Eastbound & Down Review: "Chapter 21" (Episode 3.08)
If last night really was the end of Eastbound & Down, it was about as perfect a finale as possible.
(If you’re waiting on the DVDs, you should probably skip this review.)
Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) has always felt the pressure of living up to his own self-imposed image. Long after failing out of the majors and at life in general he continued to act like a hell-raising redneck superstar, doggedly (and obliviously) sticking to the persona that made him famous in the first place but also ruined his career. The only way he could ever accept the responsibilities of fatherhood and a relationship with April is by killing off Kenny Powers. As far as the world knows, Kenny goes out in a blaze of glory, preserving his image while letting the man behind the bluster tentatively embrace the adulthood he’s long avoided. But only somebody as idiotic and self-obsessed as Kenny would really try to fake his own death. His new hairdo, a badly bleached blond mullet, is as conspicuous a disguise as the floppy hats and oversized sunglasses Michael Stipe used to try to hide behind in Athens, Georgia. If HBO does somehow convince McBride and Jody Hill to return for a fourth season, it will no doubt hinge on Kenny’s pathetic attempts to keep his continued existence a secret.
Beyond the ending, this episode is full of pitch-perfect Eastbound moments, from the montage of familiar faces (at once poignant, hilarious and filthy) to Matthew McConaughey’s pornographic prayer before Kenny’s major league return. The pre-title sequence is one of the show’s best, a pointed parody of the type of show Eastbound could’ve been. Seth Rogen, Texas’s unnamed closer, tries to pick up a sexy lady at a redneck bar with lines fed to him by a teammate. It’s as crass and offensive as anything Kenny would ever say, and gets Rogen nowhere. He starts to win her over when he drops the front and lets his natural sensitivity and awkwardness out, with a romantic ballad swelling on the soundtrack. Just as Rogen’s speech reaches its clichéd Rom-Com peak, a bus appears out of nowhere, splattering him against the asphalt. Cue the piano intro and title freeze, with a tight close-up on Rogen’s bloody, lifeless face.
The only bad thing about this episode is learning that Ashley Schaeffer (Will Ferrell) apparently didn’t die during Black Bike Week.
Kenny finally returning to the majors only to walk off the mound one strike short of a game-winning strikeout would’ve been unthinkable just a few episodes ago. But after reconnecting with his parents, losing his son Toby to April (Katy Mixon) at the end of the last episode, and then bidding a sad farewell to his loyal servant Stevie (Steve Little) before leaving for Texas, it’s not surprising that Kenny would suddenly prioritize his loved ones over his shockingly revived career. Again, he’s still a cartoonish buffoon, and mostly an asshole, but Kenny truly has grown up over the last few episodes.
And then that ending. Kenny walking off the mound would’ve been a disappointingly sentimental conclusion to such a brazenly non-sentimental show if it wasn’t followed up by that double-swerve. I think this episode would’ve been just about as great even if Kenny did die when his car flew off the side of a cliff. It would have been just as touching, and not even the biggest Powers fan could argue that his lifetime of mindlessness and cruelty didn’t deserve such a violent and abrupt end. Faking his death is so perfectly Kenny, though, and has so much more thematic depth behind it than a simple death. It’s probably the only way Eastbound could’ve ended on a happy note without completely selling itself out. This finale shored up an often shaky third season and reaffirmed Eastbound as an all-time classic.