Eastbound & Down
This episode is about as sentimental as it gets — which, to be honest, is a welcome respite after the last few pitch-black weeks of Shane’s death, Stevie’s infidelity, and Dochenko’s general assholery/Slavicness. Tonight just saw lots of good family feelings and prescription drugs and Prarie Home Companion–type shit. And, at a crucial moment, Kenny gets the ultimate Powers kick in the ass: an American flag at a gas station, accompanied by the most offensive moves that two “inferior” men like Stevie and Eduardo could possibly make verbal comparisons to Kenny (“Guess it’s just you and me. Two broken men,” and “Both just tragic heroes in the book of life. Not so different, you and I”).
Tammy Powers (Lily Tomlin) excitedly prepares for her famous baseball-playing son’s arrival. “We have to change the sheets in the guest room and make sure there is noooo medication lying around.” (Little does she know that Kenny’s only visiting to dump Toby with her.) When another midlife lady bowler gets all up in her face, Tammy punches her in the grill. Now we know where Kenny’s psychotic sense of competition comes from — certainly not from Patchouli God Don Johnson. As the guys hop out of the RV in front of Tammy’s McMansion, Stevie’s still staggering around in a drunk, remorseful fog in Maria’s absence. His aggressively bald, eyebrowless dome also continues to shock (Kenny aptly introduces him to Tammy as “this man made of skin, here”). Surprised by the appearance of Eduardo, her long-lost husband who went for cigarettes twenty years ago and never came back, Tammy slams him in the nuts.
As it turns out, Tammy has genetically imparted more than just insane-horse-rage to son Kenny. She has a personal assistant/indentured servant of her own, a butch live-in bowling team partner named Brenda. “What the fuck’s up, Brenda? You still smoking those Chihuahua dicks?” Kenny asks. “Sure am,” she replies. Plus there’s a sporting addiction to pills of all kinds. The two swap them like Pokémon cards before the whole gang goes bowling, where Eduardo puts the moves on Tammy with the utilization of such gems as “[You’re] still that same old firecracker I used to get boners for.” For the record, this would totally work on me and most women. Meanwhile, shooting some pool, Casper informs Kenny that he is a connoisseur of “Fingers. Ass. Pubic play.” (Casper: “When you rub your pubic areas together.” Kenny: “You’re gonna start a rug fire that way.”)
The feel-good spirit during that night’s Tecate-fueled game of Pictionary encourages Eduardo to make a heartfelt speech about starting over, which Tammy seems to buy. She tells Eduardo he’s welcome to crash on the couch that night. “Outside is for the dogs. Inside is for family.”
“And the garage,” Stevie says serenely, “is for cars.”
Later that night, Kenny reflects in the trophy room and Tammy stops in to say good night. They smoke weed, discuss absentee parents and how hard and disappointing life can be, but Tammy encourages him to forgive April’s transgressions as she has Eduardo’s: “It’s no good lugging a lot of hate around. It’ll just give you ass cancer.” She praises Kenny for being such a good father and tells him how proud she is. After that, he can’t bring himself to ask her to take Toby.
However, like the redneck Edward Albee play this episode is, the explosive secret’s bound to come out. In the middle of the night, everyone catches Eduardo and Casper trying to run off with the fancy silverware and, during the confrontation, Eduardo divulges the true reason for Kenny and Co.’s visit — dumping Toby with Tammy.
“Is it true?” Tammy asks quietly.
Kenny admits to the affirmative. “It’s super hard to be Charles in Charge when you’re not fucking Scott Baio.” Tammy, deeply disappointed, gently reminds him, “Someday baseball won’t be there, and April might never come back, but you’ll always have Toby.” She reluctantly agrees to take the baby anyway, but tells Kenny she doesn’t want him at her bowling tournament.
Midway through the next morning’s crestfallen journey home, Kenny realizes, with the help of a few well-placed deus ex machinas (see paragraph 1), including a run-in with Eduardo, that he doesn’t want to give Toby away. Nor does Eduardo want to leave Tammy again, despite his attempt at cutlery thievery. And so, in the midst of Tammy’s bowling championship, the men crawl out from behind the pins of two lanes and slam Tammy with some serious win-her-back speeches (e.g., Eduardo: “I’ve been trying to fill the Tammy-sized hole in my heart with the holes of ridiculously beautiful prostitutes”). Kenny apologizes for trying to ditch the baby and acknowledges it was a mistake.
Tammy accepts their apologies. “I’ve done my fair share of fucked-up shit, too. So it would be unfair to judge two men who have either entered, or exited — Kenny — my vagina.” Then she wins the championship! (Remember Kenny’s request for Andrea to support him in his time of athletic need? The whole “athletic supporter” thing obvs runs in the family.) Now that Kenny’s reclaimed Toby, she urges him to take the minivan, which he does. We close on Toby safely back in Myrtle and Kenny ending a chapter of his audiobook with some thoughts on how some people are held back by feelings or responsibilities. But not La Flama Blanca, y’all. He pensively holds a baseball, emotional storm abrewing.
One interesting thing is Kenny’s continued denial of fatherhood and resulting emotions even though he’s proven repeatedly that he has them. Another thing is that Kenny’s desire to make his mom proud seemed like the big impetus to keep Toby — he’s basically just a paunchy, drug-addicted kid at heart. Then again, who wouldn’t want to make Lily Tomlin proud? Lily Tomlin is a motherfucking pathos machine. She made me cry in that old “Opal’s Cafe” sketch with Richard Pryor in the seventies. She made me cry in Nashville as the mother of a deaf son who sleeps with Keith Carradine. (Her, not the deaf son.) And she almost made me cry tonight, on a disgusting southern-fried baseball comedy whose scripts I sense are penned during high-quality-weed-and-Dinosaur-BBQ-fueled all-nighters. I can’t even deal with it.