Sunday, April 16, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Leftovers' - Kevin Prepares Miracle, Texas for the Anniversary of the Sudden Departure in 'The Book of Kevin'

HBO's The Leftovers - Episode 3.01 "The Book of Kevin"

Three years after Miracle, Texas was overrun by the Guilty Remnant, Kevin Garvey has returned to his role as chief of police. Although he seems to have moved past the incredible events surrounding his "resurrection," the Seventh Anniversary of the Sudden Departure is just two weeks away and many believe another apocalyptic event may come with it.

The second season of The Leftovers was a phenomenal and perfect season of television. It explained the scope of this show while still remaining an intimate look at these characters as they all undergo extreme circumstances. It opened with an especially memorable scene of a cavewoman trying to care for her baby. That sequence showed that the themes and issues of this show have been universal throughout all of time. They aren't inherently a part of the world following the Sudden Departure. Questions of what happens after we die and what's the meaning of life have been circulating throughout the world for most humanity. People have their coping mechanisms. Religion seemingly provides answers as well. But it's all ultimately about beliefs. What each of these people believe and how willing they are to support and defend those beliefs is important. A lot of mystical things have happened on this show. Across all seasons, it hasn't been definitively said if it's truly magic or if it can all be explained with some rational reasoning. Everything seems a little too good to be totally real. A miracle in a completely changed world. That's the worldview the show is focusing on as it heads into its final season. These characters have changed but there is still a universality about their lives as well that echo throughout the human condition.

Season 3 opens in a very similar way to Season 2. It would have been very difficult for the show to top that sequence with the cavewoman. It's ambitious that they even try at all. And yet, this new look into the past is important and mesmerizing as well. It examines a different part of humanity. It identifies the pain and destruction that can come from one's beliefs. It shows that people have been preparing for the end of the world for a long time. It's not something new that was invented following the Sudden Departure. The show reminds the audience of that with a trip to 1844 and a family that is torn apart because of the preparation for the end of the world. It shows a woman who is devoutly committed to these beliefs. It destroys her family. Time after time, the date is revealed and they prepare for the end. And yet, they all survive. It's defeating and depressing. But then, a new date is announced and the cycle begins anew. The man and the son eventually leave. So do most people of this faith. However, the woman persists. She continues to believe. She is beaten down and humiliated. But still she is faithful to the cause. She is devoted even to the point of losing her family. It's a selfish decision that is eerily similar to everything happening in Jarden in the present day.

Once the show returns to Texas, it's an incredibly bleak start to the season. The second season ended with the destruction of Miracle. It exposed the truth behind Evie's disappearance to reveal that the Sudden Departure had affected this town as well even though no one was actually taken on that particular day. Evie simply left for the Guilty Remnant because her family life was toxic and there was no point in trying to live anymore. The community was thrust into chaos. And yet, it was a hopeful ending because Kevin was surrounded by family - some related to him and some not. It showed the power of human connection in this world even when the most tragic circumstances are in action. It was always going to be fascinating to see how the community bounced back from this moment. It's horrifying to see the government launch a drone strike against the Guilty Remnant. They are killed so that order can be restored to this world. It's a gruesome sight that the audience sees through Evie's reaction. She's committed to the case and ends up dying for it. She dies and the myths and miracles of Miracle, Texas are able to continue.

Of course, it's also fascinating to see the regular lives that the characters have all returned to once the story picks up again three years later. They've regained a sense of normalcy. So much of this show is defined by the pain all of these characters carried. Some lost people in the Sudden Departure. But mostly, that event exposed what was broken in all of these characters' lives. Their search for meaning has all led them here to this moment. They seemingly found peace at the end of last season. So now, Kevin is back to being chief of police, Tommy is now working for his father, Nora is back as an agent at the Department of Sudden Departures, Matt is thriving as the town preacher, Mary is still awake from her coma, and Laurie and John have find happiness with each other. Everything seems happy and okay on the surface. But once the show digs a little deeper, it's clear that these characters are still carrying around a lot of pain. Their lives have changed. They've grown a lot as people. But the problems of the past still keep reappearing even as they prepare for the seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure and whatever that might bring.

All of this is abundantly clear with Kevin. The burden was seemingly lifted from his shoulders last season during "International Assassin." It was an intense journey but it rid his soul of torment. And yet, he's still walking around not caring if something could potentially kill him. He willingly wraps a bag around his head and slowly suffocates. He doesn't die but the act of self-infliction is really telling as well. Immediately after that, he jumps into the river after it's been allegedly poisoned. He's not worried about the consequences. He just does that to deescalate the tension. He's fine because there is no poison. If there were, he wouldn't have to deal with how more precarious the situation would have become. However, Kevin is still fearful for his life when a madman is shooting a gun at him. It was such a tease when someone in the police department said an old friend from Mapleton was in town. Dean as a character was this very mysterious and cryptic being. Those qualities didn't ultimately have some larger point. He was simply a delusional man who made Kevin feel more crazy. That's essentially the quality he brings back to the show now. He's just more dangerous. It's another bleak and graphic moment in the premiere when Tommy kills Dean by shooting him in the head. But that scene is important because it shows Kevin is still afraid to die. Plus, he still carries around the weight of his actions from his time as an international assassin. He was justified in killing those characters but they've still affected him in some profound ways.

And finally, there is the revelation that Matt is writing a book about Kevin. It's envisioned as a companion piece to the Old and New Testament. Matt sees it as his responsibility to tell this story because of the miracles that have happened in proximity to him. Kevin is not an inherently religious person. He and Matt are friends. He respects religion. But he's also incredibly wary about the pandemonium and chaos that might occur on the upcoming seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure. Matt is preaching about the importance of seven years throughout scripture. He knows that this anniversary could be different than the others. That could potentially reveal that something religious or spiritual was responsible for two percent of the world's population disappearing. Matt also sees Kevin's story as something that defies any kind of rational explanation. He has escaped death so many times while in Jarden. He's had these vivid experiences that confirm that he truly is special in this world. Matt, Michael and John truly believe that because it's the only kind of explanation they have for everything that they've seen happen to Kevin. Meanwhile, Kevin opposes all of it. He wants to dismiss all of this as crazy and silly talk. He doesn't see himself as that special. And yet, he can't destroy the book when the time comes to do it. He holds onto it because he too can't fully understand everything that has happened to him. He's still a deeply conflicted and damaged man. One who has a successful and happy family and professional life. But one who is still tormented by a lack of answers to some of life's biggest questions.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Book of Kevin" was written by Damon Lindelof and Patrick Somerville and directed by Mimi Leder.
  • John was against anyone in Jarden using the perception of Miracle, Texas to run cons in this town. And yet, he's now the one doing it. He's the one getting handprints in paint from people and talking to their relatives. Of course, the show is very upfront about it being a scam. Laurie is in his ear putting her skills as a therapist (as well as social media research) to use.
  • Of course, John is still delusional in other ways. He still wants to hold onto the belief that Evie is still alive somehow. She came back from the dead once and he believes she will again. And yet, that seems unlikely because of the vicious attack on the Guilty Remnant.
  • However, I don't think it's impossible for any of the characters killed off in the beginning to return somehow. It's a violent end to Meg and Evie. And yet, that's totally fitting those characters as well. It would just be tragic for the show to loose Liv Tyler's great performance so soon in the final season.
  • John and Laurie are married now. At first, that may seem like an odd coupling. But it also kinda makes sense as well. John may be drawn to Laurie because of her past experience in the Guilty Remnant. She may serve as a symbol for someone getting out of that lifestyle and continuing to thrive in life. That may not ultimately make it a healthy relationship though.
  • Tommy celebrates his 25th birthday in this episode. He's also probably his most stable he's ever been on the show as well - even though he does kill someone. But him working for his father has more clarity than running around with Holy Wayne or joining the Guilty Remnant.
  • Mary is planning on leaving Matt to return to Mapleton. That's incredibly tragic news given everything that he has done for her when she was in the coma. And yet, it also makes sense. When she came back to life, she saw how changed Matt was. And now, he's incredibly paranoid that all it will take is the wrong move to send Mary back into a coma. Mary simply doesn't want to live in that fear though.
  • Something has happened to baby Lily and no one wants to talk about it. It's going to be absolutely devastating when they finally do too - especially for Nora. She has already lost so much. She really came to care for Lily in a genuine way and not just as a replacement for the children she lost. 
  • The premiere ends with a mysterious woman collecting birds and delivering them to a nun who asks if the name Kevin means anything to her. Her face is covered for most of the sequence. And then, she's revealed to be an older Nora Durst. That's a shocking twist that builds a nice mystery moving forward. What's happened to her that she's living this completely new life?