First off: My apologies for being so late on this. I went on something of a five-day bender from Wednesday to Sunday, then tried to play basketball on Monday and in doing so made myself sick on Tuesday. So I couldn’t even watch the episode with a clear head until Wednesday. But I certainly wasn’t going to miss this review, even if it had to be late. Now, onto the content you crave:
The scene that stuck out to me from this week’s episode was the moment before Lee Russell was overpowered by Robin Shandrell’s gang of “bad kids,” when he’s doing cocaine at the prom. I couldn’t help but think: With all the legitimately terrible things Russell has done, with all the fireable offenses he’s committed, why are you trying a convoluted plan to shame him into resigning, instead of bringing those to light?
But I think that gets back to one of the themes of this show: High school has never ended for these people, and they’re still more about social cachet than real actions and consequences.
We’ll get to that in a bit. The episode opens with a delicious piece of Russell revenge, as he singles out the teachers who purposely tried to tank the state exam with the “reward” of being his Gold Star teachers, “available 24/7” to help out students– also, they get to be prom chaperones! Gamby watches ominously from the rafters. The next morning, he summons Russell to a meeting by leaving a hilariously poor drawing with Miss Swift:
-The fuck is this, a spaceship on a ladder?
-I think it’s a train.
-A train on a ladder?
-I think those are tracks.
Gamby confronts Russell with the evidence he found and with his rig. (Amazingly, he botches his tough-guy one-liner in the exact same way he did with Belinda Brown: “Do you feel bad about shooting me?” *waits for non-sequitur response* “So am I.”) Russell can’t even be bothered to deny he shot Gamby anymore, which makes me wonder if he actually did do it, or if he’s just such a sociopath that he immediately thinks in terms of power and control rather than trying to exonerate himself. Gamby lays it down for Russell: Resign, or I will shoot you. Russell spends a day contemplating, and seemingly acquiescing. Gamby has dinner with Ray, Gale, and Janelle (I can never remember Ray and Gale’s last name), and he tells them he caught his shooter. (Gale, perhaps more intuitive than we realized: “Wait, it’s a him?” It’s gotta be Abbott, right?) But then the next day, Russell comes back to work, like none of it happened. Gamby confronts him, and Russell mocks him, telling him he doesn’t have the guts to shoot him.
Willows and Nash laugh off Gamby’s accusation of Russell as his shooter, so he finds Snodgrass and lays it all out for her in a shockingly honest confession: He helped Russell run Brown off by burning her house down and blackmailing her, then Lee shot him. Georgia King’s performance is outstanding as Snodgrass takes it all in, before she has to go to class. Abbott confronts Gamby with her usual insane troll logic, and tells all the other teachers that Gamby spent spring break with Russell. (Abbott, most of all of the faculty and staff, is the person permanently stuck in high school, trying to climb the social ladder by tearing other people down.)
This only furthers Gamby’s resolve. He resets his Taxi Driver rig and confronts Russell in his office. Russell dares Gamby to shoot him, then lays it down: “As much as you like to act like Rambo, the truth is you’re just a soft-hearted man. You don’t have the fucking balls to go to war with me.” (What’s more telling of Russell’s character than that he considers a soft heart a weakness?) Then Russell fires him.
Gamby isn’t done yet, though, and war is indeed the term; much like the end of another great series Walton Goggins was part of, this war is going to escalate quickly and drag a whole lot of other people into the conflict– including families. But first, Gamby goes to get his big-ass paddle, and he storms in on Russell during morning announcements, and we get one of the best set pieces of the entire series: Russell and Gamby having a fistfight across the school, in what is a marvelously staged sequence, highlighted by a long tracking shot in which Gamby chases Russell in parallel– he’s running through offices, Russell is in the halls– and catches him just in time to body-slam him into a locker. Gamby definitely has the upper hand here, but, oh right, you can’t just beat the shit out of the principal in a high school, or the security guard will draw his weapon on you and escort you out.
(Worth noting: Danny McBride directed this episode. I believe all the season 1 episodes were directed by Jody Hill, and all the season 2 episodes to this point were directed by David Gordon Green. Remarkable work by McBride, especially given his participation in these action sequences.)
Snodgrass finds Gamby at his compound, and after some of his typical “this is how men are supposed to act” bluster about being fine, he finally confesses he didn’t call Snodgrass after he was shot because he was ashamed of the person he had become. She gives him something like absolution: “When you read my book, you were the only person who believed in me. And I believe in you. I mean, what you’ve done is very fucked up, but I believe that you’re a good person, and that your heart is in the right place.” She stands by him and they decide to hit Russell back– as Gamby says, “where it hurts.” Which means finding Christine.
Christine, for her part, is much more primed to believe Gamby’s accusations than even she admits she would’ve been a few months ago, but isn’t sure what they can do. Then Mi-Cha starts speaking excitedly; Christine reveals Russell’s “hiding place,” a storage locker full of all sorts of heavily detailed, organized records. (Surely where both the Gamby’s Killer Dossier and Amanda Snodgrass Dossier have come from.) Christine reveals the item that will destroy Lee: His sister’s diary (not sure which sister), detailing all of Lee’s exploits she (or they) observed. (His sisters are horrible people, but it sure sounds like Lee was a born sociopath from what we hear from it.)
Gamby goes all Eugene Debs organizing the downtrodden: The cafeteria workers, the teachers Russell has screwed over, and the “bad kids” who have at least some loyalty to Gamby after he did right by Robin. (Or at least, loyalty to their brand of fun: As one kid puts it, “Lee Russell never done anything to me, but I’ll whip that skinny motherfucker’s ass.”) Abbott bows out, but Gamby reveals the diary and the plan (and once again I’m wondering, why are these revenge schemes always so childish?).
The episode climaxes at the titular-themed prom, where the kids shanghai Russell, and Gamby confronts him with the diary, his plan to reveal it to everyone– and that he has the support of the teachers to replace him– and a pre-written letter of resignation. Russell looks as defeated as he ever has, but I can’t help but feel he’s still got a card left to play somehow.
And from the looks of that final shot, he’s got one possible ally left. And we’ve got one episode to see this house of cards come crashing down.
- The featured image is a promotional still, but I used it because the “GET IT” paddle finally makes a prominent appearance.
- Sooo… is it still possible Abbott was the shooter? I’m about 50/50. But why wouldn’t Russell at least say he didn’t do it?
- Goggins and McBride in particular were spectacular this episode, possibly never better than they’ve been in this show. They run the gamut– rage to defeat to triumph and everything in between.
- Underrated comedy highlight of the fight scene: Nash’s complete failure to be anything like a disciplinarian, listening to her headphones and completely tuning out the Gamby-Russell fight while the whole school is watching.
- Bonus detail: The “Keep Calm and End Bullying” poster on the window during their fight.
- Christine says “There wasn’t any real abuse” when talking about Lee. What does that mean?
- “And I might start with this one: April 2, 1993. Lee was kicked out of gymnastics for–” “Don’t! Don’t… read that. I-I-I know what I did that day.” Again: What does that mean?
- Gamby sneaking into the prom as a caterer and behind a mask was hilarious. As if anyone wouldn’t still recognize him immediately.
- Abbott knows about the Snodgrass Binder, and might even still have it, yeah? Just one of the many things that may come crashing down on Neal Gamby, even if he “wins” over Lee Russell. There’s just too much he’s done that he can’t make right if it ever comes back to him.
- “If I make this shot, you may come with.” *misses shot badly* “Did I do it?” “You did.”