If you see a character like Lee Russell (Walter Goggins) bouncing on his toes in front of a crowd with his arms up like a televangelist preacher you know he’s charged up for very bad reasons. That’s how “Venetian Nights” opens, the penultimate episode of the season and an episode that sets up a lot for next week’s finale. Once Russell gets a chance to speak his joyous nature shifts into a vindictive punishment on those teachers who aimed to destroy him. This show is so damn dramatic and it’s over the top nature makes it so unique. So begins the road to Gamby’s (Danny McBride) falling out with the teachers and a resurgence of the Gamby/Russell battle that made the first season so great.
That’s right, after last episode’s reveal of the shooter’s mask and gun in Russell’s car, Gamby is certain Russell is the shooter. Much of this episode is focused on Gamby’s uncontrollable rage over this new information. That includes his rehearsed, over the top speech to shoot (and possibly kill) the perpetrator. This turn of events comes as a surprise given how these two characters seemed to bond and were better friends than ever after the “Spring Break” episode. It’s easy to forget Gamby is a hot headed and emotional character since this side of him hasn’t been on display since last season. McBride plays this rage quite well, which is a highlight of the episode.
Speaking of McBride, he also directed and co-wrote this episode which utilizes a lot of visual gags and camera work to pull the laughs out of a very long “fight sequence”. You’ll know what I mean when you see both Gamby and Russell’s faces covered in white as they literally body slam each other in the school hallways. In one of the biggest laughs of the season, these two end up fighting loudly when the camera cuts to Nash (Dale Dickey) typing away unbeknownst of the fight due to her loud music.
Beyond the slapstick fighting, there’s also an interesting horror angle later on in the episode as Russell’s darkest secrets are revealed to Gamby. Shot in the dead of night with thunder booming, Gamby and Snodgrass (Georgia King) enter Russell’s figurative and literal web of deceits and crimes. It’s a nice way to build towards the finale and another reminder of how this is a genre-bending show.
The episode ends well too with a school dance that’s the happy ending any 80’s loving movie watcher will get a kick out of. Basically, it’s Gamby’s idea of the good guy winning. It’s often hard to see the 80’s vibe going on with this show outside of the music and it’s a nice moment to be reminded its identity lives amongst the pantheon of 80’s films.
The execution of the big turn pitting Russell and Gamby against each other is, unfortunately, a bit forced. After all the bonding these characters have done over the season it’s actually painful to see them hate each other again. The switch is incredibly abrupt, even if Gamby caught Russell red handed, and to make matters worse Russell doesn’t defend himself when accused of being the shooter. Goggins does his best with this key scene, but it’s hard to believe Gamby would assume it’s Russell all along especially when he refuses to explain himself. One could argue Russell is offended Gamby would ever think his best friend would do such a thing, but that’s a cliched trick to convince the audience but not let the cat out of the bag. Simply put, I do not believe Russell shot Gamby and it’s frustrating to see them battle over half the episode knowing a little explanation could have refocused Gamby so he’d actually find the real shooter. Thankfully the episode’s very last scene seems to suggest the real shooter will be revealed in the finale, but that makes this episode all the more frustrating due to it all being a red herring.
Even though this episode had one of the funniest single moments of the season it isn’t that funny overall. Most of the humor lies in the fight sequence between the two which is both over the top and unbelievable. The fact that it’s spurred on partly because Russell refuses to explain his side of things when Gamby accuses him makes it frustrating. Everything else in the episode is serious business or table setting for the finale. That’s at odds with how the show typically unfolds as it tends to balances the drama with the humor well.
Here’s hoping the final episode of the series can pull everything together and (fingers crossed) allow these two broken men to finally realize the one thing they really need is each other.