'Eastbound and Down' recap: Welcome to the resistance
Kenny (you know what word belongs here) Powers is like a Rorschach test with a Brillo pad mullet and a beer gut. I don't mean you look at Kenny and see what you want. I mean he really looks like a Rorschach test. Any of them.
Still, Kenny is many things to many people. To most, he is a depraved, fat, loud, disgusting bully and all-around lying cretin with occasional sexual-performance issues. But he is also, among other things, an accomplished homophobe, racist, chauvinist, substance abuser and narcissist. But he is so much more than that. So much more. And, at least to Stevie Janowski -- as we discovered Sunday night in Episode 8 -– there is one word you can add to the list about Kenny, and that is "friend."
Not the kind of friend who loans you money and says, "Pay me back when you can" or, in a somewhat different situation, "Sure, you can date my former spouse that I'm still broken-hearted over; I just want you to be happy." Those "friends" are a dime a dozen on Facebook.
When it comes to friendship, Kenny traffics in "tough love." He’s the kind of friend that if you don't call first and let him know you're coming to visit him in Mexico, he will get you pass-out drunk and put you in an unventilated truck packed with immigrants trying to illegally cross the border into the U.S. There's not a lot of friends who would do that, but Kenny did that for Stevie.
Now, I understand this could be confusing. It was just in last week's second-season opener that Kenny was pretending to be Stevie, and there was a certain poetry to that particular case of identity theft. For the entire first season, Stevie wanted to be Kenny. Literally. He began walking, talking, dressing and acting like Kenny -– kind of like that "Single White Female" movie before things turned violent. So maybe when Kenny fled his responsibilities and headed for Mexico, he took on the role of the one person that he both loved and hated as much as he did himself. That, or it was a no-brainer after he stole Stevie's credit cards and rang up more than $20,000 in charges.
Whatever the reason, it was that bread-crumb trail of credit card charges that led Stevie to Kenny. Last week, Kenny thought he had found, as he said, "his best sidekick" ever to help him in his cockfighting ways (now behind him after Big Red's untimely demise in the ring). But that pint-sized "friend" ended up threatening Kenny's life and stealing his money. But what we learned in Sunday night's episode is that Stevie is actually Kenny’s best sidekick ever -- even though Kenny may never acknowledge or even realize this. Yes, a sidekick better than Tonto was to the Lone Ranger, better than "Wilson" was to the Tom Hanks' character in "Cast Away."
And one thing friends do is tell each other painful, sometimes liberating truths. This is usually not a problem for Kenny, who admittedly has trouble with the truth but no trouble dishing out pain. Not only verbally, but in Sunday night's episode, also physically. Kenny shoots Stevie in the leg -- bang! (He thought Stevie was a burglar.)
But it was Stevie who inflicted the most pain of the evening by telling Kenny the cold, hard truth -- one that he knew would break Kenny's heart. April, the love of Kenny's life, got married shortly after he abandoned her at a gas station convenience store at the end of last season.
Kenny tries to take the news bravely as he and Stevie enjoy the writhing and limber scenery over beers at a local strip club. Still, he's miffed that she did this after he "conquered" her current husband "in the love triangle" before he left home.
"Honestly, I feel sorry for her," says Kenny.
"You can move on," says Stevie. "You don't need her."
The news couldn't have come at worse time for Kenny, who is, as he put it, mounting a "monumental comeback." He means in baseball. He's talked his way onto the local team, the Charros, and convinced the team's owner to mark his return with a star-spangled spectacle. The event should have "the pagentry of an Alabama concert," instructs Kenny.
The moment finally comes, and Kenny takes the field. He's wrapped in an American flag, as he makes a series of obscene gestures amid exploding fireworks. He faces his first batter. Does he still have his good stuff? Yes, he strikes his man out. But the crowd barely seems to notice, and a sulking Kenny is ready to jump back on his moped and call it a night.
And then his friend makes his return. There are no fireworks, no loud music, no theatrics to mark the occasion. Just two amigos on a grimy street getting to the heart of the matter. Kenny wants Stevie to go back home. But Stevie throws up an immediate boundary in the friendship and says no.
"I kneel before you as a man, begging a much better man, to please let me stay here and join you on this Hispanic adventure," says Stevie, who is actually on his knees before his idol. "I will do whatever you want." (He repeats the last line several times, and screams it once.)
Kenny tells Stevie to get up (much like a knight after swearing an oath). Kenny tells Stevie that Mexico is a dangerous place and that he can't guarantee his friend's safety. Stevie is not afraid (also like a knight). Kenny says Stevie will have to watch his back at all times -- and there's one more thing he'll have to do: Kenny's personal errands, including laundry (not like a knight at all). Is he ready for such a commitment?
Editing a word or two for taste reasons, Stevie replies: "I'm so ready to get hardcore with errands."
"Are you?" asks Kenny.
"Yes," says Stevie as the friends shake hands.
"Welcome to the resistance," replies Kenny, but he could have just as easily said: "Stevie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
-- Martin Miller
Photo: Danny McBride as Kenny Powers in "Eastbound and Down." Credit: HBO