Vice Principals S01E09 Recap: 'End of the Line' [Season Finale]

When, in episode two of Vice Principals, Neal Gamby and Lee Russell burn the new principal's house down to knock her down a few pegs, we got the instant impression that this wasn't going to be just another HBO sitcom. We had something special on our hands, and with that insane, unexpected turn of events, the bar had been set for how low, how depraved this show could get. Since then, there have been some amazing, memorable moments, like Lee and Gamby's drug trip, or the scene Gamby caused at the motocross race, or even as recently as last week when Gamby and Lee trick Brown into getting hammered. It's been a hell of a first season for this comedic limited series. With all that in mind, none of the craziness, none of the unexpected turns could have prepared us for how the show decided to end its first half.

So let's jump right into it. After they film Brown's drunken escapade, Lee and Gamby present her with their blackmail evidence in an incredibly uncomfortable scene. They force her to resign, and the end result is the best possible outcome; they become co-interim principals, which means that they both get the job they've been after and they even get to continue being friends. Gamby even makes things right with her daughter and Ray and makes up with Snoddgrass. But that's where the good news ends, because the episode and the season ends with someone burning (and blowing up) Lee and Gamby's cars, and a masked assailant shooting Gamby twice, as we fade with Gamby in a pool of his own blood.

It's hard to wrap my head around what happened. Despite the arson, the conniving, the tricks, the depravity, I could have never expected that. Especially since, up to that very last season, everything in the episode went pretty much as expected, as I've been predicting at weeks. The blackmail against Brown works, and Gamby and Russell are left to run the school together and possibly compete for the same job. The fact that it ends with them on seemingly good terms, happy for each other and even admitting they would be okay with the other getting the job for themselves, was a nice added bonus, but either way, the second season was shaping up to be pretty straightforward.

We should have known better, that Danny McBride and Jody Hill wouldn't let their crazy show fall into any sort of pattern. Instead it lures us into a false sense of security with so much going hunky dory for our main characters, and then bam, two gunshots and two burned cars later and this show is more unpredictable than ever.

What's so brilliant about that ending is not only how the things that have come before it make it seem like a natural progression into worse depths for this show, which is already hard to believe at face value, but also that, based on how it's meant to shake up a show that was risking becoming stale and/or predictable, you can't be sure of what actually happened. The easiest answer is that Dr. Brown is the one who's behind what happened. She has all the information, the motive, even the psyche to do such a thing. But then your brain starts to wonder if crazy Lee Russell is capable of doing something like that. He was a little reluctant to return Gamby's sentiment about being okay with him getting the job before they both got it, he was really rough with Brown even though she didn't really do anything to deserve the kind of beating they gave her (figuratively and literally) when they blackmailed her, and we know he's crazy enough to drug children, burn things and even harm people. Even when they're putting the flag up, Russell's acting weird, trying to give more credit than credit's due to Gamby for getting rid of Brown. Maybe he even volunteered the information about burning Brown's house down to make it seem as if she's the one who would have lit their cars on figure.

Then again, maybe Lee doing this to Gamby is too obvious too. Maybe it's something even crazier, like the crazy jealous teacher, Abbott, or other crazy teacher, Bill. Could it be oddly mild-mannered Ray trying to get his "competition" for Gamby's daughter out of the picture? What about Lee's crazy biker neighbor?

The fact that anything's possible kind of makes this one of the best twists in recent television memory. It's so layered, so brilliant, so unexpected. And yet it even distracts from what this possibly means for the show's second season, which now looks a lot different. The one safe bet is that, one way or another, Gamby will probably survive, since he is the show's main character. Season 2 therefore becomes about his recovery, about him eventually returning to work after a long time of Lee running the place, about how the school board handles a principal being shot on his first day after two other principals came and went in the same school year, about a school that's technically now had a school shooting. This show has a much different makeup now, and that's impressive albeit unsurprising from such a talented team that McBride has assembled.

The season finale of Vice Principals, "End of the Line", is surprising and mesmerizing, hilarious and well-crafted, leaving us with what might be a new entry into the Pantheon of great finale cliffhangers, so it gets 10 interim co-principals" out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • All that distracts from another great moment in this episode, Brown and Lee/Gamby getting into a literal fistfight in the woods.
  • For a show with such recognizable names as Walton Goggins and Danny McBride, we have to give tremendous kudos to Kimberly Hebert Gregory for finding a way to stand out awesomely as Dr. Brown. Considering this was advertised as a show about two vice principals fighting for a job, she inserted herself into that and threw some jabs (even literally) really well.
  • Most GIF-able moments: Gamby and Russell trying to race into the school board building, and Gamby smiling while saying "I hated this year, it sucked."
  • Some of this is right, I think: "Hindsight is the definition of a dumbass who does the same exact thing over and over again expecting different results."
  • "I can't wait to shit my pants."
  • "Well these things happen sometimes, sir." "No they don't, this has never happened before. That's my whole point."
  • "You know I could open you up with this, but I'm not, because I'm principal now."