Review: Kenny Powers reaches the heart of darkness on the penultimate 'Eastbound & Down'
If this is what rock bottom looks like, Kenny Powers may never learn his lesson.
Last week's episode concluded with a brutally ugly implosion between Kenny and April, and I wrote at that point that I can't imagine how this marriage is fixed after something that awful. This week made it clear that while Kenny expects there to be a magic reset button, that does not appear to be the case. April wants out of the marriage, and she wants to try to wrap things up without causing each other any more pain. Kenny, on the other hand, reminds me of a Randy Newman song with the way he's behaving this week.
"I ran out on my children / And I ran out on my wife / Gonna run out on you too, baby / I done it all my life / Everybody cried the night I left / Well, almost everybody did / My little boy just hung his head / And I put my arm, put my arm around his little shoulder / And this is what I said: / 'Sonny, I just want you to hurt like I do / I just want you to hurt like I do / I just want you to hurt like I do / Honest I do, honest I do, honest I do'"
Kenny would rather keep hurting the people in his life than ever confess his own weakness, and it feels like he is at the absolute bottom of this cycle of addiction that's been playing out over the course of the show. Kenny's biggest problem is that he really does buy into the myth of fame. He believes that it entitles him to behave any way he wants, and that it forgives any weakness or failing on his part. He is a child who is desperate to avoid having to actually be a man, and it's never been more evident than it is this week. He is basically having one enormous tantrum, and he's not going to stop until there is no one left in his life.
And did I mention dark? Holy cow, this week goes to some demented places. Steve Little's arc is so crazy that I'm still surprised it actually happened. By the time we reach that scene in the cheap motel room, with Kenny and Maria begging Stevie not to hurt himself, I was once again feeling like anything can happen. That may be the greatest strength of this show. Thematically, these are really beautifully built seasons, but even so, it feels like anything can happen. It is so rare that I watch something where it feels like normal rules don't apply, but that still plays by the broader definitions of genre, that "Eastbound" leaves me buzzed each week. It's a rush to be watching something like this, braced for both the best and the worst, especially when they pay things off as well as they do each time.
Danny McBride isn't playing this funny at all at this point, and while there are some huge laughs in the episode (his Michael Jackson behavior at the meeting with April is absolutely bananas), there are some harrowing moments as well. His meltdown during the Christmas special isn't funny at all. At one point, Jody Hill cuts to a close-up of Kenny bellowing directly into the camera, and the pain is palpable. Those eyes of his are fascinating, because he's so intelligent, and you can clearly see that, but when he's raging, it's like a shark that's eating, like everything goes dark and he's just out of control. I prefer it when a comedy verges on the terrifying like this, and it's obvious that these guys do, as well.
While the final moments of the episode hint that Kenny does indeed know what he stands to lose and how his actions are affecting others, he continues to think that grand gestures are the solution. Yes, it is wonderful that he brought the man-eating beast home for his children, but it's still a wolf, and they're still kids, and he's still a crazy person.
As we head into what could easily be the final episode of the show ever, they are in a much, much stronger place than they were at this point last year. It matters what happens in that final half hour. It matters how Kenny ends things with his family. It matters what happens now that "Sports Sesh" appears to have been burned to the ground. It matters because we have seen both the best and the worst of Kenny Powers this season, and this final episode will be a battle to see which of them wins out.
I have a feeling it'll be too close to call.
"Eastbound & Down" will air its final episode next Sunday night.