Season Two: Episodes 7-10
Damon Lindelof may not be about to tell us (or work out for himself) what the Sudden Departure means, but that’s in no way going to prevent him from lobbing non-stop surprises and curveballs around its periphery. I couldn’t have conceived the manner in which the later stages of Season Two veer completely off (Kevin’s in particular) reservation, and, indeed, I was looking in completely the wrong direction regarding much that transpired. All the better to immerse oneself in the best TV show of 2015 (or, to be more specific, the best show of 2015 that I’ve seen).
It would be easy to simply assume HBO execs were as wowed as I was, and wanted to see more of The Leftovers (but that didn’t stop them axing Carnivale). While they cite little things like a ratings uptick, critics’ rallying behind the show, and the kudos attached, probably helped them their decision to give a final third season the go-ahead. After all, it keeps a talent (I know, many would dispute that, none of them fans of Prometheus) like Lindelof sweet, and draws a line under throwing too much money the way of a show that just wasn’t ever going to break out.
Mostly, in relation to the second half of the season, we need to talk about Kevin. Mostly because half of the last four episodes revolve around him, and a large chunk of the finale to boot, by dint of his indeterminate fate. I had no advance knowledge of Justin Theroux’s continuing involvement with the show, so it was quite conceivable he would be killed off (or that Lindelof would pull a John Locke on him). That Kevin’s killed off twice, and I still bought that the second one might be for real, rather than following through with the same goofy reveal that encapsulates 2.8 International Assassin’s season highlight, is testament to the manner in which the season continually wrests expectations away from the viewer. Even being reasonably sure Meg didn’t actually plan to blow up a bus didn’t mean I was completely certain she wouldn’t.
I love that Kevin’s brushes with death aren’t just odd, touching and profound, but also very, very funny. Which comes as much from the use of Verdi to undercut and exaggerate his experiences as the experiences themselves. Which include meeting Steven Williams’ Virgil in an underground car park, exactly what Williams used to do in The X-Files. The world of Kevin’s afterlife hotel and international assassin is sublimely hyperreal, and entirely captivating.
Wayne Gilchrest: The mind, you cannot trust the mind, for it will play tricks on you.
The episode manages to answer, or provide enough of an answer to, a raft of questions raised during the course of the season (the burying of the birds by Erika leads in to Kevin rising after three days interred, “Our cave collapsed, Kevin” explains the parallel to the season’s Stone Age opening, Kevin’s dad – let’s hear it for the great Scott Glenn – has actually arrived in Oz and is fucked up on God’s Tongue, which allows him to communicate through the TV of the afterlife, or nethersphere) while giving voice to series themes (“You want to destroy families”; “I love you dad”; for more on these, see the finale).
But as enthralling as it is, it doesn’t really explain the relationship between Kevin and Patti. We almost managed to allow Kevin’s screwed-up ex to convince us there was a logical explanation for Kevin’s malaise in 2.7 A Powerful Adversary, despite evidence in almost every scene that she is the show’s most self-deceived character; Kevin at least has no doubt of his non-existent grip on reality, which puts him ahead of her, and which is why he sets off in the middle of the night to see Virgil.
Yet his and Patty’s fates are/were entwined and, while one might make hay with International Assassin as the latest manifestation of a world going on in Kevin’s head, it is clearly fashioned as one from which we are supposed to transcribe tangible details as vital to the real one. After all, it’s now in the fact sheet of the show that Kevin survived death/ was resurrected; the supernatural is all around, even if it merely comes down to a Lost-esque magical tract of land.
Patti: I am so desperate to do battle.
But the version of Patti we assumed was some sort of guide earlier in the season came crashing down in 2.7; “I’m just as fucking lost as you are”, she informs her haunted partner. Which means she can’t be relied on, to wit telling Kevin the girls weren’t coming back. Either this was an outright lie, or she didn’t know and was just blustering because she’s as lost as he is, or because she isn’t there at all, and only knows stuff when Kevin is consciously aware of it, but that isn’t really Perrotta and Lindelof’s schematic. So Kevin’s journey to the underworld is to expel this fellow traveller (“She ain’t in you Kevin, she’s on you”).
Lindelof and Perrotta take in underworld lore, in which there are guides along the way, and waters of forgetfulness (“Did you drink the water?”, very Lethe) but also indulge the classic movie furnishings of hallucinatory near-death experiences/ altered states, where the characters we know take different forms, including Holy Wayne. They also throw in the old “Could you kill that child?” conundrum of offing Hitler as a nipper, in which Kevin meets the challenge and then has to murder Patti as an adult too (and all that after saving her life before he knew who she was). Naturally, the well where he does the deed is the same spot we saw the cavewoman and her child in the season opener. Confusing accounts are offered of the nature of this realm (“Friend, this is more real than it’s ever been”) and, although Kevin is affected (“It’s hard – because I feel sorry for you”), he nevertheless treats the environment as one that isn’t real, or at least one where his acts don’t have real repercussions. It will be interesting to see if/how Lindelof and Perotti pick up on this in the third season.
Kevin: I’m not fucking doing this again!
And also, what they do in the aftermath of the aftermath of his subsequent visit. Kevin as International assassin has its appeal stated outright (no wife, kids, responsibilities) – his subconscious wish to escape, which is why, the second time, he must choose the policeman’s uniform. Perhaps, even, he had to go under again, in order to make that correct choice. The sequence is even giddier this time, as we’ve got the groove of it. Speaking of which, Kevin is required to sing Homeward Bound (“You pushed a little girl into a well but you don’t want to sing?”) while his nearest, dearest, and weirdest (National Geographic, May 1972) flash before his eyes. His emergence, to John’s disbelief (John hasn’t really got the sure touch for killing people outright, it seems) in a town now reminiscent of the nightmare version of 1985 in Back to the Future Part II, is a masterpiece of unlikeliness. And then Lindelof takes Kevin home, where all are assembled.
John: I don’t understand what’s happening.
Kevin: Me neither.
While the strange goings-on with the extended Garvey clan are fairly well-established, much of the Murphys’ lore remains inscrutable. In particular, the abuse suffered and its continuing ricochets resist clear definition. We have Virgil’s confession (“I hurt him a long time ago. And then he hurt me back”) for which Virgil took his punishment gratefully (“That foul machinery below the waist which transgressed the laws of man”). Although he doesn’t spell it out (that we see), Kevin takes this to mean Virgil’s abuse of John (John, a man living in denial, denies this).
So presumably Virgil, Erika’s father, knew John as a child? So what was the incident Michael references in church, how he and Evie “didn’t know why he did what he did”? Is this a cycle of abuse running through broken families, broken families that are Lindelof’s main subject matter, that John in turn has become abuser? Or is this in relation to Virgil’s actions directly, Michael and Evie’s response to the punishment meted out on their grandfather? I’ve seen it suggested Evie may actually be Virgil’s daughter, but I’m doubtful as Erika’s attitude to her father hasn’t really suggest such a dimension.
Whatever the nature of the abuse, Lindelof is setting up the vagueness purposefully, more than simply Evie’s “You Understand” as a reference to her mother planning to leave them. There’s something occasionally a little uncomfortable about the writers trading in narrative trickery with such subject matter (the same with the “Did he, or didn’t he?” Matt and Mary pregnancy), turning it into a guessing game rather than with due deference, but it’s nevertheless powerfully inscrutable.
The Evie reveal is a show-stopper, though, and the manner in which the campers are integrated into the larger plot for a tumultuous invasion of Miracle is rather deft. A couple of elements in this regard are less so, though.
It’s very evident that Lindelof and Perrotta are most transfixed by these Miracle plot threads. Perhaps strangely, since she’s such a standout character, Nora drops mostly from sight for the last four episodes while Kevin undergoes his long dark night of the soul. She resurfaces to have trouble with her baby (“That’s not your baby. She doesn’t belong to you”) and gets rescued by Tommy. Who, now it has been revealed that his Holy Wayne-ing was just an act, has become the least interesting character in the show again. Whether it’s his mum telling him what to do or Meg (who exerts a lure, seeing as he has a craving for hugs).
Evie: I’m sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for here. No one ever does.
Meg fares better, but the remnants of the Mapleton plotlines have been the lesser ones of the season. Meg’s barely been in this run, so it says something for Liv Tyler’s performance that she makes such a powerfully hostile impression. I’m not sure her use has been especially ornate, popping up in 2.9 Ten Thirteen to announce her grand plan, but it’s at least startlingly effective. She has some great scenes and lines (“I wanted to get you pregnant” she informs idiot Tommy), including the informative flashback scene with Isaac, where rightly or wrongly she tells her fiancé he wasn’t the real deal, and her first meeting with Evie.
And the scene where Matt (who is vindicated in 2.10 I Live Here Now; it’s just a shame we don’t get to see him wave it in John’s face) apologises for being Meg’s living reminder, pointing out how both have been emboldened and entrenched by the Departure.
Laurie continues to be the most difficult character to like (well, apart from John), because she so resists self-awareness, displacing her own anger and lack of understanding on those she seeks to manipulate. She constantly thinks she has an answer but never does, and so leaves destruction in her wake. Laurie still gets one of the funniest lines in the season, though, when judge, jury and executioner John comes looking for Kevin; “Oh, he’s definitely coming back” she advises, as Kevin walks across the street behind Pa Murphy.
Tommy: There is no family.
Meg: Family’s everything.
Lindelof and Perotta’s exploration of a dichotomy comes to a head in the last episode, as broken families assemble and cohesive ones dissolve. There’s still much left to reveal here, it seems, more mysteries corporeal and non-. Season Two manages to surpass the first, which I also found enormously satisfying right from the get-go. The regular strains of Where is My Mind? informed this run, and the question mark still remains in place at is close. But, in spite of the series’ emotional maelstrom, it finishes on an upbeat note, not unlike the first.
Occasionally Lindelof and Perotta try to be a bit too clever for their own good (“A magical black man sitting at the edge of town – that’s borderline racist, that is” is the sort of meta thing you’d more expect from Joss Whedon, if he had an HBO series), but now they’ve taken the plunge into the unknown beyond, hopefully the third season will embrace that further, amid more surreal-a-soap domestic strife. Lindelof likes to posit acts of God as turning points for his characters; Nora mocks the Almighty before a quake in which Mary awakes. Kevin’s suicide by drowning is prevented by another quake, such that “Either somebody is looking out for you, or you’ve got yourself a most powerful adversary”. We may never learn who’s behind it all, or what they’re doing, but in Lindelof’s vaguely definite universe something or someone is definitely up there, or out there, or both.