Vice Principals use pain and awkwardness to expose viewers to universal truths. It’s the type of show that makes you relate to and commiserate with the main characters even when they’re despicable. Episode four is titled “Think Change” and it gets to the emotional core of Lee Russell, played masterfully by Walter Goggins.
Before the episode does a deep dive on Russell, it opens with yet another incredibly shocking and funny sequence. As ominous music plays in the background, Gamby (Danny McBride) is on the hunt for the school’s art teacher. Series creators Danny McBride and Jody Hill always seem to be playing with audience expectations and this pre-titles opener is more of the same. As the art teacher cowers in fear, Gamby is after him like a hound dog on a scent. It’s not until the smash cut that we see why Gamby is chasing the teacher. This completes a rather hilarious joke relating to a new tactic Russell is deploying to get the teachers in line.
Russell seemingly never runs out of ideas to torture and manipulate others to gain some semblance of control. With Russell’s new ploy underway, Nash (played with over-the-top machismo by Dale Dickey) reflects, saying, “That’s pretty diabolical boss.” Russell, unfazed, replies, “It’s good to be the king.” Human despair and agony don’t appear to affect Russell, until you realize he’s a tragic character looking to be loved.
Much of this episode is focused on Russell and his father’s funeral. While Russell attends the funeral, Gamby takes over as interim principal, laying the groundwork for his potentially becoming the teachers’ salvation. The episode cuts between Gamby carrying out Russell’s torturous plan on the teachers and Russell interacting with his family. Previously we have only seen him interact with his mother-in-law, who he hates, and his wife, who he treats miserably. It’s interesting to see the family that shaped Russell, including his bullying sisters and somewhat removed mother. This episode is a classic example of taking a character you’re familiar with and dropping them in untested waters to reveal a new side to them.
Episode four has a heavy focus on bullies. Russell must swallow his pride and deal with his overbearing sisters, who are more stereotypically masculine than Russell. Russell reacts the only he way he knows how: through salacious plotting and revenge. At the same time, Gamby attempts to be a leader amongst physical fitness trainers who are supposed to get the teachers in line. Gamby wants to be a beloved dictator, but also realizes how wrong that is. Series creators Hill and McBride are breaking down these characters so that we can understand how they’ve become the cruel and crude people they are. Gamby however, continues to grow and become a better person while Russell may never change.
If you’re wondering if there’s progress on the “who shot Gamby” mystery you’ll have to wait another week. The series creators are spending some time developing the characters further to explore them and set up some new dynamics as the series progresses. This episode doesn’t feel like as much of a departure as the last episode, but it isn’t getting any closer to the series main focus either.