For a series with a story spanning four decades of a family’s life, it’s surprising how neat and tidy “Better is the End of a Thing Than Its Beginning,” The Righteous Gemstones‘ season finale, really feels. Whether Aimee Leigh’s legacy, Jesse’s comeuppance, or Judy’s complicated journey through adult emotions, The Righteous Gemstones is an hour of judgment, retribution, forgiveness – and ultimately hope, a long emotional journey “Better is the End of a Thing Than Its Beginning” pulls off with unexpected grace.
“Better is the End of a Thing Than Its Beginning” parts the seas of drama and violence, for pointed observations on the art of forgiveness.
It helps it is easily the most emotional episode of the series; opening on the Gemstone family falling apart literally twenty seconds after Aimee Leigh’s passing, “Better is the End of a Thing Than Its Beginning” is a master class in tone, using a bee – a Biblical symbol of community and shared purpose – as a catalyst to jolt so many of its characters into their reality (which in Baby Billy’s case, is a very literal turn of phrase). The ability of a family to come together and fall apart gets condensed into the minutes-long cold open, a fantastic appetizer for the emotional roller coaster ride to follow.
In the wake of Scotty’s fortunate passing, the Gemstone siblings are all facing exile from their homes; fired by their father, and deservedly abandoned by the ones they love, Jesse, Judy, and Kelvin seek out redemption in the usual, complicated Gemstone way. Kelvin, after briefly embracing the darkest voices in his mind, abandons his eye makeup and brings back the one person in his life he doesn’t share a last name with; Keefe, who immediately reintegrated himself with the strange Satanist clan of his younger life (which includes him in a latex suit that covers everything but his dick, submerged in a pool of liquid while getting high on nitrous).
It’s a bit of a stunted arc, one played more for comedy than anything emotionally evocative; but it works, mostly as an amuse bouche for the episode’s ruminations on identity, and the uncanny ability of each Gemstone to make everything about themselves, in their own special ways. For the most part, though, Kelvin’s been given the short stick in every episode, so his relative lack of soul searching in “Better is the End of a Thing Than Its Beginning” doesn’t feel off balance, simply a matter of The Righteous Gemstones‘ allotting its time to two larger, more resonant stories of his siblings. There’s clearly more story to be told with Kelvin – on his sexuality, his ridiculous sense of self righteousness – but it’s obviously a story for another day, one Gemstones smartly nods towards, instead of diving head first into.
The biggest story of the finale is Judy trying to get back her man – in the process, turning The Righteous Gemstones into a one-woman highlight show. Though Jesse is ostensibly the center of the series, Judy’s become the easy MVP of the series, delivering heartfelt lines about unrequited love in the same breadth as describing the “snail trails” she left on her classroom seat. Patterson gives Judy so many dimensions, mixing her middle-child syndrome and rampant narcissism while giving equal weight to her emotionally stunted, spoiled upbringing. In a series full of vibrant characters, Judy is a step above the rest, straddling the line between disgusting and tragic in the single best comedic performance HBO’s featured since… well, probably McBride’s protagonist on Eastbound and Down.
It also gives BJ a moment to shine in the light, giving a bit more shape to some of the show’s easiest punch lines; it is the un-emasculating of BJ, in a way, and it’s extremely satisfying to watch. If there’s a universal truth to the arcs of the finale, it’s the idea that honesty and happiness don’t occur simultaneously; the truth is a difficult thing to face, whether admitting failures to another, realizing one’s sense of self-worth (or lack thereof), or coming clean about mistakes. Judy does all three in front of BJ, but he’s still not ready to let her off the hook: we can seek redemption, from our loved ones and from the Lord, but those acts often only solve our own selfish needs of closure.
BJ, like Amber, isn’t satisfied with an apology, and the nepotistic justifications of their lovers’ actions; some pages just can’t be unturned, something Judy and Jesse both have to contend with. “Better is the End of a Thing Than Its Beginning” places them at both ends of the spectrum, to great effect: BJ finally takes Judy back (with some of the most disgusting romantic lines I’ve ever heard; “You save that piss for my chest”), and Jesse gets kicked out of his home after he fails to bring Gideon home from Haiti; honesty is a two-edged sword, able to be soul cleansing and crushing in the same breath.
Seeing Jesse contend with that gives the finale a surprisingly strong back bone; his first and second trips to Haiti circumferencing a powerful emotional journey to acceptance Jesse has to face. Like Jesus when he saw his end coming, Jesse eventually stops resisting the inevitable, losing his job, family, and wife in one fell swoop, punishment served for all the lies he told around his night of gambling and cocaine in Atlanta.
For Eli, the person he needs to forgive him isn’t around anymore; and if there’s an unexpected truth tucked away in “Better is the End of a Thing Than Its Beginning,” it’s Eli revealing himself as the biggest hypocrite of them all. He banishes his children until they find his missing money, he cuts a deal with Johnny Seasons (telling him he works “with” the family, not “for” them; we’ll see how long that lasts), and he only escapes Baby Billy’s ultimate judgment of him when a bolt of lightning strikes his brother-in-law. While the Gemstone children face their inner demons, Eli continues to ignore his, nodding through Baby Billy’s frustrations and dismissing his children’s conflicts, in his attempts to re-secure his legacy, and financial standing, in the wake of the unmitigated disaster caused by Jesse’s behavior – and ultimately, his and Aimee Leigh’s parenting.
Some, of course, are the product of miracles: Baby Billy, ever the gambling man, continues to hold off his own cosmic debts, avoiding death and finding his newest con during his climactic fight with the Gemstone family. He may not have walked away with millions of dollars in tax-free money, but he got something even more meaningful to him: relevance, power, and the ability to see his sister one last time (or at least, imagine it long enough to turn it into something profitable for him). Some people seemingly escape judgment and bad luck through their entire lives; though Baby Billy’s won and lost his share of fortunes, his ability to be honest about who he is (a grifter living off the reputation of his beloved sibling) allows him to exist in a space between the Gemstones’ hypocritical morality and absolute capitalist anarchy – like Eli, he knows how to turn his family’s story into money, but he does it without lying to himself along the way about what a cheater and snitch he really is.
For such a lengthy finale, none of “Better is the End of a Thing Than Its Beginning” feels bloated or unnecessary: it is a rather tight script leaving just enough room for its lead performers to chew on scenery – and in Edi Patterson’s case, deliver some truly hilarious bits of dialogue along the way (her asking Jesse if all her future boyfriends would “go down on her butthole” had me in tears, and you can see the cast barely holding it together). More importantly, it parts the seas of drama and violence for pointed observations on the art of forgiveness: its value, its shortcomings, and its inherent selfishness, in a powerful, emotionally potent season finale of HBO’s next great comedy.
If there’s one story The Righteous Gemstones doesn’t really deliver on, it’s Dot’s story. Her presence in the finale feels so random, and disconnected from everything else going on. Maybe more in season two?
Danny McBride dressing full Casablanca to go to Haiti and talk to his son is just perfect costume design.
While praying for Baby Billy, a bee appears and stings Baby Billy’s head; rather than be distracted into self destruction, Eli tells his family to pay it no mind, and it ends up bringing Baby Billy back to them. Maybe it is Aimee Leigh reincarnated, or maybe it is God giving the family a second chance, a metaphor for pain leading to salvation and clarity.
I love the montage of the Gemstone family gluing the plastic Jesus back together: it encapsulates their views on faith, family, and their business in such a beautiful, wordless way.
The wordless final scene is so perfect, such an understated way to finish out the season.
That’s it for The Righteous Gemstones‘ first season! Lord willing, I’ll be back whenever this fantastic comedy’s second season makes it to air (2020? 2021? All we can do is pray). Thanks for reading!
‘Mr. Robot’ Just Changed Everything with a Shocking Reveal
There have been a lot of moving parts put into place over the course of Mr. Robot’s fourth season. Several of them just came together, in devastating fashion.
There have been a lot of moving parts put into place over the course of Mr. Robot‘s fourth, and final, season. On Sunday night, however, several of those pieces came together for one of the best episodes of the entire series in “Proxy Authentication Required”.
The reveal of a trauma so intense and horrific allows the character of Elliot to make so much more sense – so much so it almost warrants an entire series rewatch, to search for other hints.
Staged like a five act play, and utilizing a cinematic aspect ratio, “Proxy Authentication Required” immediately lets viewers know that it’s doing something a little different. While this may not be a huge surprise for fans (Mr. Robot just did a dialogue-free episode two weeks ago, among other experimental efforts throughout the series) the reason for it is fitting.
Essentially a bottle episode, “Proxy Authentication Required” takes place entirely in the apartment of Elliot’s former therapist, Krista. As such, the five act structure makes it even more like a play than it already is. Moreover, the episode is very dialog heavy, with almost no action.
Still, with a meaty chess match between Elliot/Mr. Robot and drug dealer Fernando Vera making up the majority of the episode, the dialogue is weighty enough to justify this structure. The first round goes to Vera, who obviously has Elliot over a barrel, having kidnapped both he and Krista. However, Mr. Robot turns the tables in the second round, pointing out the lack of originality or planning in Vera’s drug-fueled, mystically-advised bid to take over New York City.
Finally, the third round comes: the tie breaker. As Fernando orders Krista to have an impromptu therapy session with Elliot, the most shocking reveal in the series is laid bare. After a tense build-up, and against the protests of both Krista and Mr. Robot, Elliot finally digs up the truth behind his alter ego. Mr. Robot wasn’t created after Elliot had an accident, he was created to protect Elliot from a series of traumas that came before it.
In an emotional moment sold gloriously by Rami Malek, Elliot accepts the truth: his father molested him throughout his childhood. In one fell swoop, so much of what we know about Elliot suddenly makes sense – and the fact that Mr. Robot looks like his dad is just the beginning. There’s also the details of the trauma that we’ve had up until now: that Elliot told Darlene to hide when he heard his dad coming; that he grabbed a bat to defend himself – and, finally, that he threw himself from the window when he feared he couldn’t best his father in the altercation.
The reveal of a trauma so intense and horrific allows the character of Elliot to make so much more sense – so much so it almost warrants an entire series rewatch, to search for other hints. Certainly it’s more logical that Mr. Robot was created out of these terrible memories rather than materializing after the injuries sustained during Elliot’s fall. It also lets the viewer know that Mr. Robot had a history of altering Elliot’s perception and memories long before the events of the series.
Even more disturbing is that the creation of false narratives and fake memories is actually a real-life coping mechanism used by survivors of sexual abuse, especially children. As such, the reveal fits naturally into the character of Elliot – but it’s a huge shock to drop on the audience a mere three episodes before the end of the show.
Of course, the reveal will no doubt ignite debates as to whether Mr. Robot creator and showrunner Sam Esmail planned this backstory from the start, or whether it was concocted as a wrench to throw in the gears at the last minute. Either way, questions remain as to how this new information will affect the remainder of the series.
Will Mr. Robot be back or is he gone for good, now that his job of protecting Elliot from the truth has become obsolete? Did/does Darlene know? Will this affect the plan to hack the Dark Army that has been building all season? All of these questions and more will be answered in the next three weeks but in the meantime, we’ll be waiting with baited breath.
Watchmen Podcast: Breaking Down “Little Fear of Lightning”
This week, Watchmen delves into Looking Glass’s past and revisits one of the biggest events from the comic: the “interdimensional” squid attack on New York that kills over three million people and psychologically damages millions more. “Little Fear of Lightning” the finest hour yet, a focused character study that connects past and present in fascinating ways. And as always, there’s a lot to digest.
Our Watchmen podcast will see Simon Howell and an assortment of guests tackle the entire series (or at least the first season). In this fifth episode, Simon Howell, Sean Colletti, and Randy Dankievitch, take a deep dive into “Little Fear of Lightning” and note some of the more astonishing facts of the episode you might have missed.
And for those of you wondering, in order to keep things simple, we’ve decided to upload each episode to the same feed as our other podcast, Before the Internet.
The Career of Seth Rollins: From Face to Heel at Lightning Speed
It wasn’t that long ago that The Shield debuted on Survivor Series, setting the main event careers of three talented wrestlers in motion. Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins all came to the WWE through NXT. In and out of The Shield, each man has held multiple championships and has had great success.
These days, look a lot different for the former Shield members. Dean Ambrose left the WWE for AEW to wrestle again as Jon Moxley and Roman Reigns took a step back from the spotlight after warring with cancer. Meanwhile, the career of Seth Rollins has taken a turn of its own.
Becoming Seth Rollins
Colby Lopez joined the WWE in 2010 as part of Florida Championship Wrestling under the name Seth Rollins. He was there when it was re-branded in 2012 as NXT and became their inaugural champion. Seth Rollins turned heel in epic fashion by betraying The Shield and embarking on a huge singles career after his main roster debut.
Rollins hitting his Shield brothers with a steel chair still rates as one of the most shocking turns in WWE history.
More recently, Rollins had two wars against Brock Lesnar over the Universal Championship. Rollins won the Royal Rumble, using the title shot he earned to beat Lesnar at WrestleMania. Then, Lesnar somehow won a Money in the Bank match he wasn’t technically involved in. He used that shot to get his belt back. Rollins would then reclaim the title at SummerSlam.
It was a repetitive feud.
Rollins vs. Lesnar Into Infinity
The back and forth between Rollins and Lesnar became exhausting to fans. Not shockingly, WWE viewers were already sick of Lesnar being an absentee champion by the point that Reigns finally took him down. When he reclaimed the belt after Roman’s cancer announcement, the focus turned to Rollins hunting Lesnar.
Even when someone else like AJ Styles or Baron Corbin got in the mix, fans knew they wouldn’t win. It was always going to be about Lesnar and Rollins so fans started to turn on Rollins. His Hell in a Cell match against ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt was the final nail.
Top Face or Top Heel?
There was a time long ago that fans over the age of eight cheered for John Cena when he came out to the ring. At some point, it became cooler to boo him. The same is true of Roman Reigns, who had to go through a traumatic personal experience to get fans to ease up on him. In both cases, they were the corporate champions chosen to lead the brand.
In reality, fans didn’t really care if they were good wrestlers or not. It’s just something they chafe against.
The boos echoing through the arena are growing louder and louder for Seth Rollins for similar reasons. That’s due in no small part to the long, tedious promos he’s sent out to give to personally connect with the audience. Play that card too often and the opposite becomes true. WWE was frequently guilty of the same thing with both Cena and Reigns.
Watch the video from the night when Reigns made the announcement of his hiatus to fight cancer. Fans were reflexively booing him because they figured they were in for another long promo. The mood changed quickly when Roman started talking about leukemia.
Things Go Wrong at Hell in a Cell
All of this was already building to a head when Hell in a Cell came along.
Universal Champion Seth Rollins was set to defend his title against ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt in the titular main event. Unfortunately, WWE had painted themselves into a corner. They wanted Seth to retain, which he did, but couldn’t use the traditional DQ or count out to do it. Instead, WWE went for some weird finish where Seth hurt Wyatt so much so the ref stopped the match.
Essentially, a DQ in a no DQ match.
Rollins became the focus of much of the rage for the bad finish but the feud between him and Wyatt would continue. Wyatt finally won the Universal Championship and took it back to SmackDown. The side effect of this would be Lesnar returning to Raw with the WWE Championship.
It’s inevitable that Rollins and Lesnar will cross paths for the WWE Championship. Unfortunately, fans will have to choose between the two. They’ll end up cheering Rollins on as the lesser of two evils from their perspective.
The main miscalculation that WWE made at Hell in a Cell is the same one they made with Reigns and Cena. They assumed that being the top face in a match makes you the fan-favorite. Bray Wyatt is, by far, the most over wrestler in the company. People love Firefly Fun House and they love ‘The Fiend.’ Rollins simply couldn’t compete as any ending that wasn’t Wyatt with a belt would not be satisfactory to fans.
Seth Rollins’ Next Phase
Now, Rollins is stuck in a weird limbo. The top face on Raw for management that’s morphing into a heel based on fan opinion. His heel run alongside Triple H was some of his best work and he is still a superb in-ring performer. WWE should let what’s going to happen by letting Rollins perform to his strengths.
Let Rollins burn it down as a heel one more time.
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