This week on The Righteous Gemstones we’re in Scooby Doo territory as meddling kids Jesse (Danny McBride), Judy (Edi Patterson), and Kelvin (Adam Devine) join forces to investigate the murder of a family enemy, and all signs point to their father Eli (John Goodman) as the killer. “For He Is a Liar and the Father of Lies” is burdened with pushing the plot of the season forward, but rest easy: it punctuates the necessary exposition with a full helping of physical comedy.
At the conclusion of last week’s episode, Jesse, Judy, and Kelvin Gemstone defy their father’s instructions to go and meet with antagonistic journalist Thaniel Block (Jason Schwartzman), only to find that he’s been murdered. When they return home, they discover that their father Eli has come home late, his pants stained with blood. This week’s chapter picks up minutes later, as the four Gemstones and associate Martin (Troy Anthony Hogan) race back to the scene of the crime. What they expect to accomplish when they get there is unclear, but Eli is being twitchy as hell, flinching at the sound of nearby police sirens and carrying on a text conversation while carefully hiding his screen. When Jesse spies that Eli keeps a pistol concealed in his car, the wheels in his head (such as they are) start turning. By the time Martin and the Gemstones arrive at Block’s rental house, they find it engulfed in flames, with all evidence of his murder destroyed.
The next day, Jesse comes to his siblings with his suspicions that Eli is responsible for Block’s death. Eli’s claim that the blood on his pants belonged to a deer that he found on the side of the road is transparently false, plus he’s been hanging out with that creep Junior (Eric Roberts). Jesse’s not the only one who sees Eli as the prime suspect, as cable news, social media, and even Jesse’s own sons are convinced that Block was whacked for meddling in the Gemstones’ affairs.
Jesse launches an investigation, eventually roping in his reluctant siblings. He unearths old newspaper clippings revealing that Glendon Marsh, Sr.—Junior’s father and Eli’s employer during his wresting days—was a full-blown gangster with the Dixie Mafia and an accessory to murder. BJ (Tim Baltz) shares his eyewitness account of Eli solemnly riding the Gemstones’ wooden roller coaster alone, over and over, the day after the murder, which convinces Judy that Eli is emotionally rattled. Kelvin swipes Eli’s cell phone in the hopes of finding something incriminating in his text history. (If only they could remember the passcode: Eli’s birthday.) The trio’s headlong dive into sleuthing requires some procedural dialogue that’s hard to make funny on its own, but some sight gags make up the difference. BJ’s testimony is conveyed through an over-the-top highlight reel of his roller blading prowess, and Judy inspects Eli’s texts over Kelvin’s shoulder by producing a giant magnifying glass introduced in a previous scene, which might be the most Looney Tunes bit the show has ever done.
Junior returns to the Gemstone compound to visit Eli, but Eli has him turned away at the gates. The storytellers wisely keep Junior separated from most of the episode’s comedy, allowing him to play as a genuine menace. Eli doesn’t scare easily—even when he was held at gunpoint by Scotty towards the end of last season, he seemed more angry than afraid—but now he’s jumping at the sound of his cell phone vibrating on his desk. Goodman plays Eli’s anxiety with nuance and ambiguity, shading in doubt whether or not it comes from a place of guilt. It’s easy to believe that Eli fears Junior not only because of what Junior’s capable of doing, but because he’s shown Eli what he himself is capable of doing. The juxtaposition of Goodman’s dramatic acting against the rest of the cast’s buffoonery continues to be one of The Righteous Gemstones’ greatest strengths.
Meanwhile, in our B-plot, Kelvin copes with dissent in the ranks of his God Squad, the small army of bodybuilders who work the land behind his house. During a demonstration of strength, agility, and “Virgin Power” in front of Kelvin’s youth group, a tower of muscle men collapses under his weight. When one of the Squad’s strongest, Titus of Tampa Bay (Miles Burris), begins to disobey orders, Kelvin challenges him to drag a massive concrete crucifix across 20 feet of sand. He fails and Kelvin has him locked away in a bamboo cage for a week for his defiance. Kelvin relishes the opportunity to assert his institutional power over men who could easily break him in half, as well as to demonstrate to his father that he’s an adult who can manage his own problems. While it’s mostly a source of surreal comedy, this subplot also demonstrates Kelvin’s talent for weaponizing faith for his own advancement. This potentially makes him the most dangerous member of the Gemstone family.
Jesse, Judy, and Kelvin summon Eli to the main auditorium of their church to confront him with their findings, because when you want to discuss the details of your father’s alleged felony, you naturally want to do it in a room designed to carry your voice as far as possible. (We even see staff sweeping the pews during the intervention.) The “kids” tell Eli that they not only know about his employing Junior to whack Thaniel Block, but that they support it as a necessary effort to protect the family. This plainly disgusts Eli, who sets the record straight with his own wild tale of what really happened on the night of the murder. Eli explains via flashback that, after a round of bowling, one of Junior’s “hairdresser friends” invited him back to her hot tub. Enticed but intimidated, Eli decided to try this new thing they call “manscaping” and had an embarrassing accident, which accounts for his bloodstained trousers on the night of the murder. Eli now suspects that Junior may have killed Block while he was otherwise occupied.
The flashback to Eli’s failed sexual escapade more funny is heightened like a drug trip, representing how easily intoxicated this old Christian widower is by a small dose of eroticism. Sharing this story also means admitting to his kids that he’s started casually dating, something that upsets them more than the thought of him committing murder.
Eli’s brief detour into the realm of comedy is halted in the episode’s following scene, in which Junior confronts Eli in person at the local gas station. When Eli firmly rejects Junior’s friendship, Junior declares himself his enemy and slips away into the night. Junior is a dangerous antagonist, far more intimidating than last season’s physical threat, Scotty. He likely has dirt on Eli that could destroy the Gemstones’ reputation, though that alone may not be revenge enough to satisfy him. If Junior is truly Block’s killer (and we have no reason to believe otherwise), then he represents a mortal threat to the family.