Review: ‘The Leftovers’ – ‘A Matter of Geography’: Gone to Texas

A review of tonight's “The Leftovers” coming up just as soon as I ask about your eyepatch…

“Do you want to get out of here?” -Kevin

“A Matter of Geography” opens with a scene that almost plays as a scathing parody of Damon Lindelof's body of work, and on the larger swath of TV dramas that lean heavily on secrets and mysteries for conflict. Remember all those times on “Lost” when you wanted to throw a shoe at the TV because two characters who had information that could mutually help each other somehow never had a real conversation about it? Well, we got everything we could have possibly wanted from the impromptu, hilariously candid family meeting, as Kevin told his daughter and girlfriend about what he did with Patti in the woods, while Nora bluntly explained, “I hire prostitutes to shoot me.” These four (counting baby Lily) are a makeshift family in a colossally screwed-up world who have been through unfathomable trauma (Nora at the moment of the Sudden Departure, Kevin and Jill through so many moments after), and in their case, this burst of honesty isn't about solving a mystery, but figuring out if they can all move forward together. Family – whether you're born into it, marry into it, or get left on the doorstep of it – sometimes means loving each other at your absolute worst, and they needed that breakthrough (with reactions so wonderfully played by Theroux, Coon, and Qualley) to be sure they can make a go of this.

But the rest of the episode makes clear that the truth can only set you so free, especially when you're still as crazy – or perhaps touched by the divine, or both – as Kevin Garvey Jr.

And also when you're not telling the full truth of your crazy to the other people in your life.

Though Kevin seems happy in that moment, baring his secrets to Nora and Jill, taking in this mystery baby girl, by the time two months have passed and he and Nora are ready to officially become Lily's guardians, the fresh start of it all has worn off. He's blasting music in his earbuds whenever possible to tune out his life and potential visions of Patti – Ann Dowd enters the season with a delightfully withering, “What the fuck was that?” – and not long after realizing that he has somehow found himself once again parenting a child that isn't biologically his, he digs up Patti and tries turning himself in.

It's one of several escape attempts that don't turn out exactly as planned, in this case because ATFEC agents are, as we saw last year, more than happy to let deaths of Guilty Remnant members slide. The family plots a move out of Mapleton, with all of its bad memories, to Jarden, the one populated spot on the map untouched by the Sudden Departure, but then have to spend their whole nest egg buying a new house, sight unseen, after John Murphy burned down the one (Isaac's place) they were planning to rent. We know there are larger forces at work in “The Leftovers” universe, and they seem to be pushing the Garvey and Murphy families together, like it or not.

Jill, meanwhile, isn't telling anyone that she's still in touch with Tommy (and, thus, knows how Lily wound up in their lives), and Nora – desperate to leave Mapleton even before the researcher from MIT casually suggests another Departure could happen someday (“Why wouldn't it?”) – is wildly overzealous (albeit in that appealingly direct Nora Durst way) in spending their entire nest egg on buying the house, sight unseen.

In this context, it's no wonder that Kevin Sr. (off to Australia to somehow help start the world up again) suddenly seems like the sanest member of the family.

It's funny: the show could have very easily given us this episode first, since it's focused on characters we know and care about, and then let us get to know the Murphys after we had first seen them from Kevin's point of view. Instead, we began with the Murphys, and with a whole premiere designed to keep us off-balance, so that suddenly, the central characters from last year are interlopers in someone else's world – and, perhaps as Patti suggests, supporting characters in someone else's story.

Though we're back with Kevin and his blackouts and visions – which may be hallucinations and may be the result of the same higher power that took away Nora's family – “A Matter of Geography” manages to have the intensity of last season's best episodes without feeling quite like a wallow in the way those were. Some of that is just the characters moving forward emotionally and geographically, but the series has found ways to still be  about grief and madness without being consumed by them, even if Kevin may still be.

Because the timelines of the two episodes overlap, we get to see a bit of John's birthday party again from Kevin's perspective, as well as John and Michael's discover that the girls and the river water have both gone missing – with Kevin having been saved from what appears to be a blackout-controlled suicide attempt because there was no water with which to drown himself. 

It's another foiled escape attempt, which speaks to the larger meaning of Kevin's question to Nora and Jill about leaving Mapleton. Two percent of the world's population got out of here entirely, and one of the series' central tensions comes from those who feel their loss and/or those who wonder why they couldn't get out of here, too.

Now the Garveys have landed in the only community on Earth spared from apparent judgment – or, if you prefer, deemed entirely unworthy of Departing – right at the moment where people and things are vanishing. There may be an earthly explanation for all of this (as some of you suggested last week, a tremor could have opened a fissure in the river bed, into which all the water drained), but wouldn't it just be Kevin Garvey's luck to come to paradise right as it was falling apart?

Some other thoughts:

* The montage of Kevin digging up Patti's body was scored to “Where Is My Mind?” by the Pixies, which was meant as a hat-tip to the song's famous use in “Fight Club,” but which turned into an accidental nod to “Mr. Robot,” which used a version of it in a memorable episode this summer. Check back on the blog tomorrow morning for Damon Lindelof's thoughts on the coincidence, and why he didn't choose to go with a different song once he saw “Mr. Robot.”

* Meanwhile, Lindelof promised in the main interview that we'll be seeing more of those campgrounds outside of Miracle State Park, which were filled with all manner of seekers: Chasidic Jews, African tribesmen, members of the post-Departure religion the Barefoot People, etc. All the tiny background details as the Garveys entered the Park were fascinating, and I can't wait to learn more about that.

* Besides “Where Is My Mind?,” some of the other songs in this episode include “You've Got My Mind Messed Up” by Quiet Elegance,  “Lasting Love” by 5 Alarm (Deneb), “Take It All” by Ruelle, “Boatman” by 5 Alarm,  “Let Your Love Flow” by The Bellamy Brothers, “Brave Drum” by The Catheters, “Pop Off” by Foolish ft. Icy Black & Mr. Mossberg,  “C'est La Vie” by Campfire, and “Burn” by Cody Crump.

* Once I realized we were going to get the birthday party twice in two episodes, I assumed there would be an explanation for why Kevin was so struck by the sight of the Murphy living room. I suppose it could have been another Patti moment, or simply him noting a warm and fully-furnished home in contrast to the empty fixer-upper he now owns.

* In case you didn't recognize him last week when Michael Murphy went to visit his trailer in the woods, that's Steven Williams (aka Mr. X from “The X-Files,” aka Capt. Fuller from “21 Jump Street” the TV show) as Virgil, who here offers to help Kevin with his “situation.”

* Jill and Tommy quote Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy's final exchange from “Trading Places” at each other when they meet at the diner, with Laurie lurking in the car outside, still understandably shunned by her daughter.

* I joked at the end of last season that Patti might keep appearing to Kevin like some kind of dark version of Al Calavicci from “Quantum Leap.” In hindsight, the better analogue would be Zoey, who was the evil version of Al in a few final season episodes. (For some reason, the only good Zoey clip I can find is from the episode where she wound up leaping herself.)

* The interview with the social worker was, like so many things on “The Leftovers,” unsettling and only half-explained. Was the bit about also getting a white baby some kind of strange test? Or has something fundamental changed in the adoption process, and the number of parents interested in adopting children, in the years since the Sudden Departure?

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at