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Eastbound & Down Recap: What Christmas Is About

A Christmas episode, even a slightly off-season one, dovetails quite nicely with this season’s themes — when the idea of providing for your family actually ends up eclipsing your family. Lord knows Kenny doesn’t know where one ends and the other begins. Since the last episode, when he left April and the kids, he’s descended into the hedonistic luxe bachelor life he’d been aspiring to since season one, having sex with women up against the all-glass walls of his hotel room and then snorting some coke in the shape of a Christmas tree. Meanwhile, Stevie got that chin implant and looks like a twin that Kyle McLachlan absorbed in utero.

Christmas is not about winning, unless you are Kenny Powers, in which case everything is about winning. He plans to “wins Christmas” by buying the kids better presents than subdued, sad April; he also “wins the divorce” by keeping April from seeing any of the money in the joint bank account and rolling up to proceedings in a wheelchair with a SARS mask and big sunglasses (the first of multiple celeb affectations we see from Kenny in this episode). On the other hand, Stevie, who has an indeterminate but probably something-like-a-7-year-old’s IQ level, knows he has what’s important (the love of his wife and kids) but feels humiliated that he can’t buy them anything for Christmas, since he splashed out on all that plastic surgery for his chin and Maria’s new mondo cans.

Now that Kenny’s lost the single remaining thread connecting him to reality, he is descending down the alpha-male hole Guy Young left in Sports Sesh with an even more fascist touch than Young had. In place of a little Christmas novelty act they’ve done in past years, Kenny wants to orchestrate a Very Special Christmas Episode full of hot women as reindeer and himself flying in on a high wire. Anyone who disagrees is directed to his bodyguards: “Any of y'all want to fuck with two dudes wearing Wilsons black leather coats?” Co-stars begin to drop out of the show because he’s being such a dick. 

Every time Cassie and Dustin appear, they play it with such gravity and dignity that it’s like they are from a completely different show, in the best way. (Can we remake Roseanne with them?) Cassie is worried about Kenny wandering Charlotte unmoored and lonely on Christmas, rolling on X at Denny’s at three in the morning, mechanically eating a Grand Slam. She invites him to spend Christmas Eve caroling with them. “You’ve got lonely eyes, Kenny, I can see it.” As expected, he declines (“That shit’s for Christians and retards”), flashes some dollars at her and acts like he’s doing just awesome — which, as these things are wont to do, comes off too manic to be believable.

But at Dadsmas (December 23), it’s not Tiffany’s tiara, a Rolex watch, Nobu catering, or even an elf “helper” hired by Kenny (William H. Macy as a little person, swear to Christ) that Shana and Toby want for Christmas: They want Dakota the Craigslist wolf back in the garage, a.k.a. Kenny back in the house. Even kids — hell, even kids who are genetically 50 percent Powers — realize that family is the True Meaning of Christmas. Kenny doesn’t even get it when he drops the kids back off at April’s (in veils, à la Prince, Paris, and Blanket) and she gives him some wrapped knickknack she saw at Marshall's. “It made me think of you.” He is taken aback enough to not say something snide about how cheap it probably was, but gruffly mutters: “I didn’t get you anything. I figured the gift-giving part was no longer in effect. Along with the wedding vows.”

Stevie has been quietly despairing over his perceived failure as a provider for the entire episode, and finally, when Kenny shuts down Taters and Tits owing to flagging business (and Kenny’s general inability to tolerate anything post-April split), Stevie loses it — this was the one way he was planning to raise the cash to buy the kids gifts. After all of this time, despite it being proven repeatedly, he can’t believe that Kenny doesn’t care about him. He storms off. 

Christmas Eve is not off to an auspicious start; after pregaming with half a bottle of Jack in his dressing room, Kenny bombs the Christmas show, ranting drunkenly about the problems at home and calling Santa a dicklicker. (This pretty much ensures that his time at Sports Sesh is over; they wouldn’t stand for Guy’s racism, but I’d guess that anti-Christmas tirades go down even worse with most Americans). Back in his room, he unwraps the knickknack April got him. It’s an ornament with a baseball player on it. He stares at it and drinks some more. Sometimes it is the thought that counts, he might be realizing — and on the flip side, flashy lobster-and-opera dates are empty if there is no sentiment behind it.

Stevie’s attempted suicide, a pistol to his chin in a seamy motel room, was silly and weirdly affecting at the same time, like a demented It’s a Wonderful Life. As Kenny and Maria talk him down, he sobs in his underwear: “I can’t even fuck you unless I’m wearing fancy pants.” (Maria, super-earnest: “But you eat my pussy so good!” Kenny: “Listen to her. You eat her pussy really good.”) Ultimately, Stevie comes to his senses. “What am I doing? This is so stupid! [Presents aren’t] the meaning of Christmas!”

Kenny: “No, they’re not!” [He truly seems to mean this.]

Stevie: “The real meaning of Christmas is—”

[Stevie accidentally shoots his chin off, which we all saw coming but still manages to to be SUPER GROSS.]

A blood-stained and still-drunk Kenny, having been touched by the scene between Maria and Stevie, realizes the Meaning of Christmas. He then staggers up behind Dustin, Cassie, and the other carolers and begins to bellow “Silent Night” with them, eventually crashing on Dustin’s couch. He confesses, not intentionally unkindly, but genuinely perplexed, that he envies Dustin’s quiet life as a family man — that nothing else is expected of him. “It’s like they love you for being nothing.”

Dustin just sort of nods, takes it with a grain of salt. At this point, he’s not mad at Kenny anymore — he just feels sorry for him.

In the end, Kenny gives Christmas gifts that have emotional meaning: The long-awaited screenplay for in-recovery Stevie, some gifts for Stevie and Maria’s kids, and a re-captured Dakota for Shana and Toby. And that helper elf for Cassie and Dustin. But I’m not sure if that actually means anything.

Extras:

  • Stevie and Kenny watch a woman twirling on the ice. Kenny: “Kristi Yamaguchi? More like Kristi Yamagonfuckyou.” Kenny: “Don’t call her a bitch. She’s technically still my wife. Do I ever call Maria a bitch? …Well, yeah, I have.” Stevie: (agreeing cheerfully) “April’s different, she’s a white person.”
  • “Am I a better friend than Shane?” Stevie asks twice as he bleeds on the floor. Kenny avoids the question.
Photo: HBO