“Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” The gospel according to Matthew (the evangelist, not Reverend Jamison) tells us that Jesus said this to Peter the night he was arrested, and he was right. Maybe I’ve just got the Bible on the brain after tonight’s episode of The Leftovers — given that it included a dinner scene in which the characters assign themselves the roles of figures in Christ’s Last Supper, who can blame me? — but I thought of this quote when reflecting on my own reaction to the show. I remain agnostic on the divinity of Kevin Garvey, so I didn’t deny him per se. But three times before the closing credits, I did say, “Oh no” out loud.
The first time was when I realized who starred in the cold open. Not Laurie Garvey, that was obvious enough, but her patient — the woman who opens the episode with the words, “I gave up.” She’s telling the story of how she and her husband went through years of fertility treatments and debates about adoption before calling it a day, only for her to get pregnant and give birth, only to lose the infant during the Sudden Departure. This, of course, is the woman whose plight opened the entire series: We watched as she discovered the disappearance of her bawling baby from the back seat of her car in a grocery-store parking lot. She’s back now in a flashback from a time when Laurie was working as a therapist, seeking nothing so much as affirmation that it’s okay to move on. But thinking of the unborn baby she lost from within her own body at that same moment, Laurie can’t offer this to her. For an endless moment, she can’t say anything at all. “Tell me what to fucking do!” her client shouts. “I don’t know,” she replies.
From there, the sinister strains of the metal cello group Apocalyptica kick in with a cover of Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam,” and Laurie proceeds to try to kill herself with an overdose of pills. She rethinks it at the last moment, swallows ipecac, vomits in painfully graphic fashion, gathers up every item of white clothing she can find, slips it all on, and heads outside to the members of the Guilty Remnant who’ve been stalking her office to pick off her clients. “Tell me what to do,” she tells them, ending actor Amy Brenneman’s finest sequence in the history of the show. Her pain — to quote Radiohead, the panic, the vomit — comes across as so real and so immobilizing in her frightened face and absent voice. The origin of her time in the Guilty Remnant now makes perfect sense: They may be nihilists, but as she decides in her extremis, nihilism is better than nothingness.
Up next is the second “oh no” moment of the evening: the opening credits, this week soundtracked by Gravediggaz’ “1-800-SUICIDE.” In an already surprisingly Wu Tang–heavy season, this cult-classic side project featuring Wu mastermind the RZA and alt-rap mastermind Prince Paul is a delight to students of Shaolin, for sure. But it’s also very, very grim — and not just because of its explicit references to the method the group’s contemporary Chris Cornell used to take his own life just days ago. As we’ve discussed before, the opening credit songs this season have a certain predictive value. Struck as I was by the unsparingly blunt “suicide, it’s a suicide” chorus, I still managed to convince myself this was just a reference to Laurie’s long-ago episode. I wanted to believe.
The episode moves quickly and unpredictably, beginning with a time jump and a rearrangement of the players that’s hard to miss, but still subtle enough that I thought I’d somehow watched next week’s episode by mistake. Laurie somehow found the ranch where the Kevins Garvey are hiding out, and she traveled there without Matthew or John or Michael, but with a black eye. John and Michael beat her there, though, because she’d spent some time working with Matt and Nora, trying to track down the physicists running the Departure machine that Nora’s so desperate to access.
Nora isn’t with her on the ranch because she’s decided to try to use the machine — but not to kill herself, she tells Laurie. If she were gonna do that, she says, she’d just go scuba diving and fake an accident, as she believes countless people have probably done before. (Also, Nora gave Laurie that black eye when they fought over the lighter Jill Garvey had given her as a present.) Matt isn’t there because he’s more or less lost faith in his Book of Kevin, but still loves his sister and wants to be by her side when she Departs. Kevin Jr. isn’t there because he rode off on horseback when he heard his father’s plan and hasn’t returned. That plan, in full, is to drown Kevin Jr. so he can make contact with the aboriginal clever man Christopher Sunday in the afterlife, learn his part of the world-saving song that Kevin Sr. was trying to access, return to life, teach it to his dad, and thus save the world from the biblical flood.
Oh, and Kevin Sr. seems to be hiding the shoes of his new disciple Grace’s dead children, whose corpses were found barefoot, so that she’ll continue helping him with his plan. She wants Kevin Jr. to find her kids in the astral plane and ask them where the shoes went, you see.
At dinner that night, everyone compares themselves to Jesus’s disciples, then Laurie pulls a Judas by drugging everyone so she can say good-bye to Kevin Jr. without interruption — a good-bye that includes informing him she was pregnant with their baby during the Sudden Departure — and wish him luck on his journey. Somewhere in there, a cop also shows up investigating the murder of his chief, Kevin Sr. knocks the guy out with a shovel and drives out into the middle of nowhere, and we learn that the nude French naval officer was trying to destroy the seven-headed dragon from the Book of Revelation before its egg could hatch in a volcano. (Nora: “‘Hey, Doc, I have access to nuclear weapons and I need to destroy Godzilla.’ What do you even say to that?” Laurie: “Don’t miss.”) Y’know, just your basic Leftovers plot at this point — arguably more jam-packed with disconcertingly bizarre and life-changing events than last week’s episode, which, need we remind you, was about a lion orgy attended by God. The confidence this show has in its own mad momentum is awe-inspiring.
Then we get to the final scene. Laurie has had heart-to-hearts with her husband, John, her ex-husband, Kevin, and her frenemy Nora, and seems unburdened by it all, though she’s decided not to stick around to see if Kevin is the messiah. (“Is Nora gone?” he asks her as she leaves. “We’re all gone,” she replies, not unkindly.) The whole wide world is open to her, and sure enough she seems to be taking advantage of it. We pick up with Laurie as she rides a boat out into the ocean, wearing scuba gear, and … oh, God, scuba gear. That’s my third and final “oh no” moment: the realization Laurie intends to kill herself, just as Nora described. Then she gets a phone call, from her daughter Jill, with her son Tommy laughing along in the background. They’re calling to clear up an argument about a kids’ show Jill used to watch on a tape salvaged from a garage sale — the old Nickelodeon show Today’s Special about a mannequin who comes to life, which has got a real earworm of a theme song. Grinning from ear to ear, Laurie clears up the question for her kids, tells them she loves them, and hangs up.
“It’s now or never, miss,” the captain tells her. A storm’s been coming since the day before, as Kevin Sr. pointed out earlier with evident satisfaction, so if she’s going to dive she’d better go before it hits. She puts on her mask and mouthpiece, breathes, breathes, breathes, breathes, breathes, and falls backwards into the sea. The camera just sits there, filming the emptiness she’s left behind. The sound of the storm approaches. The scene cuts to black. Laurie’s love for her children, for her husbands, for Nora, for everyone — it’s all real, and it’s still not enough to stop her. Everyone involved, from Brenneman to episode writers Patrick Somerville and Carly Wray to director Carl Franklin, seems determined to drive both points home. Love is real, and love is not enough. The episode ends as it begins: with a woman giving up.
What an extraordinary show.