Monday, October 12, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Leftovers' - Kevin and Nora Do Their Best to Run Away From Their Pasts in 'A Matter of Geography'

HBO's The Leftovers - Episode 2.02 "A Matter of Geography"

Kevin, Nora and Jill try to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the Mapleton riots, but problems from the past keep resurfacing. The new Garvey clan finds a fresh start in the safety of Miracle. Nora makes an impulsive choice, while Kevin gets entangled in the Murphy family's problems.

The second season premiere of The Leftovers was very unsettling. The show dropped the audience in a completely new setting while following the lives of a new family. It peeled back the mysteries of those characters and the importance of Jarden, Texas in ways that were both emotionally raw and completely unnerving. "A Matter of Geography" takes things back to Mapleton and the perspectives of Kevin, Nora and Jill. The familiarity with those characters does take a lot of the unexpectedness out of the overall hour. But the mysteries and core emotional dynamics are still strong with all of them. The Garvey and Murphy families are being pulled together for some reason. They are connected in a way that isn't clear yet. But all of these characters are effected by it and are doing their best to not let the Departure and their pasts define who they are today.

This hour does a very smart and refreshing thing early on. Kevin, Nora and Jill are just sitting in the Garvey living room admiring the baby Nora found on the doorstep. They take the opportunity to come clean about all the secrets they've been holding onto. So much frustration can come from shows like this when characters don't tell each other the crucial piece of information that they know. Here, all three of them are very open with both their secrets and their reactions. Kevin killed Patti and then buried the body with Matt's help. Nora hired prostitutes to shoot her. No one in the room reacts with any kind of judgment. This is a happy occasion because the family is official coming together. The Sudden Departure ripped families apart and forced wide-scale feelings of loss and grief. This family was able to come together out of that depression and sadness. They are rebuilding their lives in a way that is exciting.

Of course, a brief time jump ahead two months shows that that feeling cannot last. Kevin is once again raising a baby that is not biologically his. He's over life to the point where he needs to blast music in order to drown out the noises of the world. Even though this family has found happiness together, they are still dealing with the complicated emotions that came from the Departure. The reminders of their pasts are everywhere around them. When Kevin walks around Mapleton, he ends up in the neighborhood that the Guilty Remnant burned down at the end of last season. When Nora puts her house on the market, researchers come in with four times the amount of money hoping to study its geological value. Kevin Garvey Sr. has the right idea to start the world again by moving away to Australia. He may not be cured of the illness that inflicted him but he is now willing to listen to what he is being told by the voices. A change can be meaningful for this family. And yet, that change is also very complicated.

Kevin and Nora have pasts that they are desperately running away from. During dinner, Kevin asks Nora and Jill if they "want to get out of here?" He is referring to the town. But that question is also very much about the emotional states of all of the characters here. What exactly do these people what to get away from? Kevin still feels some guilt over Patti's death. He returns to her grave to dig up the body and then gets caught by the police with her. It seems like he's trying to run away from his life completely in order to embrace a fate he believes he deserves. One that doesn't allow him to be happy because he doesn't believe he deserves happiness after the devastation he has caused. It's more complicated than that though because the police just don't care anymore about a dead Guilty Remnant member. But Kevin's psychological problems are only growing in intensity. That's basically summed up in Patti's first line of the season, "What the fuck was that?" What exactly was Kevin trying to do by being caught by the police with a dead body? He's running away from the past that continues to define him. And yet, the vision of Patti won't let him walk away so easily.

Nora is very over-zealous when it comes to purchasing a house in Jarden. When their six-month rental agreement falls through, she is more than fine with spending their entire savings just to buy a house at auction sight unseen. The place is a real fixer upper, but the family takes a leap of faith nevertheless. Jarden was the most populated area in the country not to have a single departure. That's comforting to someone like Nora in a way that the rest of the world isn't - especially when the researcher says the Departure may have been about geography. This is the safest place in the world should another event like that happen. She wants to build this life with Kevin and Jill. But she also wants to make sure that it's secure for the future. It's always foolish to plan so far ahead on a TV show. And yet, that's the exact aspiration Nora wants to have right now.

Because this episode and the season premiere play opposite each other with events being seen from different perspectives, there are several moments that happen in both. The Garvey and Murphy families have interacted. They've done their neighborly duty to be courteous to one another. But mysteries are still at play conspiring to harm these families even as they attempt to hold onto the lives they've got. Kevin is doing his best not to engage with the vision of Patti he's seeing. Who knows if he's going crazy or getting divine messages. But she is a way to keep Kevin nervous about this huge life change. Him seeing her again despite her death puts him on edge. He's incapable of feeling comfortable in a place that should make him feel safer than he was before. And yet, the problems that plagued him personally in Mapleton are still causing him pain in Jarden. He wakes up the night of Evie's disappearance to discover that he too was at the lake that night. He was tied to a brick in what appears to be a suicide attempt gone wrong because of the lack of water. He is still experiencing these black outs. They seem to be connected to the mysterious events happening around him. But he has no clue what's going on. One moment he was in bed and the next he was wet in a lake with no water left. He's wondering what has happened to him and why his new neighbors are there crying out for their daughter. It's a slightly precarious situation for the show to be in right now because it piques interest with plotting that can't easily be explained. And yet, the emotions of the situation continue to be stunning even if answers don't come anytime soon.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A Matter of Geography" was written by Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta and directed by Mimi Leder.
  • The attention to detail the show has with its narrative continues to be so stunning. The campground just outside Jarden and the Miracle national park feels like a fully lived in space filled with memorable characters just doing their best to find happiness and safety just like the Garvey family.
  • It's fair to assume that the place Kevin, Nora and Jill were going to rent was the house that John and his crew burned down last week, right?
  • The man who Michael Murphy visited last week in the campground is also the man who approaches Kevin in the visitor center to say that he can help with his current situation.
  • Jill is also in contact with Tommy and knows that he was the one who put the baby on their doorstep. That's a secret she is keeping from the family. And yet, it makes sense given just how isolated and misunderstood Tommy and Laurie feel at the moment.
  • The adoption interview was very unsettling as the guy asking the questions was very dryly curious about a number of things involving the arrangement Kevin and Nora have. Also, what changes happened to the system following the Departure that would lead to him asking them if they would like to adopt another baby?
  • Will there be any significance to Kevin Sr. going to Australia as it pertains to the overall mystery of the show? Or does it just give the show a way to explain how other countries have developed following the Departure?