A review of tonight’s The Leftovers coming up just as soon as I’m a member of the indigenous community…
“I put it in the player, and waited for one last voice to tell me what to do.” -Kevin Sr.
The key scene to fully appreciating “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” is one that doesn’t occur in the episode, that the episode’s main character doesn’t even remember, and that may or may not have actually happened. So… Leftovers. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
For an episode littered with gorgeous shots of the Australian Outback, “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” is at its most stunning during a pair of monologues delivered indoors and shot by Mimi Leder mostly in tight closeup. In the first, Kevin Sr. tells the story of his travels through this country that brought him to Christopher Sunday’s door. In the second, Grace Playford — leader of the old lady gang that kidnapped and murdered Australian Kevin by mistake last week — tells Kevin Sr. the story of how her husband and children all disappeared on Departure Day, only it turned out that only her husband Departed, while the poor kids starved to death wandering the Outback while no one realized they should be looking for them.
Grace’s story is delivered with incredible power by Lindsay Duncan, and it’s full of devastatingly mistaken assumptions: that the kids had also Departed, and that Australian Kevin was the man described in the page she found in Kevin Sr’s backpack. Kevin Sr’s story is also a remarkable piece of acting by Scott Glenn — who has to carry as much of this hour on his back as anyone has in previous Leftovers POV episodes — particularly in the moment where he listens to the tape of his younger self singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” to 8-year-old Kevin Jr. And it has a mistaken assumption, too, albeit one that we’re aware of but Kevin Sr. isn’t:
He did speak to God — or, at least, to Kevin Jr, who may very well be the God of The Leftovers universe.
Remember: in “International Assassin,” the two Kevins speak when Senior appears on Junior’s hotel TV set, explaining that he’s in a hotel in Perth and has just consumed something called “God’s Tongue” — the same hallucinogen he tells Christopher Sunday about here, explaining that he took it and woke up two weeks later in a Perth hotel room with no memory of how he got there or what happened.
While Lindelof and Perrotta like to leave things somewhat ambiguous as to whether anything in the show is supernatural other than the Departure itself, this one’s pretty hard to wave away. If “International Assassin” is just part of Kevin Jr’s psychotic break, then how does he know his father is in a hotel in Perth and that he’s just taken this specific, obscure drug? And if Junior was experiencing something real, then Senior — who knows about Junior’s mission and tells him to throw Patti down the well — was, too.
I bring this up not to cry foul on Lindelof’s insistence that everything but the Departure can have a mundane explanation — perhaps if we speak at the end of the series, he’ll have one for this — but to point out how differently Senior’s monologue plays from how he intends it to, because he doesn’t know what we think we know, and it completely turns his whole Australian experience on its head. He came here seeking a purpose, and a chance to talk to God, and he actually, miraculously, was able to connect to someone in the afterlife (for the sake of my argument, we will pretend that that is 100% what happened), but the drugs strong enough to make that happen were also strong enough to wipe his memory of the whole experience. So he wakes up with no awareness that he got what he wanted, nor even how he wound up on the opposite side of the continent, and then he sees the TV news story about Tony the chicken, the only survivor of a small Australian town where very other living thing Departed, and he takes this as a sign, and then takes as another sign Tony the chicken plucking one of the old cassette tapes from that father-son trip to Niagara Falls(*), and the sound of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” convinces him that a flood is coming on the seventh anniversary of Departure Day. As Kevin says all of this, you can understand how it makes perfect sense to him, but to us it plays like someone going on and on about how they found Jesus’s likeness floating in a bowl of guac while oblivious to the actual Jesus posing for selfies right next to him.
(*) Of course a show about grief would have one of its characters assume the key to saving the world lies in a recording he made as part of his attempt to cope with the loss of his wife (and Kevin Jr’s mom). And of course a man as self-confident as Kevin Garvey Sr. would take the sound of his own voice as the ultimate sign of God speaking to him.