The Leftovers Introduces The Five People You Kill In Heaven
Kevin tries to fulfill his purpose in the afterlife in an adventurous episode of The Leftovers.
When did The Leftovers become so much about Kevin Garvey going from place to place? Even in the hotel of the afterlife/netherworld he enters after drinking the poison at Virgil's trailer, Kevin moves from point to point collecting chits toward some eventual enlightenment like a videogame character collecting points. Contrast this with a Nora or Laurie episode, or even the time we've spent with Erika in "Lens," where most of the action happens in-scene -- Laurie running down the Guilty Remnant members on the street, Nora fending off advances from pseudoscientists, Erika digging up birds in the forest. It's not that things don't happen in Kevin-focused scenes, it's that his tend to feel like spaces on a Candyland game board.
If you've ever watched television before, you knew Kevin Garvey wasn't dead for good. Despite drinking poison and despite the fact that his guardian, Virgil, squirted away all the epinephrine before turning a gun on himself, Kevin's was the only guaranteed resurrection on The Leftovers.
Kevin's time in the netherworld raises more questions than it answers, of course. Is this where everybody goes, or just the more troubled individuals? Did people who Departed ever go to this hotel? Is the hotel Purgatory, or some similar kind of waystation between life and final death? Is it a coincidence that this netherworld hotel exists in Texas? And will the DVD release of The Leftovers Season 2 include outtakes from whatever afterlife Enterprise rented Kevin his car?
Any summary of this episode is going to sound like a list of crazy things, so I'll try to be brief. Kevin wakes up underwater in a hotel bathtub, and after choosing an outfit for the day (one of the options is Mapleton police officer) he becomes an International Assassin. He meets Virgil at the concierge counter, and Virgil gives Kevin some useful information: Kevin is there to assassinate Patti, who (in this reality) is a senator running for president. Kevin then does this, taking out Holy Wayne and Gladys in the process. But since he doesn't vanish from the hotel, it seems he's got more work to do. He discovers that Patti's childhood self is also in the hotel, along with Patti's shit-loving ex-husband, Neil. Luckily, Kevin's dad has taken a powerful hallucinogen and can communicate with Kevin through his hotel television. Kevin Senior tells his son to take li'l Patti to "the well" and throw her in. Where's the well? More questing-about reveals it to be the Orphans' Well in...Jarden, Texas, which stands on the edge of the weird river basin we keep revisiting this season. Kevin tosses kid Patti in, though not without some agony. Then, because he's Kevin, he climbs down and lets adult Patti monologue about the time she went on Jeopardy to win enough money to leave Neil. Then, also because he's Kevin, he drowns her. That's when he wakes up, mid-earthquake, and climbs out of the ground to greet a very surprised (and potty-mouthed) Michael.
So what do we learn in this hour? We learn that Kevin has the capacity for love and empathy, even with someone he hates as much as Patti. We learn that Virgil's probably not coming back from Purgatory Suites, because he drank the water everyone keeps offering there, even though he expressly told Kevin NOT TO DRINK THE WATER. We learn that Kevin knows CPR and superhero-type combat skills. And we learn, again, that Kevin has a big dick. ("Congratulations," smirks the security guy frisking him.)
But do we come to a greater understanding of Kevin Garvey, character on a show we're watching? It's debatable. When Patti's security team interrogates Kevin -- literally, they do, by spraying cleanser in his eyes -- they ask him why he smokes. He lies once before telling the truth: he smokes to remember that the world ended. This doesn't set off the lie detector he's hooked up to, so it must be true: he has something in common with the Guilty Remnant. So what does that mean for him? We don't know yet, I guess, and that's one of the frustrating things about serialized television: it may never come to mean much, or it may mean something that's there strictly for dramatic purposes.
What we have here, as weird and cool as it is, is a Crucible Episode -- i.e., your main character has to go through a series of preposterous tests to either learn something about him/herself, or to help us learn it. We had one earlier this season on Manhattan and I was not a fan. We kinda had one earlier this season on The Leftovers, and while I didn't mind that episode as much, it's still a convoluted hour of television. It's akin to a dream sequence, which is also a form of storytelling bullshit. Defenders of dream sequences like to say things like, "They illuminate the character's unconscious and tell us what's really going on." To which I say: that's already the job of dialogue and action. Those things are supposed to be written in such a way that while a character says or does one thing, the audience can suss out that he means or want another thing. Did we need this hour to know that Kevin, a single-minded, vengeful loony all last season, has something in common with the Guilty Remnant? Or that he's sensitive? Or even that he has a big dick? Again: all previously established things!
I realize I'm being a pill. "International Assassin" is a fascinating hour of television that is also frequently funny, which is one of the best and hardest things to do simultaneously. And I genuinely look forward to The Leftovers every week. It's just that I'm hoping all the many, many challenges Kevin Garvey has completed, Sonic the Hedgehog-style, are leading somewhere, and part of me is starting to suspect that they're not. I promise, though: if I'm wrong, you can spray cleanser in my eyes.
P.S. Holy Wayne, Gladys, Neil, Patti (encompassing her three incarnations), and the weird hotel assassin/bellboy who delivered the flowers: that's five.