Eastbound & Down
So, This Is It. For realsies this time. Forever. And for an episode that would otherwise be a conventional, solid end to the most sentimental season of this whole raunchy-as-fuck, odd series, the last five minutes are really what made it shine. Specifically, an already-polarizing-just-check-Twitter-Six Feet Under-on-crank flash forward that actually made me cry a tiny bit. Don’t tell anybody. But, in true KP fashion, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Consider when Kenny first arrived in Shelby: A true think-for-yourselfer, high on coke half the time, who eschewed the Everyman goals between the super short-term (“touch April’s titties”) and Big Life Plans (“become rich and famous”). Over the course of three seasons, as Kenny experienced gains, losses, the deaths of loved ones, and the ever-awful realization that you’re becoming the parent you dislike more, and banged that Mexican woman who only sang Bob Seger covers (’memba her?), we’ve seen him going through two-steps-forward, one-step-back emotional growth. Sure, he learned lessons. But he always conveniently forgot them again the second he got a new gig, a fresh start.
But this season, Kenny’s motives changed. Even during those moments when he was in Def-Con-asshole mode, we knew that he was chasing fame and glory in order to earn his family’s love. Which, just like in a demented version of The Wizard of Oz where men like Steve Janowski are allowed to teach middle school, he actually had all along. We began to see it in the season-three finale, before he fakes his own death and returns to them, he says good-bye to Toby and heads to the big leagues: “All the wealth I acquire, all the fame and fortunes and women I will bed, I’ll be doing all that stuff so you’ll be proud of me. So you can be proud of your dad.” And at the beginning of this season, that mentality was still there — that’s why it didn’t stick. That’s why he ended up a resentful Mr. Mom. He was going through the motions, but he didn’t know then what he knows now, which is that simply sticking around and being happy about it made him a better father than having a prime-time TV show ever would. In last week’s episode, we see the light go off after he mentions to Dustin with true wonder that he is lucky that his family loves him despite the fact that he’s “nothing.” But to his kids, he’s everything.
Kenny, having learned from his (really, Stevie’s) It’s a Wonderful Life moment in the last episode, is coasting on the newly appreciated high of family life, bragging about Toby’s lead role as Johnny Appleseed in the school play to the stranger next to him. The specter of divorce still looms, inevitably: Kenny manages to convince April to wait one week to sign the divorce papers, but April tells him, without much heart in it, that she is going to move to Santa Fe with the kids for a job promotion.
In the meantime, the Janowski hearth and home is flourishing post-Christmas. Stevie’s wife and kids treat him like gold, since he almost killed himself and all, and even Kenny cares what he has to say about the screenplay. And he seems to have picked himself up a super-fun Valium addiction, so yay. Stevie is not super jazzed about the end of Kenny’s screenplay. (Stevie [talking around it]: “I liked the stage directions … I liked how it was clear who everyone was talking to.” Kenny: “You injure your jaw and you’re fuckin’ Roger Ebert.”)
The season’s running sight gag of “dick and/or ball(s) framed in fabric mise-en-scene,” is capped off in the cold open. The dick in question is Ronnie Thelman’s, the super-smooth and ambiguously ethnic multimillionaire head of the network that owns Sports Sesh. Dude is like early Guy Young, times a million, with a shirt unbuttoned so deep that it is nearly to the center of the Earth. Given the ninth-hour appearance, it seems like he is set up to be the Big Boss, Bowser to Kenny’s Mario — poor, racist Guy Young, defeated two episodes ago, has proven to be nowhere near a matched arch-nemesis for Kenny. However, it’s not quite that simple.
Thelman serves as one final nudge towards Dark Kenny, Heisendouche, the self-destructive fame seeker he finally matured enough to leave behind. Thelman — with a 13-year-old boy, his friend’s son, in tow — liked what an unapologetic shithead Kenny was on the Christmas broadcast, and wants to give him his own daytime talk show. (Thelman: “I want you to be the next Ellen Degeneres.” Kenny: “She’s a lesbian.” Thelman: “I know, I was in the meeting where we decided she should be one.”)
Thelman wants Guy Young, currently TV persona non grata (since Eastbound writers have rather idealistically framed the vast majority of American TV viewers as just that disgusted by racism, LOLOL), to be the first guest on Kenny’s show. Kenny looks into it. Guy Young has not done well since he was axed from Sports Sesh. His new full-time job is standing in his private theater in front of a broadcast of a crowd, bantering with them like he was still at the top of his game, and peeing in Gatorade bottles. At first, Guy is too proud to accept Kenny’s offer of a platform on which to apologize, but, after Kenny reminds him that Guy got him started in the business when he was out of luck, Guy acquiesces.
However, unbeknownst to Kenny, Thelman wants Young on the show not to give him a chance at redemption, but for good ol’ reality-TV bloodsport. He springs the angle on Kenny just minutes before the broadcast, and has that 13-year-old lackey of his ram his fingers up a random fat employee’s butt hole as some kind of supposed metaphor. (Or for, like, no reason. It’s hard to tell.) The newly enlightened Kenny, so unlike the one who once pushed Forney out of the dragon boat just to endear himself to then-powerful Guy, is clearly having serious doubts about the moral implications of kneeing a man in the ’nads when he is already very, very down. Thelman sees this, and slithers over to the mirror, into which he makes Kenny tell himself: “I’m a bad man. I’m a very bad man.”
On The Powers Hour, formatted more or less like Sally Jesse, Kenny goes by “Kenneth Powers.” Once the cameras are rolling, as you likely predicted, Kenny goes rogue. He launches a sweeping apology to everyone he’s fucked over in order to get ahead, and while it packs the same book-on-tape punch, it’s unlike any other Kenny speech of the last seasons — it’s self-aware, genuine, and its thesis is not about the unprecedented levels of Kenny Powers’s kick-assery, which is truly the most kick-ass of all. We cut away to the gratified face of each wronged individual, plus one hilariously disparaging Dontel in a bathtub. April, who has been fucked over by this man’s limelight-Jekyll appearances more times than you can count at this point, is near tears, and you can feel how much she wants to believe it. (I am officially launching an aggressive campaign to stop washing my hair until someone gives Katy Mixon and her sad eyes an Emmy.)
Then he tosses the mike to Guy Young and strides offstage. He also punches a furious Thelman out. Back at the Powerses, April and the kids are all packed for Santa Fe, and Kenny brings the divorce papers, all signed. Naturally, April can’t go through with it, and the two reunite.
Now, the ending.
Set to Kenny’s voice-over, the following occurs, although writing it all out has nowhere near the effect of watching it happen: Kenny and April in a productive therapy session. The Powerses move to Santa Fe. The movie gets made, featuring Kenny’s character as a super-jacked male-model type. The kids grow up. One of them is Lindsay Lohan, who would have made an interesting silent actress and is not wearing a bra with adequate support. A fiftysomething Kenny and April are accosted in an alley. April is shot and dies. Grieving widower Kenny becomes a heroin addict. Goes to rehab. Flies a hovercraft through Africa. Remarries a beautiful African woman. Has kids. Has a heart attack while frolicking with the kids à la The Godfather and dies. Toby, Shana, and white-haired Stevie in a fucking spaceman costume burn him on a pyre and throw his ashes into a lake.
Then it is revealed that this is the end of his screenplay, Of COURSE, because that image of Africa is completely what someone like Kenny thinks all of Africa is like. (Although, it is implied, they did move to Santa Fe and get counseling.) There is no more fitting end for a show like this: Ballsy, silly, stubborn in its insistence to be like nothing else on TV, unexpectedly moving, and with a random “African” male extra wearing a shirt and no pants, or underwear, dong swinging as if waving a final one-eyed good-bye.
It’s been real. Katy Mixon, do my hair and/or be my wife. Bye.
- Thelman’s angry exclamations kind of make me wish we’d had more of him earlier this season. “Fucking duck’s clit!!”
- The only part of Guy’s apology we hear is the very beginning, which goes: “First off, let me say, I love black people.”
- At one point Thelman asks women to fuck the 13-year-old boy. Later, he mentions that the kid has herpes.
- Dixie is such a delightful asshole to April, being so sanctimonious — “You should online date. You’re not getting any younger!” — even though her own marriage is in hell. Good for Gene for finally standing up for himself. (If I ever end up “counting” passive-aggressively at my husband during an argument, unsex me here.)