Now that Kelvin and Keefe are a couple, The Righteous Gemstones has a chance to meet the moment

With anti-LGBTQ+ legislation on the rise, the next season of the HBO satire is primed to confront a side of the church that it has, thus far, avoided

Now that Kelvin and Keefe are a couple, The Righteous Gemstones has a chance to meet the moment
Tony Cavalero and Adam Devine Photo: Jake Giles Netter/HBO

This season of The Righteous Gemstones was a feel-good affair. We say this fully aware that season four opens with a woman getting mowed down by a station wagon and climaxes with Tim Baltz pulverizing a man’s testicles. Compared to the previous finale, in which Eli (John Goodman) assassinates his rivals with cold calculation, this outing was a season of growth. Jesse (Danny McBride), Judy (Edi Patterson), and Kelvin (Adam Devine) learned the most righteous thing about the Gemstones was partnerships, particularly Kelvin. After three seasons of titty twisters and credit cards, Kelvin planted one on his boy toy, Keefe. It was a triumphant moment free of irony that paid off three seasons of teasing.

It was also about time. When the season started, it felt like another nine episodes of Kelvin and Keefe coyly flirting would be an insult to the characters and the audience. That was not the case. Season three split these partnerships apart, forcing Kelvin to reckon with his relationship with Keefe and experience some pushback about this strange ex-Satanist.

Since the beginning, Devine’s had one of the most challenging jobs on the show. As the closeted gay son of a megachurch megastar, he and Keefe repressed their sexuality and projected it onto various, often bizarre projects for the church. The line between outrageous satire and queer panic is a slippery one, but the show’s magic can turn even the raunchiest set piece into something personal and emotional. The God Squad and Smut Busters have nebulous connections to Jesus, yet these schemes created a space for Kelvin and Keefe to explore each other’s bodies and sexuality without raising too many eyebrows.

Their behavior is also rooted in reality. Writing for Them, Nadine Smith casts Kelvin and Keefe’s relationship as a heightened version of what she and others have experienced. “For so many queer folks, especially those of us raised in intense religious or morally conservative environments, endless guilt and layers of denial speak more to our experience than outright expressions of love,” Smith writes. “For all its vomit gags and foul-mouthed humor, and for all the dicks it puts on-screen, The Righteous Gemstones speaks to a painful truth: repressing yourself can make you behave absolutely ridiculously.” But while the family tends to let Kelvin and Keefe enjoy their buttplugs without comment, churchgoers are less enthused.

After Keefe’s disastrous parent meet-up in episode four, Kelvin clears the air and answers for his dude. He can handle questions about Keefe’s past, but when one parent mentions “rumors” about Kelvin, he’s rattled. Several scenes later, Kelvin meets with his siblings, who accuse Keefe of “molesting” and try to convince Kelvin to fire Keefe. Kelvin isn’t ready to define their relationship and pushes Keefe away to stay in the closet. Moreover, these conversations echo the school-board meetings that resulted in Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, driving Kelvin and Keefe’s relationship from an absurd satire toward something more urgent.

Season three consciously investigates and tests the partnerships of the Gemstones, but Kelvin is the only one making a tangible change instead of reasserting the status quo. After May-May (Kristen Johnston) rescues the Gemstones from the Brothers of Tomorrow’s Fires, the siblings return to church as heroes, and Kelvin uses the moment to take things to the next level. He kisses Keefe in front of his family, to their delight. B.J. (Baltz), a proven ally on the show, nods in approval, and Jesse sucks in his cheeks and puckers his lips in pure excitement. He gets a boost of confidence from Kelvin’s decision. By the next episode, Kelvin and Keefe have matching rocking chairs, and Eli gives his son the thumbs up. While it’s a surprising emotional beat to end on for a show that can be disgusting and nihilistic, it’s unlikely this will be the end of their relationship.

The characters on The Righteous Gemstones have proven a little more tolerant of modernity than some of their flock. Though as we learned through Judy this season—and Jesse in season two—a sex scandal can jeopardize their power. With a fourth season on the way, McBride & Co. have a chance to pay off a long-running thread on the show while also confronting a side of the church they have, thus far, avoided. LGBTQ+ rights are more in danger now than when the show launched in 2019. Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, backed by religious fundamentalism, is on the rise.

It was the right time for Kelvin and Keefe to take their relationship to the next level. And by carefully laying the groundwork over three seasons, Righteous Gemstones is primed to meet the moment and deliver the chapter Keefe and Kelvin deserve.

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