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‘The Leftovers’ Review: A Very Funny Season 3 Premiere is Bursting With Mysteries, Callbacks, and Ominous Signals

"The Leftovers" kicked off its final season with a new gospel, new relationships, and one wild last-second twist.

The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 1 Justin Theroux Chris Zylka

Van Redin/HBO

[Editor’s note: The following review contains spoilers for the “The Leftovers” Season 3, Episode 1, “The Book of Kevin.”]

There was so much to absorb in the first episode of “The Leftovers'” final season that it’s almost unfair of co-creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta to throw us such a massive curveball in the final seconds. “Who is Sarah?” will dominate discussion for the next week, if not for the rest of the season, depending on when Damon and Tom decide it’s time we learn the truth.

So let’s get it out of the way now: We don’t know who Sarah is, and we shouldn’t — not yet. “The Leftovers” may be built on a mystery that will never be solved (the sudden departure), but it’s also constructed around the answers to smaller, personal mysteries. Sarah could be Nora in the future, living under a new identity in the post-rapture world. Sarah could be Nora’s long lost twin and a descendant of the cult member who climbed onto her roof, repeatedly, at the beginning of the episode. Sarah could be anyone, really, but we’ll only know for sure when the creators decide we should. So let’s let the mystery be, for now, and dig into an episode loaded with fresh information — and incredible passion.

READ MORE: ‘The Leftovers’ Review: Season 3 Pushes The Best Show on Television to Evocative New Heights

(Kudos to anyone who made the Sarah/Nora connection before the camera revealed the aged face of Carrie Coon, by the way. The shot earlier in the episode — of Kevin watching her ride off into Jarden — did show us the bike she used to collect doves in Australia.)

Fresh Facts:

The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 1 Jasmine Savoy Brown Liv Tyler

1. “It’s only a matter of time before one of those fuckers bites your face off.”

With those words, we said goodbye to Meg — and the GR — in Miracle, TX. Fulfilling a prophecy first offered in Season 1, the federal government stepped in and took out the scariest white walkers on TV. (For more Season 1 callbacks, check out our interview with Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta, and Mimi Leder on the Gary Busey balloon.) Of course, that can’t be the official story. A gas leak is the only way to explain killing American citizens who, technically, hadn’t hurt anyone, and that’s exactly what Kevin recounted to his son when pressed about their part in the assassinations of Meg and Evie. It was both a fitting and shocking end for the devious minds behind the plot to overthrow Miracle, and one that provided a perfect opportunity to jump into the future.

READ MORE: ‘The Leftovers’ Damon Lindelof on Why You Should Watch Season 3: ‘We Have More Dongs Than ‘Game of Thrones” — Watch

2. John and Laurie’s Non-Profit, and… John and Laurie?!

Jumping forward three years to 2018 meant skipping a few major developments. Tommy stuck around to become a cop, just like his papa and grandpappy before him. Matt has taken over the church, and his congregation is out of control — in part, at least, thanks to Kevin opening up Miracle to everyone, no wristband required.

But the biggest shock of the time shift — aside from the fact they haven’t filled in the three-year-old crater made by the missile that blew up the GR — was learning that John and Laurie aren’t only in business together, but are getting married. First, can we just talk about Laurie’s attraction to damaged men? Whoever Tommy’s biological dad is the biggest deadbeat/worst choice, but Kevin was a rough next step, given how repressed his emotions were at the time. Now she’s with John, an ex-con sent to prison for attempted murder who three years ago was burning down people’s houses and shooting Kevin in the chest? Methinks the therapist may be a bit too obsessed with her patients.

As to John’s palm-reading gig, this makes perfect sense (in a wonderfully “Leftovers” way) and points to why Laurie would be into the new John. He’s paying his penance for what he did in Season 2, providing the same service the “real” palm reader did, but without accepting a single dollar in payment. He can’t. That would mean he’s profiting off of his past sins, rather than making up for them as best he can.

3. The Book of Kevin

To be clear, Kevin is not Jesus. No one is saying he’s Jesus. They’re just saying his life is worth chronicling, preserving, and studying in relation to the unknown. He has a unique connection to the afterlife no one else does (that we know of), and Matt, Michael, and John’s book is meant to convey that by telling his story. Does Matt get a little carried away? Of course. He’s Matt. That’s all he does. But what’s in the book frightens Kevin because he does not understand it, and what he doesn’t understand cannot be explained; not even by Laurie.

Kevin has always struggled psychologically. He’s lived in fear of becoming his father and being shipped off to the looney bin. But the events of Season 2 forced him to take his visions seriously, and he’s clearly still wrestling with how real his experiences were. After all, when he was talking to Dean about dogs infiltrating the United States government, his mind flashed back to shoving little girl Patti into the well. There’s a connection there to him; a doubt similar to anyone who believes in something that cannot be explained. And he’s going to have to face that doubt head-on before October 14 arrives again.

Big Questions:

The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 1 Margaret Qualley Amy Brenneman

1. Where is Lily?
This is a big deal. Nora and Kevin’s baby, given to them by Tommy and fathered by Holy Wayne, is nowhere to be found, and Jill makes a point of asking Kevin if Nora ever talks about her. Something happened. But what?

2. Where is Erika?
– The only major cast member missing from Tommy’s non-surprise party is John’s ex-wife, and while we can assume it would be awkward for them both to be there, we hope this doesn’t mean she’s distanced from both families. She and Nora had a special bond, to say the least, and Regina King is such an incredible talent, we’d hate if she’s gone for good.

3. Will we ever see Jill again?
– Jill’s parting words to Kevin were meant as a joke, but there was an ominous quality about her appearance and departure. Plus, with her spending time at college, it might be harder to tie her life into those in Jarden. Perhaps that goodbye was a bit more relevant than either of them knew…

READ MORE: ‘The Leftovers’: Damon Lindelof Explains Why Bingeing Season 3 is a Bad Idea

4. Who’s distributing those flyers?
– If it’s not flyer-loving Matt, then who’s printing those things? Odds seem high they’re connected to whoever drew the skywriting at episode’s end, but that’s the only other clue we have to go on.

5. Is Evie alive?
– No. We’re comfortable answering that for you, John. No, she is not. The dental records are conclusive evidence, whether you believe it or not.

6. Why is Kevin suffocating himself?
– Is he going back to the hotel? Is he testing his powers? Is he looking for someone? Or is he just damaged, and needs the rush?

7. Who’s Sarah?
– Yea, OK, we already went over this. But seriously: Who the fuck is Sarah?

The Purpose Behind the Pain

The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 1 Justin Theroux

Just like Season 1, Season 2, and most season premieres in general, “The Book of Kevin” was focused on establishing arcs. Season 1 introduced the sudden departure. Season 2 provided a possible follow-up when Evie disappeared. Season 3 has given us a ticking time bomb: October 14 is is only days away, and people are pointing to the Bible (and anywhere else) for significance in a seven-year anniversary.

Even though it may seem like we have more questions after the hour began than when it ended, there’s a much clearer picture of what the final season of “The Leftovers” will look like. The questions shape the narrative, and our eagerness to have them answered drives curiosity for the remaining seven episodes.

READ MORE: What Makes TV ‘Very Good’ in 2017? Damon Lindelof, Aya Cash, The Cast of ‘Casual’ and More Share Insights

That being said, we’re absolutely terrified of what’s next. This episode was a largely lighthearted hour of TV, other than Dean attacking Kevin, Tommy shooting him, and the immensely painful introduction. (Though only “The Leftovers” could snag a laugh from pairing that short story with song lyrics about dying children.) Starting on such a high can only mean a fall is coming, and there are plenty of signs — outside of scripture — pointing toward a big one: Nora’s cast; Kevin’s “cufflinks”; Mary leaving Matt; a missing baby; the mysterious Sarah.

But what unites us in this journey is the literal and figurative quest for answers. Kevin needs to ask himself the questions he’s afraid to answer as much as we need to know what happens to the Garveys. “We can’t just be going through all this for nothing, man,” John tells him. But Kevin doesn’t know why we’re going through this either, and people are looking to him for answers: John, Matt, and us, the audience.

In a way, he’s already answered our questions: By sacrificing mind and body on a journey of self-discovery, we’ve learned so much from Kevin about priorities, regret, acknowledgement, passion, and courage. It’d be hard to watch Season 2 and not realize something profound about yourself. But belief is an ongoing struggle, and Season 3 seems determined to go further down the rabbit hole. How Kevin (and Nora, Matt, et al) accounts for his own doubts, worries, and fears in the coming weeks will dictate how we feel coming out of “The Leftovers.”

Right now, we’re scared — just like Kevin. And that’s right where we need to be.

Grade: A

“The Leftovers” releases new episodes every Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO, HBO NOW, and HBO Go. 

Bonus: How Funny Was “The Leftovers” This Week?

Answer: Very.

The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 1 Justin Theroux gif Jesus

The Leftovers gif Season 3 Matt Kevin

And that sandwich bit? “Paw on the button”? Oh, Kevin, you’re so clever.

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The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 1 Justin Theroux

The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 1 Jovan Adepo Justin Theroux

The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 1
The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 1

The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 1

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