What Eastbound & Down’s Finale Taught Us About Having it All

The original K-P. (HBO)

The original K-P. (HBO)

It’s been four seasons and a wild jet ski ride with former major league pitcher Kenny Powers, who finally gave up his dreams of fame and fortune last night on HBO’s finale of one of its darkest comedies, Eastbound & Down.

The ending was conventional enough: Kenny found his humanity (yet again) in refusing to humiliate Guy Young (Ken Marino) on a new talk show–The Powers Hour–given to him by TCV exec Ronnie Thelman (Sacha Baron Cohen) on that condition. Also, he reconciled with April and rode off into the sunset of Santa Fe to go write his life movie, wherein his daughter grows up to be Lindsay Lohan, his son Alexander Skarsgaard, and he gets to start a new life in Africa after his wife is shot in an alleyway, Mr. and Mrs. Wayne-style. Kenny Powers, we learn, dies like the Don, amongst the many literal and figurative seeds that he has sowed.

Fade to black. The audience goes apeshit.

Then it’s revealed that this last denoument is just another part of Kenny’s grandiose inner fantasy, his movie script, and we see him shutting his computer at April’s request.

“Are you done?” She asks, all April-cute.

“Yeah,” he says, fingering his old baseball. “I’m finished.”

It’s an odd ending (though not as odd as if it had just faded to black) for a show that had spent three seasons watching its anti-hero struggle up from his backslide into anonmity, only to throw it away…once again…for his family. At the end of the 3rd season, Kenny ridiculously faked his own death to get out of his major league contract and be with his wife and son.

“You couldn’t have just stayed in the majors and me and Toby could have come with you?” April asks after he turns up at her door with bleached hair after allowing the world to believe he died in a terrible car crash.

“Uh-uh…just..no…I don’t think…I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have worked.” If that had been the finale, it would have hit just the right tone of the hilarious heartbreak that is Kenny Powers: That in his larger-than-life narrative of how the world works, he had failed to consider the most obvious of options.

Perhaps it was for this reason that the creators of Eastbound decided to give Kenny a final season where he restarts his career as a TV shock jock: to show that road not taken. It turns out Kenny is just as unhappy having it all as he is with the mundanity of anonymous home life: With the former, his megalomaniac tendencies are unchecked and he ends up a petty tyrant with a water jetpack, an elf and a failing Tits & Taters mall franchise; with the latter he seethes in resentment of his wife’s successes. It’s only when striving to win something back– be it April or his career–that Kenny learns how to be a human, and those lessons are immediately forgotten once he succeeds.

What do we make then of the ending where Kenny lives his quiet life in Santa Fe, where he is effectively “finished”? Is Eastbound telling us that we can’t have it all, that we need to choose between a rounded family life and a fulfilling job? That none of us are lone wolves? That success corrupts? Are we to assume that Kenny will soon slip back into his old habits and start taking out his failed life dreams on his wife and kids? Are these last moments dark or redemptive? Have any lessons been learned at all?

Maybe the point of that final scene is to show that ultimately, fame and glory were just another thing for Kenny to kick in the balls, and, having successfully conquered life, he can now retire, finally at peace with himself?

I guess it depends on whether or not there are jet skis in Santa Fe.