When I was 19 and enrolled at Moraine Valley Community College, I took a philosophy class for which one of the required texts was a book titled Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff… And It’s All Small Stuff. Chalk it up to being dense, disinterested, or a teenager (or any combination of the three), but it took me about two decades to put that title in perspective. Living one’s life constantly worried, angry, anxious, or upset simply isn’t worth it, and it’s much more enjoyable to not hold grudges, particularly with family, because, to use another cliché, life is short. The Gemstone children, for their privilege, have been sweating the small stuff for most of their lives, constantly bickering with each other and perpetually vexing their father Eli. In last week’s episode, Eli opines to Jesse, “This damn family has everything in the world, but you can’t just all get along with one another.” This week finally finds the Gemstone children coming together, but it takes a near-tragic event to put them there.
Eli is in the hospital after being gunned down by the cycle ninjas, and while Judy and Jesse are beside themselves with sadness, fear, and guilt, Kelvin is nowhere to be seen. The Gemstone children are forced to look at themselves and their lifetime of behavior.“All you ever do is fight about what you can get; can’t you just be kind to each other,” Martin exclaims at family dinner. “Self-absorbed, arrogant, loud, fucking assholes.”
From its onset, Righteous Gemstones has focused on the relationships between fathers and sons. The thrust of last season was prodigal son Gideon returning to the flock after running off to Hollywood to become a stuntman. This time around, Jesse’s conflict with Eli over the Lissons’ timeshare has been front and center. In “Interlude II,” we saw how that relationship mirrors Eli’s with his own father, Grandaddy Roy, whom Eli protected from the law by hiding Glendon’s body. Junior also has a complicated relationship with his dad; he lives in the shadow of Glendon’s legacy as a wrestling promoter down in Memphis. We also have B.J., who is constantly seeking out Eli’s approval (and usually failing) and Baby Billy, who ran out on his son Harmon and is back up to the same old tricks.
Jesse Gemstone is growing to be a more complicated character than previously suggested. As the eldest, Jesse sees himself as the one who must serve as the family leader in Eli’s absence. With Amber by his side, he addresses the congregation, but there’s a sense of hesitation as Jesse stands on the Gemstone stage. He’s a loudmouth, spoiled rich kid and a bully to boot, but with Eli’s life hanging in the balance, he opens up to Martin, confessing that he’s the one who kicked up shit with Junior in order to protect the family, to prove to his father that he could do it. Eli and Jesse’s relationship has been at the center of this season’s drama, with Eli coming to terms with perhaps not being long for this world and the complicated legacy he left behind. On the other side of the coin is Jesse and his attempt to create his own legacy with the Lissons’ and their timeshare. Jesse has been all pomp and ego, and Eli is always putting him in his place—not giving him the money for the timeshare investment, admonishing Jesse not to seek out retribution for the assassination attempt. That’s certainly on Jesse’s mind as he believes that stepping up to Junior in Memphis with his crew is what led to the near-fatal attack on Eli.
When Jesse explains to Martin that he’s wanted to run the church his whole life—and that he and Amber talk about it during sex—he admits that now that he has it, he doesn’t want it. “I don’t got what it takes to be fuckin’ head pastor. I can’t remember anybody’s names,” Jesse exclaims in a rare and notable moment of honesty. “I don’t know who the fuck has a family and who doesn’t. I can’t fuckin’ take on the damn Dixie Mafia. I’m in over my head, Martin.”
The Gemstone family is not just blood. Martin is a part of that too, being Eli’s most trusted confidant, and he’s the one that inspires Jesse to recruit Kelvin and Judy to enact a wild scheme to lure Eli’s potential assassins out of hiding. Jesse even apologizes to his siblings, admitting that he doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing and that he can’t achieve much without the three of them working together. When Kelvin worries that Jesse may get sacked, Jesse responds “Trust me, Kelvin; I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have to. But firstborns have to step up when parents cant, those are rules that go back to ancient fairy tale times.”
This elaborate ruse involves moving Eli to the compound and laying a trap for the cycle ninjas, announcing to their congregation exactly what hospital room Eli would be in… and Junior’s Hulk Hogan lookalike henchman is in the audience. Despite what the Gemstone family believes, this all seems much too elaborate for a small-time hood from Memphis. I still don’t buy that Junior is behind this.
Eli being close to death forces the Gemstone family—blood and otherwise—to reassess their choices and come together as a family. B.J.’s been gaining confidence, so he joins Jesse at the hospital with the S.W.A.T team, taking this opportunity to prove himself as a Gemstone. After his man-to-man with Eli last week, which ended with Eli offering him a handshake, B.J. can’t defend the patriarch. Jesse, who’s coming into his own as a leader, does tell B.J. that he’s impressed that he showed up, adding “but you’re still a dipwad.” Yeah, he’s giving him shit, but he’s also attempting to keep B.J. safe (which he mostly does, save for that throwing star to the noggin); Jesse doesn’t want Judy’s husband dying in the line of fire.
Back at the Gemstone compound, Judy, Amber, and Tiffany are watching over Eli. Despite being constantly at odds, the trio has a moment of peace as they talk shit on Jesse—which is an authentic way of coming together in some families—before putting on one of Aimee-Leigh’s records in an attempt to get through to Eli. “Sassy On Sunday” sounds like it may be from her Amy Grant-inspired period, where she reached for pop-country stardom. However, it’s not the voice of his late wife that awakens Eli.
It’s the prayers of the youngest son Kelvin that brings Eli back. Was it a great philosopher or Robert Reed on The Brady Bunch that said “A wise man forgets his anger before he lies down to sleep?” There are countless people in this world who regret their last words to a loved one before they were taken from them, and Kelvin’s guilt is palpable. It’s hard to call your father breaking your thumbs “the small stuff,” but as Eli lies in his bed, Kelvin realizes that he doesn’t want his final interaction with his father to be telling him to go away.
One character that I thought may have been on the road to redemption was Uncle Baby Billy, who was last seen driving off into the sunset leaving his pregnant bride behind at B.J.’s baptism. When B.J, Tiffany, and Judy finally track him down, he’s recording a television pitch for a biblical elixir that will cure every disease with ease, not unlike the silver solution that real-life televangelist Jim Bakker purported would cure venereal diseases and even COVID-19. When confronted, Billy can still put on that televangelist charm, trying to convince the three that he’s out here making all of this money to provide for his family. The old snake-oil salesman can shed his skin, but he’s still a snake-oil salesman. Baby Billy may be a lost cause at this point—a scumbag that just can’t change his ways. It’s like a sickness born into him, but damn, if he isn’t fun to watch. He starts to lose control, which leads to him comically spanking B.J. before speeding off in his BMW, tipping over his trailer, and spilling all of his elixirs into the street. The relationship between Judy and Tiffany finds the middle Gemstone child taking on a more maternal role and actually displaying empathy to the deserted Tiffany, even if it also benefits Judy to get her out of her house.
In the previous episode, Eli told Jesse “You think this is a fuckin’ movie or somethin’” when he brought up the possibility of the two of them taking on the cycle ninjas. And Eli was right, the climax at the hospital finds Jesse recreating action star moves as he commands the S.W.A.T. team in place to take down the cycle ninjas. When the S.W.A.T. team gets fed up with Jesse’s nonsense and goes home, it leaves Jesse, Martin, B.J., and Gideon to take on the hitmen. When they try to escape, Gideon pleads with Jesse to let him go after them on his motorcycle. Jesse—perhaps recalling all the times his father told him no—gives Gideon the go-ahead and arms him with his cattleprod, which Gideon uses to dispatch the cycle ninjas just as Jesse described earlier. In the elevated, action-packed world of the Gemstones, it’s a touching moment between father and son.
It’s great to see the Gemstone family grow, change and forgive, but it will be interesting to see if any of it sticks. After all, who want’s to watch Jesse, Judy, and Kelvin be nice to each other for a full season?
- The Gemstone barf-o-rama in front of the hospital was low-hanging comic fruit for a show as sharply written as this.
- That said, the dick in Keefe’s eye was ridiculously hilarious.
- Earlier this season, Kelvin barred Keefe from joining the family for dinner, but this week Kelvin brings frees him from his tiger cage and brings him into the safehouse.
- Cassidy Freeman is a vision in leopard print.
- “Sometimes family requires our best even when we don’t want to give it”
- Will we catch up with Harmon this season or is this a seed planted for next year? It would certainly tie in thematically.
- As a former Chili-head, always appreciate a nod to the Pepper on T.V. or the movies that isn’t reductive.
- When Gideon tells his parents that he’s moving out of the compound, he briefly touches on Haiti and the progress that he and Jesse made down there, that they started understanding one another.
- “We all know what happens when you chase your dreams: you fail and people end up getting robbed and almost killed…sometimes killed for some people.”
- “Ain’t nobody here named “Baby” or “Billy.”
- “Let’s lie to the church like a fucking family.”
- “Who the fuck threw a smoke bomb?” Who the fuck threw that smoke bomb?”
- With Eli on the path to recovery, what will this attempt on his life bring to pass? More negative attention on his church? Will he feel the need to confess to past sins including the cover-up surrounding Glendon’s death?
- “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him.” Proverbs 23:34