The following contains spoilers for The Righteous Gemstones S2E9, “I Will Tell of All Your Deeds” (directed by Jody Hill and written by John Carcieri, Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride)
It seemed a tall order to wrap up everything happening in the eventful second season of the show, but the fast-paced and very satisfying season finale to The Righteous Gemstones, “I Will Tell of All Your Deeds,” pulls it off. This is one banger of an episode—it hits the right beats of emotion and tension, and manages to still be reliably hilarious.
I’ll be damned; in trying to out-think the writers on who the Cycle Ninjas actually belong to, I failed to remember that sometimes, simpler is better: they are indeed under the employ of the Lissons. This was the prevailing theory on most show discussions, but the relatively unsurprising reveal still works in how it actually plays out. The episode opens with Thaniel speaking to the informant that fed him information on the Butterfields: Lyle Lisson himself.
This whole scene is just solid gold. After being berated by Thaniel, a fed-up Lyle returns to his car, instructing the pastors with him to get the guns ready. However, they haven’t brought guns. One of his henchmen, Greg, has instead brought grenades, because he saw on a YouTube video that they “blow up the evidence.” One mishap leads to another, triggering a grenade to blow and explaining the placement of the bodies the Gemstone kids saw when they visited the cabin at the beginning of the season.
Thaniel’s death wasn’t a coordinated hit or anything that glamorous: in haphazardly opening fire on Lisson and his goons, one of his shots ricocheted off of a cast iron skilled hanging on the wall and struck him in the head. This is perhaps the best and funniest way Thaniel could have gone: it’s just one of the ways in which The Righteous Gemstones, and indeed McBride’s stable of shows in general, orchestrate events careening wildly out of control.
Burning down the cabin and the two remaining pastor witnesses with it all but cements Lyle as the true villain of the season. We knew from the beginning that the Lissons were, at the very least, grifters, but every one of their scenes here in the finale further drive home how awful they truly are. They put Lyle’s dad in a nursing home so they could “have the life they deserve.” They sent the Cycle Ninjas after Eli to accelerate Jesse’s ascension to Gemstone leader and secure that $10 million. The final conflict between Jesse and Lyle is one of the best scenes in the season: from the long-awaited payoff to Jesse’s ridiculous slingshot obsession to the thought-dead Lyle leaping up screaming, it’s a great way to cap off the chaos that follows both families. While I would have loved to see more of Eric Andre and Jessica Lowe, their deaths at the end of the episode could not have been done more perfectly.
Just like the end of last season, things are looking up for everyone once the dust has settled. One of my favorite moments of the episode takes place in the Gemstone church, with Jesse, Kelvin and Judy singing together at center stage as Eli stands back. Just a couple of episodes ago, Eli was fresh out of his coma and insistent on maintaining his central presence; now, he’s done a lot of growing and has a greater willingness to let his kids have a greater part in leading the church.
Indeed, they’ve all grown: Jesse and Amber are not only accepting of Gideon’s new Hollywood stunt job, they’re proud of him, and they understand that Gideon doesn’t have to be heavily involved in the church to be part of the family. Kelvin has recalibrated his calling, and instead of having cult weird rituals with bodybuilders, he’s back to his true passion: being a youth minister, as well as hosting a gym setting for his young students. Baby Billy, having helped retrieve Tiffany’s Toilet Baby Lionel, has reconciled with Tiffany, BJ and Judy—and while he may never get fully back into Harmon’s good graces, they at least share a nod across the congregation during the service. Imaginary? Possibly, but it’s still a good moment. I think these closing services do have a sort of surrealism to them as they unite the entire cast in one place, but it doesn’t lessen their impact.
While I’m sure it helped that Eli helped Junior secure some of his dad’s fortune, it’s a nice cap to the season to see that the two of them are on good terms; it reinforces Junior’s original claim that he had returned in a good faith effort to reconnect with an old friend, and it potentially keeps a great character with a great performer in the cast.
All of these moments serve as a reminder, once again—just as in Season 1’s finale—of the importance of forgiveness. The Gemstones still are, and probably always will be, colossally dysfunctional people. The show is already great on that point, and would probably be fine with just that element given how hilarious it is. But what really makes The Righteous Gemstones special is how those character moments, and the strength of the family when they come together, give the show such emotional depth. The blend of vulgar comedy, Coen-esque intrigue, and genuine, unironic (usually) values continue to flesh out what is one of the best comedies on TV and an excellent skewering of Christianity and class privilege in America. In the ways that the story and characters have already grown and expanded, there’s no telling what kind of mayhem will catch up to the Gemstones in Season 3.