Tonight’s The Righteous Gemstones takes its episode title from the book of Roman – which, among many things, is the part where the Bible posits that vengeance is business belonging solely to God, and humans have no fucking right to walk around soiling their souls with self-righteousness. The Apostle Paul warns of this; however, like most lessons in the Bible, the Gemstones aren’t listening – and as a result, what is a rather muted episode of Gemstones ends in an explosive cliffhanger, as the actions of the sons throw the life of the father into peril.
As the shortest episode of the season so far, “Never Avenge Yourselves, But Leave it to the Wrath of God” has little time to ground itself; as it vacillates between Jesse and Kelvin’s individual reactions to the violence they’ve recently experienced, The Righteous Gemstones stumbles for the first time in its sophomore season. The life and death escalation at the end of “As To How They Might Destroy Him” makes the God Squad nonsense with Kelvin suddenly feel incredibly slight – especially after “Interlude II”, an episode where an extremely young Kelvin barely factors in.
Bathed in pink lightning, Kelvin trying to assert his masculinity kind of forms a foundation for the episode (Jesse’s men-only meeting of the Second Chances group makes for a nice pairing) – but the real thematic thrust is the gathering of armies, both seen (Jesse, Torsten) and unseen (presumably Junior, though I’m starting to wonder if the motorcycle squad is even his). As the post-El Cheapo Gas shootout ripples through this season’s stories, Kelvin’s tales of muscle men and his strange relationship with Keefe just feels like an amusing distraction. Currently, the God Squad is a punchline in search of a story, and “Never Avenge Yourselves” doesn’t do itself any favors with its (admittedly amusing) mutiny, which ends up with Keefe in a cage and Kelvin as the housecleaner (“Get your underwear out of the masters”, he’s told after Keefe fails to ‘bear the cross’). Next to Jesse pointing a gun at Junior and telling him to get fucked, Kelvin’s temper tantrum just feels empty, a weak point Gemstones is running out of time to fix.
Thankfully, the rest of the subdued “Never Avenge Yourselves” does exactly what it needs to, lulling the audience into submission as Jesse cries about his masculinity, and Judy tells Tiffany the sad story of Harmon (Baby Billy is still MIA, of course, presumably setting up a BB showcase ep in the next couple episodes). While these stories also lack the emotional weight or absurd hilarity of previous episodes this season, the narrative thrust feels a lot more harmonic with Eli’s identity struggles amidst the slow realization that he’s corrupted everything around him, especially his arrogant, immature children.
All of these elements mix together for a strange episode, one where characters like Judy, and scenes like BJ’s heart-to-heart with Eli, can never gain any traction – especially once the episode gets to its stunning final sequence, yet another scene of violence that involves a car on The Righteous Gemstones (if someone is driving something in this series, it never, ever goes well) . This time, it’s the devilish motorcyclists proving they can hit a target, surrounding Eli on his drive home and littering the front seat with bullets.
The escalation of the episode is really interesting – and it’s debatable whether it works, though I think it will (you know, gotta have faith and all that). The only moment of rising tension to precede it comes from the Second Chance army threatening charge on Junior (throwing rocks at him using their David-esque slingshots), which seems like a natural progression – though it sticks out against the tenor of the rest of the episode, which is mostly about Kelvin and Jesse tucking their balls between their legs when the world around them challenges their self-perceived masculinity.
Junior and Eli’s conflict just has so much more emotional weight; it’s hard to buy into the drama of the God Squad when we know (and know Junior knows) that Glendon Marsh is buried deep within The Exodus. It just doesn’t compare, either on paper or in practice; and that imbalance robs the final images a bit of their impact, even if the shock factor – and larger potential implications, if Eli is truly dead and gone – is palpable enough to kick the show into its third act.
What lies in said third act is a real wild card; it remains unseen how Gemstones lands the stories of Eli, Jesse, Baby Billy, and Kelvin (while still leaving room for others like Judy and still-quiet Gideon) in the span of three episodes. Like the sign Eli misses after passing out behind the steering wheel, there is no time for detours anymore in this second season – and it is unclear how McBride, Hill, and company will be able to pull these many threads together (remember the Lissons and Zion’s Landing?). Hopefully, “Never Avenge Yourselves” is just a bump in the road, a chapter needed to fill a role in the larger mosaic of Gemstone‘s ambitious storytelling – after all, as the episode’s title suggests, those that are patient and have faith will be rewarded as the blood of their enemies spills on the ground (ok, maybe that’s a bit literal).Watch The Righteous Gemstones Now Streaming