'Vice Principals' - Series Finale Recap "The Union of the Wizard and the Warrior"


Season 2 episode 9 seems like too soon for it to be the season finale of Vice Principals, but alas, it is. All good things must come to end. Following a penultimate episode that saw Lee Russell resigning as principal, as well as Gamby taking over in the interim and winning back Snodgrass, all seemed right at North Jackson High. Of course, this being Vice Principals and there still being an entire episode to go, things were about to take a very dramatic turn.

After being accused by Gamby of being his shooter, Russell has taken it upon himself to prove his innocence. Not in some grand scheme to reclaim his school, but to reclaim his friendship. He first pays a visit to Belinda Brown at her new school, apologizing and admitting to the type of person he is. He then creates his own murder board to solve the crime, realizing that all signs point to Jen Abbott.


Meanwhile, Neal Gamby arrives at his secluded home to find Abbott waiting for him, wearing a wedding dress and wanting to get married. Gamby refuses, and an uncannily calm Abbott accepts the refusal before heading inside to "use the bathroom". This is when Russell arrives to warn his former-BFF about the real identity of his shooter. Before any reconciliation can happen, Abbott reemerges from the house and shoots Russell in the head, then leads Gamby into the woods by gunpoint for a murder-suicide.

We've seen Gamby booby-trap his land all season, so this is the moment all of his hard work could finally pay off. Unfortunately, the swinging log trap he springs misses Abbott, and when he tries to escape he falls into his own pit. Abbott leaves Gamby there to die as she sets off to find and kill Snodgrass. Thankfully, for Gamby and the viewers, Russell's head wound was merely a graze. He arrives at the pit to help free Gamby, but only if he apologizes for not believing in their friendship. It's a moment that's simultaneously goofy, hilarious and sweet set amongst a potentially dark, murderous rampage. It's a tone that seems nearly impossible to pull off, but also one that has been Vice Principals' bread and butter since the very beginning.

So now we have Abbott speeding toward North Jackson High, Gamby and Russell hot on her trail. To complicate matters further, it happens to be graduation day. To commemorate the occasion, Russell bought a real, live tiger to be present for student photo-ops. That means an auditorium full of kids, an insane murderer, and a killer tiger are all under the same roof. What could possibly go wrong?

Abbott releases the tiger, which quickly devours its abusive trainer before setting its sights on Gamby and the others. They manage to trap it in the cafeteria long enough to evacuate all of the students, but eventually, with an assist from Abbott, it is back on the prowl. Russell takes it upon himself to confront the beast, feeling fully realized and invincible. The tiger wins this confrontation, immediately latching onto Russell and mauling at its prey.

It then falls upon Neal Gamby to enter the tiger's den and save his best friend. He roars at the tiger, asserting his dominance as king of the school, which sends the beast into submission. Gamby and a bloodied Russell emerge from the school, arm-in-arm. And with that, their insane year at North Jackson High had come to an end.

Three months later we find that Amanda Snodgrass has published her book, Nash is principal of North Jackson, Russell is a manager at a retail store, and Gamby is the principal of a middle school. As Gamby and Snodgrass enjoy lunch at a mall food court, he spots Russell eating lunch with his new retails friends. The two lock eyes, acknowledging all of the crazy shit they went through together. It was a crazy year, but they've both come through the other side as different, better men.

As a whole, the finale of Vice Principals took on a much crazier tone than any other episode of the series. The combination of a wedding dress-clad Abbott and a murderous tiger on the loose in the school threatened to send the episode into excess, but there was just enough sincerity to pull the whole thing off. The arc of the show is watching Gamby and Russell break bad, then try to break good again. The heart of the show is their friendship. The finale pulled off both aspects in spades.

Lee Russell doesn't return to North Jackson to reclaim his title as principal. He's come to save his best friend or die trying. And for all his pomp and bluster, Neal Gamby actually makes a great principal, reaching a point where his new middle school will be very lucky to have him. Sure, these men have done some truly despicable things throughout their very exploits, but they've suffered the consequences and changed in the process.

Vice Principals was a truly remarkable series. Knowing that its story was finite, Danny McBride, Jody Hill, and David Gordon Green were able to craft a tightly structured, insane, hilarious, dramatic thrill-ride from start to finish. I'm sad to see the series end, but extremely satisfied to see it go out on such a high note. Plus, there's always rewatches. I'd tussle with Lee Russell anytime.

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