Four seasons in, there are two things Eastbound & Down viewers should know about finales: 1.) It's basically always going to end the same way, and 2.) We never really know if we've reached the honest-to-goodness end. Generally, those two things are related. The possibility of a real ending means that Kenny often returns to April and his family or vice versa, in some demented happy ending to a messed-up show. Fittingly, the conclusion to the HBO comedy's fourth season has been heavily marketed as the end, the true series finale to an unbelievably wild, weird, and moving journey that has seen Kenny Powers break bad and ruin a lot of lives, including his own, and "Chapter 29" ended exactly where anyone could have guessed it would since the Season 4 premiere: With the Powers family reunited and ready to face the crazy world (one that was probably created by Kenny) ahead of them.
That created a situation where Eastbound explicitly tested the law of diminishing returns. How many times can Kenny blow up his happiness with April, regain a big head, watch everything come crashing down, and ultimately realize that he's better off with his family around? Apparently, at least once more. For the first 23 minutes, "Chapter 29" was a fairly predictable Eastbound-style finale (inasmuch as any episode of this show can be predictable): Kenny was forced to make a choice between fame and family and yet again—and perhaps finally—he chose the latter.
What worked best about the version of that story on display in this episode was that it really did feel like Kenny embarked on a journey of self discovery this season. He's always going to be a selfish prick who wants to be in the limelight, but as the season progressed, Kenny began to recognize the error of his ways. Although he's never fully lacked self awareness, Kenny had it more this go-around, going as far as begging April to take him back and reminding her that he was going to dominate her in Christmas gift-giving during the same conversation. Kenny P. is a complex specimen. In any event, by the time Kenny found himself ready to fully make amends with the Sports Sesh staff, no one—Stevie,April, even a big, bright new show offer from a villainous and deplorable network executive played by Sacha Baron Cohen—could convince him otherwise. Putting aside how ridiculous it would be for Kenny Powers to have his own Ellen- or Oprah-style daytime talk show, the sequence where Kenny admitted his sins in front of a live studio audience, giving up his show and the rediscovered fame in the process, was pretty fantastic. Not only did the show allow Kenny to apologize without fully losing himself, it also failed to give Guy Young any real moment of redemption. Kenny wasn't willing to further bury Guy under the weight of his stupid mistakes, but he certainly wasn't interested in truly helping him get out from underneath them, either. That was a nice reminder that even when Kenny knows he's wrong and tries to be a good dude, he only partially gets there. Plus Guy Young sucks anyway.
One of the weirdest things about Eastbound & Down—throughout its entire run, but especially in the final season—is that it can be surprisingly moving. Though the show never fully asked us to forgive Kenny for all his sins, it also kept creating moments where it was hard not to feel for any number of characters impacted by Kenny's selfish behavior, including Kenny himself. Stevie's failed suicide/self-inflicted chin implant removal was too far on the dumb side (as a lot of the Stevie stuff is), but as the season progressed, the show kept hitting the right notes with Kenny's children, and that held true in this finale. Kenny's nervous attempt to explain to them that he'll visit in Santa Fe as long as he builds up the right amount of rewards points at Southwest Airlines was the perfect mix of stupid humor, character work, and mostly real emotion. The following scene, where he admitted to April that his earlier disappointment stemmed from himself—not the family—was even better. Danny McBride is a powerhouse of a comedic performer but this final season has proven that he has the chops for more complex work as well.
So, unsurprisingly, Eastbound and Down ended with the family reunited and Kenny willing to work with April through counseling and more. It was one final acknowledgement that Kenny has more humanity than he likes to admit. And then all hell broke loose, as this show is wont to do. Kenny's patented voiceover just kept going further and further into his life, showing us his son (now played by True Blood's Alexander Skarsgard, with an amazing amount of gusto) graduating college, his daughter (played by Lindsay Lohan, because LOL) getting married, then April getting murdered in a robbery-gone-wrong, and eventually, Kenny's death after a 'second act' with some native African tribe. By the time ancient-looking Stevie and the kids dumped Kenny's ashes from a futuristic urn, the show had gone completely nuts. This was definitely one of those situations where the joke started funny, turned unfunny somewhere halfway through (April's death was just dark), and then swung back around to being funny again by the time Skarsgard reappeared in tears, chewing up scenery.
Of course, this was all just Kenny's vision for his in-progress screenplay, mixed in with some real hope for his future life. In that regard, the show kind of got to have it both ways: It took Kenny's life as far as it could go, showing us the highs and lows along the way and creating a false sense of completion to the story. But it also immediately pulled back from that moment, which felt quite a bit like an acknowledgement that the Eastbound & Down creative team and McBride will come back to this character whenever they want. And really, Kenny Powers should never die.
Is this the end for Eastbound & Down? Probably, for now. Although it was a familiar way to go out, it was also a fitting one. And even if the show decides to return some day in the unknown future and also decides to tell a story like this one a few more times, it'll probably still be worth it.
– One bummer about the final season: No appearances from Will Ferrell's Ashley Schaeffer, who was one of the most clearly awful human beings in the history of television. If Ferrell and McBride were to do at least one Funny or Die clip a year with Ashley and Kenny, I would be so happy.
– I'll miss so many things about this show, but special shout-out to the way it introduced random characters with a whole lotta oomph. Sacha Baron Cohen's character was the last in a long line of notable entrances, and the episode allowed him to get weirder as time went on. The bit about him and the 13-year old boy both getting herpes from the staff member was particularly dark.
– Underrated awesome moment: Gene finally standing up to Dixie. The show lost the pair's thread a bit as Kenny's career took off, but it did a really great job of telling a simple story about how suburban life and parenting can wear people down and bring out the worst in them.
– Seriously, Skarsgard was awesome in his few short scenes. Can't say the same for Lindsay Lohan, but she did in fact seem awake and alert. It's the little things.
– The best touch: Old Future Kenny drives a machine that's basically a jet-ski on land. Tremendous capper to all of Kenny's great rides over the years.
What did you guys think of the 'ending'? Were you satisfied?
AIRED ON 11/17/2013
Season 4 : Episode 8