It’s been almost four months since writer-vagabond-chef Anthony Bourdain committed suicide in his French hotel room. The beloved raconteur was in France with his pal, Eric Ripert, shooting an episode of his much-lauded CNN show, Parts Unknown, when he ended his own life. Three months earlier, Bourdain had started filming the 12th season of Parts Unknown in Kenya with comedian W. Kamau Bell. Last night, that episode aired — the last fully completed episode with Bourdain.
The episode was bittersweet, to say the least. Bourdain’s acerbic wit was on full display as he and Bell navigated the markets, back alleys, and grassy plains of Kenya. The show was all charm from Bourdain, with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor — basically exactly what we grew to love about the TV host. It’s a fun, light, and funny episode of travel and food TV.
It’s also the last of its kind. The last full episode of the show in which Bourdain hosts and offer voiceover reflections.
Two moments hit pretty hard. If Bourdain was still around, these moments would feel par for the course. With him gone, they cut deeper. First, there’s a scene where Bourdain and Bell are perched on an overlook taking in the wilderness of Kenya’s great plains.
“I fucking pinch myself,” Bourdain says to Bell. “I cannot fucking believe that I get to do this, or see this, ever, or that I ever would. Because 44 years old, dunking fries, I knew with absolute certainty that I would never, ever, ever see home, much less this.”
Then the knock out punch comes in Bourdain’s closing credits voiceover — often the spot where he’d lend a profound insight.
“Who gets to tell the stories?” Bourdain asks. “This is a question asked often. The answer in this case, for better or for worse, is: I do — at least this time out. I do my best. I look. I listen. But in the end, I know it’s my story — not Kamau’s, not Kenya’s, or Kenyans’. Those stories are yet to be heard.”
With that, the music and image faded as Bourdain took his final curtain bow with Parts Unknown. The reflection is interesting in that it feels like a sort of passing of the torch. The question of who gets to tell the stories of our world is huge right now and certainly something that deserves attention. That was indeed part of Bourdain’s legacy: He was not a conqueror or even an explorer — he was… for lack of a better word… an “experiencer.” He connected with cultures rather than viewing them from some perch and recognized that the power of being the storyteller was a great privilege.
The four remaining episodes of season 12 will be completed with narration by the directors of those episodes. They’re slated to air on CNN sans Bourdain’s iconic voice accompanying the visuals. Instead of feeling like they’re “of a piece” with the rest of the series, they’ll be more of a reflection on the time the crew spent with Bourdain in-country, according to CNN. The episodes are Manhattan’s Lower Eastside, Big Bend Texas along the Mexico border, Austurias Spain, and a corner of Indonesia. All of which sounds great, but they’re sure to come with a heavy dose of sadness.
Last night marked the beginning of the end of the show’s run. For those grieving, the next episodes will certainly feel like a gut punch. But last night — as Bourdain and Bell trekked through Kenya — we got a vintage episode of the show: A celebration of cultures, travel, and, most of all, people.
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Tonight is gonna be hard. But join me as I watch the premiere of the final season of #PartsUnknown at 9pm ET on @cnn. Me & Tony went to Kenya. We spent time in Nairobi & on safari at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Watch with me as I livetweet on Twitter. Let's celebrate him & his amazing life's work. Photos by @nextadventurer. #UnitedShades #UnitedShadesofAmerica #ripanthonybourdain