Eli Gemstone was once lost but then he was found. It’s been suggested throughout The Righteous Gemstones that it was Aimee-Leigh who turned Eli around, getting him out of a life of crime that was calling his name. Since then, Eli has always tried to do the good and righteous thing: raise a family, help out those in need, and not fall back into old habits. He’s perpetually being led into temptation and Amiee-Leigh is his rock, even in death. This week’s episode is a near-perfect encapsulation of what makes Gemstones great, weaving sophomoric comedy into a family saga that is not afraid to take it down a darker path.
“Interlude II” opens in Christmas 1993, with the Gemstone family take their Christmas card photo, Eli and Aimee-Leigh attempting to wrangle their foul-mouthed offspring. Eli’s got big plans—too big, according to his accountant—noting that the city is building a new coliseum which means that the old one is going to be up for sale… and the Gemstones want it. His accountant warns against it, asking “Haven’t we learned anything from the Bakers and the Swaggarts?” before noting that the rich preacher thing will only bring trouble to the family. There are passing references to a Barbara Walters interview that Eli tanked which could tie into the indictment that Thaniel Block was investigating before he was murdered. But Eli perceives himself as better than them, bigger than them, and smarter than them. It’s interesting watching and listening to Eli because it’s easy to buy what he’s selling. Eli appears to be genuine when he mentions his flock and that he wants to present them with a gift at service on Christmas Day. Are we the audience suckers like his parishioners? Or is Eli Gemstone a rare mega-church preacher whose heart is in the right place and doesn’t simply have his hands in your pockets?
Last week’s cold open featured Baby Billy running out on his family; now he descends upon the Gemstones compound, top-down with Johnny Cash blasting on the radio. Baby Billy is on his usual bullshit, lying trying to weasel his way into the Gemstone clan. He claims his wife Gloria is the one who ran out on him, taking along his son Harmon, and he needs a place to stay while he sorts it out. Despite Baby Billy recounting a very sweaty Eli looking bad on that Barbara Walters interview, Eli obliges. If it’s Christmas, they should help someone out.
Eli, the once-violent enforcer, is a changed man thanks to Aimee-Leigh. There have been references to the positive effect that meeting her had on Eli’s life, but this season we’ve seen that in action. Out of nowhere Granddaddy Roy, who has Alzheimer’s, barges in wearing nothing but his undies, brandishing a shotgun. Eli returns him to his manor on the compound, but all Roy wants to talk about is his home in Arkansas as Eli mutters “Nothing I ever do is good enough,” mirroring Eli’s relationship with Kelvin, Judy, and Jesse. One of this week’s many highlights is the performances of the younger versions of the Gemstone children, particularly those who capture the foul-mouthed essence of Jesse (J. Gaven Wilde) and Judy (Emma Shannon) in particular. Their delivery matches Danny McBride and Edi Patterson so well, you’d swear they were the real thing at times.
From the start of the Gemstones’ run, Martin Imari (Gregory Alan Williams) has remained a bit of a mystery. For as big as his organization is, Eli seems to have very few confidants, and Martin is his closest, always breaking bread with the family at Sunday dinner. When Eli gets to the office the following day, he’s greeted by a chorus of employees, his little elves, all clad in purple, the color of Gemstones royalty. It’s here that Eli first meets Martin, his new accountant. They get off to a rocky start when Martin is sitting in Eli’s office chair—Eli explains to Martin “trust is earned, not given” before tossing him out of his office.
When Glendon Marsh (Eli’s old wrestling promoter) shows up at the office, Eli takes him out to lunch at Fancy Nancy’s Chicken. Glendon Glendon still just wants a piece of the pie and reveals that Junior is running the business now and he can run it into the ground for all he cares as he’s ready to retire. Glendon compliments Eli on his shrewdness in kickstarting the Gemstone Church adding that he knew Eli was something special. Eli refers to him as the master. Glendon brings up Eli’s money troubles to which Eli responds it’s really not that bad and he may have to scale back.
“Fuck that,” Glendon exclaims. “You gotta go big. The spectacle is everything, you can’t scale down”
Glendon expresses to Eli that he’s looking to get in on the Gemstones business, stating that Eli had paid off for him before and has faith he will do it again. Eli seems apprehensive but agrees to the deal. Eli is so joyous when he tells the family his plan, relating the Gemstone business to his old days in wrestling, and leaning into the showmanship of it all. The roots of his televangelist career being in pro-wrestling is inspired. Baby Billy tells Aimee-Leigh that Eli needs to watch himself and explains that Eli is just grabbing at money so he doesn’t have to be poor again. “I don’t want Eli hanging around that man,” exclaims Grandaddy Roy in a moment of lucidity. “Keep Eli away from him.” Aimee-Leigh attempts to reason with Eli, but he’s not hearing it: “You struck it rich at 12 years old. Eli and I had to scratch our way out of the dirt.” Eli grew up a poor boy and doesn’t want to be a poor man. He turns Glendon down on Martin’s advice.
On Christmas morning, Uncle Billy, in his Marlboro mile sweatshirt, receives a boombox from the Gemstone family for Christmas, but Aimee-Leigh explains that she talked to Gloria and discovered that Billy walked out on her and Harmon. Billy explains that he left them because he couldn’t provide for them; later in the episode, Aimee-Leigh implores Baby Billy to make right with his family. Looking into the past changes the perspective of events currently happening in the Gemstones timeline. There are moments when Baby Billy—one of the sleaziest members of the Gemstone family—genuinely seems to be feeling remorse for running out. When the subject of his son comes up, he displays a vulnerability; he even seems to take a fatherly shine to young Kelvin. When he left town in last week’s episode, was he running out again, or is he on a mission of peace? Eli, always trying to help people out and turn the other cheek, asks the down-on-his-luck Billy to perform at the Gemstone’s Christmas service. At the service, Eli announces that the Gemstones will be building a “stadium-sized sanctuary” for their followers to come to fight the devil in His name.
A flashback episode means the appearance of Jennifer Nettles as Aimee-Leigh Gemstone, the late wife of Eli. The hair, the glasses, the voice: Nettles’ portrayal of the Gemstones matriarch is so pure and genuine without a hint of irony that it may be the most perfect performance on the show. Aimee-Leigh is arguably the only truly virtuous Gemstone and the person that Eli places over the good Lord. It’s only when Aimee-Leigh is assailed or threatened that Eli ever loses his cool. Last week, it was Kelvin destroying her portrait that compelled Eli to break his son’s thumbs. When Glendon brings Martin to the Gemstone estate at gunpoint, the mere mention of Glendon bringing harm upon Aimee-Leigh awakens something in Eli. But it’s Grandaddy Roy who gives Glendon a blast of the shotgun, killing him instantly. Eli, Roy, and Martin bury the body underneath the Exodus. As the concrete engulfs Glendon, Eli tells Martin to call him by his first name, and a bond of trust is formed. Eli puts his father to bed, suggesting that everything was all a dream. Roy tells Eli, “You’re a good man,” but Eli doesn’t seem to believe him.
It’s no wonder why the reappearance of Junior made Eli nervous. Eli assumed he came to blackmail him (about his past or about the death of Glendon) but oddly, never feared Junior exacting his revenge. Also, the reveal that Martin was involved in the hiding of Glendon’s body suggests that—as I mused previously—Eli’s manscaping story is an elaborate lie and perhaps Eli and Junior did in fact off Thaniel block: the M.O. is the same.
As the episode flashes forward to today, Eli rides the Exodus in alone, and there is a sadness on his face. Eli did truly respect and love Glendon—he’s simply another person in a long line of people who have disappointed him. The only people who haven’t are Aimee-Leigh and Martin. Elsewhere, Junior twirls a handgun in a locker room, seemingly plotting his revenge.
- Kelvin’s prodigious piano playing suggests talent squandered. Why doesn’t he play with the church band?
- Emma Shannon seems to channel Edi Patterson at times: “What’d you find, Uncle Tickles molesting Kelvin?”
- Jesse is a little old to be getting a toy robot for Christmas, but it is on brand for him being immature.
- There are some terrific Baby Billy lines in this episode. When Aimee-Leigh tells him “you are talented, smart, and handsome” he responds “Yes I know Aimee-Leigh, I’m all of those things” and explains to young Judy Gemstone “ain’t nobody playing no dong pong in here.” Walton Goggins just has that perfect southern drawl that is the cherry on top of his delivery.
- The final shot of Junior suggests that he wants to be the one to pull the trigger on Eli, which means the motorcycle hit on Eli’s charter bus was probably not ordered by him. Then who was it? Could it be the Lissons? If Eli were dead, Jesse would certainly inherit a large sum that he could put into their timeshare. How desperate are the Lissons for Jesse’s involvement? It seems everyone is coming for the Gemstones but it may be Eli that finally brings everything down.
- We have not seen much of Eli post-1993 in flashbacks; how does this secret affect his life leading up to the start of the show? Jesse mentioned last week that Eli could be a real monster.
- “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” Deuteronomy 24:16