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: Little can be said with certainty about the insane ending to this episode, in which Kevin Garvey gulped a cup of poison and the man who vowed to bring him back to life instead squirted the supposed antidote on the floor and shot himself. We don’t know if the star of the show is dead, for real, for good. We don’t why old man Virgil did what he did—is he still haunted by the “powerful adversary” who made him do evil things? Is he trying to join Kevin in the spirit world? Is he just a total asshole? And we don’t know if Michael was in on the act, or if he just walked in on the aftermath and started tampering with the crime scene for fun.
But we do know something about why it all went down. Kevin chose to listen to a pedophile he barely knew advocating a suicidal battle in the spiritual realm rather than listen to his wife, a professional therapist, who said he needed anti-psychotic medication. The mystical explanation, the one that validated Kevin’s perception that Patti exists—despite all rational evidence to the contrary—was more alluring than the one rooted in science and relationships and the idea that ghosts aren’t real. But accepting the latter explanation would have meant Kevin would end up in the same situation—institutionalized, medicated, disrespected—as his father, and I suspect that fact had a lot to do with his seemingly bizarre choice. So does the universal human phenomenon that Laurie talked about: yearning for meaning in the face of unsolvable confusion.
It surprised me, at first, that Nora bolted after Kevin’s confession, given how deeply she had seemed committed to him. But then I remembered that all season long, Nora has been interested in one thing above everything else: the feeling of safety. Her bond with Kevin and her presence in Miracle was predicated on the idea that it meant security for her. But his visions of a dead woman were a threat that couldn’t merely be contained by handcuffing—they meant, basically, that Nora could never trust him. That she would come back if Patti went away made for another reason for Kevin to take action, whether through magical or medicinal means.
I like that this episode fleshed out the nature of spirit-Patti: nearly as confused as Kevin, a plausible reflection of his darker thoughts—but also possessed of a personality distinct enough to seem real. If Kevin’s psyche was the author of the suggestion she made to him regarding the chalice in Cairo, then, well, he’s more deeply disturbed than anyone realizes. But as with so many things in The Leftovers, more info about Patti has not meant more clarity; the conversation between Kevin and Laurie only confirmed that what Patti revealed a few episodes back about her ex-husband’s proclivities could have been something Kevin learned in Mapleton. One logic gap: You would think that Kevin would want to subject Patti to the test Laurie mentioned—quizzing her about genuinely confidential information—before drinking the hemlock. One explanation: People experiencing psychotic breaks don’t always do the logical thing.
As I said last week, one of the signal traits of The Leftovers is its penchant for surprising viewers—not only on the level of what happens next, but on the level of what the show will reveal next. For much of this episode, I thought we were moving along nicely regarding the central mystery of the season about what happened to Evie and her friends. A subset of that mystery is the question of what happened to Kevin the night they vanished, and now we know that the answer involved a visit to Virgil and a drowning attempt. When Kevin gave his handprint to John, I thought—with dread and excitement—that the long-brewing confrontation between the two men was imminent. But instead, Laurie showed up and then we went down a whole other, potentially fatal subplot about Kevin’s sanity.
It’s fair enough for the show to do this; unlocking what’s up with Kevin’s brain is vital to the central mystery. But I fear that it won’t feel fair if next week we’re plunged into a completely different plotline—Tommy’s?—that doesn’t tell us whether Kevin’s gone for good. Best case scenario might be that we enter into the point of view of Michael, the Kevin-dragging preacher-in-training who seemed creepier each time he was on screen tonight. Sophie, do you expect to learn what happens next, next?
Gilbert: Unfortunately, no. My instinct, given the way episodes careen between characters in this show, is that next week will be a Meg episode, or, yes, something about Tommy or Michael, and that the Kevin reveal will be left for another week, or even for the finale. In many ways, the show would be even more unpredictable if it broke with the model of unconventional storytelling and picked up right where it left off, but they want us to keep watching above all, so this is how it goes.
My main question is, who can we trust, if anyone? Laurie certainly seemed like the plausible voice of reason when she was trying to persuade Kevin to get help, but the premise of The Leftovers is one that defies reason and logic, which is why doing things the “right” way often isn’t rewarded. Look at Laurie’s AA classes for Guilty Remnant escapees as an example—in many ways that was a character using “before” tactics to try and help people living in the “after,” and as we saw in the case of Susan, it fundamentally backfired. So did Kevin make the right choice? We’ll hopefully find out soon enough. But there was something about Laurie’s self-possession in the motel room that seemed cocky, almost bullying. And like you said, Spencer, for Kevin—who’s seen his father institutionalized for years and only freed when he acknowledged the voices in his head rather than drowning them out—it isn’t so straightforward.
How real is Patti? Laurie’s conclusion—that “Patti” would stay far away from her because Laurie can prove she’s a projection rather than a ghost—certainly seemed convincing, but then again, when “Patti” was sitting on the chair in his bedroom, Kevin couldn’t see the note Nora left. How real is Virgil? I was spooked when Michael knew all about Patti, via his grandfather, but then it emerged that Kevin had spilled all the details of his problem the night he went to the lake. And then again, Virgil knew things about Nora, too. The end of this episode, with Virgil calmly pushing the liquid out of the syringe and then shooting himself in the head, was extraordinarily unsettling. But did he kill himself to act as Kevin’s guide? Or could this be some kind of pact he’s made with his “adversary” to do one more evil thing before he leaves the world behind?
There wasn’t a ton of humor in this episode, although I did laugh out loud when Virgil referred to the man with the god beard living in Jarden’s town center as “a living, breathing success story.” Is that why Michael takes him food and posts his mail? I also sniggered a bit when Virgil made Kevin’s poison drink, because between the mason jars and the organic ingredients and the thousands of exposed lightbulbs, it was like being in an artisanal Brooklyn cocktail joint. But it was interesting that Virgil answered the question regarding John that Matt asked a few weeks ago in the “what happened to you?” scene. “I hurt him,” Virgil said. “I hurt him a long time ago. And then he hurt me back. And he freed me.”
My hope—if hope is a thing you can have where this show is concerned—is that Michael and Virgil are trying to help Kevin rather than simply hurt him, and that wherever Michael is dragging Kevin, it’s a place that will help him wake up. And to be practical for a minute, it’s unlikely the show would kill off its main star. But the show has set up such an almighty (pun intended) conflict between science and religion here that I don’t know whether I’m worried that it (a) will try to offer resolution or (b) won’t. The writers have been extraordinarily adept at creating this world of complete confusion, where old logic no longer works but faith is equally unreliable. “She ain’t in you, Kevin,” Virgil said. “She’s on you.” So Patti’s a thetan, clinging to Kevin’s immortal soul and bringing him down! But she’s also the result of a psychotic break, and a manifestation of Kevin’s psyche. So ... which one is it?
In a show this self-aware—I loved Patti’s description of Virgil as “a magical black man sitting out on the edge of town,” followed by her admonition to Kevin that such a conceit is “borderline racist”—surely any answer to what’s wrong with Kevin will be as ambiguous as what happened on October 14. Maybe we’ll follow him into a magical world where he does battle with a most powerful adversary, maybe he’ll learn things about the Departure, almost certainly he’ll wake up wondering whether it was all a hemlock-induced dream. But with his handprint now in John Murphy’s possession, perhaps it would have been better if he’d gone away to an institution after all. Still, none of this comes close to answering the question of what happened to Evie.