"Fuck is this, a spaceship on a ladder?"

 

Self-improvement is a pretty wonderful thing. Don't like something about yourself? Go right ahead and change it! It might not be quick or easy, but it's always possible to tweak yourself for the better, shaving off the parts that don't agree with you, adding new ones here and there to better move yourself throughout your world, and so forth.

We all have the ability to look at our past behavior patterns and try to adjust them for the better, and this ability sits at the heart of just about any story you've ever told or been told.  Stories have meaning because at one point or another, someone changes, for better or for worse.

Of course, seeing how that all goes down tends the most interesting part, and it's exactly this part of the process that's made season 2 of Vice Principals so much fun. What started out as an unhinged portrait of toxic masculinity has slowly revealed itself to be a nuanced and careful look at the cycles of abuse that ultimately result in the American bully. It's a high school drama where the teachers are the main players instead of the students.

At some now-distant point, Russell and Gamby were just climbing that professional ladder, both ostensibly contending for the ability to cement a career path and the eventual legacy that comes with it. By now, it's clear: they both want to be Most Popular Boy, but Gamby has been slowly realizing that he doesn't necessarily share Russell's absolutely unbalanced predilection for deceit on just about every level. Russell has, at this point, not only revealed himself as the villain of the piece, but also as the devil Gamby's shoulder. Also he may or may not be Gamby's shooter? But we'll come back to that.

Having foiled the teachers' standardized test mutiny, Russell is basking in the glow of his newfound job security, sentencing the mutineers to prom chaperone duty, and rewarding himself with a new portrait for his office. Gamby makes a gunpoint demand that Russell resign; this request's denial sets off one of the more stomach-churning sequences I can remember sitting down to in a while. The idea of gun violence on any school campus is a pretty drastically uncomfortable one, and "Venetian Nights" edges right up to the idea that Gamby is actually going to blow Lee Russell away before morning announcements can even go down.

Instead, we get the return of Gamby's GET SOME paddle and easily the most hilarious set-piece since the Burning of Casa Belinda. Gamby and Russell absolutely tear up the school in an extended brawl that perfectly marries next-level physical comedy, sharp camerawork (courtesy of second-time director Danny McBride), and the show's consistently-fantastic score. Watching these two men finally have it out with each other is satisfying all on its own, but let's not forget that Vice Principals takes place in a heightened universe where it's apparently ok to just constantly swear at children, so of course we're not going to be limited to the simple throwing of punches. No, there's a fire extinguisher in the mix at one point.

Eventually Russell comes out on top, firing Gamby and having him thrown off school property. It's not until Snodgrass comes to check on him at home does he realize that he still has a play left. See, Snodgrass is still around because she recognizes the key aspect of Gamby as a person — he wants to do the right thing, and this episode saw him truly start to move himself in that direction with his admittedly pretty rushed confession. At first, she's appropriately horrified...but clearly comes around to realize that deep down, Gamby is a decent guy who wants to do right by the world. Which leads Gamby to a vital realization: Russell isn't.

A quick meeting with Christine leads to the discovery of Lee's sisters' diary. It's the ultimate Lee Russell codex, containing a record of every fucked-up event contained in his his deeply disturbing childhood, and Gamby quickly uses it to blackmail Russell into signing his own resignation. A bit of behind-the-scenes political maneuvering helps Gamby ensure that he'll be confirmed as Russell's replacement, Gamby gets to have a romantic prom dance with Snodgrass, and all's well that ends well.

Except we've still got an episode left, and if there's one thing we've learned about Lee Russell over the course of this season, it's that he's definitely not going down easy.

 

oh, and also...

• My Shooter Theory: It's Abbott. It's gotta be. Not just because of that lingering shot at the end of tonight's episode, but because she showed up to the Spring Break beach house when nobody else was there, giving her the perfect opportunity to plant the mask, gun, and jacket in Russell's SUV.

• As uncomfortable as it made me, I'm really impressed with that morning announcements misdirect. I thought shit was about to get inexcusably dark for a minute, there.

• Russell's arc into outright villainy wasn't implausible but it was a bit unexpected, and pleasantly so. The more the show looks into his backstory, the more we see how his insecurity and entitlement were beaten into him.

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