How Gideon Became the Best (and Most Righteous) Gemstone
One theme asserting itself in the third-season premiere of The Righteous Gemstones is: How do the children of an extraordinary parent prove themselves worthy of his legacy? This is, it seems, particularly challenging for these children — Jesse, Judy and Kelvin Gemstone (Danny McBride, Edi Patterson and Adam Devine respectively) — who are too busy insulting each other to display even the basic competence required to take over the megachurch ministry established by their semi-retired father Eli (John Goodman). It’s not all bad news for the family line, though: Eli’s talent just skipped a generation.
From his first introduction, the character of Gideon Gemstone (Skyler Gisondo) has served a crucial narrative function as a satiric norm. If every character in the show vibrated at the same heinous frequency, it would be hard for the viewer to know how to read them, or to understand what the show’s creators thought of them. But Gideon is like a visitor from the world we live in, quietly serving as a counterpoint to his family’s grotesque excesses and to the unquestioning affirmation of their acolytes.
Yes, Gideon’s entry into the story is as one of the blackmailers trying to extort a huge cash payment from his father Jesse by threatening to release a video of Jesse snorting coke and partying with sex workers. But even in doing so, Gideon is living his values: He’s so disgusted by Jesse’s hypocrisy — the events on the video were captured during the Prayer Power Convention — that he’s accepted estrangement from his family, moving to Los Angeles and starting a career as a stunt performer. And yes, coming back into the fold in part to plot an even more lucrative heist on the Gemstone church vault doesn’t necessarily bespeak a person with flawless ethics, but as his fellow blackmailer Scotty (Scott MacArthur) points out, the ministry seems less about faith than about extracting tax-free dollars from parishioners.
Anyway, Gideon decides not to go through with it in the end and tries to expiate his guilt through mission work in Haiti, setting such a sterling example that even his shitty father is moved to join him. Like lefty activist Ewan Roy (James Cromwell) on the similarly-themed Succession, Gideon is complicit in every hideous abuse carried out by his family business as long as he continues to share in its spoils, but he does make visible attempts to keep his direct involvement to a minimum in their crime-adjacent activities to a minimum.
Cut to Season Three. Having been injured on a production since we saw him last, Gideon has a lot of time to kill. His parents, whose support of his career has been inconsistent, take advantage of his setback to assign him a job: Eli needs a new driver (because Jesse figured out the old one was leaking about the Gemstones to the press), and this will give Gideon something to do other than mope. For his first run, Eli and all three kids are in the car…
…which is good, because Gideon’s neck brace means he needs help checking his peripherals — kind of a key capability for someone in his new line of work. But overall — and assuming Eli isn’t too bothered by the smell of the cigarettes Gideon’s apparently been smoking in the car when Eli’s not around — it seems to be a good arrangement for everyone.
Then we arrive at the dénouement. Eli is on his way to meet with the ministers who are threatening to bolt under the Gemstone kids’ leadership when he gets an urgent call from his sister May-May (Kristen Johnston), from whom he was estranged until recently. Her sons have fled the prepper compound their father Peter (Steve Zahn) controls and are holed up with her in a motel room, but some of Peter’s goon followers have tailed them there and are staking it out. Eli calmly directs Gideon to an alley behind the room, and while May-May stays back, Gideon takes off with Eli and his nephews. The compound soldiers soon materialize behind them, and a chase ensues.
In the Season Two finale, we saw Gideon shooting a scene that required him to leap through a window and land on an enormous airbag, so we know his skills are legit. So while his father and siblings aren’t just failing to assuage the ministers’ fears but provoking them so obnoxiously that everyone in the meeting hall ends up throwing their shoes at each other’s heads, Gideon’s in complete control — more so than Karl (Robert Oberst), his second cousin once removed, who at one point is heard to gasp, “I pooped a little.” With Eli watching his 9 and 3, Gideon expertly weaves in and out of traffic, and a park, and a golf course, avoiding civilians and staying ahead of danger…
…until all three vehicles end up on a straightaway with no other drivers to avoid. “If you got a move in you…,” says Eli. Well: he does.
“You can keep the gig,” Eli tells Gideon. And if any other gigs happen to open up in Eli’s employ — including at the executive level — Gideon’s just shown he has the temperament to take them.