“I’m a bad man. I’m a very bad man.”
Kenny Powers’ road to redemption came to an end on Sunday’s Eastbound and Down finale. After a stellar fourth season that found Danny McBride’s MLB has-been unexpectedly making a living through his bullying and bullshitting skills as TV sportscaster, Kenny finally discovered that men ‐ or at least some men ‐ just can’t have it all. “I was never unhappy with you guys,” he admits to his ex-wife about the family he broke apart. “I was unhappy with myself.”
Thus another manchild bites the dust. Eastbound and Down couldn’t have ended any other way. After last week’s episode [spoilers], when Stevie was on the verge of putting a bullet through his brain for not being able to buy Christmas presents for his kids, the show’s bathos graduated to genuine, compelling pathos. (“Trying to kill myself was the best thing I ever did,” Stevie decides later in the company of his ever-doting wife.) Kenny has a better head on his shoulders than Stevie does, but an ending that finds “Kenneth Powers” giving up on his humanity to become sadistic kajillionaire Ronny Thelman’s (Sacha Baron Cohen) mulleted pit bull might have been too dispiriting a conclusion.
Finale writers John Carcieri, Jody Hill, and Danny McBride gave Kenny Powers a satisfying send-off not too laden with sugar. After Kenny’s apology to April for his dereliction of spousal duties, she takes him back and they move to Santa Fe with their kids. But he’s still fantasizing about her demise. In his screenplay, he has her killed by thugs in an alley, a la Mr. and Mrs. Wayne, then gives himself a heroin addiction to give April her proper due as the love of his life. After recovering at Promises, Lindsay Lohan’s rehab clinic of choice, he sets off on a hover-cycle tour of Africa, where he catches a glimpse of his second wife. His kids ‐ played hilariously by Alexander Skarsgard and the redemptively challenged Lohan ‐ come to Africa to celebrate his new marriage. It’s the perfect happy ending for a guy who’s wedded to his soul mate but can’t help always wanting more. He’s seen and tasted too much of the world.
It’s that last detail the writers seem to want to leave us with: the impossibility of celebrity, excess, and fame with satisfaction. The finale’s villain, a media mogul and a possible pedophile who arranged for Ellen Degeneres’ lesbianism, drives home that point. Ronny gets his Robin/victim to finger a staff member’s butt behind the scenes “The Power Hour” ‐ that’s showbiz, apparently ‐ then pantses the man when he gets outraged. “They love me because I humiliated the fat man,” Ronny declares. Then he has Kenny tell his reflection the words our anti-hero has been avoiding all his life: “I’m a bad man. I’m a very bad man.”
A coked-up Stevie agrees. “You are a bad man.”
“You go out there and kill Guy Young,” Ron orders Kenny.
But when Kenny finally gets the chance to do to his former boss what was done to him, he demurs. “People here don’t give a shit about second chances. What they’d rather see is you humiliated on national television,” he says to the cameras, implicating, if not Eastbound and Down’s audience, certainly the viewers of a helluva lot of TV shows on the air right now. The path to redemption is such a compelling tale, the finale seems to imply, not just because people love happy endings, but because they also love watching downfalls.
Not all of us are Ronny Thelman, but there are enough of them out there to make psychological bloodsport into America’s new pastime.