After Sunday’s penultimate episode of The Leftovers, those of us with an interest in Jarden, Texas, are all in a bit of a panic about what comes next. Meg Abbott, after spending almost the entire season elsewhere, has returned with a vengeance — as well as an army of loyal followers, an unspecified amount of C4, and the three missing girls in an Airstream trailer. “It’s pretty fucking amazing, what I’m going to do,” she told Tom in the last episode … but what is it?
Digging around on the internet, these were the theories I found repeated most often. I’ve listed them in order of my personal view of their plausibility, from least plausible to most plausible, but for the record, I don’t entirely subscribe to any of them. Over the last two seasons, the one thing this show has consistently been, above and beyond all else, is surprising. Every time it’s built toward a climax, that climax has been bigger and better and darker than anything I’d predicted. Last season there was Kevin’s kidnapping of Patti, the Loved Ones the Guilty Remnant slipped into the Mapleton houses, the fire; this season there was Kevin’s original suicide attempt, Matt’s ascension to the stocks, Tom’s rape — and, of course, the whole International Assassin thing. I would have said it would be impossible to pull off a convincing episode set on the Other Side; I would have been wrong.
And that’s the thing. I could be wrong about any of this. Honestly, though, I think that any idea I can come up with on my couch has already been thought of and discarded in The Leftovers writers room. As Damon Lindelof himself pointed out in the interview he did with Maureen Ryan for Variety, viewers these days are a pretty sophisticated bunch, and we can smell the cheese before it’s even out of the wrapper. All along, this show has been too smart to give us tidy answers tied up in neat little bows. So, as you think about these predictions, keep in mind Lindelof’s words about Patti’s final soliloquy in the well: “The reason it’s about Jeopardy is that you have to give your answer in the form of a question.”
7. Meg will use the C4 to open a cave, which is actually a portal between Jarden and another world. Possibly Australia.
It’s worth paying attention to the news reports in the background in this show. If you do, you’ll know that a man emerged from a cave, apparently returned from the dead, and that later he claimed to have checked out of a hotel before finding himself in the cave. Familiar, no? Also, he was apparently Australian, like the man (maybe) that Kevin meets on the bridge in his after-death. I love the corners of the internet that believe this, and would like to have them over for coffee, because this is a beautiful theory that would make a highly entertaining fantasy novel.
Not buying it for this show, though. For one, Lindelof already did this in Lost, with the polar bear and the cave. For another, at the beginning of this season, Alan Sepinwall did an interview with Lindelof for Hitfix, and he said, “One of the things that you’ll start to get a sense of as the season goes on is something is happening in Australia, and it’s very subtle and happening on the fringes of the show, but it’s definitely something that we want the audience to be paying attention to ... the larger you build your world, the more detailed and more authentic it feels.” The world of The Leftovers, in other words, is big. It’s fully peopled. Some of those people are having their own stories that — to them — feel just as important as the story happening to all the pretty people in Jarden, Texas. Maybe the guy from the cave really did check out of a hotel, and maybe it was the same hotel Kevin was in; or maybe it was a different hotel, because he’s a different person. But that’s his story. Maybe (are you listening, HBO?) we’ll learn it in another season.
6. Kevin suffers from multiple-personality disorder, and his other personality — emerging while he sleepwalks — is a member of the Guilty Remnant. He’s helping Meg from the inside.
This is a fun one, mentioned on Afterbuzz and in this Reddit thread, among other places. When Kevin is hooked up to the lie detector in the hotel, the answers that don’t earn him a dose of glass cleaner are all GR-approved. He hides his smoking even though he doesn’t need to. He was in the swimming hole the night the girls disappeared, and when he emerged from the water in his white T-shirt and mud-covered jeans, he looked like he was wearing all white.
Like I said, it’s fun ... frankly, a little too fun. Multiple-personality disorder? What is this, One Life to Live? This theory feels wrong to me. It’s too cute, too overly crafted. It would work for Supernatural or The X-Files (and, in fact, it did), but not here. Whatever they come up with is going to be darker and cooler — and better. (There’s a similar theory out there about Erika, and I feel the same way about that one.)
5. Meg will use the C4 to blow up the town itself.
As Sepinwall pointed out here, the girls are Jarden residents, and so they could theoretically get across the bridge even if they were, say, driving an Airstream trailer full of C4. Somehow, though, I doubt that’s Meg’s plan. Imagine the reaction of the guards if the three missing girls simply pulled up and wanted to drive across the bridge; there’d be quite a fuss, and I doubt the girls would get too far before they were stopped and questioned more aggressively. As Sophie Gilbert wrote in The Atlantic, “It’s impossible to envision her getting any kind of device into the town given the security infrastructure in place, although maybe that’s part of the plan for the girls — if they surprise everyone enough with their return, possibly people won’t notice the bomb vests they’re wearing?”
Also, the bridge is clearly central. It was the bridge that Meg wanted to look at after she arrived in Texas with Tom, and it was the bridge that flashed into her mind while she was being questioned by the GR leaders. She doesn’t just want to get the attention of the Jardinians; she wants the attention of the pilgrims gathered outside Jarden, the outsiders. When it comes right down to it, attacking Jarden with C4 is just too simple. If I’m sitting in the writing room for The Leftovers, that’s the first idea I come up with; it’s a jumping-off point, not the finish line.
4. The girls will be hanged from the bridge before it’s blown up.
When Kevin drives Little Patti into Jarden in episode eight, the man who stops them on the bridge is throwing nooses over the side — and over Kevin, briefly — and in total, there are three of them. Some viewers — like commenter Emperoreddy on this io9 recap — are taking this to indicate that the three girls are not just going to die on the bridge, they’re specifically going to die by hanging. This is plausible since the nooses are there for the using, but I’m not sure what the deaths of the three girls would accomplish. It would certainly be an enormous bummer for Jarden, but it seems too small, somehow. Jarden is significant to the rest of the world because the Departure didn’t touch it. The bridge is technically outside of town; more than that, though, having the three girls kill themselves after the fact won’t change the town’s significance. Convincing a town convinced that the girls were “secondary Departures” is actually the most destructive thing Meg could do. That’s the thing that would say to the rest of the world, “You know that thing you thought was so special about that town? Nope.”
What made the Departure so singular was that it was without explanation. If the girls died by hanging, the townspeople might not like the explanation, but they would definitely have one.
3. Meg will use the C4 to blow open the cave that collapsed in the premiere, letting loose a flood of water that will destroy Jarden.
No. 7 was a far goofier cave theory; what I like about this one is that the water would be a nice contrast to the fire that ended last season, in an elemental way. Reddit user kwiwk also pointed out, “There have been so many references to floods this season (Evie and Michael playing Moses and flooding the bathroom when they were kids, Nora's reference to Noah's Ark, "water under the bridge" between Gladys and Kevin, etc.).” Add to that the spiritual “Wade in the Water,” which accompanied Meg and her fiancé into Jarden, the obsession with water and wells in Kevin’s after-death experience in episode eight, Mary and Matt being washed out of the storm drain by a flash flood — it goes on and on. Water is clearly a thing in this show.
Here’s the problem: If there’s water in the cave, we don’t know about it. There was water in the spring that fed the swimming hole, but they’re in two separate locations; the doomed mother from the premiere had to walk from one to the other. The symbolism of a flood would be appealing, but there’s been no mention of a source of water large enough to flood the town; if anything, water has been removed from the Jarden area. Meg might as well attack the town with a rocket launcher; there’s no groundwork for either.
2. Meg will lead the pilgrims in the camp in an uprising, storming the gates and taking Jarden by force.
During their conversation in the pilgrim’s camp, Meg asked Matt why the people camped there didn’t just cross the bridge and claim Jarden for themselves. Then she answered her own question: “Because you’re waiting for me.” This strongly implies that she’s going to lead them, Noah-like, into salvation — or at least over the bridge. If they stormed the town, they’d pretty much tear it to pieces. We know this is something Jarden is afraid of: Last week, the National Park audio tour speaks of “protecting” Jarden’s “special properties,” and Meg repeats the phrase later, word-perfect and dripping with bile. There was even a prefiguring of this in episode four, when the pilgrims were being kept from the spring while the police conducted their search for the girls; when they were finally let in, they went for every last drop of water, swarming the muddy waste with complete abandon.
This theory would leave us with a destroyed town, torn apart by the faithful themselves. Somehow, though, it just doesn’t feel big enough. Meg’s acolyte in the Texas camp told Tommy that what Meg was planning “would change everything.” I don’t see Jarden being torn apart as “changing everything”; it seems more like a news item that might play in the background somewhere else in this world. Maybe that’s part of the point, though: We all feel like we’re the center of the universe and the narrator of our own stories, but everyone else is just as convinced of the exact same thing.
1. Meg will use the girls to lure the townspeople of Jarden into the camp, where she will blow up the bridge.
If the girls reappear on the bridge, the townspeople will flock there to see them. Then, with everyone — pilgrims and Jardinians — in one convenient place: boom. The most deaths possible with the least effort. How efficient. This theory, mentioned by Sophie Gilbert in The Atlantic and a number of Redditors, seems the most plausible to me. Meg may have denied buying the C4, but none of us actually believe her, do we? The bridge is symbolically, if perhaps not literally, the only link between Jarden and the rest of the world, and we did see the trailer parked on it flashing briefly into Meg’s thoughts during her interview with the GR leaders. When Kevin tried to cross the bridge with Little Patti, it was blocked by fire.
Here’s the thing, though: It’s Jarden itself that’s supposed to be special, not the people who live there. Luring the townspeople out of the special safe place and killing them won’t destroy the legend of Miracle, and that’s what Meg most wants: to show that nobody is safe, not the Jardinians, not anyone. Also, I’m not sure I believe that she actually wants to kill them. I think she wants to leave them alive to let them suffer. Because she’s just that much fun.