The Righteous Gemstones S3E2 Recap: “But Esau Ran to Meet Him” — I’m Supposed to be Retired

Peter Montgomery stands menacingly behind Eli Gemstone in a mess hall.
Photograph by Jake Giles Netter/HBO

The following recap contains spoilers for The Righteous Gemstones S3E2 “But Esau Ran to Meet Him” (written by John Carcieri & Danny McBride and directed by Jody Hill)

“But Esau Ran to Meet Him” opens with Judy’s former tryst Stephen arguing with his wife in their kitchen. His unwillingness to reveal the real reason he got fired gets his wife to assume he’s resumed his cocaine addiction and leads to them insulting each other’s hair and her smashing him across the face with a pitcher. Clearly these two are not in a healthy relationship. When discreetly meeting Judy at a diner, she reiterates her intention to not continue their relationship and gives Stephen $10k in “f*ck off money” (mostly in 20s for gas station snacks). Given Stephen’s insistence to stay with Judy, he’s no doubt another piece on the board to cause problems for the Gemstones down the road. 

We saw in the previous episode that Gideon is back home with the family after suffering an injury. Immobilized in a neck brace, the stuntman is facing an existential crisis with the prospect of falling out of his profession. Ever since Santa Clarita Diet, I have been a huge fan of Skyler Gisondo, and after him being a huge badass in the previous season I am all for more of his storyline. Caught smoking by his parents, Gideon is now tasked with being Eli’s chauffeur. It’s classic Jesse to tell his son to “not be a little bitch about it” as he tosses Gideon the keys. 

One of his first tasks is to take Eli, Jesse, Judy and Kelvin to Camp Wooden Feather, which May-May’s boys, Chuck and Carl Montgomery, have been staying at. The camp is about as bad as May-May has feared: militia men doing military exercises, eating in a mess hall, toting guns and doomsday prepping, preparing for an approaching war. It’s as silly as it is sinister. When Eli mentions to Chuck that May-May sent them, Chuck indicates that she may have driven them into this fold. 

Jesse and Kelvin Gemstone stand next to each other in an unfinished room.
Photograph by Jake Giles Netter/HBO

Steve Zahn is always nice to see pop up, and he gets a great role to chew on here as cult leader Peter Montgomery. Zahn does not hold back in an electrifying monologue elevating the late Aimee-Leigh’s willingness to give away the gift of her voice and her faith, and condemning how Eli opted to sell it—and Peter bought it. These are not people of God, he says; they’re entertainers and phonies, and will not be welcome in the Kingdom of Heaven when the time comes. 

Peter looks more than a little bit crazy here, especially with the whole militia cult situation he’s got going on, but he’s not wrong with his assessment of the current Gemstone empire. He’s speaking from a place of profound hurt, and believes that he is a man of true faith, and it will be very interesting to see how he, May-May and the boys encountered the breaking point between praise and product with the Gemstones. 

It also seems that there may be another redemption arc on the horizon, but it won’t come easy: when the Feds invade the camp, leaving many of the members dead or in custody, the escaped Peter confronts Chuck and Carl at a safehouse, insisting that they got raided because the boys have been talking to May-May and perhaps even the Gemstones tipped off the authorities. He even violently slices off an ear tip of one of his followers to get the boys to talk before they finally retaliate and flee. It’s a tense scene, and a great reminder of just how well this black comedy can also effortlessly incorporate action and tension when it needs to. 

I was surprised that the nephews were forced into the Gemstone fold this early, but it’s surely going to result in a nearly bottomless well of insults for Jesse, Judy and Kelvin to hurl at them. The divide between the Gemstone and Montgomery clans isn’t one we know much about yet, but the Gemstone kids sure can’t shut up about how much they despise their cousins. And if there’s one thing that unites those three, it’s how much they can be in agreement about hating someone else. 

Meanwhile, the siblings have been summoned to a meeting by the other minsters, who, like Dusty Daniels, are concerned that the new regime now that Eli has retired is lacking the love and confidence in the future of Gemstone. Having asked Eli to help them, but with Daddy a no-show, the dysfunctional siblings’ attempts to placate the pastors go from bad to worse: their initial clumsy improvised words of confidence are met with disdain, resulting in a screaming match and a thrown shoe. That would be completely on-brand for one of the kids, but what really sends this scene into perfection is nearly every other pastor in the venue also begins removing their own shows and chucking them back at the Gemstones. It’s absolute chaos.

Judy and Jesse Gemstone hide behind two chairs on a stage, surrounded by thrown shoes.
Photograph by Jake Giles Netter/HBO

When Gideon picks up Eli to take him to the meeting, the patriarch tells his grandson he doesn’t want any Speed Racer action movie stuff. Not long after, Eli’s plans have been diverted and Gideon is forced to do just that as Peter’s goons close in on them and the Montgomery boys at a hotel. Gideon’s skill behind the wheel, with Eli assisting with peripheral awareness, makes for an exciting and well-shot car chase ending in a pair of spectacular crashes as the militia men in pursuit are no match for Gideon. Eli has completely changed his tune, suddenly thrilled at his grandson’s talent. 

Season 3 of The Righteous Gemstones is two episodes in and as strong as ever. The show’s formula keeps getting more polished and refined with a creative team that has remained almost completely intact across the run. It allows them to continue to grow the characters and understand where they’re at and where they might be going. Best of all, we have barely an idea. It’s really compelling, extremely funny, and I eagerly await to see what happens in the coming episodes. 

Written by Hawk Ripjaw

Hawk Ripjaw has been sharing his opinion on film and TV since his early teens, when the local public library gave away prizes for submissions to their newsletter. Since then, he's been writing for local newspapers, international video game sites, booze-themed movie websites, and anywhere else he can throw around some media passion. He watched the Mike Myers Cat in the Hat movie over 50 times in two years, for science.

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