Last week’s incredible episode of Vice Principals succeeded by upending our expectations of what was to come of Gamby and Russell moving in different directions. The sense was that their shifting morality would put them at odds, eventually leading to a showdown over who would get to be Principal of North Jackson High. Would it be Russell ruthlessly holding on to the position he got when his foe was shot in the school’s parkig lot, or would the seemingly reformed Gamby win over the teachers and work himself into the role? “The Most Popular Boy” flipped the script, and seemingly laid those questions to rest, by having Gamby, Russell, Nash, and Snodgrass team up to derail the teachers’ plans to oust Russell by sabotaging the mandated tests offered by the board. It looked like everyone was on the same side.
If that was a bit of a swerve that gave new life to the back half of the season—a season that’s been very strong overall—then the one that comes with “Spring Break” kicks the narrative into overdrive. The suggested twist at the end of the episode, which is that Russell was Gamby’s shooter all along, could be considered predictable. He’s been the relatively obvious choice all along, even if last week’s episode essentially put the whole mystery to rest, with Gamby coming to accept that he’d never know who came after him. Now, that’s not to say that Russell is definitively the shooter; with two episodes left in the series there’s plenty of time for yet another swerve. But, going on the assumption that the gear Gamby finds at the end of the episode does indeed belong to Russell, “Spring Break” sets the stage for the show to come full circle. We’re back to Gamby vs. Russell, and that’s always a good thing.
Let’s back up a bit though, because before “Spring Break” gets to that final scene, and Gamby gains a new perspective on the man he thought was his best friend, the episode is easily one of the finest half-hours of the season. The change in location is key. With Gamby setting out for spring break with his daughter, Janelle, and Russell forcing himself into the mix because he doesn’t want to be alone now that Christine is divorcing him, there’s a chance to explore new dynamics outside of the context of North Jackson High.
The hilarious cold open really sets the tone for the episode, with Russell forcing Gamby, Nash, and Snodgrass to make a blood pact—“now we touch tips”—about what they did with the test scores because “the teachers would eat a baby dick to expose us.” The raunchy, ludicrous tone of the cold open extends throughout the episode, as Vice Principals continues to push these characters to surreal extremes when it comes to their behavior. Edi Patterson is once again a highlight as Ms. Abbott. From the way she says Janelle as “Je Nell,” like she’s a French pastry, to her offhand comment about how “it’s going to be fun to raise her,” she excels at being the insanely creepy romantic partner. Abbott’s like one of those evil dolls people throw away in horror movies, showing up on your doorstep no matter how many times you try to get rid of it.
This week’s episode, even with all of the ridiculousness, feels like everything clicking back into place. There’s clarification of where everyone stands as the season prepares for its final two episodes. Abbott and Gamby’s relationship is over; Snodgrass’ book is pretty much dead in the water; Russell doesn’t have a marriage anymore, and we’ll see how long he clings to his job as Principal. The big wild card is the potential Gamby-Snodgrass relationship. They get a really sweet moment in “Spring Break” when Snodgrass, who just finished hearing Brian criticize her book for being derivative and boring, gets a call from Gamby. He’s just finished her book too, and he loves it. He said he’s ever read anything like it. Whether the book is good or not doesn’t matter, because this is Gamby coming through for her. He’s offering uncomplicated, unreserved support, which is sometimes all we really need. (Though it should be said that the book is probably terrible, if the brief, impromptu reading Snodgrass gives at the writer’s festival is any indication. What a delightful, totally cringe-worthy scene.)
What “Spring Break” really gets right though, outside of the new character dynamics and the sense of impending disaster for many of these people, is the idea of narrative momentum. “Spring Break” is, in essence, a table-setting episode. It could easily be a throwaway episode, hitting its notes when it comes to Abbott, Snodgrass, Gamby, and Russell, and then moving on to the series’ final stretch. Instead, it’s a focused, sharp, funny piece of TV. There’s emotional insight when it comes to Gamby and his daughter. The scenes with Snodgrass and Brian are incredibly uncomfortable, both in terms of Snodgrass’ heartbreak and Brian’s emerging creepiness. Shivers crawled up my spine when he mentioned that he sent Snodgrass’ book to his publisher because a guy his age has to “use all the bait that’s left in his tackle box.”
“Spring Break” takes every ludicrous, hilarious, off-putting turn and uses it to build to a menacing crescendo. As Russell smokes a cigarette on the balcony of the beach house they’ve rented, Gamby stares at him, considering this man as his shooter. He wonders if he’s seen the true depths of Russell’s depravity. The fact that there’s a good chance he hasn’t isas promising as anything heading into the show’s final two episodes.
- Nash has some serious spa plans for her spring break: “This time tomorrow I’ll be tits deep in goop.”
- Between the flirting and the pretentious air about him and the “tackle box” line, Brian finally goes full creep, like we all knew he would.
- This episode is like birth control in the form of TV comedy. Teenagers seem like a terrible thing to have around and be responsible for!
- Gamby at the strip club: “Hey, you want to hang out?” Russell, while receiving a lap dance: “I am hanging out! Why don’t you go hang out!”
- Look, it makes sense that Russell would be the shooter, but I’m not ready to discount Ms. Abbott just yet. She could have planted that stuff in Russell’s car, as revenge for being left out of the spring break trip.