A review of tonight's “The Leftovers” coming up just as soon as I get in this refrigerator…
“I think I might be going crazy.” -Kevin
I'm usually a believer in the idea that a show should speak for itself, and that if you need to read creator interviews or play a game on an app to truly understand what's happening, then the show has failed. In the case of “The Leftovers,” though, I think the press that Lindelof and Perrotta did before the season was invaluable. Given both Lindelof's previous TV show and the way modern TV viewers tend to treat all dramas as puzzles to be solved whether they're intended that way or not, I think “The Leftovers” creators needed to get out front of all the over-analysis and make clear that this is not going to be a show you can play along with at home to try to figure out the explanation for the Sudden Departure, Holy Wayne's powers (or the lack thereof) or what happened to Kevin's white shirts.
Because there are two ways to look at an episode like “Solace for Tired Feet.” One way is that there really are answers to the Departure in that old issue of National Geographic, and Kevin pondering whether to fish it out of the kitchen garbage is the first step towards figuring out the cause of the Departure and what's coming next. If this were “Lost,” I imagine half of fandom would be frantically trying to acquire a copy of that issue to study it for details(*).
(*) After watching the episode, I did some cursory Google searching to get more info about the issue in question, and every place that sells magazine back issues was sold out of it. Maybe the magazine has suddenly departed from our universe?
The other way, though, is to look at Kevin Sr.'s brief stint as a fugitive not as an opportunity to go sniffing for clues, but as another chance to examine the emotional toll that's come down hard on all the members of the Garvey family – and to wonder again, as Kevin Jr. does here, whether he's losing his goddamn mind.
It may be that Lindelof is trolling us all, and that Kevin and Nora Durst will turn into the second coming of Mulder and Scully by the season finale. But I've found “The Leftovers” so tremendously satisfying because I set aside my desire for answers before I started watching, and simply fell into the hypnotic mood of the piece. Kevin's search for his father – and the questions that search raises about his own sanity, and his reliance on an impressive stockpile of pharmaceuticals – played out so well because I've been watching this guy teetering on the edge of madness since the very first episode, and have been wondering ever since what kind of event, big or small, it might take to tip him over.
Like the episode following the intensity of “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” “Solace for Tired Feet” feels like a bit of a comedown after the all-Nora experience of “Guest.” (Both this episode and number 4 also featured a lot of Tommy, which has been the show's least successful corner.) But like “Gladys,”(**) the focus was tight enough on Kevin and the search for his father to work, and it featured excellent performances from both Justin Theroux and, especially, Scott Glenn(***), who made Kevin Sr's frequent switches between being reasonable and being violent always believable.
(**) One of the more intriguing background elements to the episode: Matt and his followers fighting back against the Guilty Remnant with all their “Save Them” posters featuring Gladys' face, which the Remnant then attempts to repurpose by painting “DON'T” above the original tagline.
(***) At 73, Glenn appears to be in roughly the same shape he was in during “Urban Cowboy.” Why does the guy not have his own line of fitness videos?
This is a show about abandonment, and it comes in different forms. Nora's family vanished into the ether, Matt's wife is still living with him but unreachable, while the Garvey nuclear family has drifted away from one another, until only Kevin and Jill are left (barely) together. When Kevin confronts his dad in the diner, he tells him, “You left me when I needed you.” It's unclear if this was a childhood estrangement or if he's referring to Kevin Sr. going crazy after the Departure, but that ultimately doesn't matter any more than the contents of that magazine do. Kevin feels abandoned by everyone and everything – including, potentially, his marbles – and even if the magazine does offer a multitude of clues about what caused the Departure and what might be coming next, it won't make Laurie speak again, it won't bring Tommy home, it won't put a smile back onto Jill's face. Kevin's living in his father's house, sorting through the wreckage of his own life and not sure what to do next. He's finding some release in this new affair with Nora, and maybe throwing out all the drugs will help, but overall he feels as broken as the world around him, and only slightly more functional than the man who raised him.
And I'm glad I can focus on the pain he and the other characters are going through without worrying about which message board I need to check to find out what's on pages 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42 of that NatGeo issue.
Some other thoughts:
* Loved the way director Mimi Leder shot the sequence with Kevin Sr. rescuing Jill from the fridge. The teenagers do that stupid stunt because a kid vanished from inside it during the Departure, and as Jill runs out of air, it looks for a moment as if she may be vanishing into a white light, even if that's death rather than getting to meet Nora's kids. Instead, she's greeted by her grandfather, who at least presents himself as a holy messenger, whether or not he actually is.
* Nora, by the way? Fantastic. If the Guilty Remnant existed in my town, I would buy the most powerful sprinkler system known to man and turn it on the moment they approached.
* The fridge scene also clarifies something I don't think the show made known previously: the Sudden Departure took place in 2011, so “The Leftovers” exists in the present day, which will still leave “Parks and Rec” as the only show taking place in 2017 when it returns. So much for my dream of a crossover where April joins the Guilty Remnant and Jerry and Nora commiserate over losing their entire families in one go.
* I like how almost every time we see someone on the show watching TV, it's a “Perfect Strangers” rerun, which calls back to the trivia in an earlier episode about how all four of the leads are among the Departed. It would make the Dance of Joy seem far more poignant.
* Kevin's interactions with Aimee remain (intentionally) uncomfortable, especially with the knowledge that he's often heavily under the influence at night, and unable to remember what happened the next morning.
* Again, I'm generally not eager to catch back up with Tommy and Christine. But it's at least interesting to see Holy Wayne back in such an unsympathetic light a week after “Guest” introduced some more ambiguity about his ability to help others (and his interest in doing so). With the smiley-face flip phone destroyed, I wonder where Tommy takes Christine and the baby next.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org