hairdresser friends. Junior left with one of them and Eli takes the other home she invites him in for a nightcap. Eli retries to the bathroom and explains that he had just read an article on manscaping and decides to give it a try… and fucking it up pretty bad, cutting his junk, and bleeding out. The manscaping bit feels like it was cribbed from a forgettable 2007 comedy (does anyone even use the term “manscape” anymore?) and is not up to snuff with the original, raunchy, edgy comedy normally associated with the show. That said, Eli’s manscaping story does sound like utter bullshit, so maybe it is an elaborate lie (hence the episode’s title) concocted to cover his tracks and in fact, he and Junior did have something to do with Block’s murder.
Back at the compound, Kelvin takes his muscle men to task. The pyramid incident has found the God Squad losing faith in him as a leader and in a very cultish set price, Kelvin challenges Titus of Tampa Bay to bear a giant cross. When he fails, he’s put into a tiger cage to spend 7 days in solitary as Kelvin reiterates that he is the leader. This week finds us exploring the intention of Kelvin’s God Squad deeper, as it’s revealed that hue is trying to come into his own as a Gemstone, not happy with being thought of simply as the baby of the family or a youth minister, looking for something grander to hang his hat on. The theme of this season seems to be pride and power—Kelvin’s to make a name for himself and Jesse to take over the family business—the struggle to obtain it, keep it, and pass it on.
The episode ends with Junior confronting Eli and Eli severing all ties. “I’ll tell you what: if we ain’t friends, we enemies. How about that?” as a cover of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” plays over the credits.
Hardly a misstep, but the episode (credited to McBride, Chris Pappas, and consulting producer Kevin Barnett) gets bogged down in plotting—albeit necessary plotting for a comedy that relies heavily on the soapy Gemstone family drama—and doesn’t deliver the big laughs expected from the show. The rollerblading and manscaping bits are dated and are arguably the comic centerpieces of the episode and fall flat. It’s rare that a comedy’s plotting is so dense, but it’s one of the elements that elevate The Righteous Gemstones above typical fare and one of McBride’s—and episode director David Gordon Green’s—strengths is the ability to expertly balance the drama and laughs, but this week, it doesn’t come together as it should.
- The Fancy Nacy Gravy Freestyle machine: can’t tell if it looks disgusting or delicious.
- Jesse doing a fake echo saying “kill, kill, kill” in the temple.
- Judi’s magnifying glass.
- Still no Uncle Baby Billy.
- The sequence at Fancy Nancy’s Chicken featuring Jesse and the kids debating how Eli would go about murdering a reporter is a gem.
- “The righteous hate what is false, but the wicked make themselves a stench and bring shame on themselves.”