The Leftovers Doubles Down On The Pierce
You can't talk about The Leftovers's Patti Problem without talking about its Kevin Problem. Is this a Pierce two-fer?
It seems we'll have to wait at least another week to find out the connection between Papa Garvey and the mysterious "returned" man in Australia. But I've been thinking about that unseen character lately -- he was a news item in last week's episode -- and I've decided that's the natural next shift for this show: departed people coming back. I mean, it's certainly in line with Damon Lindelof's love of switching up the plays, and it would create a world of complications for Nora and Kevin if, say, Nora's family suddenly showed back up.
But we're not here to unbury Nora's family, we're here to un-praise the frustrating device that is Patti Levin. She's a character who's seen plenty on this show, even though she offed herself late in the first season, and she needs to go away for good. And I wouldn't stop with Patti -- but we'll get to that.
I've given Ghost Patti some chances. And I know: she wasn't even in last week's episode. But it was exactly that break that made her reappearance this week so hard to bear. Or, as I put it when she first showed up on screen: "Ah, jeez."
In truth, it's not exactly Patti who's the problem. If you're gonna have a ghost character talk to your main character, you can't do better than Ann Dowd, who can make anything work. The problem is that anyone thought having a talking dead character would be a great idea at all. It was already a cliché when Rescue Me used it, and that was, what, thirty years ago? Even Denis Leary has learned not to lean on the ghost device in his new show, hasn't he? (Hasn't he? I'm really asking, because I have not watched Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll.)
What does a ghost character even add to a show? I think there are two sides to that coin, and they both bear asking.
Side 1: What does this add for the writers? Easy! She's there to explain things to Kevin that the viewer already knows, or suspects, or would've figured out at some point. She's a way to keep Kevin interesting, I guess, since they seem to have little other faith that he can hold his own with the others.
Side 2: What does this add for the viewer? I guess Patti could be a helpful explainer of things, if you're not that bright. Problem is, her existence makes the case for the producers thinking we're all not that bright. Do YOU like being underestimated?
I wish The Leftovers would be as weird and risky as it pretends it is. The first show of the season was roundly praised, and rightly so, for taking some big storytelling chances. Then...we backtracked and caught up with the Garveys in an episode that was definitely good, but also fine, like watching people act out someone's margin notes. Then you have the Laurie episode, which was exciting and weird and wonderfully written -- and is now counterbalanced with this week's "Orange Sticker," which is fine, but which is mainly concerned with stressed-out guys going around doing things. To summarize: Kevin, who's about to look very guilty in connection with the disappearance of Evie and her friends, finds himself getting roped into John's as-yet-unclear situation as Chief Firebug; John gets shot by Isaac while attempting to murder him (the nerve!); Patti says that the girls have vanished, like the Others; and all hell's going to break loose once the world finds out that Miracle, Texas, is not a Rapture-safe zone.
But here's the truth of The Leftovers: as much as I think Justin Theroux's performance is consistently great -- check his reactions when the cop at the door asks him if they can use his truck to help look for Evie -- Kevin is the least interesting part of the show. Call it the Rick Grimes Problem or the Nucky Thompson Conundrum. Meanwhile, when The Leftovers focuses on one of its female characters -- Nora, Laurie, Jill, Erika Murphy, and, yes, Patti Levin in Season 1 -- it instantly becomes a better show.
This is yet another way I think the producers are underestimating the viewers. Or maybe it's the network that's doing it. Either way, someone is saying, "People need a guy to connect to." And it's a shame, because Nora, Laurie, and Jill (we don't know Erika Murphy that well yet) are total fucking weirdos with real nuance and, frankly, real problems. What's Kevin? Yet another tormented dude who's barely holding it together. Boooooooooooooooooooooooooo.
Don't get me wrong: I will still watch The Leftovers. I think it's a good show. But I believe it could be a great show if it stopped thinking television was a medium for mediocre-minded audiences. Because that's the only explanation for Ghost Patti, who is in turn the only justification for Kevin Garvey. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I REST MY CASE.