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So I thought you were sent by God, sent with a message just for me. But you’re not an angel. There is no message. And God doesn’t care about me. It’s all just a story I told myself. It’s just a stupid, silly story, and I believed it, because I’ve got to be crazy, haven’t I? – Grace Playford
This was quite an episode. For the second straight week, The Leftovers chose to put an intense focus on one character, but unlike last week, this felt much more devoted than that one did, because there was no interaction with any other regular, recognizable character other than Matt Jamison over the phone.
Kevin Garvey Sr. ended last week’s episode stumbling out of a farmhouse in Australia after being awoken by commotion outside by the river. Last night, we saw the events that led up to that moment, and then what took place immediately afterward. Before discussing the absorbing nature of the story, it’s impossible not to mention Scott Glenn’s performance, which was remarkable and affecting. It was not an easy hour, because it required Scott to play off the environment, and often act off center without dialogue. It was tremendous, tour de force level stuff, and was massively impressive by every measure. Also, kudos to Lindsay Duncan, whose retelling of the departure from her perspective was as emotionally resonant as anything we’ve ever seen from the series.
Before encountering Grace Playford, Kevin Garvey Sr. was a father who loved his son. The boy had a dream to be a television news anchorman, and thus when he received a tape recorder for his eighth birthday, he took it everywhere. One month after unwrapping the present, his mother died. In 1981, the two Kevins took a trip to Niagara Falls, and the child played newsman, asking questions about everything. His father answered those questions, and in the recordings, you hear love and respect between two people who needed each other, particularly after the loss of a good, devoted wife and mother.
Then comes October 14, when two percent of the world’s population disappears into thin air. Kevin Sr. was the Chief of Police in Mapleton, New York, a job his son would eventually inherit. From that day forward, the father’s life, and more importantly his mind were never the same. He heard voices, and after originally ignoring them, he eventually embraced them. They put him in a mental institution, and convinced him to travel to Australia on a spiritual mission to stop the apocalypse.
There are many series’ where episodes like last night wouldn’t work, and where the plot itself would be preposterous, but The Leftovers isn’t one of those shows. It’s an imperfect comparison to be sure, but there were times I felt I was watching the generational evolution of Ab Aeterno, which remains one of my favorite installments of executive producer Damon Lindelof’s previous show, Lost. It told a story about a character we didn’t know all that well, and it did so in an unconventional, powerful way.
What comes from the craziness is the reality that Kevin Garvey Sr. was a decent man and a caring father. After October 14, he became a raving lunatic. It was a gradual descent into madness, but it left him estranged from his family and separated from reality. When we come across him in the Outback, he’s spying on an Aboriginal ceremony, recording it in order to try and duplicate it himself during the night. His movements follow a well-known “song line” in Australia, as he believes putting all the various pieces of song and chant together will stop the rain. He buys into the idea of a great flood, similar to Noah’s experience in Genesis, and truly thinks his acts will save humanity. Again, it’s the voices that took him there, but he also sees his son as special, and in much the same way as Matt Jamison, he almost views Kevin as a Messianic figure.
He needs to find Christopher Sunday, an indigenous man whose song is the last piece of Kevin Sr.’s puzzle. This man may well be the only person who actually knows this particular song, and thus finding him in time to preserve the world from extinction is of paramount import. Unfortunately, after making a deal with Sunday to get his help, he falls off a roof while shouting at the indigenous liaison, lands on Chris, and a short time later, the key to survival dies at an Australian hospital.
Survival takes a more literal tone during the encounter with the snake as the creature survives a crutch beating and takes a chunk out of Kevin Sr.’s left arm, nearly killing him. Grace Playford saved his life, finding him as his eyes were nearly shut, leaned against a cross in the wilderness. Malnourished and emaciated, he likely had minutes to live, not even hours. When he wakes up in bed, he has an IV in his arm and a catheter…where catheters go. There’s a little 127 Hours to be found in the trek through the Outback, especially going off the path in the same way he told his son he would on the recording. That’s where true adventure lies.
The “Niagara 81” tape was perhaps his most prized possession, as it connected him to a time he wishes he could return to, but knows is long gone. Now the tape is long gone, after a torrential downpour wrecks the equipment. That same night, a man in a suit drove up in a Volkswagen Beetle, got out, doused himself in gasoline, and after asking Kevin Sr. if he would kill a baby if it would cure cancer, he lights himself ablaze, dies, and the fire also takes out the vehicle. Here’s another example of someone driven into madness as he was left behind and rendered meaningless. “They didn’t take me,” he says, and Kevin’s words aren’t enough to talk him off the proverbial ledge.
It’s the sit-down conversation between Kevin Sr. and Grace that left me in a stunned state, however. Lindsay Duncan’s eyes, and the way her voice creaked as she attempted to tell this strange American what happened to her family took me into the room with her. He finds her photo album in the freezer and looks through it, noting that she and her husband had adopted children and the family was an extremely tight knit group. The departure happened on October 15 in Australia, and her husband and five children were all taken, at least that’s what she thought.
As heartbreaking as The Leftovers can be, nothing was worse than hearing the truth. She was at the store, and made the assumption they were all taken. She took solace in it, because it meant the people she loved most were seated next to God and were safe and happy. Then she gets a phone call two years later. The remains of five children were found on her property, nothing but bones left. Her kids left the home, likely in fear, going out on their own after the event in an attempt to either find their mother or to survive together after losing both parents. They were young, ill-equipped, and they died as a group. They weren’t taken like everyone else.
I don’t even know how to process this story, but allow me to say it’s content like this, juxtaposed with the dark, witty humor of the series that makes it so special and so unique. This was devastating to listen to, but it explained why Grace drowned the wrong Kevin. She found a page of Matt’s book in Kevin Sr.’s hand, and it told her about a man who saved others after drowning and rising from the dead. She now believes she’s killed the man, and plans to turn herself in. She’s not wrong. She did kill him, but she also happened to encounter the one person in the world willing to understand what she did and why she did it. Grace Playford doesn’t know she’s seated across a table from the right Kevin’s father, a man who also cheated death thanks to her riding up to him on her horse when he was on the doorstep to the afterlife.
Lost was about human connection and the intertwined, non-coincidental nature of deja vu, history, and interaction. Here, we watched a flashback, heard a story from even further in the past, and it all led to these two people in the same place at the same time, both empty, both searching, both desperate to save some semblance of normalcy. Grace seeks one final moment with her children, Kevin may want the same reconciliation with his son, but he also sees the higher purpose that took him to Australia. Again, there’s no way to know whether he’s insane or wrong as of yet, because this is The Leftovers, and anything’s possible. Everyone on this show is in search of “fucking purpose,” of meaning, and as Mark Linn-Baker described it last week, “some fucking control.”
But what if it doesn’t exist? Worse, what if it never did, long before October 14 was anything more than another day on a calendar?
I even had one fleeting thought last night that the animals in this world are the reincarnated spirits of those that departed. I then dismissed it as pure hogwash, but if it turned out to be even partially accurate, I wouldn’t bat an eye. Nothing’s off limits in this world, and as Nora (and perhaps Kevin) are set to take their own trip to Australia, the series is about to take its last seismic shift before the final act. So much is left for this show to tell us, to reveal to us, and to throw at us, and if the first three episodes are any indication, it’s going to be can’t miss until the bitter end.
The Leftovers has crossed a bridge from being just a television show. It’s a discussion piece, for those taking the journey. It has created within me a yearning for mystery and for the art of storytelling. This was a magnificent hour for a different reason than those that came before. Last week’s episode is my favorite of the season thus far, and perhaps of the series as a whole, but how many shows would do THAT episode and then come back with something this radically different and powerful?
Kevin Sr. and Grace are a duo we need to see more from, and I have no doubt that’s to come. When Kevin Jr. and Nora arrive, there will be an encounter, and there will be a long talk. Nora’s cynicism has been the most unwavering thing about the last few episodes, but how will she react to Grace’s story, or anything happening in Australia? Also, there’s notable similarity between the Grace who no longer believes in angels and messages with Nora who doesn’t buy into further departures or connection scams. Kevin Jr. is still playing with plastic bags and duct tape, so these are four unstable, volatile people living on a personal edge. When the “something” that’s coming finally does, the results should be incredible.
The Leftovers is on a completely different plane from anything else on television right now. Amidst the biggest month of peak TV we’ve ever seen, it stands alone. I just can’t wait to see what happens next. There’s no hour on the small screen more worth my time than this one.
And there you have it folks. I’m the wrong Kevin, and am in fact @JMartOutkick on the Tweets…Kevin Garvey Jr. reporting.
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