Did ‘The Leftovers’ just do what it looks like it just did?

A review of tonight's “The Leftovers” coming up just as soon as I go outside to curse…

“There is no Patti, Kevin. There is only you.” -Laurie

Ohmigod, they killed Kevin!

But probably not.

If not for Michael Murphy appearing in the episode's closing minutes to drag Kevin away – a few scenes after he was left in tears by a conversation with Virgil that in hindsight clearly involved his grandfather telling him his whole suicidal plan for that evening – I might be more concerned that Kevin had just been poisoned with no epinephrine handy, or perhaps annoyed that “The Leftovers” was teasing us with the apparent death of its main character(*) when it likely plans to do no such thing. An episode that ends with Kevin foaming at the mouth on the floor of Virgil's trailer is a taunt; the episode ending with Michael taking Kevin away is a tease, if the distinction makes sense. One is the show messing with us, while the other is the show promising there's more to the story coming up next week.

(*) Obviously, we'll see what happens on “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead,” but if the respective characters on those shows turn out to be not as dead as they seemed, that's going to make that particular card much harder to play for other shows, because the audience will become conditioned to expect a cheat. But for what it's worth, I have the following statement direct from Damon Lindelof (no foolin'):

“You will see Kevin, or parts of Kevin, possibly memories of Kevin, Kevin's jogging pants, Maybe another character named Kevin, an adolescent game entitled 'Seven Minutes in Kevin,' and/or, but not necessarily literally, the ACTUAL Kevin, again.  And soon.  #GlennLives”

I might wonder if, after the hell that Damon Lindelof and Patrick Somerville's script puts Kevin through in “A Most Powerful Adversary,” he might not be better off dead. But if we're taking Patti's presence at face value – which, like so many aspects of “The Leftovers,” is never a safe assumption – then being a post-suicide ghost is no fun, either.

If grief is the series' number 1 subject, then the blurry line between divinity and madness is 1A. We know that some kind of supernatural force exists in “The Leftovers” universe, and that it caused the Sudden Departure. But does that one event certify all the other alleged magic in that show's world? Does it make Holy Wayne a healer or a charlatan? Did Virgil really know what Kevin's problem was, or is he just a more homespun version of the Long Island Medium? Do the two Kevin Garveys actually have conversations with people no one else can see, or are they – as Laurie makes a persuasive and powerful argument for here – mentally ill? As Michael points out to Jill, he also talks to “someone who's not there,” and nobody is looking to put him on medication and sent to a private facility.

As with so many aspects of the series, the explanation's largely besides the point. There are different treatment options if Kevin is being haunted versus if he's schizophrenic, but in the moment, all that matters is that his life is falling apart. He's driven away the woman he either loves or just views as his lifeline, he can't stop himself from talking back to Patti no matter the social circumstance, his palm print is now scanned in by John and his goon squad, and the person who seems to be talking the most sense to him is, as Patti notes, the magical black man(**) at the far end of town whose primary qualification is that he's a pedophile. Neither answer is a good one. If Patti's an angel or a ghost, she represents a malfunctioning metaphysical system, since she has no idea why she's here or what she's supposed to do next. She's as lost and miserable as he is, but (based on what we know of her marriage) more used to being miserable and ignored, and therefore able to at least take pleasure in Kevin's suffering. And if she really is, as Laurie suggests, entirely a creation of Kevin's broken psyche, then what a cruel choice of hallucination!

(**) A necessarily meta line, even though the prominence of the other Murphys this season means that Virgil doesn't have to carry the weight of a Bagger Vance or John Coffey, who existed in their stories largely to assist the white heroes.

Kevin's fear for his own sanity has been a core element of the series from the start, but never presented quite as intensely as this, with Justin Theroux letting it all hang out and Ann Dowd not being far behind as Patti finally acknowledged that she's no happier with the situation than he is. At this point, can you entirely blame him for trying Virgil's plan? Laurie's approach is the more logical one, and would have particularly been one in a pre-Departure world, but Kevin is so desperate for anything to bring Nora and Lily back to him that he can't afford to go the institutional route.

Hence, poison. If the angel/hallucination question is a no-win scenario, Kevin's at a point where Virgil's plan is a no-lose. Either Virgil knows what he's doing, this insane cure works, and Patti is gone from his mind and life forever, or it's just poison and he's freed from a life that stopped making sense to him a long time ago. He wants so badly for it to be the one, but if it's the other? How much more of this version of reality can he take?

What a wonderful, harrowing hour of television. What comes next? Will we actually see Kevin and Patti do battle on another plane of reality, or have him wake up remembering nothing? Or will the poison have done its job?

Recent television has created such intense cliffhanger fatigue that I would have rolled my eyes at a lot of shows that ended an episode with the main character dying of poison and being dragged off to parts unknown. But like Kevin with Virgil, I'm putting all my trust into “The Leftovers.” After I've gone this far on this mad journey, what other choice do I have?

Some other thoughts:

* It's a testament to how talented Amy Brenneman is that she made Laurie so compelling last year despite not speaking for most of the season. But give her a monologue like the one she lays on Kevin in that motel room, and she takes things to another level. Damn, that was good.

* Another mystery mostly solved: Virgil molested John when he was a boy – he alludes to John shooting him “in that foul machinery below the waist, which transgressed the laws of man” – and presumably John shot Virgil to protect Michael from the man. Fabulous acting from Steven Williams in the moment as Virgil tells Kevin about his sin and alleged salvation. (Said salvation seems less impressive when he ends the episode painting his brains on the wall of his trailer.)

* Also, the man on the pillar in the Jardin town square is Edward, and he wound up there after also partaking in Virgil's “cure.”

* Jill's conversation with Michael at the church helps set up Michael's later actions with Kevin and Virgil, but it also breaks the POV rules the show has been trying to stick to this season. Unlike episode 2, which was about the whole blended Garvey/Durst family, this was just a Kevin story, but we got a scene where he didn't appear. The rest of the episode was intense enough for it to not seem like a huge deal, but given how committed Lindelof has sounded about POV, it's a notable deviation. (Jill finding Laurie in the house also doesn't quite fit the structure, but since Kevin was still upstairs when Jill arrived, it stood out less.)

* A fitting reprise of The Pixies' “Where Is My Mind” (both the original version and the piano version) as we returned to that exact question about Kevin.

* Patti didn't speak a ton in the first season, but she did often enough to make clear she didn't have quite the Southern accent in life that she now has in death. It makes slightly more sense if Kevin is hallucinating her (since the only time she spoke to him was in the cabin before she died) than if she's meant to be a ghost, but either way, it's odd.

* By the time we do get another Tommy episode, I'm wondering if it's going to double back to show us his time as a Holy Wayne wannabe and subsequent split from Laurie, or if we're just going to pick up with wherever he's run off to.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com