Throughout the debut season of The Righteous Gemstones, Eli was painted as perhaps the most righteous of them all: gentle, kind, longing for his late wife, and prone mostly to fatherly aggravation (dad-grivation?) due to the shenanigans of his selfish offspring. That image was recast within moments of the second season premiere, when it was revealed that Eli was once an enforcer for low-level criminals in Memphis before meeting Aimee-Leigh. The Gemstone matriarch turned Eli’s life around and converted a violent criminal into one of the most popular and influential televangelists in the country. When old Memphis cohort Junior Marsh sauntered back into Eli’s life, it took little more than a dinner between friends to awaken the savage beast within Eli once again and it was only a matter of time before Eli would unleash this on one of his dimwitted children.
“As To How They Might Destroy Him” time warps back to Christmas 1993 with the return of Baby Billy (Walton Goggins), running out on his wife and child Harmon at a Charlotte shopping mall. Flash forward to the eve of B.J.’s baptism where Judy Gemstone is not happy about spending time with B.J.’s family of “filthy atheists.” Judy pines that she “always thought she’d marry an orphan with a dead family,” and whines that the Barnes clan is tedious without a shred of irony.
Meanwhile, Jesse informs the Lisson’s that he’s not going to be able to back their Christian timeshare and despite their “epic hangs,” Lyle begins to show his true colors, snapping at Jesse and Amber and calling off the burgeoning friendship...and any more potential business deals. Like Jesse, Kelvin continues to try to make a name for himself with his God Squad and a planned trip to Israel but is denied when Martin informs him that Eli has disallowed any use of Gemstone jets. In the Gemstone power struggle, everyone is trying to branch out and make a name for themselves, but nobody is able to do it on their own dime. They need that Gemstone name and more importantly, that Gemstone money to try and build their own empires. It’s easy to feel for Jesse who just wanted to be in the Lisson’s orbit and try to expand the Gemstone name beyond what his father had built and in turn, make a name for himself. But, it reveals that it may be impossible for Jesse to do anything on his own, always hitching his wagon to some rising star. Kelvin appears to have a vision in his God Squad but is unable to take it to another level without the help of his father. Back at the Gemstones HQ, a low-rent Hulk Hogan inspired heel associate of Junior’s attempts to strong-arm Eli into an apology, and Eli complies.
“Tell Junior I am very sorry, but he can go fuck himself.”
Everything comes to a head at “The Blessed Baptism Of Benjamin Jason Barnes,” Goggins sinking those big beautiful teeth into the role of Uncle Baby Billy, opening up the event with a song, the anger palpable on Jesse’s face as he enters. Kelvin’s God Squad is denied entry to the event while Judy performs an original tune with the lyrics “when a man outgrows the family of his origin, and they have no place in his life cause he’s different now, he’s got to show them out, they need to see him just go away,” as K.J., B.J.’s sister looks on in disbelief.
Afterward, Judy confronts Eli for being “emo and low energy” and ruining her big day. Eli simply appears defeated, beat down by the arrogance and selfishness of his children, calling Judy out for making the baptism about her (she’s constantly taking selfies throughout), telling Baby Billy the whole event is a joke as Boy Meets Girl’s “Waiting For A Star To Fall” plays. Billy continues to brag about his success on the Christian pop charts, explaining to Eli that he’s on the way up while the Gemstone patriarch is on the way down. “I’m not on the way down,” Eli explains and suggests that Billy have a chance to do it right this time (referring to walking out on Harmon) as his wife Tiffany has a baby on the way. The episode is co-written by McBride, Edi Patterson, and John Carcieri (a veteran of Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals) and directed by McBride, which elevates the episode. McBride is invested in these characters and fuses the high drama—and silly comedy—together expertly.
The baptism afterparty is somewhere between a prom and a wedding reception, with an American Bandstand-inspired B.J. neon, balloons, and pop songs with slightly Christian themes (“Dance Hall Days,” Send Me An Angel”). Jesse confronts Eli, explaining that he told the Lissons no, and it “broke their fucking hearts.” Eli, succinctly replies, “Jesse, I don’t give a shit.” The tension continues to bubble, Judy confronting K.J. and accusing her of trying to fuck B.J. (her brother), Baby Billy admitting that he’d always wanted to pop Eli in the face, Jesse continually whining about Eli ruining everything, and Kelvin suggesting that he would destroy Eli in a fistfight. When K.J. lambastes B.J. suggesting that he’s never going to be a Gemstone, B.J. tries to throw a piece of cake at K.J. but winds up nailing Eli in the face instead. “What the fuck was that,” screams Eli as Jesse looks on with the glee of a kid who just watched their brother get in trouble.
“You kids are an embarrassment; all of you,” an angry Eli shouts before being confronted by Kelvin in the lobby, Kelvin accusing Eli of being “a false prophet.” Kelvin attacks Eli from behind, and they scuffle as the family looks on. When Kelvin throws a bottle of champagne, barely missing Eli but smashing Aimee-Leigh’s portrait, it truly sets Eli off. “That could have killed me,” Eli shouts and Kelvin replies “I wish it would have.” Eli gets Kelvin on his knees, grabs a hold of his thumbs, and offers his son mercy, but the obstinate Kelvin refuses and Eli breaks both of his thumbs, as we saw the former enforcer do in the season premiere. It is going to be interesting to see where this goes as we’ve never seen Eli act this way towards his family (although Jesse states that “daddy can be a monster”) and if there’s any coming back from this. It’s doubtful it will force the children to change their ways, instead possibly seeing this as an opportunity to usurp the Gemstone throne… but does Eli even care about the legacy anymore? Goodman was one of the best parts of the last season and as he continues to develop, Eli Gemstone has grown into one of the best characters on television today.
While the God Squad turns their backs on Kelvin, Jesse and Amber have a laugh about what a complete shitshow the baptism had turned into before hijacking a shuttle bus intended for Eli. The bus appears to be sabotaged and breaks down, leading the couple to a desolate gas station where they fall under attack from four mercenaries on motorcycles brandishing machine guns. It can be assumed that this was a hit intended for Eli by Junior Marsh, but will this outside force compel the Gemstone family to put aside their differences and come together?
- The joy on Levi’s (Jody Hill) face during the balloon drop.
- The way Baby Billy says “toilet baby.” (Plop!)
- The last we see of Baby Billy, he’s in his droptop BMW heading Fayetteville. Did the Gemstone family drama inspire him to try and make right by his son Harmon?
- “Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” Proverbs 29:17