For weeks, Leftovers fans have wondered about all the show’s great mysteries, like what happened to Kevin’s white shirts or whether he’s been dragging wild dogs around town at night in some kind of fugue state. I’m being sarcastic—no one really cared about these “mysteries.” At best, they were intriguing color in a show that focuses on fear of the unknown (with the Sudden Departure as the central metaphor there), and at worst they were an indication that Lost’s Damon Lindelof could not avoid leaning on unanswerable plot tropes to create some dramatic tension.
Well, now we know a little bit more, but things remain as disorienting and unsatisfying as before. Kevin has indeed been entering an amnesiac trance state and acting out aggressively, with the gun-toting, dog-killing Dean in tow. His latest escapade, and the main dramatic event of the episode, was to kidnap Patti and tie her up in an old campground in the Catskills (specifically Cairo, the name of the episode). As Kevin comes to, he’s confronted with the choice between finishing her off and hiding the body, or releasing her and losing his job/going to jail as a result.
But that’s obviously no choice at all, and I never bought into the tension that Kevin might kill her. The Leftovers is still, deliberately or not, failing to explain Kevin’s behavior as something that isn’t somewhat supernaturally motivated. We saw him flush his meds, and his dad last week bleated about the voices in his head choosing Kevin for some purpose. I know these things can be explained away, but creating the barest minimum of a realistic escape hatch to justify totally crazy plot twists is a trick of Lindelof’s I’ve never appreciated.
The reason is, if Kevin was being controlled by some outside force, or just going crazy, that wouldn’t be remotely interesting television. That has to be left ambiguous and function as a grander metaphor for Kevin’s struggle with the aftermath of the Departure. In choosing to ignore his sleepwalking self and free Patti, he says, he’s refusing to lose his mind listening to her pointed Guilty Remnant spiel. But she has far more clarity of vision than him, jamming a shard of glass into her neck to complete her martyrdom and hopefully spread her message further.
One of the big revelations this week is that Gladys’ death by stoning was organized by the Guilty Remnant, another shocking example of the group’s callous approach to its members’ lives. The GR is, in a way, an anti-cult: it offers no real support, no togetherness, no emotional wholeness—they volunteer to serve as a living reminder of emptiness, a blank monolith to jolt humanity from ignoring the Sudden Departure. What the GR offers, Patti tells Kevin, is a sense of purpose, which so much of the world has lost after the Departure. “Just a reason to exist. Something to live for, something to die for.” Patti’s promise that Laurie’s time to die is also coming serves as a particularly chilling thought as this episode ends with Jill coming to the GR headquarters, clearly looking to join up.
Ann Dowd’s final monologue was something to behold, and she’s done a great job on the show, but I will not miss Patti. More and more, the GR represents another fundamental problem for this show. Just as is struggles from presenting Kevin as being unhinged and guided by voices, it struggles to inject any ambiguity into what the GR is doing, because their mission is so pure and absolute. Their plan this week seems to be dressing up hundreds of model corpses in real peoples’ clothes to do something awful with, and the revelation that Gladys’ death was staged robs the whole operation from the shred of sympathy it had earned.
Meg snaps at Reverend Matt this week and breaks her vow of silence, complaining about his own harassing tactics and trying to draw Laurie into conversation, which horrifies the group’s de facto leader (now that Patti is gone) who seems to take the no-talking rule more seriously than Patti ever did. Meg’s freakout is somewhat rich considering the cult’s own behavior and, coupled with the revelation that she spiraled into depression because her mother’s death came a day before the Departure, which overshadowed it, suggests that Meg may not be long for the cult. Her malaise is perhaps more situational, whereas the GR attracts people who no longer have any way of interacting with the world.
So now Jill is signing up. Her story was the most human and involving this week, although it has been an extremely slow build to her decision to knock on the GR’s door. But with her mom gone, her brother gone and her dad in a trance (possibly having sex with Aimee, although that was left pretty ambiguous), Jill’s situation is pretty bleak. She has long been drawn to Nora’s darkness and the fact that she had a gun in her purse, and for some reason the revelation that Nora has stopped carrying the gun and now hides it in a box in her home, not forgotten but not needed, triggers a breakdown in Jill. Is she fundamentally confused that Nora could be able to move on from losing her whole family? Just jealous and even lonelier than ever at that revelation? The catalyzing event is hard to fully understand.
With Patti (likely) dead in Kevin’s arms and Laurie now in charge of the Remnant, including her daughter, what next for this show? Things are speeding up to some grand confrontation, but the fact remains, this is a show about wrestling with the unknown, and it’s struggling more and more to wring dramatic tension out of that without things getting completely unreal. “Cairo” had more than one powerful moment, but it arrived at many of them so ponderously.