Vice Principals Recap: Murder, He Wrote

Vice Principals

Spring Break
Season 2 Episode 7
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: HBO

As you may have noticed, Neal Gamby hasn’t really made much headway in figuring out who shot him. Don’t worry, though: Jody Hill and Danny McBride know it, too. With Vice Principals moving toward its final episodes, Gamby takes down his shooter conspiracy board as he packs to go on spring break with his daughter. He can’t keep obsessing over the attempt on his life — he’s got livin’ to do.

Like most Gamby endeavors, spring break gets off to a bit of a rough start. First, he ends up inviting Russell after Russell appeals to his sympathy, citing his need for a relief from his ongoing divorce proceedings. Second, he has to deal with Abbott showing up uninvited at the Liptrapp house to bid him farewell (and briefly freaking him out with a joke that she’s pregnant), then throwing a fit when she realizes that Russell is going when she isn’t. Third, he has to manage three teenage girls — Janelle is bringing two of her friends — all of whom act particularly bratty in each other’s company. When they get to the beach, he snaps at them upon seeing the bikinis they’re wearing, saying they’re too revealing, but they blow him off.

Still, one good thing comes out of the afternoon: Gamby finishes reading Amanda’s book and he actually likes it.

For her own spring break, Amanda is off to an arts festival with Brian. The trip goes a long way toward revealing Brian’s true colors, which the show has hinted at for the last few episodes. To put it nicely, he’s a sleaze, flirting with other women even when Amanda stands right next to him, pointedly calling her “my friend” in order to distance himself. At dinner, he negs Amanda in front of other authors, making it clear that he doesn’t think much of her manuscript and lack of experience even as everyone else at the table provides nothing but encouragement.

These story lines resolve just as you might expect. When Amanda confronts Brian about his behavior, he admits to helping her submit to publishers just to get her in bed. Not too soon after, Amanda gets a call from Gamby, who tells her that he loved her book, and the stark contrast between the behaviors of the two men is enough to make her snap. At a reading, she storms the podium after Brian steps down, only to be mocked and unceremoniously escorted off when she tries to read from her book. The damage is done: She knows Brian is no good, and more importantly, she knows that Gamby cares.

Gamby’s romantic revelation is a little more harrowing. Spring break takes a turn when he lets Janelle and her friends go off without adult supervision at Lee’s persuasion, and then submits to Lee’s pressure to do cocaine and hit the strip club. It’s a good time right up until Gamby gets a call from Gale telling him that the girls have been arrested for shoplifting. Though he scolds them on the drive home, the girls still don’t take him seriously — and neither does Lee. On top of all that, Abbott is waiting for him when they get back to the house, telling him that she’d been waiting for him to call and apologize for yelling at her earlier. At that, Gamby finally breaks up with her, and it’s yet another indication of how he’s matured that he fesses up to his mistakes instead of putting it all on her. He acknowledges that he’s been selfish in stringing her along, and tells her that that she deserves somebody who actually likes her.

Now, this wouldn’t be an episode of Vice Principals without some kind of hitch. The girls, undeterred by their run-in with the law, make it clear just how little they think of Gamby by scaring him; they sneak up on him while wearing the very same Warriors mask he’d seen when he’d been shot. Where the rest of the episode has been fairly predictable, the reveal that it throws at us now is startling, if not entirely unexpected: The mask came from the trunk of Lee’s car, where Gamby also finds a black trench coat and a gun.

The conspiracy board may be gone, but we don’t need it to put the clues together. They all point to Lee being the shooter, not just because there’s evidence in the trunk, but also because there’s no evidence pointing to anyone else. The show is built too carefully to throw us a villain we’ve never seen before, and no other character could really be the culprit when this story has essentially turned into a two-hander with Gamby as the hero. With two episodes left, this feels a little like an early reveal — I may well be eating my hat by this time next week — but it also indicates that some shit is about to go down. Vice Principals isn’t a show that rushes anything if it doesn’t have to.

To drive the point home, this episode also goes to pains to stress just how toxic Russell is. He sides with the girls when it comes to needling Gamby, proving his constant need for approval and popularity, and he repeatedly makes sexual comments about one of them, going so far as to offer to draw them all a bath when they’re back at the house. He also pretty much ignores Gamby at the strip club once he starts getting a lap dance, snapping at Gamby’s question as to whether or not they’re actually going to hang out. If he’s ever really cared about Gamby, it’s not enough. Much like his behavior in his marriage, he still puts himself first. And as we’ve discovered now, it may all have been completely disingenuous.

The next morning, as they all get ready to go home, Janelle tearfully apologizes to her father. Gamby is quick to forgive her, hugging her tight as he looks up at Russell on the balcony of the house. When he says, “We all make mistakes sometimes,” it’s as much about her behavior as it is about his own.

Vice Principals Recap: Murder, He Wrote