Monday, December 7, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Leftovers' - The Garvey and Murphy Families Will Never Be the Same After the Events of 'I Live Here Now'

HBO's The Leftovers - Episode 2.10 "I Live Here Now"

Kevin comes clean to a skeptical John about his connection to Evie's disappearance, as Miracle faces an unexpected threat on the fourth anniversary of The Departure.

The second season of The Leftovers has been pure magic. That was abundantly clear when the season started back in October. The show embraced its new destination of Jarden, Texas with so much conviction. It painted a picture that was not only compelling to look at but it put in characters with actual meaning doing their best to survive in a world that doesn't make sense any more after two percent of the world's population disappeared. Jarden was the biggest area that had zero departures. That immediately gave it a purpose that resonated deeply with every single person in this world. The show goes back and forth on its supernatural elements and how much they are at play in how the characters are able to continually survive in this world. That's a point that gets a little sticky in this finale. And yet, it never detracts too much from this episode or the season as a whole.

The show did such a phenomenal thing this season in telling each episode from the point-of-view of a different character. That was a narrative trick that created some of the best episodes in Season 1 and was amplified beautifully in Season 2. It allowed the audience to understand how this ensemble of characters see the world. It allowed for the same scene to play out multiple times but have each new instance be more interesting and compelling because it's being told from someone else's perspective. "I Live Here Now" opens once again with Evie and her friends driving away from the Murphy house. This time it is shown from their perspective as they get ready to embark on this journey that will drastically change their lives, their families and their community. It's a fantastic sequence because it establishes these three as characters who would fully believe in the Guilty Remnant's doctrine. When they see Kevin's suicide attempt, they don't react at all. In fact, it's a blessing because they no longer need to worry about someone potentially foiling their plan to cause mass panic in the town.

The mystery of what happened to the girls has been a major storyline this season. It's something that was given a definitive answer at the end of last week's episode. They weren't a part of a second departure that only took the three of them. They were simply doing this villainous thing in order to send a message to their community that it is not as special as it wants to believe that it is. Jarden has become a gathering place for people searching for protection in this world. The citizens of this community were saved on October 14. And yet, this season has proved that they were affected by that day just as much as the rest of the world. This episode just exposes just how broken the community really is. They want to believe that they are special. The systems that have been put in place by the parks department are suppose to keep them safe from the people who want to corrupt the soul of this community. And yet, the true threat comes from within. It's from within that the secrets are the most destructive thing.

This community has become a part of Kevin, Nora and Matt. They moved to this place hoping that it could heal and fix their problems. And yet, it was no better at being a band aid than Mapleton was. Kevin and Nora were still questioning whether this relationship was just the two of them holding tight to the closest person to avoid pain and loneliness. Kevin was still seeing Patti and growing more and more insane. Matt was at risk of looking like a perverted individual who took advantage of his wife who literally could not say no to him. The community wasn't special. All of these problems continued and only grew more intense.

Kevin emerges from his adventures in "International Assassin" with perhaps the most amount of clarity he has ever had on this show. When he returns home to see John on his doorstep, he knows exactly why he is there but still wants to provide a rational explanation. Kevin doesn't know why Evie and her friends left. But he does know that they didn't depart. He knows that because he can now remember. He is no longer being dragged around, pulled in multiple directions and forced to worry about his life. He tells John the truth as far as he knows it. It's not an explanation that makes a lot of sense. John doesn't believe miracles can happen in Miracle. Kevin's story disproves that. John can't believe in a world where his daughter didn't love him. That's the truth but he can't believe it. So he shoots Kevin in the chest. The transition from that moment to learning that Evie has returned is such a strong pivot for Kevin as he goes from anger to excitement to joy to distress all in a matter of seconds.

Evie and her friends are standing on the bridge leading into town with the truck that is rigged to explode in one hour. The Guilty Remnant's plan is in motion. Evie is the face of this moment. It shows that the outside world has still affected Jarden without the community needing to have experienced a departure. The world ended in Jarden just like it did everywhere else. And yet, there are no explosives. This was all just a distraction so that members from outside can march into the city. It's a fantastic twist too. The Remnant's plan wasn't to seal off the city. If that were true, it would preserve the idea that the town was special. Instead, they just make it so the people outside can come in and experience the town. It's those people that bring the darkness into the community. It's a mirror to the destruction that the Guilty Remnant caused at the end of the previous season. They bring pain and destruction because they need to remind people that the world ended on October 14. There's nothing John or Erika can yell at Evie to get her or her friends to change their minds.

This episode effectively breaks the Murphys apart. They were a family with their fair share of problems. But they always stood together. John has brought a lot of pain to his family over the years - from his attempted murder of his kids' grandfather to his need to punish people trying to profit over Jarden's newfound fame. Erika wanted to leave but Evie's disappearance forced her to stay. She believed she was the reason why her daughter was gone and needed to punish herself by continuing to keep this family together. John continued to be volatile in the aftermath. In fact, it only got worse as his emotions got the best of him on multiple occasions. This family has a pained history. All of that is exposed. First, it comes in Michael standing up in church to tell the truth regarding the story that his mother tells amongst the community all the time. It's in the truth where the darkness comes out. It's no longer a story played for laughs but one of deep sadness over a depressing childhood. That is further showcased when Erika is pleading with her daughter not to go through with this unspeakable act. It's a fantastic scene because it features a deaf woman yelling for her daughter who doesn't want to speak to talk to her. It's heartbreaking because the sight of seeing Evie again is so destructive to this family. She's back. But she returns in silence where her constant state just resembles her right before she has seizures. That's the sight that pains this family the most. It's uncertain what becomes of them in the aftermath of these events. But it's fair to say that they and the town will never be the same.

Meanwhile, Kevin once again emerges in the alternate reality hotel following John putting a bullet through his chest. It's an unexpected twist that could easily be annoying. Kevin just returned from this place - whatever it is. And now, he's back. And yet, the gimmick works again because of Kevin declaring "Motherfucker!" once he realizes he's back in this place. It's in that moment where it becomes okay to experience this all over again just like Kevin. He worked so hard to escape the demons that have plagued him. He was being truthful and honest with John and ended up right back in the same place. It's still unclear if this hotel is the afterlife or simply the way Kevin's brain is processing this trauma. But it's still a fantastic sequence because it showcases just how much Kevin wants to return to this life and all the things still waiting for him.

So much has been made about the world ending on October 14. That's the way that many people accept what happened on that day. It's how Meg was able to find an outlet for all of her monstrous ways. And yet, this is still a world worth living in. There are still billions of people still living in this world. Kevin is not done living yet. He pleads with the man from the bridge to tell him what he needs to do in order to get back there. Getting up to do karaoke seems like an incredibly silly trial if this really is the afterlife. But it's also a truly transfixing sequence because of the sheer emotion Kevin delivers through his performance of Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound." He's not as great a singer as Meg and Evie are during their later, haunting version of Jarden's salvation song. And yet, it's a fantastic moment because Kevin truly is giving his all into this song. He wants to return home to his family. They are something that he actually wants and loves now. He is certain of that. He knows that that is where he needs to be. The same can also be said of Nora. She rushes to show Matt that Mary has once again awoken from her coma. She later runs after a mad woman who takes Lily from her. Nora covering Lily with her body to protect her shows that she is just as committed to this family as she needs to be. Even though Kevin and Nora spend so much of this finale apart, they both come to accept their place in this community. Despite it's destruction, it's their home and this is their family.

No one can honestly explain what's going on. John stands in amazement as he sees that Kevin has survived his fatal gunshot wound and is at the hospital where Erika should be. Kevin can't explain it. He should have died. There's no reasonable explanation for how he has escaped death twice in just a handful of episodes. And yet, he has. It could be frustrating that the show really doesn't provide an answer to this question. But that's not really the point. The show is living in this moment. John and Kevin are seeing the world for what it has become. This town may or may not be special. Both have arguments that they can passionately believe in. All they have for certain is the need to return home to their families. To be reunited with the people they love is the only thing they care about. It's a scary prospect because neither knows what's on the other side of that door. But they take the chance anyway. Kevin returns home and the camera slowly shows all the faces that are there waiting for him. Jill, Laurie, Matt, Mary, Tommy, Lily and Nora are all there. They create this new and strange family unit brought together by these circumstances. As Meg pointed out to Tommy early in the episode, family is everything. That really is the point that The Leftovers is driving home in the final moments of the season. Everyone is so happy to be reunited. The future is uncertain and complicated. This momentary happiness can't last long. Nora and Jill probably aren't too happy that Laurie is around while it's uncertain if Mary will stay awake. And yet, this momentary happiness is all anyone needs in order to see this world as still being vibrantly alive. And that's really fantastic.

Some more thoughts:
  • "I Live Here Now" was written by Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta and directed by Mimi Leder.
  • For a second, it seemed Kevin's dog ran off towards the trailer on the bridge because Nora and Lily were still there. But that wasn't the case. So it seems the whole family is reunited except for the dog in the end.
  • Even if the government officials are able to kick out everything who doesn't belong in Jarden, this town will never be the same after the events of this episode. So are they even going to try? The system broke down. It failed. So now what is everyone going to do?
  • Do you think Meg and Evie practiced that song and those harmonies or were they just that good of singers that they could do it in the moment to make a point to Kevin?
  • Meg's smile in the previous episode cemented just how menacing she truly was as a character. It was a chilling realization of just how scary good Liv Tyler is in the role. But another type of smile happens in this episode that is just as meaningful. Matt smiles as soon as he sees Mary aware of her surroundings again - which proves that he isn't crazy after all.
  • Even when he tries to break away, it still seems that Tommy is always looking out for Lily.
  • The ratings for the show this season haven't been that great. They're not terrible. But they could be better. This show is so specific and divisive that it's easy to understand why the audience isn't larger. But this has been a pretty much perfect season of television. It deserves to receive so much accolades as well as the opportunity to keep telling more stories. Who knows if Damon Lindelof and the rest of the creative team have another season of stories to share. This would be a pretty satisfactory ending for the series. Though I as a selfish TV viewer desperately want more of The Leftovers.