Each week following episodes of season two of The Leftovers, Sophie Gilbert and Spencer Kornhaber will discuss new characters, old visitors, and whether smoking really is the best way to express profound nihilism.
Kornhaber: I don’t believe Patti. I don’t believe that Kevin tried to kill himself, I don’t believe those girls just vanished, and I don’t believe that you can be married to someone for 17 years without becoming aware of their predilection for Cleveland steamers. Well, okay, I can buy that last part—but I suspect Kevin already knew the icky details about Patti’s divorce because Laurie did indeed violate patient confidentiality. It’s settled: Patti of season two is no supernatural figure; she’s Kevin’s inner monologist, voicing his worst fears about himself and his relationships and his world. She’s also his inner Captain Obvious, spelling out plot details and intended implications that The Leftovers—to its credit—would usually let viewers notice on their own.
I admit that my certainty on this point isn’t entirely warranted. But this was an episode all about unwarranted certainty—about people who proclaimed great faith in their hunches. When a couple teenagers go missing for 24 hours in Jarden, it’s a microcosm of what happened after the Great Departure, or after any great mysterious event: a rush to explain the yet-unexplainable, whether through religion or rationality or gut feelings. Michael was sure his sis Departed; Nora was sure the Departure couldn’t happen again; even the militantly skeptical John was willing to take a bullet for his guess that Isaac knew Evie’s whereabouts. Also, the reawakening of Mary sounded very much like it could have been a dream, but Matthew felt 100 percent positive it was real.
Of course, The Leftovers knows that for most people certainty is just a kind of performance. Though Nora later said she was convinced that “the Arc” of God isn’t coming back to take more people, she very quickly assumed that it had in fact returned and snatched Kevin when she woke up in the middle of the night without him. That episode-opening scene of her anguish and terror was absolutely wrenching; it felt like a flashback to the hardest-to-watch parts of season one, but with an added layer of pathos given how much Nora has lost and how desperately she wants a new, safe life with the Garveys.
The other thing that The Leftovers realizes about uncertainty is that it’s thrilling. I adored the final moments of the episode, when Jill went onto her porch and scanned the neighborhood as the director Tom Shankland tracked her sightline. In those seconds, I had theories but no surety about what we might see—the return of Evie? Michael coming over to make good on the romantic tension between he and Jill? Zombies? Jesus? This is the kind of suspense that is rare in pop culture these days, the kind that’s only achievable by a storytelling approach that hews to no formulas. How nice that the reveal was more ordinary and more emotional than anything I could have guessed: Michael scratching off the orange sticker that testifies to his house’s lack of Departures, thereby formally de-miracularizing Miracle. Erika’s probably right—the town is about to change.
The more Kevin gets ensnared in the search efforts for the girls, the harder it’s going to be for him to survive John’s wrath when and if it becomes clear that he was at the site of their disappearance. But at least Kevin has a close ally to defend him, someone who—contra what Patti claimed—might be as committed to him as the Murphys are to each other. Like so much else in this show, the bond between Kevin and Nora crosses relatable human longings with extreme behavior; I’ll admit to feeling totally moved when the handcuffs came out as Lo Fang’s Grease cover played. What a perfectly screwed-up depiction of the desire for safety in love, and the danger of that desire. How’d that moment play for you?
Gilbert: Mostly I was thinking about the practicalities of trying to get to sleep handcuffed to another person (how do you turn over? what if you need to go to the bathroom?), but seriously, it was touching and enormously messed up at the same time. It was a literal expression of Nora’s desire to keep her new family attached to her, but also a statement of collusion—anywhere he goes, she goes too. “We’re in this together, right?” Right. Something tells me that it won’t solve the problem of Kevin’s sleepwalking, though, because this isn’t the kind of universe where the normal laws of physics apply.
So I agree with you Spencer that their relationship doesn’t seem as busted as Patti infers, and I like the idea that Patti is a manifestation of Kevin’s inner demons, but then what about the lunatic with the God beard in the town square who seemed to see her, too? “Who’s your friend?” he asked. Sure, he could have been referring to the fact that Kevin was to all extents and purposes talking to himself, but isn’t it more intriguing if Patti’s visible to more people than just Kevin?
I loved the small details in this episode—the wi-fi network named “Evangeline,” the fact that the motel John confronted Isaac at was named “Babylon,” Patti rick-rolling Kevin by singing, “Never Gonna Give You Up” as she walked away. But what a spectacular opening sequence, too. Nora’s single-word utterance of “Gone?” conveyed all the horror of being forced to confront yet another Departure: waking up to no Kevin, seeing a dog run down the street dragging his leash behind him, hearing Erika confirm that Evie was missing. Kevin’s obviously missing some of his marbles at the moment, but if we had to bet on someone to have a full-on breakdown over the next few episodes, my money’s on Nora. She had more invested in the move to Jarden than anyone else; she’ll presumably have the farthest to fall when it turns out the town’s no miracle after all.
Still, I love how Carrie Coon imbues Nora with immense practicality and gutsiness even as she’s making flagrantly terrible decisions (buying a house sight unseen for $3 million, attaching her boyfriend to her wrist, pouring out shots of Wild Turkey for a 17-year-old). But it would be nice for Jill to have something to do other than take care of Lily and hesitate a bunch. Her scenes so far have mostly employed Jill as a cipher to draw out others: In this episode, it was Michael, who seemed almost unaffected at first by his twin’s departure, but who cried as the reality of it began to settle in.
What will start to happen when people realize Jarden’s no safer than the rest of the country? In many ways, it feels cheap for the show to take the Departure device and run with it a second time, but it’s also a way of upending all the communities and theories and systems established to help people deal with the loss of 140 million humans. Is Jarden experiencing its Departures three years late? By that logic, some 200 people should have disappeared along with Evie and her friends. Is it connected to geography, like the MIT researchers seem to believe? Was the same act of divine intervention that saved Kevin the one that disappeared the girls? Who is Virgil, and why does he know everyone’s secrets? How is the cult of Holy Tommy coming along? Obviously, not all these questions will be answered. The best we can do till next week, Spencer, is hope that palm print gets wiped off somewhere between Jarden and Austin. Kevin’s got enough to deal with without John Murphy paying him a visit.
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