Damn, we’ve got a new major conflict seeded. With four episodes left, Vice Principals and its look at masculinity seems to be setting up a conflict between our co-leads: The fact that Lee Russell technically is Principal with the fact that the teachers would prefer Neal Gamby be Principal.
We get a slice of Lee Russell’s backstory this episode, and it’s framed a bit by his hiring of the Sweat Dogs (a boot camp consultancy, which can only be described as a “fucking insane” thing to subject teachers to). Russell wants to “tear down and rebuild” the teachers, and it so obviously is connected to the way his father and sisters wanted to tear down and rebuild him, and is just as equally horrid and dysfunctional as that. (As Russell suspected, the bullying didn’t stop with childhood: his sisters point out one of the stains he insisted they’d notice and Christine insisted they wouldn’t, and strip him of his pants.)
So it makes sense that Lee Russell seeks to dominate a world that so long kicked him in the stomach. But there’s more to him than sympathetic revenge; as his mother reminds him (and us), “they were mean, but you were sneaky.” Lee isn’t a bully, but he lies and manipulates and connives; even his own family knows what a snake in the grass he is.
Given a chance to change that image, Lee makes a lovely speech at the funeral about how much he appreciated the time his father took to help him better himself. But in the final montage, we see how hollow his newfound peace with his upbringing is. He smashes the airplane models, showing to us how much he is still motivated by spite and vengeance, but also rejecting the last chance to recognize and repent, to change from his path of vengeance and destruction.
That’s going to put him on a collision course with Neal Gamby, who has found what may in fact be his purest motivation for seeking the principalship: He’s better for the school than Lee Russell is. For all their individual faults and shared deficiencies, the major difference between Gamby and Russell has been their core motivations regarding North Jackson. As much as Gamby wants respect and recognition, he also really wants what’s best for the school; Russell wants the same respect and recognition, but he is motivated by ego, by the need to be seen as the one in charge. Gamby wants his effort recognized; Russell wants his power recognized.
Gamby would be a shitty principal in a lot of ways. His competence at morning announcements is wanting. He can’t improvise on the fly to Superintendent Haas the way Russell can. And he just kinda rubs everyone the wrong way. But what he does have are two things Lee Russell doesn’t: the best interests of the school at heart, and the support of the teachers who also recognize that about him.
What happens when Lee Russell comes back and discovers that, and whatever wedge it will drive between them, seems likely to drive the plot of the final four episodes of Vice Principals.
- Yes, the drama teacher is Seychelles, like the obscure island nation you only know if you need to hide banking transactions or take a lot of Sporcle quizzes.
- The Sweat Dogs get increasingly nuts over the episode; the mere fact that they’re in the lunch room at all suggests they’re way out of control. (Describing “Think Change” as “involuntary education” is a sign of both how far off the reservation they are and what kind of insane shit Lee Russell was trying to accomplish.)
- Neal Gamby trying to wrap morning announcements: “Say cut, I’m standing here sweating my face off, I don’t know if this is going to the fucking school– BEEEEEEP”
- Scott Caan was in the credits; I’m guessing he was the lead Sweat Dog, but I haven’t seen him since Ocean’s [1d3+10].
- Gamby’s Spartacus moment was straight out of an 80s movie, right? It felt like it, though I couldn’t pinpoint the one.
- “You have no idea what I’m going through, Gamby!”
“Well, I still really, really pity you.”