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: Glory be, Kevin is risen! No one missed the foreshadowing, right? “Make like Jesus,” a security guard in dreamland/the afterlife told our international assassin before asking whether he’d Neosporin-ed a wound. And so out of the dirt Kevin came, in the presence of Michael, a devout Christian who may now testify that miracles really do happen in Miracle. Perhaps soon Kevin will be made to pick up the formerly Holy Tommy’s halo. Perhaps he will inadvertently start a religious movement like the one that has drawn his dad to Australia. Or perhaps John Murphy will just put him back in the ground.
As far as I can tell, the evidence for Kevin’s experiences in this episode merely being a psychotic man’s dying hallucinations are as follows:
- It prominently involved a number of people who Kevin has interacted with.
- They did and said things that the subconsciousness of the Kevin Garvey we’ve come to know could have probably come up with.
- No info was discussed that he wouldn’t have been aware of prior to poisoning himself. (Remember, Laurie confided in Kevin about Patti’s past.)
- It felt like a dream in that it took the recognizable world, stirred in some nonsense—killer flower deliverers, fire alarms, talking Guilty Remnant members—and remixed it all.
The evidence for Kevin’s experience in this episode actually being an encounter with a supernatural world—maybe purgatory—are as follows:
- The trapped hotel bird looked like one of the ones that Erika buries in the same dirt as Kevin.
- When Kevin asked Virgil what he was doing there, Virgil gave an answer that perfectly jibes with the fact that he shot himself.
- Once Kevin completed his quest, he rose from the dead.
Of course, both answers might be reconcilable. One thing of note is that none of the characters we know to have Departed appeared in the hotel; everyone was legitimately dead or presumed dead or in a vegetative state or going on vision quests in Australia. And in no dream I’ve ever had did the internal logic remain as consistent, unchanging, as it did here (think: the rules about drinking the water, or the plan for killing Patti). One prediction about how the show might settle the matter, in the unlikely event that it ever chooses to do so: Show a photo of Neil in real life. If Patti’s ex looks like he looked in this episode, Kevin might actually have seen his ghost and we can move forward with some confidence that there’s magic in the world of The Leftovers. If he doesn’t look the same, then Kevin imagined him.
The most remarkable thing about this surreal hour may have been what fantastic TV it was. Dream sequences get a bad rap as tedious and indulgent, but I found myself totally engrossed in the ridiculousness that unfolded. There was real suspense about the question of whether Kevin would shoot the woman identified as Senator Levin, about whether the noose-holding man on the bridge would let him pass, and about what would go down in the final encounter in the well. And I found myself moved by Kevin’s confusion and desperation, and by the Jeopardy!-related pathos of Patti. He had to forgive her and recognize her humanity to find peace: another point for Kevin’s Christlikeness. Then he drowned her: a point against it.
The idea of Patti as a politician selling nihilism as a national policy is hilarious but also disturbing, particularly in a week when we’ve seen real-life presidential candidates come very close to campaigning against the very notion of human compassion. But Kevin’s description of her agenda—that she wants to destroy families—probably says more about himself than about her. It’s been hinted before that the deepest, darkest secret Kevin harbors is that he hated his old life with Laurie and that he doesn’t truly want to find contentment with Nora. That Kevin said he smokes to remember, just like the GR, is yet more evidence for Patti’s assertion that he’s more like her than he’d want to believe.
Sophie, you previously noted how the cavewoman vignette that opened this season was soundtracked by Verdi. Same went for this episode—but this time, the taunting, comical orchestration was from Nabucco, an opera about the Biblical tale of the Jews’ oppression by Babylon. Yet more religious imagery of ambiguous import. Your turn to play prophet. What, exactly, did we just watch?
Gilbert: Michael’s response, “Holy shit,” seems fair (also apt, given that Kevin just crawled out of earth that apparently has miraculous properties). Like you, I was rapt during this episode, although I think I’m more veering toward the conclusion that it was some kind of purgatorial experience rather than a hallucination (not that it couldn’t be both, of course). For one thing, the location. If Kevin were fantasizing a life-after-death experience, I just don’t buy him as the kind of guy to make it happen in a soulless (pun intended), high-end hotel. For another, there were people there who Kevin had nothing to do with—the weeping priest in the elevator, the nurse speaking in a foreign language in the parking garage, the hooded prisoner in the cop’s uniform. The episode was told very much from Kevin’s perspective, but I got the feeling it wasn’t just his experience.
But what an experience it was! It was, in many ways, the prototypical hero’s journey. Here’s Joseph Campbell’s monomyth theory:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Only time will tell what boons Kevin has to bestow, if any (with John Murphy on his case, he’s going to need them), but wherever he was, he decisively confronted not only Patti, but also his own existential crisis following the Departure. There we were, thinking Kevin was sneaking cigs like a normal married father-of-two, and all the while he was participating in a minor act of nihilistic protest, using cigarettes to remember that “the world ended.”
It would take a year to unpick all the symbolism in the episode—Gladys using glass cleaner on Kevin’s eyes, the bird in the lobby, the fire alarms, the Epictetus quote in the wardrobe (“First know who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly”). Epictetus’s philosophy was kind of a first-century version of the serenity prayer: Manage the things you have power over wisely, but have the serenity to accept that fate is external and cannot be controlled. Good advice for the post-Departure world, but not so much for Kevin wrestling his demons in some kind of celestial Westin. Essentially, when Kevin picked out his outfit, he was choosing his own adventure, adopting the persona of Jason Bourne over cop or holy man. Why? No idea.
But as much as this was Kevin’s hero’s journey, it was also Patti’s origin story. For the past two seasons Patti’s been a fearless, sassy provocateur and a thorn in Kevin’s side, significantly more so after her death, when she appeared to become a manifestation of his conscience and his doubts. But in the flashback episode from season one, we saw Patti before the Departure, a shadow of herself, riddled with insecurity and anxiety that something terrible was about to happen. Now, having met Patti’s worm of a husband and her much younger self, it seems that she was abused all her life in one way or another: thrown down stairs, told she was fat, stupid, that she talked too much. The Guilty Remnant’s enforced silence apparently comes from Patti’s experience on Jeopardy!, when her fellow contestant impressed her in the green room by refusing to talk to her before the taping, showing her the power of not saying a single word.
For someone who’s had such terrible relationships with others her whole life, it makes sense that the post-Departure world would seem like an opportunity rather than a loss. Not being able to love others, Patti told Kevin, is “no longer a difficulty. It’s a strength. It is a survival mechanism. Because on October 14, attachment and love became extinct. In an instant, it became cosmically, abundantly clear that you can lose anyone at any time … Our cave collapsed.”
There it was, the link back to the wacky prehistoric first 10 minutes of season two, when the cave did indeed collapse, and the new mother finally succumbed to a snake bite right in the same spot where Kevin pushed little Patti into the well. That well, according to legend, is a conduit between the living and the spirit world, where people can throw in whatever they want to unburden themselves of. At this point, I have no clue whether Patti’s spirit was actually haunting Kevin or whether she was just the embodiment of all his doubts (one other way to check would be to figure out whether Patti really did win $63,500 on Jeopardy!, since that’s a hella weird conversation to dream up for someone in their dying throes). Regardless, he’s now unburdened. What happens next?
There’s so much more to think about: Kevin senior’s deux ex television moment and his admission that he was tripping on “God’s tongue,” the mysterious South African man who gave Kevin the choice to jump rather than “cross over” the bridge to Jarden, the water, Mary. Is Mary dead now? Or is her body stuck in the mortal world while her mind waits in purgatory? Either way, Kevin’s alive in Jarden, proving the mystical qualities of the earth there don’t just revive Erika’s birds. And Virgil, his guide (just as Virgil was Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory in The Divine Comedy), seems not to be coming back, giving Kevin one more thing he’s going to have trouble explaining to the Murphys.