Sunday, May 7, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Leftovers' - Kevin and Nora Struggle to Trust Each Other with the Truth in 'G'Day Melbourne'

HBO's The Leftovers - Episode 3.04 "G'Day Melbourne"

Kevin and Nora travel to Australia, where she continues to track down the masterminds of an elaborate con, while he catches a glimpse of an unexpected face from the past, forcing him to confront the traumatic events of three years earlier.

The final season of The Leftovers has been very Kevin and Nora centric so far. Three of the first four episodes have been from their perspectives. That's very important and gives this season a personal and intimate focus. Of course, it's also expanding its scope as well with the venture to Australia. Nora is traveling there for this potential con that may also reunite her with her kids. Kevin travels there as well because he wants to be close with Nora and far away from dealing with everything happening in Jarden. The two of them have always been fantastic to watch as a couple. It was one of the smartest things the show did back in its first season. Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon have phenomenal chemistry. They work so well both separately and together. This hour examines whether Kevin and Nora are actually a good couple. They came together because they were both broken by the Sudden Departure. They found a person who could understand their pain and not judge them for it. But they've been together for a couple of years now - I believe it's been four years in the show's timeline - and they are still keeping major secrets from each other. There is still a toxic lack of communication and trust between them. They want to be together because they love each other. And yet, they are coming to a crossroads where they are struggling to deal with all this pain while being so far removed from the event that actually caused all of it.

Physical intimacy isn't the problem when it comes to Kevin and Nora. They have no problem fucking in the bathroom of an airport. But they use that to avoid dealing with the actual problems in their relationship. In the beginning, it seems like Kevin is very interested in what Nora is doing in Australia. She's exposing a fraud and is going rogue because everyone else at the Department is busy with the upcoming anniversary. But there are subtle details that expose that Nora isn't being completely truthful. She didn't tell Kevin any of this before they got to the airport. He could have helped her get $20,000 out of the country. She didn't even consider it because she didn't want to say she really wanted to be with her kids again. She's comfortable putting on a brave face for Kevin and exchanging pleasantries with him. But true understanding she is keeping from him. Of course, he's doing the exact same thing to her as well. They are both keeping their true feelings from the other person. This trip forces them to confront these issues. And yet in doing so, it very much tears them apart because they no longer have the capability to understand the other's pain.

With Nora, she sees everything as a test. How far is she willing to go in order to be with her kids again? Ever since the Departure, she's tried to understand what happened. So many people have come up to her saying they know the truth. And yet, no one really has a firm understanding of what happened on that day. The Departed are just gone. Those left behind have to keep on living. Nora has done that. But the lack of closure is still affecting her seven years later. She truly wants to believe that these scientists found a way to send her to the place her kids are. She rushes to the phone when it rings. She doesn't let anything get in her way from making the meeting on time. She could be a good Samaritan and watch over a baby as its mother goes to a job interview. Instead, she makes a selfish decision to chase what she wants at all costs. She needs to know if this is real. That's what she's after. She'll expose the scientists if it's a scam. But she really hopes that it isn't.

That's what makes it so devastating when she is denied passage through the machine. She's willing to do anything for these scientists. And yet, they seem to have impossible standards. It's pretty cruel. They theorize that this radiation popped up throughout the world and took the departed. It was a completely random event. They are selling a way for those left behind to see their loved ones again. But in reality, they are choosing who is worthy of making the journey. Nora wants to go and passes all of the tests. But she is denied because of a hypothetical question. Would you kill a baby if it would cure cancer? It's the same question the man in the desert asked Kevin Sr. in last week's episode before he killed himself. He answered no and Nora answered yes. They were both denied. So that makes it seem like a truck question. These scientists instead care how the people reacts to the question instead of yes or no being the right answer. It's fascinating and frustrating. It means Nora doesn't get what she wants. She'll have to continental living without any answers. And that sends her spiraling in a very devastating way.

Meanwhile, Kevin came to be close to Nora but instead goes off on his own mission. His mental health has apparently been good over the last three years. He hasn't really dealt with all that happened to him last season. He wants to forget all of it. He doesn't want to see it as something that inherently makes him special. It was just weird and random stuff that he went through but doesn't want to examine why. The show can only have him talk with dead members of the Guilty Remnant so many times. First, it was Patty. And now, he sees Evie in a crowd. He chases after it because he sees it as a sign. He wants to know why now. He wants to know what he has to do this time. The audience is fully immersed in this experience with Kevin too. We see this women as Evie. It plays on the feelings of wanting those characters to somehow survive the drone strike from the start of the season. Evie and Meg were fascinating and strong characters. That could be it for them. It would be disappointing but it would make sense. But here Evie is. She's still alive and has a new life and identity in Australia. Kevin needs answers.

Of course, it's all his mind playing tricks on him. The show has very carefully walked a line between what has a scientific explanation and what features otherworldly mysticism.  Everything seemingly suggests that Kevin is special for some reason. But there is a clinical explanation for his ailments as well. Laurie knows how to handle this situation when it arises. She's a very skilled therapist even though she's only helping John con people in Jarden at the moment. She knows to indulge Kevin's fantasy for a little bit. It's a little manipulative but makes perfect sense as well. Laurie understands Kevin's problems and has the tools to help him. She is able to wake him up to the reality of his situation. It's a powerful moment that reveals Kevin may be going crazy all over again. It's because of the book Matt wrote about him. It's a physical representation of the past he would rather forget. His subconscious isn't allowing him though. He keeps running. Laurie is able to help but there's only so much she can do over the phone.

Kevin is open about all of this with Laurie too. He even tells her about the book and John's role in all of it. But this hour is still fundamentally about Kevin and Nora. They went on these parallel journeys during their first day in Australia. It was brutal for both of them. If this were a happy and healthy relationship, they could tell the other about what happened and how they are disappointed and distraught about it. Instead, they are incapable of understanding the others' pain. It's so heartbreaking to watch as they fight. It's some of the best work Theroux and Coon have done together. They are heartbreaking and cruel to each other. They aren't being honest about why they are in pain. Their understanding of the situation only makes things worse. They believe the other wants to suffer. On some level that may be the case. But ultimately, they just want relief and understanding. That used to come from each other. But after all of this, it now comes from a cigarette for Nora and the arrival of his father for Kevin. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "G'Day Melbourne" was directed by Daniel Sackheim and story by Damon Lindelof and teleplay by Tamara P. Carter & Haley Harris.
  • The song over the opening credits this week is "This Love Is Over" by Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs. That foreshadowed doom for Kevin and Nora right away. But it was still brutal to watch them fight in the end too.
  • This show really does have great music supervision. It always finds these weird but very appropriate songs to fill each moment. But it can use popular hits to great effect too. The use of "Take On Me" throughout this hour is very impressive - especially in that final sequence. 
  • The fire alarm goes off in the hotel because of Kevin burning the book. And yet, when he walks outside, it feels like an even more disastrous scene. No taxis are available while all fights have been grounded. So something else must have happened as well.
  • Kevin destroying Matt's book would suggest that all copies of it have been destroyed. And yet, the show wanted us to think before only to reveal more pages. So, it may just be a big misdirection as well. Or it could enrage Matt very much in the future knowing that all of his hard work was for nothing.
  • Kevin noted early on how difficult it would be to track down his father in Australia. It's a big country and he has no idea where he is. It's ultimately Kevin Sr. who finds his son because he saw him on television. He and Grace see that as a sign that he was delivered to them at this moment for a reason. 
  • Mark Linn-Baker went through the machine. So that puts a firm end to that very amusing story that started as as joke and then become something much more serious.