Last week, it was revealed that back in 1993, Eli Gemstone refused a very large sum of money from his old associate, Glendon Marsh, for a stadium-sized house of worship. Grandaddy Roy soon blasted Glendon with a shotgun, leaving Eli and Martin to hide the body in the foundation of the Exodus rollercoaster. Like father, like son—at the onset of this year, Jesse was looking to expand the Gemstone empire by investing in Christian timeshares with Texas preaching couple, the Lissons. Yet, Eli was so dead set against his son’s idea. Was it because he didn’t take Marsh’s money and it ended in tragedy, or because he did take that cash and is still feeling the guilt of it?
Jesse—well, all the Gemstone children—have a stressful relationship with their father. In last week’s “Interlude,” most of it can be chalked up to kids being kids and typical fatherly aggravation. But as I asked in last week’s recap, how much did the Glendon Marsh incident change Eli? The death of Aimee-Leigh in 2018 has obviously had a profound effect on the Gemstone patriarch. Following what he describes as the attempted assassination attempt on himself and Amber (which undoubtedly was meant for Eli), Jesse comes to his father and suggests that the two of them handle this together. “I’ve been feeling outlaw blood coursing through these veins since I could piss standing up,” exclaims Jesse. “I know I get that from you.” Eli warns him to not get involved and just hide out on the compound. Eli doesn’t see too much of his younger self in Jesse, but suggests that Jesse thinks that this is all “a movie.” Jesse is certain that Junior had a hand in the attack.
After the attack by the “cycle ninjas,” Jesse unloaded his pistol, missing every shot only to have Amber, a secret crackshot, ding one of them off their bike, leaving Jesse holding onto his gun like a limp penis. Jesse Gemstone is not used to coming in second place; he’s the eldest son and has bullied Kelvin since they were kids. He lashes out whenever it appears someone got the best of him, be it with a zinger at Sunday dinner or in this case, his perceived emasculation by his Amber—“the whole church sucking my wife’s dick,” as Jesse says. But there is a brief moment of empathy for Jesse, as he lashes out about the narrative that’s being established where he admits that, at least partially, he’s upset that people think that he didn’t do enough to protect Amber even if it mostly is his ego getting damaged.
The Gemstones no doubt grew up with weekly Sunday school learnin’, but it comes as no surprise when Jesse completely misunderstands the moral of David and Goliath. As Jesse gazes at a painting portraying the myth, he comes up with a plan. Calling a meeting of the Second Chance Men group at the VFW, Jesse hands out “exact, scientific replicas of the sling David used to slay Goliath.” Watching this group of ne’er-do-wells swing them around, it’s surprising that none of these ding-dongs wacks themselves in the head. “You want a second chance? How about a second chance at being a man,” Jesse asks as he riles up the team to head to Memphis to send a message to Junior.
“You’ve got some balls on you boy. Reminds me of your daddy when he was a young man,” Junior tells Jesse as they descend upon him, pissing in the alley behind a wrestling venue, before they pelt him with stones from their slings. Junior concedes, telling Jesse he got the message, but Junior—snorting blow, having a good time at the wrestling match—doesn’t seem all that concerned with any Gemstones drama, so it’s still doubtful that he was the man behind the cycle ninjas. In Jesse’s mind, he’s David slaying Goliath, but how could a big-time televangelist be the underdog and a low-rent wrestling promoter be a giant?
Elsewhere, Tiffany Freeman is shacked up at Judy’s place as Eli has decided that no one should leave the grounds until more light is shed on the assassination attempt. Last we saw Baby Billy, he’d taken off from B.J.’s baptism, leaving behind his new bride and unborn child. In a rare moment of compassion, Judy sits down with Tiffany and lays out the details of Baby Billy’s sordid life. He abandoned his wife and Harmon, and the Gemstones clan cared for them in his absence. “All the men around here are fucked up,” Judy adds. As a show dealing with religious characters, a redemption arc would not be out of place: Last season, Gideon came back to the flock. As I’ve explained in previous recaps, I like to think that Baby Billy—who has now vanished, his phone cut off—is on a mission to make right what he once did wrong. But Gemstones is always full of surprises and hopefully, we get to catch up with him before the season ends.
Kelvin’s storyline with his God Squad of muscle boys this season has been the least compelling, while his relationship with Keefe is arguably the most fascinating. It’s impressive that the creatives have kept this relationship smoldering under the surface and Tony Cavelero’s creepy, meek performance brings an undeniably weird sexual tension that, coupled with Kelvin’s cluelessness, makes for some of the biggest laughs on the show. Humbled by his broken thumbs, Kelvin is losing control over the God Squad and Keefe repeatedly implores Kelvin to prove to the men how strong he is.
Tourston, Kelvin’s “gentle giant,” challenges his leadership, resulting in a cross-bearing competition God Squad section of the compound, complete with torches and robes. Keefe competes in Kelvin’s place and promptly loses as Kelvin bows down to the new leader. The one-time youth pastor has been trying to prove himself throughout the show’s run, and has failed around every turn. Eli comes to try and make peace with Kelvin and Kelvin crystalizes his whole arc—he’s worked his butt off to not simply be seen as the youth pastor who peaked at twelve. Eli’s pain is visible and it’s hard not to at least understand where Kelvin is coming from when he denies the apology—his father did break his thumbs, after all.
The episode closes with the cycle ninjas attacking Eli on a dark road; they unload machine-gun fire into Eli’s vehicle, riddling him with bullets. Eli, seemingly dead—at the least very seriously injured—falls over on the car horn and as the credits close, the horn can still be heard as well as a faint heartbeat. Why was Eli out of the compound? He ordered everyone else to stay put. What was he up to? Will the show kill off Eli halfway through the season like this, his relationship with Kelvin never resolved? And what will a big-time televangelist being gunned down mean for the church? This is bad publicity for sure, bad publicity that Eli has been trying to avoid since 1993. One of the most notable aspects of Gemstones is that it’s not afraid to take the viewer to darker places and take chances. This is a truly shocking cliffhanger in an impressive season of television.
- Judy signing her autographs “Stay horny. Judy Gemstone” and a drawing of a dick seems unbecoming of a preacher’s daughter...but completely on-brand for Judy Gemstone.
- “No, he’s not a baby. He’s a slender, silver-haired man in his late ‘60s.”
- The moment when Chad giggles as he sees Jesse getting frustrated with all the praise lavished upon Amber at their couples meeting.
- “Girl power!” “That’s sexist.” Memorable Danny McBride deliveries abound this week.
- The scene in which B.J. confronts Eli in private, stating that “the only way to get heard in this family is to go to battle,” and suggesting that the Gemstones are dysfunctional displays a moment of clarity for both B.J. and Eli.
- “Dick’s out, playboy.” “I’m aware. I take my dick out when I pee, Jesse.”
- “And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.” Samuel 17:49