Last week’s episode of The Righteous Gemstones ended with a shocking cliffhanger in which Eli Gemstone (John Goodman) was shot multiple times by the faceless, motorcycling assassins who Jesse (Danny McBride) has nicknamed the “Cycle Ninjas.” We pick up as the family first sees Eli in the hospital, alive but comatose. Jesse, Amber (Cassidy Freeman), Judy (Edi Patterson), and BJ (Tim Baltz) are each thrown into emotional turmoil, putting the show on the precipice of teetering into full-blown drama. But, barely a minute into the episode, McBride and company signal loud and clear that The Righteous Gemstones is still as crude as ever when Jesse begins violently vomiting outside the hospital. Soon, all four of them are hurling onto the sidewalk, releasing the dramatic tension as well as, y’know, the contents of their stomachs. That’s the name of the game this week: Things may have gotten heavy, but we’re still here to have a good time.
The headlong dive into gross-out humor continues in the next scene, where one of Keefe’s God Squad captors pokes his dick into his bamboo-and-canvas prison cell. The cast and crew of Gemstones have been vocal from the start of the series about their desire to destigmatize male nudity on cable and to use the awkwardness of the flaccid penis for comedy, and this usually pays off. This time, though, it’s a bit uncomfortable, as the member in question is being used to menace another character in a close to sexual context, but still in a light comedic framing. The moment is, at least, over quickly, as the God Squad bores of bullying Keefe (Tony Cavalero) and wanders off, allowing him and Kelvin (Adam Devine) to share a sweet conversation about their current circumstances. Kelvin has been brought low twice over—first dethroned by his Squad and then by the attack on his father—and doesn’t know if he has the courage to visit Eli in the hospital. But we’re also seeing a more decent side of Kelvin, who now takes care of Keefe with dedication and urgency rather than the other way around.
In Eli’s absence, Jesse and Amber take center stage at the church. This is what they’ve wanted, but the circumstances have made their promotion a contentious matter. Sunday family lunch quickly devolves into its usual shouting match, but without Eli to shut it down, it falls to Martin (Gregory Allan Williams) to step up and scold them for their selfishness. Martin has always been at the periphery, as Eli’s closest associate and probably his only friend. Maybe it’s because Martin so rarely raises his voice that the message sinks in. In fact, now that Jesse needs a new father figure, Martin is suddenly a real person to him, and he seeks his counsel as to how to exact justice for Eli’s assault.
Tiffany (Valyn Hall) is still staying with Judy and BJ, who help her to track her wayward husband using his credit card activity. They confront Baby Billy (Walton Goggins) in South Carolina, where he’s been shooting an infomercial for an all-purpose “health elixir” that is probably just coconut
Still convinced that Junior is responsible for the attempt on Eli’s life, Jesse ponders a counter-attack. Martin has a better idea: announce that Eli has awakened from his coma and is expecting a full recovery, thus forcing the Cycle Ninjas to reemerge to finish the job. Jesse gathers his siblings and the three of them tell a packed Salvation Center that Eli is recovering and will be taken off oxygen the next day. One of Junior’s wrestlers, the “Tan Man,” can be seen in the pews during the announcement, but there’s still no smoking gun connecting Junior to the Cycle Ninjas.
While the rest of the family stands watch over Eli at a safe house, Jesse, Martin, BJ, and a well-armed team of military contractors takes over a floor of the hospital and sets a trap for the Cycle Ninjas. This is particularly a big deal for BJ, who uses this opportunity to step up and demonstrate his bravery on his own, pointedly gender-neutral terms. Likewise, Jesse’s son Gideon (Skyler Gisondo) decides to join his father on the dangerous hospital mission rather than remaining at the safehouse. (Earlier in the episode, Gideon had announced his intention to leave the compound and resume his stuntman career in Atlanta, which seems like an acknowledgement that he’s had nothing to do this season.)
The Cycle Ninjas take the bait, and Jesse and Martin’s plan goes off surprisingly well. Jesse surprises one of the four assassins with a gunshot to the shin at close range, ensuring that they have at least one person to question later. The rest flee, and though Jesse’s still a lousy marksman, he manages to connect one shot out of nine before one of the Ninjas can mount his bike. Gideon takes it upon himself to chase the other two down, using his established stunt driving skills, and forces both of them to wipe out, even following his father’s advice and executing the classic “stick in the bike spokes” trick at high speeds. While punctuated with gags and one-liners, the hospital siege and subsequent bike chase are both deftly executed action sequences. That directors Jody Hill and David Gordon Green always have these skills in their back pocket is part of what gives The Righteous Gemstones its edge.
But the emotional climax of the episode actually comes just before the battle begins, when Kelvin finally visits Eli, now resting in a bedroom at the safehouse. Kelvin kneels at Eli’s bedside and prays for his father’s recovery, pledging never to succumb to hubris again and to become a humble servant of God in exchange for his father’s health. Eli wakes up a moment later, and the two express their love for each other. Adam Devine’s tearful performance here wouldn’t hold up in a purely dramatic context, but feels like the right fit for the heightened tone of Gemstones. Likewise, the convenient timing of Eli’s awakening isn’t out of line for the show, which will occasionally imply divine intervention into the family’s lives. (See, the bumblebee that may or may not house the spirit of the late Aimee-Leigh in the Season 1 finale.) It will be interesting to see whether or not Kelvin will hold up his end of his bargain, and if so, what form his new path will take. After all, if any of these characters grows up too much, we no longer have a show.