“You have no greater purpose. Because ‘it’ is enough.”
In flipping through channels tonight, stopping on HBO during one of many different scenes in The Leftovers' "The Garveys at Their Best," one might have assumed that Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta had completely retooled the series, with amity and jubilance substituted in as its standard emotions. Of course, there were plenty of scenes oozing the expected darkness and despair, but still…people were smiling! And laughing! And not dying!
Choosing not to progress the sobering events at the end of last week’s episode, The Leftovers instead clues viewers into the events of the days prior to the Sudden Departure that led the series premiere. And I guess it’s no surprise that things weren’t completely hunky dory back then, either, despite the episode title's inherent positivity.
The Garveys were a completely different family unit back then, albeit one still just smitten with keeping problems nearby. Kevin “secretly” didn’t quit smoking, hiding his cigarettes beneath the show’s signature blue mailbox, the same place Tommy had to put Holy Wayne’s money. (Linkage!) He’s possibly starting to see the first signs of his impending fugue states, but rather than seek help, he just chooses to snap at Laurie – who is a therapist that could clearly find a way to open Kevin up if she wanted to – and take on the personal mission of setting free a wild deer that keeps trapping itself in homes and schools. He fails to tranquilize the deer when he has the chance, and it ends up getting hit by a car, driven by a woman that Kevin decides to sleep with. That she disappears mid-coitus thanks to the big mysterious Departure, well, that’s just The Leftovers’ mascot Captain Karma coming to save pleasure from being pleasurable. That’s what happens to people who know they aren’t good guys, and it's not even made clear if this is his first attempt at philandering or merely the latest.
Either way, Kevin chooses the absolute worst time to stick his dick in random women, as Laurie is dealing with a secret mistimed pregnancy. One that, it’s worth mentioning, is played in the beginning of the episode as if it’s an illness, which felt less like an intentional script misdirect and more like Laurie’s own inner dialogue about the pregnancy. “Point of no return” only comes up in pregnant talk when abortions are being considered, so we know that Laurie is in a fragile state of mind, definitely not helped along by patient Patti’s quatrain-free predictions of world-ending catastrophes and her sixth sense that Laurie has a big problem inside her. Not to mention breeder Gladys’ near-insistence that Laurie adopt a new puppy. (One that Kevin initially chose to make her get despite her not wanting to, even though he really didn’t want it in the first place; another sign that Kevin is pretty much a walking bag of bullshit all the time.)
Laurie’s episode-ending moment is downright dreadful, as she somewhat mournfully succumbs to hearing the fetus’ heartbeat for the first time at an ultrasound, only to have it taken out of her during the Departure. Like everything else on this show, whether she keeps this incident a secret or not is unknown at this point, but it’s definitely the first time audiences are gut-punched by it. The Leftovers is a show that plays loose with a central belief system among its characters and cults, but I’m pretty sure having a fetus as a Departed cements all the series' views on where life begins. In any case, this is definitely the kind of thing that would drive someone to a cult whose mission statement is “It don’t matter, y’all.” Seriously, anything to get Laurie away from calendar pages quoting “The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground,” which sounds like a reading from the book of Dumb Shit Proverbs.
Tommy is perhaps the only Garvey whose inner peace is ruined rather quickly, as we catch up to him when Kevin is springing him from the back of another cop’s vehicle. The thing is, he isn’t even a Garvey, by blood anyway, as it’s revealed he got drunk and re-visited the house of his birth father Michael, who felt forced to get physical in removing Tommy from his property. That bit of uncomfortable self-defense got Michael assaulted by Kevin in front of his own kid, whom Kevin eyes dismissively. It’s clear that Tommy finding out about his real dad was a really big deal to him, and that Michael’s past with Laurie was rife with some kind of mayhem. A Season 2 storyline, perhaps?
Jill, meanwhile, loves YouTube and showing off her braces while smiling and laughing. As I expected, her story is more forced than everyone else’s, although we thankfully don’t actually see her make a hairpin transition from science fair participant to the cynical monster she becomes. She’s just…bubbly, though the rift between her and Laurie blinks open when she mentions Laurie not going to the science fair last year. It’s a wonder that a declaration as simple as that could have major ramifications in this story, or it might just be a signifier of Laurie’s marriage to her work, though that point isn’t really touched upon otherwise.
Then there’s Nora, whose family life is immediately overwhelmed by her attempts to become future Mayor Lucy’s campaign manager (or something like that). She’s unhappy with her job and she clearly doesn’t realize that her husband is cheating on her – with one of the teachers in the “deer in the school” scene – so obviously her moments just before the Departure would be yelling at her daughter for spilling orange juice on her phone right when Lucy is calling, presumably about the job. HEAP IT ON, GUYS! Nora definitely deserves her Legacy status in Mapleton, but I wish somebody would have put a new paper towel roll on that rack, saving her from living with such regret over those last words. I cannot believe this series has once again made me depressed about paper towels.
No need to worry about Reverend Matt, though, because nothing bad happens to him for once. He’s seen smiling and dancing with his very lively wife, and he toasts Mapleton Man of the Year Kevin Sr. for his birthday party. It looks like things will get hairy when he goes to the doctor for a potentially cancerous mass somewhere in his body, but he gets news good enough to celebrate, so off the couple goes, with her driving and him drinking. And then the Departure hits, leading to previously alluded to car crash that left Mary catatonic. So even though he's happy in this episode, Matt gets television’s Most Depressing Implication of 2014.
All in all, this was a fine episode that had me momentarily thinking it would sidestep distress for a while, though Kevin’s mid-episode visual survey of his father’s birthday crowd opened the floodgates to the darker elements. I was bothered that Kevin “Deer Fuckin’ Plural” Sr. didn’t get a big moment like everyone else, other than telling Kevin the quote at the top, reminding him that he isn’t at the center of anything but himself. But it’s obvious that Kevin actually is in the eyesight of some weird cosmic fate, as indicated by a car passenger’s “mistaking” him for someone else, followed by a manhole cover being blown sky high right in front of him. (I’m not willing to consider what “manhole” might mean in terms of metaphors.)
There were so many neat (for severe lack of a better word) coincidences and connections pulling this show's many narrative points together, so I could easily forgive Kevin Sr.’s future madness not bearing any fruit here. I mean, we get to see the origin story of Patti shitting in a bag and leaving it on her ex-husband Neil’s doorstep. (I still want to know more about their abusive relationship though, because I’m a dramatic sadist like that.) Plus, we were introduced to the Down Syndrome son of the parents whom Nora interviewed in an earlier episode; they were understandably a little distracted by the giant CGI deer wrecking fucking shop all over their two-story house.
As we approach next week’s finale, I’m not sure that The Leftovers will deliver any conclusions airtight enough to last the long break until Season 2 begins, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. “The Garveys at Their Best” presented far more background information than I thought we’d ever get, further imbuing every single line and facial expression with the utmost potential importance. Even if it doesn’t end up meaning everything, the fact that it appears to is enough for me, and I currently foresee no regrets where The Leftovers is concerned. But then I'm no Patti.
Tune in next week, where we may or may not discover the mystery behind why Kevin has Jody Reynolds’ “The Girl from King Marie” on his jogging playlist.