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The Righteous Gemstones Hits a Groove With “Is This the Man Who Made the Earth Tremble”
Image: HBO

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The Righteous Gemstones Hits a Groove With “Is This the Man Who Made the Earth Tremble”

The interminably titled “Is This the Man Who Made the Earth Tremble” feels more like an epilogue to The Righteous Gemstones‘ series premiere, rather than the typical, world-clarifying (and often, repetitive reinforcing) second episodes of most young series. Purely focused on the aftermath of the pilot’s climactic parking lot shootout, “Is This the Man” barely features Eli or the family business, instead focusing on the spiraling reactions of the Gemstone siblings, as they attempt to hunt down the trio of mask-adorned blackmailers, a slightly myopic episode that nonetheless helps establish the dynamics between Eli’s prodigal children.

“Is This the Man Who Made the Earth Tremble” is a rather fascinating little half hour, full of comedic tidbits and subtle moments I desperately hope the season to follow continues to build upon.

While I’m always one to champion the half-hour drama format (shout out to the first season of The Girlfriend Experience), “Is This the Man Who Made the Earth Tremble” does feels incredibly brief at times, particularly during Eli’s two brief scenes; one where he’s on the pulpit gettin’ that money, and another, more symbolic scene, when he captures a venomous snake by the mouth in his kitchen – a possible sign of his unique ability within the family to harness chaos and evil, manipulating it to serve his own needs.

Eli’s lack of presence in “Is This the Man Who Made the Earth Tremble” limits the episode’s reach a bit, but it’s not as if the half hour is devoid of satisfying, enriching material: the lack of focus on Eli and the business side of The Righteous Gemstones is a deliberate choice, allowing more room to explore the dynamics between the siblings of the family, as they deal with the fallout of their failed attempts to pay off, rip off, or kill any of the three mask-wearing blackmailers holding damning footage of Jesse.

More interestingly, “Is This the Man” begins to build the world outside of the Gemstone family a bit – something it establishes in the very first shot, observing the precious moments before and after the masked group’s painful failed attempt to secure a million dollars in cash from Jesse and company. It’s a rather effective scene, one that both serves a functional comedic purpose, as well as display the versatility in McBride’s ability to navigate genre: by the time Lucy’s rolling down the hill and The Righteous Gemstones is cutting to its opening titles, “Is This the Man” is already showing off a comedic and dramatic flexibility most shows aren’t even trying to achieve.

For the rest of its running time, “Is This the Man” splits its time between the two groups plots to take each other down: the Gemstones by hunting down the masked crew, while the trio of idiots, while recovering from their injuries, try to think of a way to re-extort the money. The snake is most certainly chasing its tail, but its impossible to tell which end is which: as the episode progresses, it becomes clear neither side really knows which position their in – making Eli’s one-handed grab of the snake in his kitchen an even more fascinating interstitial moment.

On one side, there’s the Gemstones, who think their fortuitous “luck” and fortune will keep them high and dry, as long as they follow the “hand of the Lord” Eli talks about; “Is This the Man” absolutely revels in their misguided self-righteousness, which makes its final reveal – that Gideon, Jesse’s estranged son, is the mind behind the blackmail attempt – even more intriguing, in its Jacobean embrace of just how cynically awful and corrupt everything the Gemstones touch becomes (from gem to stone, like water to wine?).

It’s also dramatically satisfying, ensuring that the world of The Righteous Gemstones doesn’t get too big for its own britches. After all, it’s a family affair, and having an isolated third party trying to attack the Gemstones (like, say, just the misogynistic Scotty) not be such a satisfying affair. The prodigal son is literally a Biblical parable, and one it appears TRG is embracing in strange ways. While Gideon doesn’t naturally fit the role of “faithful warrior” from the Bible, he was a two-time killer of kings; our Gideon is almost the inverse of that, a bumbling idiot with the similar ultimate quest to dismantle the false prophecy of his family’s estate… it has a rather fitting ring to it (in the process taking down two kings: Eli and Jesse, in one fell swoop), when you think about it, and closes the episode on a rather promising note.

There are still rough corners to The Righteous Gemstones: Jesse’s marriage feels like an afterthought of a plot idea, and Kelvin’s character still feels soft around the edges, a mush of different stereotypes that haven’t really distinguished itself in any way. These are small complaints about a show that’s still ostensibly building out its world, though: taken in isolation, “Is This the Man Who Made the Earth Tremble” is a rather fascinating little half-hour, full of comedic tidbits and subtle moments I desperately hope the season to follow continues to build upon.

The Righteous Gemstones Hits a Groove With “Is This the Man Who Made the Earth Tremble”
Image: HBO

Other thoughts/observations:

  • short review this week, due to a combination of factors – I’ll be back with the regular, full in-depth goodness next week with “They Are Weak, But He Is Strong”.
  • BJ prematurely cums in his pants at one point, a strange moment inserted seemingly for no reason but to mock BJ, and give Judy’s marriage another unsatisfying element.
  • The contrast drawn out between Gideon and Scotty as the episode progresses gives a lot of texture to the group dynamic between them and Lucy.
  • The cinematography when Jesse begins praying in Gideon’s room, and how it intercuts with Judy and BJ is just wonderful stuff.
  • Everything that happens in this episode is implausible, and I love how there’s never any attention brought to that, or justification given for it. You’re either in for the ride, or you aren’t.
Watch The Righteous Gemstones Now Streaming

Written By

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

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