There’s a certain amount of romanticism in a phrase like “here’s to never growing up,” but when Lee Russell sings it, it lands less like an affirmation of life and more like a punch in the gut. For men like Russell and Gamby, never growing up means never adjusting their horrid behavior and never facing the consequences for it. This week’s episode sees decades-old repercussions come home to roost, but Vice Principals isn’t the kind of show to let us off so easy. It’s too true to life for that. Revenge may feel good, but it always comes at some personal cost.
The clock starts ticking as soon as the episode opens. The catalyst is Kevin Yoon (Keong Sim), Christine’s college boyfriend, who interrupts Russell and Christine as they’re out to dinner. Christine and Kevin are thrilled to see each other, but Lee looks like he’s seen a ghost, going so far as to say that Christine doesn’t have Facebook when Kevin says they ought to connect. His odd behavior doesn’t escape Christine’s notice, and on the car ride home, she starts to paint a damning picture. Kevin, now married with kids, left school and broke Christine’s heart when rumors started to circulate that he was gay. As it happens, those rumors only started when Christine told Russell that she loved Kevin. When Christine asks Russell point blank if he was responsible, he dodges the question, instead blasting Avril Lavigne on the car stereo and singing along.
So, how do you solve a problem like Lee Russell? He may be able to fool Gamby time and time again, but Christine’s not an idiot. She knows what kind of man she married — or at least, she’s learned. Now that she’s confronted with a specter from their past, it’s hard not to wonder how much he may have lied to her, too. As Russell’s birthday party gets under way, she grows more and more suspicious (and drinks more and more wine on top of a tablet of Klonopin that Russell gives her), unable to shake the feeling that there’s something rotten in her marriage. The evening sours further as Superintendent Haas (who, as always, is happier to see Gamby than he is Russell) points out the inequity between her and Russell, suggesting that Christine’s salary is paying for Russell’s new, extravagant lifestyle.
Meanwhile, Gamby has brought Robin to the party in an attempt to impress Snodgrass with his mentorship skills. However, she’s on the arm of her new beau, Brian (Fisher Stevens, giving one of the best low-key sleazy performances on TV). When Gamby approaches Brian and brings up their prior encounter, he turns Gamby’s insincere apology right back on him, saying that he pities Gamby for letting Amanda slip through his fingers.
Russell doesn’t fare much better as his party turns into a powder keg. In a surprise twist, the guest list has a last-minute addition, courtesy of Christine: Kevin. After berating her, he enlists Nash (who notably reveals to Gamby that she’d once worked as a private investigator in Miami) to kick Kevin out, though she has as much success as she’s had in disciplining the students. Christine, now even more certain of Russell’s past deception, retreats upstairs to cry in the privacy of their bedroom.
With Christine gone, Russell asks Gamby to deliver his birthday toast. It’s quickly cut short as Brian faints dead away, and Russell’s entreaties to ignore the incident and continue the toast are met with indifference. Upset with how poorly the evening is going, Russell goes looking for his wife, only to find that someone has utterly trashed his bedroom and shit on his wedding portrait. Charging back downstairs, he immediately blames Robin, but we all already know he’s got the wrong person. It wasn’t Robin — it was Christine.
Vice Principals has always walked the fine line between tragedy and comedy, and that balancing act only makes it more affecting when it stops straddling the line. This week’s episode establishes itself as a full-on tragedy, as Christine confronts her husband in front of the entire crowd. “Stop making up lies,” she cries. “You don’t care who you hurt as long as Lee Russell gets what he wants.” Then, in tears, she takes a baseball bat first to his birthday cake, and then to his car.
It’s a difficult scene to watch, close in impact to the sequence in the first season in which Gamby and Russell got Belinda Brown drunk. In some of the show’s more lighthearted moments, it’s easy to forget the impact that Gamby and Russell are having on others, but as Christine says as she dresses Russell down, he’s completely altered the course of her life. The last 20 years of her life are built on a lie. There’s no forgiving that, and for once, Russell seems to realize it.
Gamby does his best to disperse the party, offering Russell his sympathy before driving Robin and a wasted Ms. Abbott home. Once again, he’s grown, but not enough. He apologizes to Robin for not sticking up for him at the party, but laughs when Abbott tells him that Brian fainted because she slipped a roofie into his drink. As Gamby takes Abbott home with him, Russell cleans up the party, spending the last part of his night scrubbing poop from his wedding portrait. It’s a look at Russell at his most vulnerable. The scene is one of the few times we’ve seen Russell completely alone, and it’s strange seeing him in a position where he isn’t performing for someone else. His regret seems to be genuine — “I cleaned it, Christine,” he tells his sleeping wife — though it’s likely too little, too late.
The party is a bombshell, and a particularly impressive one given the fact that it makes absolutely no headway as to what is ostensibly Vice Principals’ main plot of figuring out who shot Gamby. But if this show has proven good at anything, it’s setup. If this is what we’re getting just halfway through the season, the payoff is guaranteed to be worth the wait.