“Chapter 19” is a particularly bizarre episode in an already bizarre season of television. With only three episodes to go until the show ends once and for all, we veer off to a Powers family reunion and put all baseball-related inquiries on hold for the next half-hour.
Tonally, “Chapter 19” feels like something out of a completely different show. There’s much less of an emphasis on humor, and much more on genuine character development- especially for Tammy and Eddie Powers, two characters we’ve never really spent too much time with. And the whole thing climaxes with a heartfelt speech that actually delivers, which is somewhat of a rarity for this show (if it’s one thing Kenny Powers is great at, it’s turning a heartfelt speech into a horrible, dismal mess).
It’s an odd strategy so late in the game.
But it’s a strategy that works. There are some missteps, sure (and I’ll get to those a little later), but the benefit of having an episode that strays so far off the beaten path is that “Chapter 19” actually mirrors that feeling of spending time away from home to visit the family. It’s different. It’s relaxing, even. There are still some hilariously vulgar jokes, but they’re downplayed to bring out the family dynamics. And there’s still sports-related tension (with Tammy’s bowling tournament), but the stakes are so much lower than what we’re used to. Plus, we get a legitimately happy ending for once.
And Lily Tomlin. Oh, Lily Tomlin. Her presence makes such a difference. Her interactions with Kenny (and even Eddie) just feel so natural and so at-ease with everything else going on in the show that I felt giddy just watching her onscreen. Maternal love is something that’s never, ever come into play on Eastbound & Down, so seeing Kenny slip right into the comfort of a healthy(ish) mother-son relationship just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
But there’s one gigantic bone I have to pick with Tammy Powers.
Why did she take Eddie back, exactly? When we get Kenny and Eddie’s dual speeches, we’re supposed to feel both men’s shame and regret, and eventually forgive them for all the bad stuff they’ve done. That’s what Tammy did. But the way the apology is presented (with both men making the same speech and the same gesture for the same woman) makes it seem like Kenny and Eddie’s indiscretions were about the same, and should be judged in the same way.
They weren’t. Kenny abandons his child, but he realizes his mistake and returns the next day to take Toby back (I love how all the momentous moments in Kenny’s life seem to happen at gas stations- first he abandons April at one, and now decides not to abandon Toby at another).
Eddie, however, left for twenty-seven years, and when he came back it was only to steal the good wedding silver. It takes him leaving Tammy for a second time to realize he really wanted to stay with her. There’s an enormous difference in what these two guys did, and I find it a little hard to believe that Tammy would so willingly allow Eddie back into her life.
Also… what about Tammy’s roommate, Brenda? I may be reading too much into things, but Tammy and Brenda seemed awfully close, they were living together, and Kenny’s clearly known Brenda a long time from the way those two spoke, so at first I was under the assumption that Tammy and Brenda were an item. Apparently they weren’t. Maybe. And if Tammy and Brenda are just two single gals living together under one roof, then I’m not really sure what Brenda’s purpose on the show was, or why she was living with Tammy. Food for thought.
And that’s really my only complaint. So the question remains: where do we go from here? I’d like to think that with “Chapter 19,” we have officially seen the end of Kenny’s struggle to become a dad. The image of Kenny in a minivan with little Toby in tow was too sweet and too perfect to ever go back on that again. There’s really nothing else you can do with that story. Kenny’s a dad now. Plain and simple.
So from here on out, all I want is baseball. Kenny’s still got Ivan (and his major-league comeback) to deal with. And while my own baseball knowledge may be nonexistent, a reader by the name of MG (words cannot express how much I appreciated your insight) pointed out that the pitch Kenny practices at the end of “Chapter 19” is the knuckleball- an unpredictable type of pitch that’s pretty sought-after in the major leagues.
It would seem that this knuckleball is Kenny’s last shot at the majors. He could pull it off.
Or he could end the series as an average man who’ll never make it back to the majors.
I supposed we’ll find out in two episodes’ time.