Kenny Powers makes terrible choices and monkeys around on ‘Eastbound & Down’

“Water. Mother Nature’s piss. It’s what brings us here today.”

Kenny Powers has learned absolutely nothing, and it terrifies me.

On the one hand, Kenny and April speak to each other in a way that they never could in previous seasons, and the scene where they’re in bed at the beginning of the episode and Kenny’s making it rain is both vintage Kenny but also tender in the only way he seems capable of being tender. He’s kidding, of course, and he makes a few crazy ladyboy jokes, but underneath that, there’s a different level of communication. When you look back at that first season, April is right to treat Kenny like he’s garbage, because he pretty much is garbage. Maybe that’s why I’m so invested in seeing Kenny pull things together this season. He’s come so far, and if he ruins things this time, I don’t see where he gets another chance at things down the road.

He’s already defied the odds repeatedly, and it feels like he’s unaware of just how lucky he’s been.
Ken Marino’s Guy Young is the wall that Kenny’s racing towards at 150 MPH, and I’m not sure Kenny even knows where the brakes are. It’s like Kenny has no radar whatsoever for when he’s starting to seriously antagonize people, and he expects that when things in his life start going well, then everyone else has to feel the same way he feels. He wants to see April enjoying their new success the same way he’s enjoying it, and he wants his brother (John Hawkes, who always grounds the show in a different sort of reality when he shows up) to forgive him for past offenses simply because he’s flush, and he behaves like he’s rich when the truth is that he’s employed, and nothing more. Kenny strikes me as one of the most quintessential modern American characters on film or TV because of how firmly he seems to be able to simply shrug off reality when he doesn’t like it.

The sad fact is that Kenny seems to be getting worse every week now. When I wrote recently that it finally occurred to me that this is an addiction story, and Kenny has relapsed completely as he’s gotten his life back on track. When Guy Young asks Kenny to take things down to a 5 or a 6 versus his typical 11, what scares me most is that I don’t think he’s got a 5 or a 6. He is literally unable to sit in the passenger’s seat, so to speak, and when he gets up to interrupt Guy’s bit with the monkey in the closing moments of the episode and then skips couples therapy to go screw around with the jet pack, it’s clear that he has no instinct for self-preservation.

There are three episodes left after this one, and there has to be some way for Jody Hill, David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, and this year’s co-writers Hayes Davenport, Carson D. Mell, and Justin Nowell to humble Kenny without destroying him. He’s come too far, and there is real good in him now. And if they’re not going to save him or allow him a redemption, then I hope they go the other direction and the series ends with most of the eastern seaboard in flames and Kenny Powers at the helm of a nuclear submarine making a strike on Guy Young’s beach house. This show has never been afraid to burn the status quo to the ground, and it feels like an either/or proposition this year. I don’t believe Kenny Powers is capable of the middle ground. We’ve seen him try to just live a quiet “normal” life at the start of this season, and it almost killed him.

Katy Mixon’s been doing great work this season and she’s quietly amazing in this week’s episode. She can feel this life slipping away with every bad decision Kenny makes, and she knows that this money that is suddenly everything to Kenny isn’t going to last. There is such sadness in the moments they share in this one, even when she’s “happy,” that it starts to get hard to watch. April’s struggling, and Kenny doesn’t see it. If she leaves him, I can’t imagine what that Kenny Powers would look like. He’s been a monster in the past, but a not-single-by-choice Kenny sounds like a starving bear turned loose in a pet shop. All you’ll be left with in the end will be blood and chaos and a ruin of what used to be, and while I’ve loved seeing these guys take Kenny dark in the past, this is the first season where I need to see him pull it out of this spiral.

First final thought: Danny McBride should always carry opera glasses with him.

Final final thought: where the hell was that robot going?

“Eastbound & Down” debuts every Sunday night on HBO.