Eastbound and Down, Season 4, Episode 8, “Chapter 29
Written by John Carcieri, Jody Hill, and Danny R. McBride
Directed by Jody Hill
Aired November 17, 2013 on HBO
First off, the interesting thing about the series finale of Eastbound & Down is that it was technically the second series finale this show had seen. The show, created by Jody Hill and star Danny McBride, followed the journey of Kenny Powers (McBride), a burned out Major League Pitcher as he fought his way back to the Majors and reclaimed the love of his high school sweetheart April (Katy Mixon). The show originally came to an end with season 3, and it was a fantastic finale. Then, several months later, it was announced that they would be doing one more season. What changed? Hill and McBride now had the opportunity to get Mixon for a full season, rather than just the 2 episodes she had in season 3, thus giving them the opportunity to tell the story they had originally intended to. This was cause for cautious optimism: they had already ended the show wonderfully, could they do it again? Of course they did, this is Kenny Powers we’re talking about.
Season 4 followed Kenny, who hasn’t taken well to domesticity and not being famous. This changes when he’s offered the chance to be on a sports talk show hosted by Guy Young (a wonderfully douchey Ken Marino), a former teammate and friend. Kenny becomes famous, eventually taking over the show from Guy after tricking him into saying awful things on television, and on his way to the top, he loses his relationships with his family and with his friend Stevie (Steve Little). Both of the show’s finales play out in a similar fashion as well. Both start with an unexpected cameo by a famous funny person (Seth Rogen in Season 3, Sacha Baron Cohen in Season 4), and both finales follow Kenny as he reaches his height of fame and success before sacrificing it all to reclaim his family life and self respect.
One of the great things about Eastbound & Down was the ease with which new characters would enter the show, as if they had walked off the set of their own show. When Sacha Baron Cohen’s TV producer Ronnie Thelman and his unit introduce themselves in the first scene, it ends with the audience knowing everything they need to about this character. Kenny storms into the lawyer’s office with an ultimatum to April: give it one more week, and if she still wants to get divorced, he’ll sign the papers. When Kenny tries to earn his crew’s respect back, he’s interrupted by Thelman, who wants to offer Kenny his own daytime talk show, and that his first interview will be Guy Young, who will get the chance to apologize on live television.
Kenny then goes to Guy’s house to find him holed up in his home theater, playing audience cheers on loop on his big screen while he thanks them and proclaims his love for them. Jars of piss surround him, and his pants are soiled. He’s completely lost touch with reality. Only Eastbound & Down would think of having a scene that’s a gigantic reference to Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd.
Kenny experiences parental pride while watching his son’s school play, boasting to a nearby parent, “My son is the main star of the play, his part is more important than all the other children.” This is cut short when April tells him afterwards that she’s going to move to Santa Fe to be a branch manager, and that she wants him to sign the divorce papers. Just before the show, Thelman tells Kenny he wants Kenny to decimate Guy once he comes on the show, instead of offering Guy the chance to apologize. Just before he pounces on Guy to humiliate him, he turns to the camera and gives perhaps the most honest half-apology that Kenny has ever given. This moment highlighted one of the biggest lessons of the show: people don’t wholly change, but they can become better versions of themselves, and that’s what growth is.
Even though Stevie spends much of the episode incapacitated after shooting his chin prosthetic off (weird stuff happened in those final episodes), he still gets in some of the best lines, like “I tell you, trying to kill myself was the best thing I ever did.” and drinking cough syrup, saying “I feel like Lil Wayne with this Sizzurp.”
Kenny goes to see April off, and apologizes to her, telling her that his time with the family was what made him truly happy, not the fame and fortune that he had initially perceived would. It’s an incredibly heartfelt moment for a show with so many dick jokes and profanity. The love between Kenny and April feels real, despite Kenny’s antics. One thing that made Eastbound & Down one of the greatest shows ever made was that, while it was billed as a comedy, it could, on the flip of a dime, reach into some genuine deep, dark and dramatic moments—sometimes while still retaining a comedic edge to the emotion. This all comes from the character work put in by Hill and McBride, as even though Kenny is a completely self-centered asshole, he’s also a human being. He had drive, and he had a desire to be better and achieve his dreams and self-respect. There’s a bit of Kenny in each of us.
The highlight of the finale comes in the final minutes, when we get a glimpse into Kenny’s future while he waxes philosophically on the ups and downs of life. It’s a bizarre future that only gets more bizarre with each shot, but the magic of this show is that the audience totally buy into this future as a reality. Of course Kenny would work things out with April, make a porno of his life, watch his kids (played by Alexander Skarsgard and Lindsay Lohan) grow up and start their own lives, and then tragically watch April get gunned down in an alleyway, whip out a gun and kill them back, and then become a heroin addict, get into rehab, move to (presumably) Africa and ride on a hoverbike, remarry and have several more kids late in his life before he finally dies of old age. While viewers totally buy into all of this as Kenny’s reality, Hill and McBride pull a nifty screenwriting trick, revealing that this future was all part of Kenny’s movie script about his life. The real Kenny is at home with April, and they’ve worked things out, with him content with his legacy and ready to move forward.
“In the end, you judge a man by how he influenced the world. You judge him by the seeds he left behind. And you judge his seeds by the harvest. Well, Kenny Powers’ harvest remains unknown, but I’m pretty god-damn proud of my seeds.” – Kenneth Powers: Legend, myth, but most of all, a man.