Eastbound & Down, at its core, is a very simple story. A comeback story. Man is successful. Man loses success. Man fights to regain success. And what’s remarkable about the show is the way it consistently flips the endings of these basic stories. Season one followed the traditional path any comeback story takes, but yanks the carpet away at the end and leaves Kenny in a pathetic state of shame and panic. Season two was Kenny lost in the wild, trying to find himself in a strange land. And in the end, he conquers that strange land (…sort of) and returns to recapture his lost love, only to find that his own actions have pushed her farther away then he truly thought was possible. In both cases, the show sets up a basic story, only to subvert it when you’d least expect a subversion.
Season three doesn’t really follow the same path. It still builds upon a very simple story (Kenny learning the responsibilities of being a dad), but the show spends a little too much time wandering off on tangents that don’t really serve the story, and the final result is a season that feels a bit disjointed. And the conclusion that season three ultimately builds to is more of a standard “sports story ending” then it is anything else. It’s still Eastbound & Down (and thus more entertaining than about 99% of today’s television landscape), but it’s still a little flat, and in the end this season left me with a somewhat of a bad aftertaste. A lingering feeling like there could have been something more to the end of Kenny’s story.
The biggest issue with “Chapter 21?” It’s a little predictable. A lot predictable, actually. The episode telegraphs nearly every punch it throws and leads the audience into every big moment with some kind of big, obvious hint.
And there’s no hint more obvious than having someone stand in a wide shot in the middle of an empty road. It’s the film/TV equivalent of dressing your character in a sandwich board that says “I will be run over by a motor vehicle.”
And sure enough, Seth Rogen’s run over by a motor vehicle. And Kenny’s car crash is preceded by a big “sharp turn ahead sign.” And Kenny’s sudden reappearance at the very end is preceded by April opening the door to find no one there, which is huge clue that Kenny’s still alive. Some of these little hints make sense in the context of the story (mainly Kenny’s reappearance, as his inability to make a grand entrance for April is kinda cute), but it’s irritating to be able to guess every single plot point before it happens onscreen.
The story itself is also feels just the slightest bit rushed. Kenny’s comeback stems from an enormous deus ex machina, and while Kenny got picked because he proved himself to be better than Ivan last week, the link between these two plot points doesn’t feel totally genuine. The suddenness of Kenny’s return to the majors is enough to overshadow any buildup to this moment, and ultimately it ends up feeling tacked-on.
So where does this leave us?
It leaves us with a somewhat safe, somewhat predictable final note to a terrific series. But even when Eastbound & Down picks the easy ending, it does so with style and wit and warmth and everything else you’d expect from a television show that equates love to “being strangled by a necklace of Mexicans.” So when Kenny abandons his major league dreams to be with his family, just like you knew he would, it’s still hard not to smile. And when Kenny’s minivan careens off that cliff, just like you knew it would, it still leaves you in shock that he might actually be dead.
And that montage. Holy crap that montage. Starting with firm, definitive proof that John Hawkes is an Oscar-caliber actor (delivering what might be the episode’s most memorable moment in one single, dialogue-free shot) and then moving through nearly every character whose life Kenny touched in one way or another. For all the griping I did about “Chapter 21,” this montage is just about perfect. It’s full of raw, powerful emotion and it wraps everything up with a sense of closure- the whole cast mourns the loss of Kenny as we in the audience mourn the loss of the show. And for once, a Kenny Powers speech actually works to its intended effect, with the end of his audiobook providing a real, melancholy end to his character.
Which leaves us with on last moment in the finale: the rebirth of a newer, blonder Kenny Powers. I’ve been thinking a long while about this ending, and I’m honestly still not sure where I stand on it. On the one hand, faking his own death proves that Kenny is, once and for all, done chasing over fame, power and glory. He’s still deluded about it, for sure (hence the faking his own death), but at this point he can legitimately put his family first and mean it. It’s a very sweet place for Kenny to end up in the end.
I’m just not sure if bringing him back cheapens that wonderful goodbye in the montage beforehand. That’s ok, though. I get the feeling that this’ll be a finale that a whole bunch of fans view in a whole bunch of different ways. And ultimately, what’s important is that we all loved this show, and we all loved Kenny Powers (despite his many flaws), and we’ll all miss him now that it seems he’s off TV for good.
It’s been fun while it lasted.
So allow me to wrap up this review with my final thoughts on this last Eastbound & Down.
- Stevie had not one, but three monstrously awful wigs in this one. Congratulations to the props department for making my skin crawl with each one.
- One final nitpick- Kenny bantering back and forth with the Mermen manager felt a little odd, because that manager was never really given the time to develop as a character. The manager of the Charros had a really well-defined relationship with Kenny, but this manager (a search of IMDB has proved fruitless- I have no idea what either the character or the actor’s name is) just seemed like a watered-down version of the Charros manager. It made this awkwardly friendly scene seem out of place.
- One man who’s never out of place? Matthew McConaughey. May he always have some outlet to perform oddly uplifting, incredibly graphic monologues about oral sex and the power of Jesus.
- I’m really, really glad we got to see Dustin one last time.
- That van explosion seemed completely unrealistic when I first saw it, but in retrospect, if Kenny was going to fake his own death, he’d include a gigantic fireball one way or another.
And that just about does it.