The last episode of Parts Unknown will air this Sunday, November 11, at 9 p.m. ET/PT, five months and three days after host Anthony Bourdain’s death. The series finale, set on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, closes the book on an era of Bourdain-hosted television that spanned 16 years, four series, and three networks. In this episode, which was filmed a couple of months before Bourdain died, viewers will get a tour of the chef-turned-television host’s old stomping grounds and interviews with icons of a time that, as Bourdain often lamented on camera, has passed.
“People are going to feel a lot from this particular episode,” Michael Steed, who directed, tells Eater. “I just hope people feel something.”
No fewer than 15 individuals who gained notoriety during Bourdain’s youth are featured throughout the finale: musicians, actors, artists, filmmakers, and photographers. There’s Harley Flanagan, who was a drummer for the Stimulators at age 12 and co-founded the Cro-Mags when he was 14. Fab Five Freddy can be credited with introducing the world to hip-hop. Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, founders of Blondie, were among the first regulars at CBGB and made one of the most commercially successful acts to come out of the punk and new-wave scene. Clayton Patterson used his camera to document that part of the city and was on the ground during the Tompkins Square Park riot, a clash between squatters and police officers, the result of which, in Patterson’s mind, was the creation of America’s modern police state and New York City’s gentrification.
While all of this was going on, Bourdain was catching rock shows and shooting heroin. In one scene, he looks over an old collection of dope bags belonging to Patterson as one might reminisce over a school yearbook.
“On a personal level, [I hope viewers] see where Tony sort of came of age, where that Tony that everyone came to know and love and see on television, that person really emerged and survived the Lower East Side, and it shaped him in a lot of ways,” Steed says. “The people that he was having conversations with influenced him and inspired him, and he adored them and respected what they do.”
In the episode, a recurring question Bourdain has for his interview subjects regards the romanticization of a time and a place that, in many ways, was dangerous and bad. Was it all really better then than it is now, with clean streets, Target stores, Whole Foods supermarkets, and fancy restaurants filling the blocks? For Flanagan, it was a “horror story,” but he misses it. Lydia Lunch, who fronted bands and starred in independent films, doesn’t look back with nostalgia and instead lives in the present: “I still have shit to do,” she tells Bourdain over a white-tablecloth meal. Steed says the bad old days of the Lower East Side were never going to last, and that is a true New York story, because “New York is this ever-evolving, living creature.”
It’s hard to imagine there will ever be another television host quite like Bourdain, who went to places and met people most food and travel shows had no interest in knowing, or another period quite like the Lower East Side’s burned-out years. Chatting over boiled eggs in the episode’s final scene, John Lurie, the painter and saxophonist, considers whether there is any danger in over-romanticizing the latter.
“I’m sure glad I didn’t miss it,” he says.