The Leftovers Recap: Searching for Answers

Photo: Van Redin
The Leftovers
Episode Title
A Most Powerful Adversary
Editor’s Rating

The world of The Leftovers is deeply ambiguous: This one weird thing happened on this one day, nobody has been able to make any sense of it, and that's all we can be sure of.

Except for one thing: In this world, bullshit stinks. Fake-Nora's aliens at the DSD conference last season, the demon Azrael, and Patti's wishing cup are almost laughable in their wrongness. In this episode, though, one person sneaked under my bullshit radar: Virgil.

When he began telling Kevin to "do battle" in the "other place" with his "adversary," I started to hear pings, because the idea of Justin Theroux knee-deep in movie fog, wielding a mystical halberd as if this show were Supernatural or Angel, was never going to happen. When I rewatched the episode, I realized that Patti had warned us: "What would you have done if I'd told you the solution to all your problems," she tells Kevin, "was a magical black man sitting out on the edge of town? That's borderline racist, is what that is." Yes, it is. And tired, and cheesy, and — like the mystical halberd — from another show entirely.

This issue of Answers, and when we're going to get them, has plagued The Leftovers since its premiere. One of the loudest objections I hear from non-fans is that they still don't understand what's happening. The specter of the Answers has been haunting me, too, although I haven't worried that we'll never get them. I worry that we will get them, and they'll be tired and cheesy and full of movie fog. I'm going to stop worrying about that. Two seasons in, this show is too smart and too self-aware to go there.

That raises a different problem, though. The Leftovers explores how we live with the unknowable, and it's doing so with great characters and fantastic writing and across-the-board stellar performances. It's not about the spooky, weird mysteries. The mysteries are MacGuffins, pulling us into the lives of the characters and giving them something to push against. This could lead to a spooky-weird type of compassion fatigue. Eventually, the mysteries will crop up, and we won't care.

I still care so far, but this is a hell of a tightrope to walk. That's what I worry about.

Kevin and his (reboot) family

Well, Nora split. This is sad but not surprising; the last episode was all about Nora's need to believe that the post-Departure world is orderly and reliable, which excludes things like further Departures and boyfriends who see dead people. It seemed out of character for her not to leave the key — Nora has never struck me as particularly vindictive — so it was a relief to hear that Patti was just sitting on it. Anyway,"Stop calling me" might be a perfectly reasonable way to answer phone calls from researchers who believe you're possessed by the demon Azrael, but it's a crappy way to treat a lover the day you leave. The dude deserves a conversation.

In theory, Kevin still has Jill, but Nora's departure sends Jill straight back to the Mapleton days. Though Jill has seemed happier this season, it's generally been when she relates to Nora; she's not exactly giving Kevin the cold shoulder, but they haven't had much to do with each other. Then again, poor Jill hasn't had much to do with anybody this season. Aside from her offscreen relationship with Michael, her primary roles have been Babysitter (so we won't worry that Lily is being neglected while her parents are off sleepwalking and stealing questionnaires) and Sounding Board (so that somebody is listening to Nora while Kevin is listening to Patti). This is frustrating. I like Margaret Qualley a lot, but if they're not going to use Jill, they need to send her off to college or something.

As she sees it, Kevin has failed yet another mother figure. Angry and upset, she runs to Michael, who instantly understands that a good way to make her feel better is to tell her that he doesn't know if he loves her. She should probably burn his house down, but instead, she just sort of vanishes until the show needs her again. I really hope we get a Jill episode soon. Otherwise, she has been entirely wasted this season.

Kevin and his handcuffs

Meanwhile, Kevin is roaming around town, trying to get his handcuff bracelet off and making things far, far worse for himself. The locksmith seems about to help him, but then Patti goads Kevin into swearing in front of the locksmith's adorable grandson, so that's that. Next, Kevin tries John, because he's clearly a man you can count on in a tight spot — just ask Matt Jamison! — but wouldn't you know it, the fire department is holding a palm-print-a-thon down at the station. In the end, Kevin leaves with his bracelet intact while his palm print is being electronically scanned for comparison to the mud print on the missing girls' car. Barring another earthquake — or, say, Kevin seeming to drop dead — we can all guess how that's going to turn out.

As Kevin leaves the firehouse, Michael jumps into his truck, and they both end up at Virgil's house. Virgil says Kevin's been there before. Virgil also says that Kevin has to die to get rid of Patti, which was the story behind Kevin's somnambulistic suicide attempt. But let's leave Virgil there for a moment, because …

Kevin and his (original) family

… Laurie's here! Or, rather, she's in the camp looking for Tommy, who seems to have stormed off after tiring of the con they ran on the sad and credulous. I suspect there's more to the story, and I suspect we will hear it soon. Meanwhile, Laurie's presence in Texas gives the Garveys an opportunity to work through some of their residual broken-marriage stuff. Kevin is having a psychotic break, just like his dad, Laurie tells him. He needs meds and hospitalization. Kevin knows better, but he does realize that Laurie's presence keeps Patti away, so he uses his Miracle-resident powers and the fact that Laurie still has his last name to get her into town.

I think Kevin has a plan. He told Virgil that he couldn't kill himself because he had a family. Well, Nora and the baby are gone, and as for Jill — Laurie is Jill's family, technically and genetically. When Nora calls and admits that she'd come back if Kevin could assure her that Patti was gone, he doesn't hesitate a minute before taking off for Virgil's. In the end, Jill is left alone with her mother, who is the only person in the world she finds more disappointing than Kevin. (That disappointment seems more and more reasonable, too. Unless there's a back staircase we've never seen, the dude went out the freaking window to avoid her.)

Kevin and the well-lit trailer

So that leaves Kevin and Virgil and Patti, having a not-quite-three-way conversation about whether or not Kevin should kill himself. Patti's position on the subject seems vague: A few episodes ago, when she told Kevin about witnessing his suicide attempt, she seemed to be all for it. Hell, a few minutes ago, she seemed to be all for it. Now she's hesitant? Maybe she's just echoing Kevin's feeling back to him. Maybe she really is a hallucination. We'll find out soon, because moments after Kevin drinks the "poison," Virgil shoots the promised epinephrine out onto the floor and shoots himself in the head, leaving a disturbingly calm and increasingly unlikable Michael to drag Kevin's inert body away.

I don't like playing Guess the Ending, but here goes, anyway: This show has no qualms about killing people off, but I don't think Justin Theroux is going to be one of those people. It would be the equivalent of The Walking Dead killing off Rick Grimes. Virgil must have emptied the epi syringe for reasons beyond telegraphing to us that things were headed south. I also don't think Michael is dragging Kevin off to bury him; premeditated murder usually comes with a story, and I can't really think of a story that fits here. If I were a gambler, I'd say that Kevin is out but not down. He'll wake up, and maybe think it's because of the empty syringe, and then — who knows?

What I do know is that this is a pivotal moment in the season, like when Kevin sleep-kidnapped Patti. With three episodes left, the only thing I can say with confidence is this: Last season's finale was supremely satisfying. I think the show is capable of pulling it out again. I hope it does.

Just for the record

No, I don't really think Jill should go burn down Michael's house. That was pretty cold of him, though. Then again, he was last seen apparently disposing of her father's dead body, so …