Kenny Powers fooled us twice.
[Spoilers are above and below.]
On last season's finale of HBO's Eastbound & Down (which aired before the announcement of its fourth and definitively final season), the series' perpetual comeback kid Kenny Powers (played by the funniest man in showbiz today, Danny McBride, who also created the series with Jody Hill and Ben Best) staged his death as a way of cleaning up his life. It worked for about five minutes in total. On last night's series finale, he staged his death as a way of celebrating himself and his life. The first time it was for his loved ones (as audience members, we were temporarily fooled in the process); the second time was directed at his audience specifically.
And then, in the episode's final moments, we realized it was all a dream, this vision of the future in which Kenny's children, Shayna and Toby, were portrayed by Lindsay Lohan and Alexander Skarsgard. We saw them graduate, we saw the only person Kenny might possibly love as much as himself, his wife April (Katy Mixon), get shot in a Batman origin-style back alley stickup, we saw Kenny ride a hoverbike and remarry in Africa. And then we saw him die.
And then we saw him finish the voice-over-driven screenplay he had been working on all season. All series, really.
The parallels to Breaking Bad (especially its finale) are strong—both featured anti-hero protagonists whose awfulness tested the patience and compassion of the show's respective audiences. Both shows wrapped by using major epiphanies from said protagonists that helped (hopefully) make all of the dickishness worth it. Both told their stories carefully and better than any critic. Interpreting both shows was fun, but ultimately needless in a time when TV episodes are picked apart by what feels like hundreds of people who are paid to recap. Eastbound and Breaking both explained themselves extremely well, but functioned on such a viscerally enjoyable level (if you could stomach morally ambivalent principal characters) that generally speaking, no explanation was needed at all.
Everything that made Eastbound excellent from the start was sharpened this season. My favorite trait of Kenny's—his frequent exhibition of knowledge a brute like him simply shouldn't have—manifested itself more absurdly than usual this time around. He knew what a twink was, he made a comment about Dutch angles, he referenced multiple '90s R&B groups in a single episode (including Jodeci and BLACKstreet). The first thing the newly miserably domestic Kenny said this season was, "Love NPR." He passed such knowingness onto his children (about five years had passed since last season), who announced immediately their familiarity with The Human Centipede (naturally, it was Kenny who showed them the torture-porn film).
Kenny, so in touch with American culture holds dear, so ridiculous in incorporating such ideals into his own life, found himself back on top this season by creating a restaurant chain (Taters 'n Tits) he financed by his new job on a sports roundtable show called Sports Sesh, on which she developed a schticky bit ("Kenny's Cuttin' In") that was great for the show and better for himself.
Selfishness masquerading as altruism (or altruism that reveals itself to be selfish at heart) is probably unavoidable in a capitalist democracy, but it is rarely acknowledged as such. Kenny Powers finally cut through that bullshit and explained it all via a multi-episode batch of surprisingly insightful voiceovers charting his progress. They are below in order (and implicitly the backbone of his self-written biopic):
Enemies can appear in our lives out of nowhere: a stranger who cuts you off in traffic, a dude who looks at you weird in the men's room, or treasured friends who betray you out of jealousy. But when enemies do rise up, they must be dealt with decisively—on animal instinct. Mortals falter; kings act. And the mortal who acts? Well that motherfucker becomes king.
They say greatness comes at a cost. If you want to achieve legendary status, you must make certain sacrifices. The demands of others oftentimes conflict with the demands of living an exceptional life. It takes a goddamn Superman to meet all the expectations put upon a celebrity figure nowadays. Could Schwarzenegger have ascended to the top of both film and politics if he had actually given a fuck about his family? I doubt it. Would Alexander the Great have conquered the world had he have dialed it back? Is it even possible to reconcile the needs of others with the need to win when winning often means defeating your rivals at any cost? I suppose it remains to be seen but there's one simple truth you can always rely on in this fucked-up world: Victory is its own reward.
Fame. Fortune. Power. Titties. People say these are the most crucial things in life. But you can have a pocket full of gold and it doesn't mean shit if you don't have someone to share that gold with. It seems simple yet it's an important lesson to learn. Even lone wolves run in packs sometimes.
If you ask me, the secret to success is to have a diverse portfolio. Too much of any one thing is fuckin' no bueno. Of course sometimes balancing can be hard, but all these worth having are worth fighting for. Sometimes hard work pays off. If a man doesn't have a dream, well guess what? His soul begins to die. So after you accomplish your dreams the best thing to do is to come up with new dreams, that way as the years roll on, as they will do, you'll always look to the future with hope.
But of course the future is sure to hold its fair share of miseries. All kinds of shitty sorrows. I find solace in the fact that from each sorrow comes a little bit of knowledge. And with knowledge comes wisdom.
If you're lucky, you get a second act in life, but sooner or later death will come unannounced. Old Man Reaper comes to reclaim your soul. All you can hope for is that the people you love will cherish the time they spent with you. In the end, you judge a man by how he influenced the world. Judge him by the seeds he left behind. And you judge the seeds by the harvest. Kenny Powers' harvest remains unknown, but I'm pretty goddamn proud of my seeds.
The end. Cut to black. Audience goes fucking apeshit.
Kenny Powers won and profited by living wildly and getting to share it. That's not a revision of the American dream, but in 2013, it's a huge part of it.
Yes, he fooled us twice. But since this season was so excellent and allowed him some earnest emotion ("April, when I told you I wasn't happy with you and the kids, that wasn't true. I was never unhappy with you guys. I was unhappy with myself. I just wanted to be a success," he said during what he thought was going to be the last conversation with his wife before their planned breakup), the real shame would have been if he hadn't.