Fair warning: there be spoilers coming.
As the third season of Eastbound & Down started, I knew that this would be the final season, so as the episodes aired, I started coming up with theories on how the show would end. Knowing Jody Hill’s capability of darkness as evidenced by Observe and Report, I figured that one of the most logical endings would be Kenny Powers dying in the series finale. After all the low points he had endured, it would be weird and unfitting to cast aside the attitude built by the show over three seasons and make everything happy again.
My guess turned out to be right… for 25 minutes. I overestimated Hill’s willingness to use pitch-black comedy. After ditching the completion of his major league comeback to go back to April and his son, Kenny Powers ends up driving his car off the road and explodes. A montage of characters reacting to the news of his death plays. The finale didn’t finish there, though. The last scene reveals that Kenny faked his death, dyed his hair to an offensive shade of blond and chose to be part of a family with April and Toby.
After the first viewing, I hated this ending. I would have accepted either of the two conclusions –Kenny dying or Kenny settling down with his family—but not both. It seemed like a major bailout by Hill and company to ditch the nature of a character who had hit rock bottom so many times that he would have broken through Hell’s ceiling by now. It was too ridiculous.
As I stewed on the last minutes of Eastbound, though, I realized that a conclusion that ludicrous actually did fit within the personality and decision-making of Kenny Powers. Over three seasons, Kenny had dropped ecstasy while chaperoning a high school dance, started a career in cockfighting, and kept his baby son in a backpack while feeding him pieces of lettuce, among many other horrible decisions. Is it really that out of character for Kenny to fake his own death in order to get away from the public and press hounding him (in his mind) so that he could settle down “in peace” and be a father figure?
In the beginning, Eastbound & Down was a great comedy. After watching the final season, it’s definitely a great show. Beneath the hilarious vulgarity, there’s an emotionally developed character coping with the realization that his best days are behind him. Kenny’s relationship with his son Toby is funny and touching at the same time. Stevie Janowski went from a situational punching bag to a fascinating and strong secondary character. The minor arc with Tammy Powers twisted the assumption that Kenny inherited his competitive nature and arrogance from a father figure, when he actually imitated the nature of his mother, played fantastically by Lily Tomlin. The supporting characters added depth to the show and didn’t allow it to just stop at dick jokes.
A weird sidenote: about an hour before I actually watched the series finale, I watched some of Dodgeball on TV for the first time in a few years. As I watched the conclusion, I remembered hearing about the alternate ending, in which Vince Vaughn and the protagonists lose the championship to Ben Stiller and the villains, with the credits rolling as the Globo-Gym team celebrates and the Average Joe’s stew in their own misery. This was supposed to be the original ending, but everyone except the director hated it. The argument made by the producers was that the whole movie played out like a prototypical underdog story, so it should end like one.
That kind of gut-wrenching ending wasn’t pulled off by Dodgeball, and for valid reasons, but Eastbound could have executed it. Eastbound was an underdog story of sorts, but in such a twisted and misleading way that it was usually difficult to figure out when he would actually succeed and not just plunge deeper into failure. With audiences so conditioned to Kenny falling short over the three seasons, the writers could have bypassed a happy ending and concluded the show “realistically” in the notions of our world. Instead, they chose to wrap up the show with an ending honest to one of the funniest characters on television: Kenny parking his obnoxious stolen truck with scissor doors in a quiet suburb, unveiling his elaborate scheme and catching us looking.
Samer Kalaf is a writer from New Hampshire who utilizes the attitude of Kenny Powers in wiffleball games, and now no one will play with him.