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Eastbound & Down Recap: Daddy Issues

No big surprise that Kenny Powers’s father isn’t the ideal parental role model. And no big surprise that Kenny’s reunion with Eduardo Sanchez doesn’t culminate with a warm hug and a game of catch out in the backyard. But considering the buildup and the plainly genius stroke that finds none other than Don Johnson as the Powers paterfamilias, there has to be more in store than the twist ending this episode suggests.

With Stevie standing sentry over Sebastian’s Lambo and clandestinely whispering horrible sweet nothings to Maria on the phone, Kenny heads inside his father’s house to meet his stepmother, Soledad, and his vaguely Mongoloidish stepbrother, Casper. Learning that his father owns and operates an all-terrain vehicle company only seals the deal: This is Kenny’s new home, and Casper is his new sworn enemy. Kenny marks his territory by peeing on his new brother’s computer. He also confesses that things aren’t going so well with his comeback and he could use a family to settle down with, which comes as a relief to his father, who assumes a handout was in the offing. Hospitality comes in the form of a couple of sleeping bags plopped down in the barn. “Cheeseburgers in paradise,” Kenny marvels. This is what he came to Mexico for all along.

Seeing Kenny and his dad ride around on ATVs — like a Jet Ski, only it can ride to the top of a mountain — it’s clear they’re cut from the same roguish-asshole cloth. Just as Kenny is regretting his selfish behavior and cowardly actions, his father, who lives in Mexico under an assumed name, absolves him and tells him he’s right to be thinking only of himself at all times. This isn’t just hollow advice: Papa Powers practices what he preaches, turning Kenny and Stevie into the federales for stealing the car, and he doesn’t even get a payoff in return.

Soledad visits Kenny and Stevie in jail to bail them out — the latter is availing himself of the cell’s commode thanks to some Montezuma’s revenge and improperly boiled meat — and explains that she’s the actual owner of the ATV company. Like father, like son, the Powers men aren’t quite as they’d like themselves to be seen. Stevie confesses that he made up the news about Cutler and April getting married to keep Kenny in Mexico, and with nowhere else to go, Kenny takes action: He calls April and tells her, not without some menace, that he’s coming to get her.

If that’s the case, and the teaser for next week’s episode would indicate it is, we have to say: That’s kind of a shame. We’ve learned nothing about Kenny’s father — who is he, why did he abandon Kenny’s family, where was he during his son’s baseball career, and how did he find himself as Eduardo Sanchez, 100 miles outside of Copales, Mexico? It’s not hard to fill in the blanks, but why should we have to? Who wouldn’t want to watch Danny McBride and Don Johnson and their haircuts every week, taking turns teaming up and facing off, striving to outdo one another in feats of human selfishness and degradation? Like Danny DeVito on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, this is stunt casting that could have legs and give the show a richness it hadn’t even hinted at previously. So far, Kenny’s mainly been pitted against supplicants and rubes he can steamroll over; Mexico’s given him Aaron and Eduardo Sanchez — this potential’s barely been tapped. Worth noting: There are only two episodes left in this season.

Fans of season one may rejoice at the idea of Kenny returning to North Carolina and those characters. But as April has already been long established as an empty bit of ego-fulfillment that has nothing to do with who she may or may not be as a person, this can’t help but feel like a little bit of a dead end. Certainly there are extenuating circumstances that are dictating the plot’s direction — who said Don Johnson or Deep Roy even want to be on HBO’s stupid baseball show? — but it just doesn’t seem right that our Mexican adventure may already be coming to an end, and for such a familiar reason that already seemed to reach its logical conclusion, with April stranded at a gas station. Sure, it could be argued that the dead end is Kenny’s and not the series’ creators, but why parse? If Kenny’s real motivation for moving to Mexico was to find and confront and get some answers from his father, this encounter and its dénouement can’t be properly satisfying. Maybe that’s the point, but still.

Photo: Fred Norris/HBO