With most of the season’s internal debates resolved in quick fashion during last week’s “The Prayer of a Righteous Man”, the stage was set for “I Will Tell of All Your Deeds” to focus on its final big reveal – the identity of the Cycle Ninjas, and the hand guiding them to try killing Eli Gemstone (twice). And though Lyle Lisson is an abundantly obvious answer, it’s the how of it all that ties a beautiful, bloody bow on the sophomore season of The Righteous Gemstones – and reminds us that even in 2022, season finales can still kick fucking ass.
Opening on the night of Thaniel Block’s infamous death, “I Will Tell of All Your Deeds” fills in the blanks of the oddities around his death – namely, the body in a tree and the bullet in Thaniel’s head – in the way only Danny McBride and the Gemstones have done all season, with a series of ingenious wrinkles that add emotional texture to every conflict. Beginning with Brooklyn Thaniel and a group of irresponsible, grenade-wielding pastors, Gemstones slowly begins to recontextualize events with a confidence of being one step ahead of the audience – which, in 2022, is still a difficult task to pull off.
As one might expect, the grenades led to the burned-out husk and blown-up body the Gemstone children come to find at Thaniel’s cabin. The bullet that killed Thaniel? As one might expect, the brash arrogance of Thaniel’s shooting ability was wildly overstated; as he’s flinging bullets around the house and front yard, he bounces one off a cast-iron pan hanging on the wall – which then ricochets into his head, killing him with the kind of Biblical irony that we saw at the end of season one (except in that case, it was life-affirming irony of a bee sting, rather than life-ending).
More importantly, “I Will Tell of All Your Deeds” tells the more important story of Lyle Lisson’s desperate ambition, offering a possible funhouse mirror version of what Amber and Jesse have contemplated at different points in time (plus he snitched out the Butterfields, in his attempts to clear out the competition for his ministerial ascension). Lyle and Lindy’s obsession with power – and bitterness over a lifetime of privileged existence – push them to put Lyle’s father in prison, seizing his assets and legacy for their own gain.
Though Lyle grabbing his father’s “golden key” to Zion’s Landing and throwing a tantrum are certainly the moment where the Lissons are pushed in cartoonish villainy, they are exactly the foil needed to finally resolve this season’s conflicts; the sins of the father need not be the sins of the son, if only old men would learn to open their hearts once in awhile. Junior, Eli, Jesse, Gideon… the men (and Judy!) of The Righteous Gemstones have lived emotionally stunted lives, never able to separate their sense of self-worth from the approval of their parents they so desperately seek. But bitterness and regret corrupt the soul; Eli realized this before he sent his entire family over the edge, but it’s clearly already to late for the Lissons, even before the golden goose of Gemstone riches came onto their radar.
It all comes to a head, of course, at the opening of Zion’s Landing – which, impressively, pulls together every major and minor plot thread of the season together as it builds to the apex of dramatic tension – the Lisson family pointing guns at the Gemstones as they walk into the ocean, while BJ lies bleeding from his femoral artery. Every single second of that sequence is designed around pulling together little moments – Judy’s maternal shift, Jesse’s golden David slingshot, the arrogant nepotism of the Gemstones and Lissons – to build towards its final showdown.
And it does it so well, it is almost embarrassing to consider how many shows just fundamentally fail to deliver on the many levels “I Will Tell of All Your Deeds” lands on. The Righteous Gemstones is fearless television, unwilling to compromise or appease – that confidence in creation and delivery can’t be understated in a landscape of television that often feels afraid to just be itself. That insecurity leads to finales too reliant on empty twists (that most shows just backtrack from), or on desperate hooks to justify its presence for another season – The Righteous Gemstones, like Thaniel, leaves no shots unfired – and is all the better for it, even in moments where it is telling stories with lower stakes (like whatever the fuck Kelvin is involved in from week to week).
Despite all that violence, there is a certain beauty to the peace within the Gemstone family at the end of season two; though there’s certainly some tension bubbling under the surface (notice how Amber tries to pull away from Jesse during the end of their Second Chances presentation?), the Gemstone family is as healed as they’ve been since the end of season one – in another nice parallel, Baby Billy gets to be on the precipice of life itself, this time saving his precious baby with Tiffany (after she accidentally carries on the family legacy, giving birth to Lincoln Freeman into the porta-potty basin).
Life and death are moments that bring family together; we all know these platitudes aren’t meant to last, but after two seasons of non-stop drama and violence, seeing the family sing and smile to close out the season (while the Lissons meet their fates in Alaska, at the hands of Snowmobile Ninjas) is a cathartic moment, closing out the season on a note that had me smiling alongside Eli as he looked above and beyond his congregation (goddamnit, why is there not Aimee-Leigh here, after her touching appearance during the closing scene of season one??? Give me my Nettles, damnit!!).
It also allows The Righteous Gemstones to head into the break with a clear head; with nearly all of the series’ conflicts at a close (BJ is part of the family, and Gideon finally gets on the same page with his parents), season three can tread new ground – and as Zion’s Landing becomes an income stream for the rejuvenated Gemstone empire, the series can continue to get larger and more ridiculous (and hopefully still keep space for characters like Junior to reappear again in the future; Eric Roberts is always welcome!). Judy and BJ have the baby bug, Baby Billy’s got a chance to be a father again (twice!), and Kelvin’s got the Youth Squad – the potential is endless for where The Righteous Gemstones chooses to go in the future – which, as we continue to saw this season, will mostly likely involve a heavy dose of the past.
For now, like Eli (who has fully embraced being a CEO, a father, and a gangster in the same season) and the rest of the Gemstone extended family, we can simply enjoy the moment – “I Will Tell of All Your Deeds” is exactly the kind of season finale Gemstones needed, after it felt like the last couple episodes were starting to lose a bit of steam. Turns out, they were just saving some for dessert – as the best of television is still want to do, when guided by the right hands and minds. Season two of The Righteous Gemstones sets an early bar for the rest of television to meet in 2022, firmly establishing itself as one of the great comedic series of this era. Praise be!
- Funny how it all works out for the Gemstones in the end, no matter how long the trail of bodies seems to get. Some people are just blessed!
- Was this the goriest episode of TV to air in 2022 so far? This had; toilet baby (plus bonus ripped umbilical cord), dark blood shooting out of an artery, people exploded, bleeding ear drums, bullets to the head, bullets to many, many parts of the body… oh yeah, and baby Lincoln puking in Tiffany’s face.
- I don’t know what Lindy’s plan was, but boy did she meet her end in an unpleasant way. Lyle getting eaten by wolves over the closing credits was probably worse, but at least he couldn’t feel it!
- Fuck, Lincoln Freeman is such a good name.
- We don’t get an Aimee Leigh vision, but we do get a Harmon sighting at the season finale sermon, which is a nice moment.
- Chad gets to finally go home, after his wife’s new boyfriend dumped her because he was “all about that salt life”.
- Don’t forget your ABCs, Tiffany – Ankles, Butthole, and Coochie!
- Only BJ could make the phrase “bang your played out mother pussy” an endearing moment. Love you, you goofy tan-line having motherfucker.
- there’s always one great sign of our protagonists and their grand delusions about their own religion; for Judy, it is thinking that everybody goes to Heaven.
- Makes total sense the Zion’s Landing open was drenched in all sorts of uncomfortable cultural appropriation. Also, whatever the hell Joe Jonas was wearing.
- Was hoping for a God Squad vs. Kiddo Ranch showdown; have to admit, Youth Squad is a disappointing end to the most underwhelming story of the season (though it does give us the line “lats like angel’s wings”, which is another Keefe banger).
- … and that’s a wrap on the righteous fucking rager that was The Righteous Gemstones season two! Before we part ways, let’s all bow our heads and pray that season three arrives a bit sooner than season two. Until then, thanks for reading!