Dream logic. To watch The Leftovers, you need a strong tolerance of dream logic, of letting yourself surrender to the idea that you may not know what’s going on the entire time. It’s nonsensical but deep with meaning at the same time. The hitch of dream logic is that it’s logic that makes perfect sense until you wake up.
There lies the problem of dream logic in fiction — you never wake up. The story just curves when you think it will straighten out or it simply just ends. When entire shows like Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Lost and now The Leftovers operate on dream logic, it often demands more of its audience. This episode, “A Most Powerful Adversary,” is no exception, but I can’t think of a better example that plays with meta-dream logic so interestingly.
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Think about it — the episode presents two possible scenarios about Kevin Garvey. One, per a talk with Laurie, is that Kevin is actually mentally ill, suffering from psychosis. The whole world fell apart after the 14th and made people susceptible to false belief. In Kevin, it presents a reality in which the dead Patti Levin is talking to him. This is the straightforward explanation as to why Kevin is seeing and hearing someone — he’s insane. It’s the most logical theory.
But dream logic — the second scenario — is far more mystical. It’s faith-based. In this case, Patti is not a figment of Kevin’s imagination, but rather a sign from somewhere requiring Kevin to complete something. As Kevin Sr. said, the voices went away when he just did what they asked. Everything makes sense until you wake up.
Or, as dear old Dumbledore would say, “Of course it is happening in your head, Harry; but why on earth should that mean it is not real?” I’m inclined to believe that The Leftovers has taken the Harry Potter approach to the sanity of Kevin Garvey, giving equal balance of ideas to both sides. And that’s what makes this episode so fascinating to unravel.
Tattoos and Symbolism
Kevin awakes, alone and handcuffed to the bed with Nora, baby Lily and Mary missing. Not a big surprise there. When you admit to your girlfriend that you are seeing other people (and by that, I mean seeing that woman you almost killed who’s now dead), on top of Nora’s terrible day, it’s understandable she would split. Kevin calls Jill to grab the cutters, but she scolds him for driving another wife away.
Cue the hilarious image of Kevin’s wrist tattoo of a pair of scissors above his handcuff (half of which is still on his wrist). Kevin tries to get it off with a locksmith, but the locksmith is suspicious and offended by Kevin’s crazy behavior. However, it’s Michael — Jill’s boyfriend and Miracle’s resident pious believer — who offers him help by taking him to Virgil, his grandfather and the man who lives in the woods.
Virgil explains that Kevin came to him his first night in town to ask how to get Patti out of his system, and Virgil calmly (though frighteningly) told Kevin to end it — for a little bit — to fight his demons. That’s when Kevin grabbed rope and a cinder block to go to the nearest lake on the night in question so he could fight his “adversary.” Only, the earthquake beforehand may have saved his life or prevented him from “doing battle.”
Kevin senses that there is way more to the story, and Virgil admits that he used to hurt John (it’s strongly implied that he sexually abused John as a child) and that John shot him in the heart, chest and nether regions where he was reborn. He was freed. Now Virgil wants to free Kevin by killing him. Temporarily.
Kevin, however, is not accepting this dream logic just yet and gets the f**k out of there as fast as he can so he can scream at Patti in the woods. He demands to see her and she appears to him where Kevin accused her of lying to him, as she said he was with her the whole night when he wasn’t. Patti pokes holes in Virgil’s magical negro trope (which is The Leftovers acknowledging its own half-baked trope) and then smacks Kevin. Patti’s ready to battle it out with Kevin, suggesting they go and die together, but Kevin rejects that idea as he has responsibilities to Jill. Patti says Jill would be better off without him. Burn!
Before these two can battle it out (in either the physical or spirit world), Kevin gets a call from the Park saying his wife is at the gates asking for him. Nora, he assumes? Nope. It’s Laurie, worried about Tom. Kevin drops by the park to chat with her and it’s the first time they’ve had a conversation since they were married, excluding that time Laurie almost got Jill killed. Both are very fragile at the moment; Kevin’s worried that he’s insane, Laurie’s worried about Tom’s whereabouts and they both know each other well enough to know that the other is unhinged. Laurie leaves for her motel as Kevin begs for her not to leave, mid-conversation.
As a last resort, Kevin then heads out to the Fire Company in search of John, who may be able to get those damn handcuffs off of him. Instead, he’s asked to provide a palm print for John’s search of the handprint on his daughter’s missing car, which Kevin nervously supplies. As Patti says, “You went there to get free and you got caught.” Hmmm.
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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
With Nora dodging his calls and pressure from Jill to fix his family, Kevin seeks refuge and advice from his ex-wife, Laurie. It sounds like he comes clean to her about everything as they bond over a marriage lost and cigarettes. Laurie believes that Kevin is ill, just like his father was ill before him. She says she has proof: because Patti won’t show up around Laurie. Patti can’t be real because Laurie could ask Patti to answer something only she and Laurie would know and Kevin would be unable to answer. “What you are seeing is not real,” she says. And you wanna know why?
It comes down to belief. After the 14th, the whole world needed to feel better. People became susceptible to false belief — anything that could help them process the unimaginable. She joined a cult. She and Tommy now convince people they can take people’s pain away with a hug. And Kevin’s suffering a psychotic break because he needs someone to “turn it off.” Laurie recommends medication and an institutional stay, but Kevin asks if she ever changed her name from Garvey.
And with that, Laurie now has entrance to Jarden “Miracle,” Texas, population 9,261 (plus the Garveys and Jamisons and Durst). She’s hesitant to enter their new home, but she does right when Nora calls him back. Taking the call upstairs, Kevin and Nora chat about their future. Kevin asks if Nora can believe him (there’s that word again) when he tells her he can get rid of Patti from his brain, and Nora tearfully says she can. So Kevin takes off, running to his car to get that certainty, just as Jill Garvey arrives home to see the mother who abandoned her in her house.
But this is a Kevin episode, so we shall focus on Kevin. Kevin heads up to the trailer in the woods to meet with Virgil, eyeing a tearful Michael leave the house with a troubled look on his face. Virgil, however, is nearly cheery as he invites Kevin in to kill himself. Offering him a glass of poison and an antidote, Virgil encourages him to fight his demons.
Until Patti shows up. It seems like Patti really doesn’t want Garvey to kill himself and remove her of him after all, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think she really just enjoys torturing Garvey, who thinks he has it all figured out when he downs the poison, waiting for Virgil to cure him. Virgil never does. Instead, he takes a bullet to the mouth as Kevin dies on the floor, when Michael walks in to drag Kevin’s body out.
Again, it’s that dream logic, isn’t it? The Leftovers is gleefully playing with that in this episode, daring you to pick a side. It seems like “logic” just wins out, but there’s always something deep under the surface with Damon Lindelof TV shows.
- Was there any explanation of Kevin’s tattoos ever?
- The downside to heavy POV episodes is that it’s difficult to check in with some characters emotionally. This is the most we’ve seen of Jill this season when she hasn’t been supportive or in good spirits.
- The irony of John collecting handprints after beating up (and burning the house down of) the guy who read palm prints just hit me during this episode.
- I appreciate the Pixies as much as the next gal, but can we just stick to only the piano arrangement from now on? It’s beautiful.
The Leftovers airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.
(Image courtesy of HBO)