After last week’s final seconds — a cliffhanger showing Jill join the GR and Patti kill herself to frame Kevin — all we wanted to do was find out what happens next. But the long seven day wait finally ends and what do we see? Kevin, jogging along listening to Jody Reynolds on his iPod and acting like nothing is wrong… because nothing is wrong! Not yet!
“The Garveys at Their Best” showed exactly that — the family of four before the devastating incidents of October 14. If I was told ahead of time we wouldn’t be finding out in Episode 9 whether or not Kevin hid Patti’s body, I probably would have revolted. As it stands, the flashback episode was perfectly timed to establish an even more gripping season finale next week. Here’s what we learned from seeing “The Garveys at Their Best”:
1) The mystery of Laurie has been solved (mostly).
It didn’t seem like simply knowing Patti before October 14 would be enough to push Laurie to the extreme she’s at in present day Mapleton. Yes, Patti “predicted” the Day of the Departed, but it was more like when a fortune teller uses vague generalities to trick you into believing in her intimate knowledge of your darkest secrets, rather than the real thing. Their interaction actually told us more about Patti than Laurie, setting her up as the homeless person on the street corner who preaches “The End is Coming” only to be randomly, finally proven right. She let her own “instincts” go to her head (read: depression with fatalistic tendencies), and no one could tell her she was crazy, because the mass disappearance couldn’t be explained.
This is how cults begin, and that’s exactly how the GR was born (I’m very worried that something happened to Gladys’ puppies, which was what turned her to the dark side). Patti even eventually followed through on Laurie’s recommendation to shit in a bag and leave it on her ex-husband’s doorstep, in what’s now an odd bonding moment for the former doctor and patient.
So what made Laurie snap? We saw it in her face during the episode’s closing moments as her unborn baby disappeared while still inside her. Stillbirths and miscarriages are impossible to cope with, and those have at least some medical reasoning behind them. This is on another level of loss, and Laurie — who was already unhappy in her marriage and unsettled with her life — has dealt with it in her own way. (I mean, she’s handled it horribly, but who can blame her?)
2) The deer and dogs don’t represent Laurie — they’re Kevin.
Just one week after patting myself on the back for accurately predicting the identity of Gladys’ killer, I was put back in my place by — of all things — a symbolic identity twist. I’ve been saying all along the deer and then dogs represented Laurie. Kevin defended them. He refused to eradicate them. He stubbornly protested their obvious threat to the society at large because of personal feelings he associates with them. During this week’s episode, there were a few moments where I thought the symbolism was getting too heavy-handed (again).
At his dad’s birthday party, Kevin said to Laurie that he wanted to save the deer because it was “confused,” an easy assumption to make about Laurie and the GR. He first said so at the police station, and that was even more on the nose — the Then-Chief gave the order to take it out on sight because it’s “dangerous and unstable,” while the Soon-To-Be Chief said they should just knock it out and take it to the woods (like he did with Patti). It seemed as though Lindelof and co-writer Kath Lingenfelter were foreshadowing the situation we all wanted to see end this week.
That is, until we found out Kevin was unhappy. So unhappy, in fact, he said “fuck you” to his wife, the person he’s been killing himself for and was at one point ready to sacrifice his town to save. It was at that moment, when Laurie told her husband to go save the trapped deer, that things clicked (for me, at least). Kevin is the deer. Laurie may end up being the dogs that kill the deer, but Kevin isn’t trying to save his wife anymore — he’s trying to save himself.
3) Jill, at one point in her life not so long ago, was a very happy kid.
It’s impossible to imagine the pre-October 14 Jill becoming the post-October 14 Jill. We’ve seen it happen, and yet it resonated so strongly this week because of when the flashback episode was released. Just as the youngest Garvey reached her lowest point (her best friend abandoned her — but she didn’t sleep with her dad, so yay! — her mother is gone; her father is with a new woman; she can’t trust her grandpa; Nora is a liar without hope for redemption), we saw her at her highest, most jovial time. Or, at least, she faked it pretty well. She knew something was wrong with her parents, but managed to suppress her concerns until they were specifically called out by Tom. Up to that point, she was a bouncy, kinda bratty teenager who laughed hysterically at rainbow farts and didn’t understand her Grandpa’s favorite music. Oh, and she wore braces. We can’t forget the braces.
Cut to next week, when she’ll likely draped in white, chain smoking with her mom and placing fake corpses in people’s homes to remind them of the worst day of their lives. It was and will be a jarring transition, and a reminder of the exquisite work Damon Lindelof has been doing this season. The “Lost” showrunner’s episode placement and general structuring has been impeccable in “The Leftovers” debut season — the work of a brilliant, evocative and self-aware dramatist. While I have my own quibbles with “Two Boats and a Helicopter” arriving a bit on the heels of Peter Berg’s magnificent entry episodes, that now seems like more of a directorial bungle than one of planning. Lindelof has raised his game considerably since “Lost,” a series that feels bloated upon reflection (even considering the number of episodes he had to produce each year). Now we’ll just have to wait and see if he’s learned how to close.
1) Did October 14th even matter?
While there were plenty of heartbreaking moments in “The Garveys at Their Best,” perhaps the most devastating aspect was how upset everyone was before October 14. Kevin was a lost soul ready to risk his family for a one-night fling. Laurie was a therapist lying to her patients about how she felt. Jill was in denial about her parents’ marriage. Tommy wanted to confront his biological father. All that the Sudden Departure seems to have done is draw all those feelings out to the open. It gave everyone in Mapleton a vent for their frustrations without a cap in sight. It should come as no real surprise, considering “The Leftovers” is one big allegory for grieving, but by seeing how these characters began, the metaphor was made all the more real.
2) What’s Kevin’s problem?
One question kept popping into my mind during the episode’s first 30 minutes: Why did Kevin ever cheat on Laurie? He seemed so happy, so dedicated, so content. He was almost nothing like the disgruntled, jaded, angry man we came to know in the first eight episodes. My mistake was assuming he wasn’t always that man. Only two people knew the real Kevin: Kevin Sr. and Laurie. Both called him out on his bullshit, one to great effect for the viewer, and the latter with the same result for the character.
The discussion between father and son regarding what, exactly, is enough (aka the meaning of life) was when we realized Kevin was full of shit. “It was a beautiful speech,” Kevin Sr. said. “I almost believed you meant it.” With those words, a false reality came crashing down, and when Laurie called him out for smoking, the niceties were forsaken as well. Kevin is a man lost. He may have found his answer in the time between October 14 and whenever the pilot episode took place, but he’s still behaving like the person he was before everything changed. He still needs to find what satisfies him, and I’m not sure he’s even begun looking.
3) Did those people in the car work for “the others”?
Turning from the metaphorical to the conspiratorial, one part stood out as the WTF scene-of-the-week: the exploding sewer line. Namely, the people who showed up before the sewer grate shot toward the heavens, and whether or not they caused it to happen. The car full of creepy strangers asked Kevin “Are you ready?” shortly before the grate exploded. Kevin didn’t know them, but they may not have even been real.
I would argue the group in the car was sent by the same invisible people who consult with Kevin Sr. and who sent the Guy With the Truck to “help” Kevin Jr. They were asking him if he was ready to know what they know. They may have even been asking if he was ready to go up with the other soon-to-be-departed souls and Kevin gave the wrong answer. Either way, they weren’t just passers by. They were there to show Kevin something, and the grate was it — even if he was the only would who could see it.
1) Lou is going to take the Chief’s job.
Lou is an asshole. This much has been made clear as, over the first nine episodes, we’ve watched him give Reverend Matt a hard time after he was beaten up at church (Ep 3), go over the Chief’s head to the FBI regarding the GR (Ep 5), and generally give Kevin a hard time for no good reason (Eps 3, 5, 7, 9). This week, we may have seen why. Only two men spoke up during Chief Sr.’s briefing: Kevin and Lou. They didn’t get along, and I’m guessing Lou is next in line for the Chief’s seat when Kevin Jr. undoubtedly gets canned (one way or another, he’s leaving office). We need a new, much-hated antagonist now that Patti’s kicked it, and Lou might just be it.
2) Tommy will return to Mapleton, but Jill will save Laurie.
Laurie’s loss is unquantifiable. Her grieving period may never end, but if her life is going to be saved (which isn’t guaranteed), it will be her existing children who do it. Her relationship with Kevin is forever fractured. It may not have survived even without the events of October 14 (as Jill predicted to Tommy), so Kevin won’t be the one to bring her back from a life of martyrdom. Jill and Tommy, though? They could do it.
Seeing Tommy and Jill spend such joyful time together in “The Garveys at Their Best” illustrated the fracturing in the family. Before, it was easy to picture the two as somewhat distant step-brother and sister, perhaps acquaintances separated by age. That is not the case. They love each other, deeply, and Tommy appeared to be an ideal big brother for her. Laurie needs to see this again. No parent wants their children to be worse off than they are, or even as poorly off. They want better lives for their kids (or they should if they’re halfway decent), and I think Laurie still does, as well. If she can identify with hope for their lives then she may be able to find it within herself.
3) The Chief will not confess to kidnapping Patti, but Laurie will find out what happened.
One of the moments I won’t soon forget in “The Garveys at Their Best” was when Laurie called Kevin out for not telling her things. This led to a fight and possibly the end of their marriage, but I don’t think that’s going to be the end of these issues. The two are lining up to be on opposite sides of a very serious issue: Patti’s death. Laurie will most likely defend her cult leader, not believing Kevin when he tries to tell her the truth about Gladys and what happened in the woods — that is, if he tells her. He may lie to her, as he has before, but even if he doesn’t the ex-husband has a track record of deceit. That’s enough for Laurie to distrust him no matter what he tells her, and it could end up costing Kevin his freedom.