The following contains spoilers for The Righteous Gemstones S2E1, “Speak in the Tongues of Men and Angels” (written by Danny McBride and directed by David Gordon Green)
It’s been a long couple of years since The Righteous Gemstones graced our screens, and you’d be forgiven if you don’t quite recall where Season 1 left us. To briefly refresh your memory: Jesse confessed about what happened in Atlanta and showed the video to assembled friends and family; Gideon was doing missionary work in Haiti, where Jesse joined him in the closing scenes of the season as he’d yet to be taken back by Amber; Scotty was killed by Aunt Tiffany, with his van not very well disposed of, which led the Gemstones to determine that Baby Billy was involved; and Baby Billy got struck by lightning before starting his own tent ministry where he was selling crayon drawings of what he saw of the afterlife. BJ and Judy reconciled after his failed attempt to pull a Say Anything, as did Kelvin and Keefe after the latter had a brief relapse to his former role as “The Baby.”
Not that any of that seems terribly relevant to the events of S2E1. The Season 2 premiere of The Righteous Gemstones instead picks up with everyone after some time has passed, and we might as well say it is as much time as in the real world, even if this isn’t explicitly confirmed. There is a vague reference to current hardships, but no direct reference to the pandemic in “Speak in the Tongues of Men and Angels,” which is probably for the best. At least personally, I’m happy with it feeling like something that has maybe had a role in this fictional world, though we’ll see if it is ever tackled more head-on. I suppose it’s possible.
I said S2E1 picks up with everyone a couple of years down the line, but this is actually incorrect as Baby Billy does not appear in “Speak in the Tongues of Men and Angels” (though Walton Goggins is confirmed cast for The Righteous Gemstones Season 2). Instead, we are introduced to a host of new characters in the season premiere, and it’s clear they will play a pivotal role in its plot.
Jason Schwartzman appears only briefly as Thaniel, the reporter who is on the hunt for hypocritical preachers (which causes the most hilarious suicide attempt I’ve ever seen early in the episode). Eric Roberts plays the older version of Junior, with whom Eli reconnects ultimately at Sticky Stephen’s, leading to the climax of S2E1. And Eric André and Jessica Lowe play Lyle and Lindy Lisson, respectively—another Christian power couple who approach Jesse and Amber to invest in their resort idea, which is set to bring familial tensions with the Gemstone clan to a head.
Most intriguing, though, is the flashback to 1968 with which S2E1 begins. Here we see Eli in Memphis as the Maniac Kid, recruited to a criminal syndicate of sorts based on his skill at wrestling. This forms the backdrop of the later interaction between Eli and Junior, and it certainly seems to me like Eli knows what happened to the latter’s father. At least, something is there in John Goodman’s face as Junior talks about how he likes to think his daddy made it to Bolivia like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (who of course, did not make it to Bolivia). And whatever it is, I want to know more about it.
“Interlude” was perhaps my favorite episode of the first season of The Righteous Gemstones, as this dip into the past provided depth not so much in terms of plot action as in terms of the characters. And again here, though the action circles around such that Eli ends up breaking another man’s thumbs in the parking lot of the Sticky Stephen’s, the real question is about what makes these events resonate in his soul.
Much like the young Maniac Kid, for some reason Eli is feeling pushed to the brink emotionally. We see it when he acquiesces to Jesse about doing business with the Lissons—Eli is just sort of tired. I don’t mean physically, mind you, looking at the beating he gives to Randall at the end of the episode, but spiritually. He’s circling back in the direction of that version of himself who piped out, “Good food, good meat, good God, let’s eat!” and earned a smack across the mouth from his father.
He was suspicious of Junior reappearing in his life at first, and probably still is to some degree (or should be). But ultimately, reconnecting with this figure from his past has reminded Eli of something about himself. Where that will lead is anyone’s guess. On the one hand, he’s embracing the streaming era by launching the GODD platform, but on the other, he has a clear distaste for the way the world is going. Perhaps that’s not a contradiction.
Is it that he is part of the worst generation, as Lindy suggests, and this stems from selfishly holding on to things when he should let go, or is he right to be reluctant to pass the reins when he isn’t sure he can trust anyone to guide the proverbial horses?
Kelvin and Judy are immature themselves, but they are also clearly right when they point out to Jesse the way his past indiscretions have undermined Eli’s ability to trust him. But he can’t trust either of them either.
Judy and BJ went to Disney World to get married by Prince Eric, who is not even a legacy character. (Also, BJ appears to be drinking milk from a wine glass at dinner.) Kelvin, on the other hand, is for some reason leading a group of very muscular men…for Jesus? The van says Kelvin’s God Squad on the side, but I’m not entirely sure what exactly these fellows do. Is there a real-world correlate for this sort of thing? Dare I Google?
Indeed, if any of the Gemstones would be in line to be Eli’s anointed successor, I would think it would be Gideon, despite what he’s done in the past. I don’t know if Eli sees himself in his grandson in a direct way based on anything that’s happened in the show so far, but I do think that he should.
If S2E1 is any indication, though, the arc of Season 2 will likely be defined by Thaniel trying to expose Eli as a hypocrite. It’s a nice parallel with Season 1, which revolved around Jesse being blackmailed by the threat of his debauchery being exposed. He just wanted to make the problem go away. Eli, on the other hand, may not truly believe he’s done anything wrong, or more likely believes that he has already paid his penance.
Yet there’s Randall, with two broken thumbs in the Sticky Stephen’s parking lot.