I’ve said more than once that Vice Principals is a tragedy of “learning to see other people as human beings one decision too late,” and this episode really underlines that theme. In this case, it’s two decisions too late, as we find out that Neal Gamby wasn’t exactly a straight shooter before he partnered with Lee Russell.
Gamby, thanks to Dayshawn’s help identifying a possible shooter from Neal Gamby’s Book Of Everyone Who Might Have Reason To Hold A Grudge Against Him, is brought back into contact with Robin Shandrell, a kid he expelled last year for selling weed– crucially, as Gamby admits to Russell, because Gamby planted evidence in his locker. So Robin has motive, but he’s also right in wanting Gamby and Nash (who insists on coming along as Russell is trying to “let her into the circle”) to fuck off after they spy on him at work and track him to his home. Gamby, of course, doesn’t fuck off; he has Russell create a distraction while he breaks into the back of the trailer home where Robin lives with his mother. It’s there that Gamby sees Robin taking care of his invalid grandfather, moving him to own up to what he did and meet Robin the next day at the meat packing plant where he works and offer him readmission to North Jackson High.
Contrast that reaction to Lee Russell’s when Gamby tells him about planting evidence. Rather than be horrified, or feel guilt or shame, he’s thrilled by it, he’s inspired by it. Russell’s in it for the adrenaline, and he’s frustrated at not being able to get his hands dirty. He’s also frustrated because he spied on the teachers’ lounge (never a good idea) and heard the teachers making fun of him. After confronting them the next day and issuing a Suspiciously Specific Denial of any hurt feelings and how could you or anyone hurt his feelings, he’s moaning in the bathtub that night and his wife Christine offers him advice: Try being nice. Russell, naturally, fails to grasp this (“Niceness is power…”) and goes over the top the next day, bringing a sushi chef to the teacher’s lounge. (This makes Russell’s plot a cross of two NewsRadio plots, but let’s overlook that for the moment.) It’s there that the teachers, led by Ms. LeBlanc (whose famous difficulty with administration Russell and Gamby used to their advantage in season 1), tell Russell that he’s a joke and they don’t respect him as a leader. This makes him furious, which leads into raw fish and sauce being tossed everywhere in the teacher’s lounge.
Back to the end of the day and Gamby and Russell’s football field rendezvous. Gamby’s confession inspires Russell to get revenge on the teachers, which he does the next day by inviting them (forcibly, in some cases) to the spot on the train tracks where he and Gamby dethroned Belinda Brown, firing them all, and ceremonially burning their school IDs.
Compare Gamby’s reaction to Russell’s at the firing. He’s not for this at all. He knows Russell has gone too far, and can’t even take joy in firing Bill Hayden now that he is no longer pursuing Miss Snodgrass (on the record; the news she’s seeing someone obviously does not sit well with him). But, to riff on a point Drunk Napoleon has made, Gamby feels an obligation to support his Bro, even when he’d really rather talk him off the ledge. Thus, these two are trapped in a vicious, enabling cycle. (I’m reminded of something another Walton Goggins character said.) Russell pushes Gamby to take more extreme actions in pursuit of his desires; Gamby’s willingness to and effectiveness at doing so inspires and invigorates Russell, and even when Gamby has regrets about the damage he’s causing, he doesn’t have the wherewithal to stop it or back down. This episode, he finally takes a step toward righting a wrong, but even letting Robin back into school can’t change the way he took a year of the kid’s life away. Gamby regrets the damage after he causes it, but the thought processes, the impulses, and the need to satisfy his ego and his perceived obligations to Russell lead him to keep making the same kinds of decisions that are causing damage in the first place.
And even though Gamby has tried to atone for one enemy he’s made, Russell has just made five more. And they’re no closer to finding Gamby’s shooter or getting control of the school.
- That cold open didn’t really go anywhere except a shocking shot of Dayshawn with a knife in his finger, huh?
- Another Jody Hill “This is fucked up but totally realistic” touch: A teenage kid punching a woman.
- As episode 1 mirrored last season’s episode 1 with an agreement by Gamby and Russell to partner up, so episode 2 continues down the line with Russell setting a fire.
- I thought Russell was going to plant something on all of those teachers. Surely he doesn’t have authority to fire them without cause, right? Ms. LeBlanc in particular seemed to understand her rights (“I work for the district, not for you”).
- It’s a bad idea to eavesdrop on the people you manage. Dave Nelson learned it the hard way, and so did Lee Russell.
- You also can’t stop the underlings from complaining about you by being nice or overly amenable. Lisa Miller learned it the hard way, and so did Lee Russell (and so did Liz Lemon, for that matter).
- Did Gamby’s confession change your opinion of him? I don’t know if it did mine– the fact that he was already willing to cross the lines we’ve seen him cross meant it didn’t surprise me he had that in him. It does make clear that this isn’t some new trait of his, though– the willingness to cross moral, ethical, and legal lines to pursue satisfaction was already there; Lee Russell didn’t coerce it from him.
- “You told me he had black hair.” “I meant black hair. Not, like, Afro hair.”