Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 1 of The Righteous Gemstones.It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two years since a new episode of The Righteous Gemstones graced our screens and our hearts. Created by Danny McBride, this crime-comedy follows a family of uber-popular (and wealthy) megachurch televangelists headed by the highly regarded Dr. Eli Gemstone (John Goodman) and his three clumsy and petulant adult children – Jesse (Danny McBride), Judy (Edi Patterson), and Kelvin (Adam Devine). Jesse’s reputation (and quite possibly, life) is on the line when he receives messages from an unknown number blackmailing him with a video of him and his friends engaging in reckless, inappropriate, and unholy behavior. Unless Jesse is able to cough up $1 million to give to his blackmailers, this incriminating video is about to shatter the Gemstone family’s immaculate image.
During the 9-episode first season, the Gemstone family is thrust into dangerous and bizarre situations with some toxic individuals. Baby Billy Freeman (Walton Goggins), Eli’s up-to-no-good brother-in-law resurfaces and Scotty (Scott MacArthur) a low-level criminal has it out for the Gemstones and their phony facade and (very) real fortune. HBO already renewed the show for a third season ahead of its Season 2 premiere on January 9th.
But before we dive into some more (un)holy waters, let’s revisit what happened in Season 1.
Where to begin. How about the beginning? The first episode of The Righteous Gemstones beautifully establishes the power dynamics of the Gemstone family as well as lays the foundation for Season 1’s main course: Blackmail. Eli, Jesse, and Kelvin arrive home on one of their three private jets (each appropriately named The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit) after their massive group baptism ceremony in China. Judy, the middle child and only daughter, eagerly awaits their return while seething with jealousy toward her brothers. Because Judy’s a woman, she’s unable to be a pastor like her father and brothers. She hilariously and desperately jumps at any morsel of an opportunity her father gives her to shine in the public eye.
Word got around that the Gemstones plan to expand their presence into the Locust Grove area, and Reverend Johnny Wesley Seasons (Dermot Mulroney), a pastor of a church nearby, is afraid his small congregation will jump ship once the Gemstones invade his territory. Eli shrugs off Johnny’s pleas to reconsider building a new church, which further cements the (obvious) notion that the Gemstones are in it more for money than they are to spread the word of the Lord. At home in his gorgeous mansion, we meet Jesse’s picture-perfect wife, Amber (Cassidy Freeman), and two of his three sons. The oldest son, Gideon, left the family to pursue a career as a stuntman in California and to disassociate from the family.
That night, Jesse receives a video of himself and his friends doing drugs with sex workers from an unknown number who blackmails him into forking over $1 million to ensure the video does not get released. Jesse reluctantly tells Judy and Kelvin about his predicament, and he and his friends wrongfully attack Johnny Seasons thinking he was the blackmailer. Judy begrudgingly gives Jesse money she stashes in the ceiling (as one does) and the three siblings meet the blackmailers in a parking lot. After Jesse secures the thumb drive containing the video, he beats up the masked blackmailers and escapes with the money, too. To finish things off, the siblings run over the blackmailers with their van. Surely that would be the end of this nightmare, right?
At home and completely oblivious to Jesse’s mess, Eli watches old footage from when he and his late wife Aimee-Leigh (Jennifer Nettles) used to preach together. The siblings get their hands on security footage from the night and quickly learn that there was actually a third blackmailer, a young man who escaped unscathed and was able to drive his cohorts to the hospital. Kelvin’s roommate, Keefe (Tony Cavalero), a dim-witted ex-Satanist with a heart of gold, works at the DMV and snags a copy of traffic cam video that could help them track down where the blackmailers ran off to.
Scotty, the alpha of the blackmail trio, is determined to destroy the televangelists. Meanwhile, the young man is having second thoughts and is terrified of getting into any legal trouble. Filled with regret, the young man aborts the mission and heads home. Shockingly, we learn that the young man on the heist was Jesse’s estranged son Gideon. Everyone’s happy that Gideon is home except Jesse, who’s having trouble forgiving him for leaving in the first place. (Imagine if he knew that he was one of the blackmailers?)
To make the situation even more uncomfortable, we’re introduced to Baby Billy Freeman, the creepy, self-obsessed brother-in-law of Eli. Eli generously offered Billy the position of head pastor at the new church (which he accepts), but Billy’s still bitter that his late sister stopped working with him once she married Eli. Johnny’s crew vandalizes the Gemstones’ new church, but Eli and Billy catch them, strip them bare (literally), and humiliate them. For a brief moment, Eli and Billy bond over the bizarre experience, but it’s clear Billy is still resentful. Gideon infiltrates his parents’ bedroom and secretly adds up how much their valuables might be worth and reports back to Scotty, who much prefers cold hard cash.
Keefe is briefly tempted to return to his Satanist roots when he runs into old friends, but stays strong and helps Kelvin mentor a church donor’s daughter, who’s been engaging in some non-Christ-like behavior. Gideon makes his way to the vault that holds stacks of cash donations and continues feeling conflicted. One of the wives of Jesse’s friends comes across emails from their night of debauchery and tells Amber who is convinced their husbands were hacked. (Luckily for Jesse, he’s able to convince everyone that their messages were simply taken out of context.) On the way home, Jesse recognizes the red van in front of him as the one that belongs to the blackmailers. They drive them off the road, and Gideon and Scotty escape into the woods. Jesse tells a shaken and confused Amber not to worry, and that, “Them just some fellas I play car pranks with.” What in the good Lord was going to happen next?
Midway through the season takes us back to 1989 to meet a young Aimee-Leigh and Eli who are pregnant with Kelvin. Jesse and Judy are even more intolerable than they are as adults, and blatantly say that they don’t want another sibling. Aimee-Leigh breaks the news to Billy that they can no longer go on tour as their brother-sister duo because she’s expecting. To get back at Eli and Aimee-Leigh for throwing off his plans, he sneaks Jesse beer at Judy’s birthday party, which leads to Jesse embarrassing the family with a drunken outburst. Even back then, Billy was a real piece of work.
In the present, Jesse has stolen the red van of the blackmailers and is keeping it at Kelvin’s. (Keefe also eats a slice of cheese pants-less, which is something you definitely cannot unsee.) During a golf outing, Billy tells Eli that he thinks Judy deserves a chance in the spotlight away from the “secretary shit” she’s given. No one ever goes to bat for Judy (except her timid fiance, BJ, that everyone ignores), so she’s immediately intrigued by him. Eli doesn’t want to hear it. “Less chitchat, more play.” Billy goes behind Eli’s back and tells Judy that he wants to give her a starring role in the Gemstone church Eli just gave him. Are we supposed to believe Billy thinks Judy is a gifted performer? No way in Hell. He’s looking to be a thorn in Eli’s side. And poor Johnny tells his tearful congregation that he has to close the church.
Gideon’s all bruised up from the crash and is struggling to come up with excuses to his parents as to why he is bruised. Jesse and his crew get another threatening call from Scotty, though Jesse’s feeling pretty confident, and tells him off. Judy dances her way to confidence for Billy with a show-stopping rendition of “This Little Light of Mine”. Gideon and Jesse have their first real heart-to-heart, and (awkwardly) hug it out. Keep in mind, Jesse is still completely unaware that Gideon is (now reluctantly) working with Scotty, the Gemstones’ blackmailer.
Eli confronts Billy about taking Judy from him, and Billy explains that if it wasn’t for Eli swooping in from “a poor preacher’s family” and “stealing” Aimee-Leigh, Billy might be the one with the fortune and prestigious reputation. That night, Billy welcomes “Miss Judy Leigh” onto the stage, and the two perform the hit song, “Misbehavin’”, that Billy and Aimee-Leigh made famous. Gideon’s genuinely fun evening of board games with his family gets abruptly interrupted when he gets a call that his “LA friend” is at the gate and wants to visit. That “friend” was Scotty. Dun dun dun!
Episode 7 takes us back to Jesse’s infamous night that was caught on tape. He and the family were at a prayer convention in Atlanta, though Jesse dipped out of a family dinner to sneak back to his hotel room and get drunk with his friends. Gideon was understandably annoyed when he caught his father, especially since Gideon was set to leave for California for an entertainment industry internship. Jesse flipped out at Gideon for confronting him and said that he wouldn’t make it in Hollywood. Per Jesse’s request, Gideon packed a duffle bag and left. But before he left, he positioned his phone behind some bottles and pressed record. (Okay, back to the present.)
A cleaned-up Scotty wines and dines with Jesse’s family, much to Gideon’s horror. Scotty claims to have been spiritually saved by Gideon, whom he met doing stunt work and says he’s in the area for a high-paying job (um, stealing from the Gemstones). Easter Sunday is a few days away, and Eli prepares for another extravagant celebration. Jesse’s given the honor of delivering the main sermon, Judy is shocked (and elated) to hear that Eli wants her and Baby Billy to perform at the service, and Kelvin is bummed that he will (yet again) be coordinating a dance with the youth members. Now that Gideon knows where the vault is, he devises a plan with Scotty to steal donations on Easter. Scotty shows Gideon the last copy of his father’s tape, though Gideon is still a bit weary and regrets his involvement in the blackmail.
Billy refuses to perform for Eli and tells Judy they will keep their plans to perform at Billy’s church. Judy tells Eli on Easter that she won’t be performing for him, and that his showing interest in her talents is “too little too late”. After all, you know what they say: “You can’t gobble the pie if you didn’t help make it.” Judy takes her conflicted feelings out on BJ, and their fight ends with him crying and driving off in his Smart Car. While Jesse gives his sermon, Scotty heads to the basement to set the plan in motion. Gideon has a change of heart, beats up Scotty, takes back the tape, and tells him that he is bailing on the mission. No matter how corrupt the Gemstones are, family is family.
Scotty steals back his van and holds Jesse at gunpoint. He tells him that not only was he working with Gideon but that it was Gideon’s idea. With Eli and Gideon in tow, Scotty breaks into Eli’s and secures the key card for the vault. Jesse and Gideon begrudgingly fork over stacks of cash. Just to be safe, Scotty locks them inside. After dropping Judy off at home, Billy and his wife, Tiffany, are brutally t-boned by Scotty in his red van. Believing Scotty to be dead, Billy and his wife ransack his van and find a gun and stolen donations. Things get even messier when Scotty breathes awake Jon Snow-style and startles Tiffany, who accidentally shoots him in the head. The two attempt to hide the red van in a nearby marsh.
Upon hearing about Gideon’s initial motives, Amber tells him he is no longer welcome. Judy and Kelvin are relieved to hear that Eli still doesn’t know about the blackmail, leaving only Gideon to be blamed. Billy and Tiffany pack their things and flee back home with the cash. Billy cuts ties with Judy, telling her that she lacks the true talent and looks her mother had. Before Gideon leaves, Jesse breaks down and apologizes for being a horrible father. Judy tries to win BJ back while he’s at work, but her explosive behavior ends up pushing him further away.
Kelvin’s convinced God is punishing them for being hypocritical leaders and kicks Keefe out. Jesse invites his friends and their wives over and plays the tape of their crazy night, admitting that he is imperfect and that Gideon was not the one to blame. Amber (finally) freaks out on Jesse, going as far as shooting him in the butt with one of their (many) guns. Eli bails Judy out of jail for vandalizing BJ’s work. Keefe tearfully drives away to find a new home and passes cops excavating Scotty’s van from the marsh. Meanwhile, Tiffany and Billy are partying with their cash.
And now we’ve reached the grand finale of Season 1. Kelvin and Judy tell Eli all about the blackmail scandal and Eli fires his children from the church. Amber tells Jesse that if he really wants to repent for his sins, he should do what Gideon’s doing and do mission work in Haiti. Judy tries to win back BJ at an Outback Steakhouse, but he isn’t convinced. (He’s a bad boy with an earring now.) She admits she’d lied about being with a lot of men, and that BJ’s her only boyfriend. Kelvin makes a bizarre admission that sometimes he thinks he’s Jesus, which his siblings quickly rule out. He’s so distraught that he gives up his youth leader job and gets decked out in head-to-toe black, but quickly returns to his religious roots when he hears Keefe has been sucked back in by Satan.
Jesse flies to Haiti and tells Gideon that he showed everyone the tape, but Gideon still doesn’t want to come home. BJ runs back to Judy, and the two get back together. When Jesse returns sans Gideon, Amber turns him away. Jesse focuses his efforts on tracking down who stole the cash. Eli had told him that the van was recovered from the swamp, but the criminal is still at large. The siblings find Billy’s Jesus toy in the dirt and realize he stole the cash from Scotty. Eli and his kids confront Billy during a rainstorm, which leads to Billy getting struck by lightning. Somehow, he survives, claiming to have seen Aimee-Leigh in Heaven, who told him to make amends with Eli. Billy tries to start his own church as the “Electric Preacher” and Eli apologizes to Johnny, who now works at a hardware store. Eli offers him a job to work with them, which he accepts. The season ends with Jesse returning to Haiti, grabbing a shovel, and repenting alongside Gideon.
What in the name of Lee Iacocca is going to happen to the Gemstones next? Keep the faith! Season 2 of The Righteous Gemstones premieres Sunday, January 9th on HBO.