I’ll be honest: There’s more to discuss about “International Assassin” than I could ever address in this recap. First, there’s the water: Kevin won’t drink it, Virgil eventually does drink it, Patti never drinks it, and Holy Wayne apparently can’t get enough of the stuff. Kevin keeps getting drenched in it, too. What does that mean?
There’s the weeping priest who rides in the elevator with Kevin, and the cop wearing a bag on his head, who passes him in the underbelly of the hotel. Are these alternate versions of Kevin, or other people faced with similar choices? Then there’s the speech: Patti talks too much, the guy who tries to psych her out in Jeopardy! doesn’t talk at all, and of course, anything to do with Patti and talking is as weighty as all get-out. There’s the music. There’s the woman in scrubs.
It goes on and on. You could write a master’s thesis on the sheer amount of metaphor used in this episode, then go back to get a PhD in whatever the hell it all actually means.
Kevin Kills Patti
When last we saw Kevin, he was more or less dead. Michael was dragging his body out of Virgil’s trailer. This week, he wakes up in a full bathtub, drowning, inside a hotel room filled with soulless, abstract art. This particular hotel is ripped from the opening scenes of an old-school RPG, with an engraved brass plate on the closet door inviting Kevin to, basically, choose his destiny. He can choose between a plain black suit, a G.R.–worthy white get-up, a Mapleton Police uniform, and a set of religious vestments embroidered with the alpha and the omega. (It’s a reference to Jesus and the Book of Revelations, for my fellow secular humanists out there.) Given his choices, the plain black suit is clearly the way to go.
Then, a bellboy delivering flowers tries to kill him. Our Kevin has landed himself in an international-spy thriller! There’s an international assassin (Kevin), as well as a presidential candidate as his target (Patti, natch). There’s a clandestine meeting in the parking garage with Virgil, hotel-concierge-slash-handler, a gun hidden in a toilet, a convoy of white SUVs, and a pack of nasty security goons. There’s even a basement interrogation-and-torture scene.
You know how sometimes when you’re telling somebody about a dream, you’ll say something like, “It was my house, but it wasn’t my house?” Kevin is in a thriller, except it isn’t a thriller. The bellhop is too easy to kill. The “torture” is glass cleaner sprayed into Kevin’s eyes, which — while certainly unpleasant — seems more metaphorical than debilitating. The whole scene ends with no hard feelings between Kevin and his torturer (the dead-by-stoning Gladys). Like all of the other genre tropes The Leftovers has played with this season, nothing here feels quite right. In the first half of the episode, Kevin follows the script, even though it’s patently clear — to us, if not to him — that it’s not the script to his story. It’s the mystical halberd, genre-switched. Take the gun. Shoot Patti. It’s too much of a straight line, as Virgil would say: so clear, direct, unambiguous.
Yeah, as if that’s gonna work.
It does, sort of. Kevin makes it to Patti’s suite, gets the gun, and though she claims she’s a body double at the last minute — a decoy? — he kills her anyway. Before she dies, Patti tells Kevin attachment and love are useless in the post-Departure world, and that assassins kill not because they oppose their targets’ ideology, but because they share it. (John Wilkes Booth “fucking loved black people,” she claims; I’m no historian, but this seems unlikely.) When Gladys asked Kevin why he smoked during his interrogation, the answer that didn’t earn him the glass cleaner was the G.R.–approved “I smoke to remember that the world ended,” and the lie detector didn’t flag it as false. Is this why Patti has been haunting Kevin? Does he secretly believe the world ended? Does he believe love and attachment are pointless? Maybe. I do think Kevin loves his family, but it’s true that he’s never been comfortable with attachment. Nora’s family departed, but she couldn’t escape them; Kevin’s family didn’t, but he couldn’t keep them around.
Kevin Kills Patti (Again)
Kevin expects Patti’s death to return him to Jarden, but nothing of the sort happens. Nothing of any sort seems to happen. The hotel where this presidential candidate was just murdered remains completely unruffled, except for the fire alarms and a bird trapped in the lobby. Eventually Kevin makes it back to his hotel room, but he’s locked out. So is the father of the girl he saved from the pool earlier, an unpleasant character who turns out to be Neil, Patti’s ex-husband. The girl is Patti herself. This didn’t surprise me — I was, maybe, a half step ahead of it — but I was surprised by how effective this Patti-as-child device turned out to be.
As Kevin takes the little girl downstairs and they head out to the well, which turns out to be in Jarden, he discovers Patti’s humanity — and damned if I didn’t, too. We’ve never seen it, other than one pre-Departure glimpse of her in Laurie’s office last season, but we know that Patti was an abused woman, treated horribly by her husband. Pre-Departure, she’s a sobbing, nervous wreck; post-Departure, she’s icy and strong with belief. Hiding under that belief is a woman belittled, made small. She’s told repeatedly to shut up, that she talks too much. (Post-Departure Patti never needed to talk.) On the way to Jarden, Kevin is kind to her, since nobody else seems inclined to be. The camp is deserted, the bridge blocked; a man on the bridge yanks Kevin out of the car, throws a noose around his neck, and tells him that if he doesn’t want to kill Patti, he should kill himself instead. “If you do this, it will change you,” he says.
That’s the idea, isn’t it? The moment when Kevin pushes her into the well is hard to watch, because the adorable, big-eyed Patti has yanked on our heartstrings with all her tiny, sun-dressed might. But, as Kevin tells the guy on the bridge, none of this is real. Kevin kills people so easily in this world, and why not? They’re all already dead. It doesn’t seem to make much difference.
No, seriously. It really doesn’t make a difference. Kevin killing Patti again and again, yet he’s still there.
Kevin (Finally) Kills Patti
Sitting by the well, horrified by what he’s done, Kevin hears adult Patti call for help from inside the well. It’s a testament to how much sympathy this episode builds for her that not only does he jump to help her, but that I wanted him to. On his way down, he slips and they’re both bloodied, injured, and — once again — soaking wet. Patti almost left her husband, she says. She could have, but she didn’t. She stayed, even though he was terrible to her. She confesses this weakness, then confesses another: She’s scared. Kevin comforts her, then plunges her face into the water, killing her once again.
This time, finally, the world responds. An earthquake buries them both at the bottom of the well. When he claws his way through the rubble, we see he’s actually clawing his way out of the shallow grave where Michael buried him. “Holy shit,” says Michael, who’s been keeping vigil. Holy shit, indeed.
So, did it work? Is Patti gone? Time will tell, but let’s take a moment to appreciate Kevin’s brutal day. He killed Patti three times. He had to kill her while she begged for her life, while she begged him to kill her, and while she confessed that she was afraid to die. He had to kill her as G.R.–leader Patti Levin, as an adorable little girl, and as the whole person who unified both identities. He had to kill her knowing exactly who she was, both good and bad. He had to refuse the chance to kill himself, and in the end, he had to be willing to die to finish the job.
Maybe he really is in the world Candidate Patti talked about, where love and attachment (and sympathy and kindness) are meaningless liabilities. Maybe an opposing force has kept Kevin from killing Patti, and all the horrible things he did in this episode are triumphs of mind over illusion. Maybe he loves Nora so much, he’s willing to go through all of this just to keep her. Maybe this is all an incredibly messed-up dream, a movie that plays within Kevin’s subconscious.
Except that would be a cheat, and generally speaking, The Leftovers doesn’t cheat. Not to mention how Kevin and Patti are both inside that collapsing well at the end of the episode. Every step he takes, she’s right there with him. When he comes back, will she be gone?
One last thing: Erika’s grandmother said that if you bury a bird in the woods and it comes out alive, you get your wish. What happens if you bury a human in those woods, then he comes out alive? What do you get then?
One More Last Thing
Dear Matt: The good news is that it’s a boy! The bad news is that Mary is in the hotel, with all the other dead people.