As promised, the Season 11 premiere of Parts Unknown features Anthony Bourdain talking to the people of McDowell County, West Virginia, about “Trump, God, and guns.” Most of the action takes place in Welch and War, two small towns where coal mining is still part of the local economy, though not nearly as robust as it was several decades ago. The locals are clearly coping with some big problems — poverty and the drug epidemic come up quite a bit in conversation — but this episode also spends a lot of time focusing on why the people of McDowell County love where they live and never want to leave.
“Here in the heart of every belief system I’ve ever mocked or fought against, I was welcomed with open arms by everyone,” Bourdain remarks in the prelude to the episode. “I found a place both heartbreaking, and beautiful. A place that symbolizes and contains everything wrong and everything wonderful and hopeful about America.“
Here’s a roundup of the most memorable moments — and a few more quotes — from this episode of CNN’s hit travel series.
Most outrageous meal: It’s a tie between Bourdain feasting on bear meat with a bunch of coal miners deep below the earth’s surface, and the TV host eating an array of crispy fried swamp delicacies at the King Knob Motorsports Park. Tony consumes the latter meal after going rock bouncing, which he describes as a “batshit crazy vertical Mad Max drag race-cum-demolition derby.”
Best-looking meal: That would be the neo-Appalachian feast that Bourdain enjoys at Lost Creek Farm, where chef/farmers Mike Costello and Amy Dawson are growing grains and vegetables made from heritage seeds. Dinner included corn chowder, fried rabbit with chow-chow, and paw-paw ice cream.
Hottest take from a local: “A majority of people that live in this region want to be left alone,” says Oscar-nominated filmmaker and West Virginia native Elaine McMillion Sheldon. “The traditions in this place, the things that we value — whether that be family, interpersonal communication, not having cellphone technology to distract us — those type of things sort of butt up against America’s idea of progress, and it’s why we’ve always been looked at as being backwards.”
Biggest political tension point: Bourdain’s heart-to-heart with Allen Lardieri, a veteran who is a proud Trump supporter. “Everybody else talks around us or whatever, but this man talks just like us — like how we talk to each other in the mines,” he tells Bourdain. “It ain’t pretty; it’s just straight talk.” Lardieri believes that Trump’s victory sends a message to other politicians that “if people get frustrated enough, they’re going to put someone in there who’s not like you.“
Most surprising moment: Bourdain firing off fully automatic firearm prototypes with the husband-and-wife team behind JMac Customs. Bourdain follows this sequence by acknowledging the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida, that took place shortly after this episode was filmed. “There are the nice people who live next door who like guns, and unfortunately, there seem to be a whole lot of people who aren’t nice at all,” Bourdain remarks. “One would hope that there is at least some middle ground.”
Most baffling moment: The strip club/slam poetry montage. Bourdain doesn’t talk to the poet or the strippers, or explain who they are or how they fit into the overall theme of the show.
The best moment: The homecoming football game at Mount View High School, where Bourdain observes that “there’s an easy familiarity between people.”
One final Bourdain soundbite: “It’s so easy from afar to say that coal’s time here has come and gone; that we should let the miners move, find some other work. What other work? The state’s biggest employer is now Walmart. Whatever your views, respect these people — what they do and what they’ve paid.”
For a behind-the-scenes look at the making of this episode, check out the show’s companion site, Explore Parts Unknown.