[Editor’s note: The following review contains spoilers for the “The Leftovers” Season 3, Episode 3, “Crazy Whitefella Thinking.”]
Last week, we watched Nora (in a phenomenal performance from Carrie Coon) refuse to acknowledge any kind of sign. This week, we watched Kevin Sr. (via an incredible performance from Scott Glenn) see signs everywhere. The last two episodes of “The Leftovers” have turned the spotlight on two unbelievable talents, but they’ve also dealt with extraordinary faith on each end of the spectrum: unflinching disbelief and resolute ideology.
And guess what? Neither Nora or Senior are OK.
Senior, convinced God has sent him on a mission to save the world, nearly died in the Australian desert — like a modern day Jesus in the wilderness. He even laid down on a cross, further emphasizing his conviction that he, not his son, is the focus of this story. Every challenge wasn’t a sign for him to turn back, return to his family, and live out his life in peace, but further proof that God was speaking to him, directly. Let’s look at the logic behind his plan, laid out in a beautiful monologue from Glenn:
- Senior went to Australia because the voices in his head told him to go.
- Not knowing where to go within Australia, Senior went to Sydney where a man — “a hippie in a red headband” — asked him if he wanted to speak to God.
- To speak to God, he had to “speak in God’s tongue,” which was just code for taking a powerful hallucinogen the hippie brewed in his basement. So, two weeks later, Senior woke up in Perth, and the first thing he saw was… a chicken; a chicken named Tony who can tell people what they’re looking for.
- So Senior makes the trip to see Tony, and tells him he’s looking for “some fucking purpose!” Tony, the chicken, jumped up on Senior’s pack and starting pecking a tape.
- The tape was an old recording of Kevin Jr, Senior’s son, demanding his dad to sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or the rain won’t stop, and they’ll drown. The rain stopped. They lived.
- From all this, Senior deduced he needed to travel up and down the Australian “song line” and sing the song from every sacred site, in order to prevent another flood from wiping out the human population.
Now, it’s important to note that after his acid trip didn’t go as planned, Senior was considering going back. He thought he’d made a mistake until he discovered another sign: the chicken. But what became clear over the hour-long episode was that Kevin was going to find a sign to support his beliefs no matter what happened, just like nothing could be a sign to Nora. Damon Lindelof and Tom Spezialy, who wrote the episode, went from the comic highs of a chicken named Tony to the tragic lows of a man lighting himself on fire to illustrate this, and then brought it all home with a final story to top all the rest.
Only Senior, after hearing that story from Grace (Lindsay Duncan, who we’ll talk more about very soon), could answer her question the way he did. “I’ve gone a bit crazy, haven’t I?” she said, after admitting to drugging, kidnapping, and killing a local police officer. “No, Grace,” Senior said. “I don’t think you’re crazy at all. You just got the wrong Kevin.”
If she’s crazy, he’s crazy. And Senior cannot believe he’s crazy. He’s too busy talking to God.
1. Matt sent “The Book of Kevin” to Australia.
There were quite a few questions percolating after Episode 2’s wild finale, but how the then-unnamed Grace came across Kevin’s story was top of mind. She read, as if from scripture, the story of Kevin to the unfortunately named police officer right before the gang of Aussie cowgirls took him, and how the “only copy” of Kevin’s book made its way to the other side of the world was a mystery we couldn’t let be.
The answer, it turns out, was simple enough: Matt shipped Senior a copy, and Grace found a page of it in his hand when she found him, near dead from the snakebite. Now, how we could know Grace would take “signs” as seriously as Senior, well, that’s part of the journey. The world is taking everything seriously right now, as the seven year anniversary looms. We better step in line, too.
2. Grace is as broken as the rest of us.
It’s kind of amazing how quickly Lindelof, Perrotta, and the rest of the impeccable writing staff establish connections between audience and characters. Grace, who we met briefly last week as a misguided murderer on horseback, rapidly developed into a deeply empathetic figure over the course of her heart-shattering monologue. I dare not recount the specifics of her story, for fear I’ll break down yet again into a sobbing mess, but a combination of performance and writing in one pivotal scene gave Grace complexity, motive, and tremendous heart.
The weight of the story overall helps provide opportunity for such wrenching tales to take place. Because of the gravity of their situation, as well as an impending follow-up event, everyone is more inclined to tell their story and to take action. But it’s the specificity of character that makes each person matter: the Bibles lined up in the church; the cross marking their grave; the shoes, oh God, the shoes. We just met her, and yet, she already feels like an integral part of the final season; one we’d miss if she disappeared, and one more leftover we hope can find peace.
3. Fuck, fuck, shit, fuck, goddamnit — Kevin, don’t go to Australia!
This is more of a theory than a fact, but it seems pretty clear that if Senior and Grace run into Kevin, they’re going to kill him. Of course, they won’t think it’s permanent. They both believe in his power to travel back and forth from the other side, and they both want something from him. (Senior still needs to learn Christopher Sunday’s song, and Grace needs whatever she needed from the fake Kevin.) But Matt believes Kevin is only safe in Miracle, and if he’s right, Kevin could die in Australia and stay dead. You can call us skeptics if you want, but we’re thinking it’s not worth the risk. We’ll take the odds of a flood over Kevin committing suicide one more time.
1. “Would you kill a baby if it could cure cancer?”
I have no idea what this guy was talking about, or why he lit himself on fire (aside from the misery plaguing everyone, post-departure), but the question he posed to Senior seemed far too out of the blue to be unimportant. He made the above query, Senior said, “No,” and the man replied, “That’s exactly what I said.” Then he lit the match.
So… what’s up? How did that factor into his decision to kill himself? Who asked him that question? God? A false prophet, like Holy Wayne? Someone with the power to take action and cure cancer? Again, I have no idea, but it’s worth thinking about.
2. Will that boat come in handy?
3. How will Senior cross paths with Kevin and Nora?
We’ve seen Senior and his son together in the trailers, so we know it’s going to happen. But how? Maybe Kevin will seek out his dad now that he and Nora are making the trip to Australia, but that seems somewhat unlikely given their testy relationship. Senior may go looking for his son, but how would he even know Kevin is in Australia? How would he know where to look? This may not be the most important question, but it’s these kind of minor details that Lindelof & Perrotta usually turn into great minor moments within the bigger story. Think about Nora finding Lily, Laurie arriving in Miracle, or even Senior finding Jill trapped in a refrigerator during Season 1. These connections are fun at the least, if not meaningful.
The Purpose Behind the Pain
Let’s take a moment to step back and admire two exceptional women who elevated this episode to next-level television: Lindsay Duncan and Mimi Leder.
Leder, the rightly beloved EP and director, has guided “The Leftovers” to where it stands today; opening up the visuals to eliminate some of the claustrophobic cinematography of Season 1. But the episodes she helms personally are beautiful, tight, and filled with feeling. Every inch of the frame is carefully utilized. As Senior sings and dances around a fire, we’re sucked in by the beauty of the rich colors and remote setting, captured in detail-enhancing close-up (those headphones, that paint) and gorgeous wide shots. But as we’re letting the images wash over us, a headlight emerges from the light of the fire, then red and blue lights behind it — the cops are here, and Senior is in trouble. It’s a subtle, quick transition, but one done with the grace Leder brings to every shot, every transition, and every scene.
There are a lot of close-ups in this episode — more than in the Season 3 premiere, which she also directed — and I have to imagine that’s because Leder is as transfixed as the rest of us by the character within Glenn’s face. Each line, crease, and flicker tells a story unto itself, and his performance demands we get as close as possible to Senior. Otherwise we risk drifting too far from his conviction and regarding Senior’s passionate quest as silly; a reaction Leder carefully doles out in wide shots. Think back to when he’s flipping through Matt’s gospel, his fingers running quickly through the pages and marking up the book with glaring red ink. We’re close. We’re there with him. We feel his agitation. Then, Leder pulls back wide when Glenn leans back and screams, “Mother fucker!” to the heavens. It’s a beautiful shot, but it’s also kind of funny: this old man shouting at the clouds.
But lest I forget Grace for Leder’s graceful camera, a few final words on Lindsay Duncan. The “About Time” star has now walked into two episodes of “The Leftovers” devoted to other people and left an indelible mark on both. In the last two hours, Nora and Senior got 50 or so minutes to themselves, she got five, and somehow Duncan’s scenes didn’t feel extraneous or any less vital. Last week’s shock factor played a big part in leaving our jaws agape, but this week’s response was more personal. Grace gave Senior purpose while Duncan’s command of the scene drew us into her character just as much, if not more. Her story left us pained like nothing else this season — and that’s saying something given what our long-running regulars have been through.
The first full week in Australia packed a wallop, reminding us: If you haven’t yet, it’s time to start preparing for the end.
“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: Not that funny.
- Senior falling off the roof is a great piece of physical comedy from Scott Glenn, as is how forcefully Senior passed out from taking too many canine painkillers.