The Leftovers Recap: The Bridge

Justin Theroux in the season two finale of The Leftovers. Photo: HBO
The Leftovers
Episode Title
I Live Here Now
Editor’s Rating

Last week, I wrote up this list of theories about Meg’s big plan, ranked from least to most plausible. The theory that turned out to be the correct one — the GR taking Jarden by force — came in second. In the introduction to that piece, I wrote that I didn’t actually buy any of those theories, including the one that actually happened: Storming Jarden felt too small. In retrospect, my problem is that Meg overstated her plan. What she does is pretty vicious. I don’t know that I’d call it “fucking amazing” as she did, but if the tattooed GR member hadn’t promised Tom that Meg’s plan would “change everything,” I don’t think I would have thought twice about it. It definitely shattered the hell out of Jarden’s sense of security; Michael says, “We weren’t spared,” and that’s certainly true now.

I still think episode nine was a misstep – maybe even more so, now. Promising us a big event distracted us. Going into the finale, my head was full of the Big Event, and it shouldn’t have been. This show has never been about events; it’s about people living in the aftermath of the events. Meg’s storm-the-castle plan felt anticlimactic, but Mary’s awakening was a joy and Nora shielding Lily in the stampede was terrifying. So while the Big Event was a little bit of a letdown, the people were incredibly satisfying.

The Murphys
For the Murphys, this finale is all about secrets and revelations. We see in the first scene what actually happened to the girls at the pond; the Murphys learn that soon enough, but in the meantime, they’re learning other lessons. What’s inside the present Evie left her father? A dead cricket, which John finds endearing, as Evie surely intended. Erika, disinclined toward sentiment at this point in their broken relationship, nips that in the bud. It’s a different cricket, she says. Evie caught it for John because he wouldn’t let “it” go: The cricket, sure, but also Jarden, Virgil’s transgression (he’s Erika’s father, not John’s, by the way), and perhaps even Erika herself.

More revelations: That charming story Erika tells about Evie flooding the bathroom? Michael turned the water on to hide the sound of Evie crying after their father went to prison. The handprint on the car? The rangers have finally traced that to Kevin, but when John goes next door to confront him, he’s not home. When Kevin does show up — fresh from the grave and never calmer — John takes him to the dog quarantine center. He’ll give Kevin back his dog if Kevin tells him where his daughter is. Kevin tells John what he knows, but it’s not enough: Confronted with Evie’s hoax, John wants to know why. “Evie loves me,” he says, and Kevin, reasonably, answers, “Maybe she doesn’t.”

Hands up if you made a really loud noise when John shot him.

John finds Evie soon enough: standing on the bridge with her friends and the Airstream trailer, smoking cigarettes and waiting for the scoreboard clock to tick down one last hour.

The Jamisons
This show isn’t much for warm hugs, so when Mary woke up I almost couldn’t believe it. We’d seen her in the After-Death Hotel, after all; also, wonderful things that happen for no apparent reason just aren’t what this show does. (Terrible things for no apparent reason? Sure.) Last season, Nora found Lily, and Kevin rescued Jill from the fire, so wonderful things aren’t actually impossible here, just extremely rare. Mary and Matt’s reunion was almost dreamlike in its flood of good news. She’s awake! She’s pregnant! She remembers getting that way! I’m elated for Matt. It’s about time that guy caught a break.

Unfortunately, they’re still stuck in the camp. Once Evie and company show up, Matt’s primary concern is getting Mary back into town, but Nora is pissed. The girls on the bridge are both a vindication of everything she believes and a threat to her safe place. Meanwhile, she’s missing a more immediate threat to her safety — a rail-thin woman who repeatedly declares that Lily isn’t Nora’s baby. This woman is this episode in a microcosm. Like the GR, she’s a new threat from a random direction: totally not on Nora’s radar, but very, very real.

The Chaos
Erika spends the last minutes of that hour on the bridge, trying desperately to get her daughter to talk to her, or look at her, or react in any way. For a lot of this we don’t hear her words, but Regina King’s face says it all: joy, confusion, terror, rage. Evie does her best to be a good little Remnant; her lip trembles, but her resolve never does, not even when Erika — assuming the trailer holds a bomb — threatens to let herself be blown up, too. (We don’t see Erika again after the GR take the bridge. John looks for her later but can’t find her; maybe she’s finally gone.)

When the countdown ends, a worried-looking Tom changes into his GR whites with the rest. We don’t know if he’s with Meg or against her. The GR’s attack on the gates is impressive in its simplicity: They just walk. The guards, unprepared for the overwhelming numbers, give up almost immediately. There’s no question of fighting the tide. Matt takes Mary and they join the invaders (anything to get Mary back inside), leaving Nora and Lily on their own. When the rail-thin woman grabs Lily out of Nora’s arms and runs into the crowd, there are too many people for Nora to chase her — but she keeps trying, because she’s Nora Durst. The shot of that baby lying on the bridge in a stampede was horrible. Nora, on the ground, shielding Lily with her body and being trampled, was horrible. But I have never loved Tom Garvey more than when he saved her.

In a dizzying tonal shift, we’re back with Kevin in the After-Death Hotel. This time, he decides to be the cop; he decides to be himself. A phone call comes from downstairs saying that a cop is being beaten in the hotel bar. He rushes down to find, um, karaoke. The emcee is the man from the bridge, who tells Kevin that to get out this time, he has to sing. The stakes seem high — there’s always the possibility that the cop being beaten will turn out to be Kevin himself, and the man even says that a bad singer could incite the crowd to violence — but, seriously ... karaoke?

That’s pretty much what Kevin says, and suddenly, with no warning at all, we’re in one of the most interesting scenes in the episode. “It’s stupid,” Kevin says. The emcee accuses Kevin of thinking he’s too good for the challenge, which is absolutely true: Kevin does think he’s too good for that challenge, just like the people of Jarden think they’re too good for the challenges the rest of the world faces. Singing karaoke isn’t exciting enough, just like family life in Mapleton. It’s also potentially humiliating, just like emotional vulnerability. We think the challenge is stupid, too, and this show knows that. It knows that as Kevin walks up to the stage and spins the stupid wheel, we’re thinking, Singing? That’s the climax here?

But it is, and more incredibly, it works. The song he sings is Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” — all that longing and ennui — and by the end of it he’s weeping. Justin Theroux is fantastic here. The After-Death Hotel was where Kevin Garvey made himself whole; from the moment he crawled out of that grave, he’s seemed more together and sure of himself than ever before. But in order to make himself completely whole, he has to feel his love for his family, with all the pain it brings. When he makes it back to Jarden, it’s into a fiery new world, literally full of pain. But now he can persevere.

Contrast Kevin with John, who started the season utterly in control and ends it weeping in the clinic as he tries to clean the wound he left in Kevin. John doesn’t understand: He doesn’t understand what Evie did, he doesn’t understand why Kevin is alive, he doesn’t understand what’s happened to his town. More than anything, I think, he doesn’t understand what happens next. And I guess that’s the point of the show: None of us know what happens next.

As for what literally happened next? Where Kevin walks into his decrepit house and finds every person he has ever loved (except his father), standing there smiling at him? I will admit that for a moment, I thought this dude is totally dead, they’re all dead and this is the afterlife. It seemed too perfect, too tidy. But there are good reasons for all of them to be there, and poor Kevin already died three times this season, so let’s leave him where he is: alive and happy, for possibly the first time since we’ve known him.

I’m not sure that Meg actually did anything to break Jarden itself. Maybe the point is that from now on, the believers will come, and the GR will be there: living reminders, as it were, that nothing is perfect. Honestly, maybe it’s better that way. Jarden was always a little creepy. The GR is creepier. They’re made for each other.