There’s a passage from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game that comes to mind almost immediately during this episode of The Leftovers, “International Assassin.” It goes like this: “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them … I destroy them.” This is the perfect passage to describe the ballad of Kevin Garvey and Patti Levin.

It’s inevitable that they would have a showdown. Kevin’s quest in Limbo relies on him finding and killing Patti Levin. No matter the ridiculous dream logic conceits — that it’s set at a hotel or that Kevin’s wallet only has Euros or that the “world” believes Kevin to be an assassin after Senator Patti Levin of the Guilty Remnant platform — it’s really down to both of them.

The Leftovers Recap: Is Kevin Losing His Mind or Talking to a Dead Woman? >>> “International Assassin” is the perfect goodbye to Patti Levin and the very strange relationship Kevin Garvey had to her. It takes seeing her in Limbo with her foul, cruel ex-husband Neil for him to feel sorry for her, to understand her beyond Patti Levin, destroyer of families. 

What’s fascinating about this episode, though, is that there are so many ways to read it because there are so many small, surreal details. The bird who’s stuck in the hotel is awfully similar to the one Erika buried in the ground; the foreign nurse on her own journey; the fire alarms being caused by a white noise transmission from Kevin’s dad; seeing Holy Wayne on the toilet (again); spraying Kevin’s eyes with something (Windex?) when he lies; the wardrobe choices. But that’s what makes for such a fascinating, surreal episode of The Leftovers.

The Pilgrimage

Kevin “wakes up” in a bath tub in a hotel, naked, soaking wet. He’s disoriented, but he’s not questioning things. He’s going with it. It’s the epitome of dream logic.

Kevin chooses a simple white shirt and suit (no tie) to get dressed in (from a wardrobe of his Mapleton police uniform and a priest outfit) before hearing a knock at the door. Guess who? A flower delivery man/hired killer. The two of them wrestle in the hotel room before Kevin kills the dude. He heads downstairs, seeing a little girl uncomfortably close to the pool, before seeing Virgil, working as a concierge. Then Kevin sees that the little girl is drowning in the water and he rushes to go save her, pulling her out of the water and performing CPR. Her father, a deplorable scumbag, shows up to scold her for not drowning (basically). 

Virgil and Kevin talk in a parking garage, where Virgil gives Kevin strict instructions to kill Senator Patti Levin before she becomes President of the United States. Kevin, you see, is an international assassin (hence the episode’s title) whose target is Patti, leader of the Guilty Remnant. The gun’s in the toilet, don’t drink the water (as it makes you forget) and wait in your room until it’s time to leave.

It’s such a crazy proposal, but Kevin’s motto in this episode is to roll with it, so that’s what he’s doing. Sure, he keep shearing white noise from the TV and the fire alarm keeps going off, but he’s rolling with it, even when men in white suits grab him in the elevator and take him in for “questioning” by none other than Gladys. Remember her? The woman Patti had stoned to death to make a point? Well, in this reality, Gladys is her number two (still) and she’s there to administer a lie detector test.

This should go over nicely. When Kevin lies, he gets a spray full of Windex to the eyes. The questions are routine: what’s your name and why are you here (Kevin’s cover: Kevin Harvey is there to meet Patti for a $50,000 donation) read normal. Why do you smoke? Kevin claims it’s a nicotine addiction but then, caught in the act, admits that it’s a reminder that the world ended. Just like the Guilty Remnant. Hmmm. 

But no big deal — Kevin’s answer seems to please Gladys, who offers him water. He declines and returns to his hotel room where the white noise from the TV acts up again. It’s actually a transmission from dear old Kevin Garvey, Sr., on a bunch of drugs in Perth, Australia, there to tell Kevin to take her to the well. And push her in. It turns out his dad sent the flowers, but no word on why the guy tried to kill Kevin. With mutual declarations of love, Kevin’s ready to go kill Patti.

He’s given a pretty hilarious spiel about what not to bring up to Patti — guns, abortion, her ex-husband Neil — and tries to sneak away to the bathroom to grab the gun when he encounters Holy Wayne, already on the toilet. Remember the last time he saw Wayne on the toilet? When he saw him die. There’s an unmistakable sense of deja vu. 

Finally, Patti comes out for the meeting, dressed in a snazzy all-white power suit and some cool glasses. She’s confident and teasing — no, egging him on — about their inevitable showdown, with mentions to a “cave collapsing” and how assassins are motivated by belief, how they “stick to you.” Patti asks Kevin what he thinks she’s all about. His response? She destroys families.

It’s an interesting insight into Kevin’s mind. To him, that’s what Patti does — her domestic terrorism by cutting out the Departed’s photos in Mapleton and ruining his own family with Nora and Jill and baby Lily. But while I’m left stewing on that, Kevin’s busy killing Gladys and Holy Wayne and finally Patti, who claims to be a look-alike decoy Patti. He shoots her in the face, killing her, and waiting for himself to “move on” or return to Earth. 

It never happens because that was not Patti. You know who Patti is? The little girl Kevin saved in the water. The scumbag father figure? Patti’s awful, abusive ex-husband Neil. Once Kevin figures this out, he strangles Neil and grabs Patti to leave for the well. They ask Virgil for directions and insights, but Virgil “drank the Kool-Aid” or water and no longer remembers why he’s there to atone. He was very thirsty, after all. Still, he hands them a pamphlet and together the two head to Jarden, Texas.

The campground looks different — abandoned, burnt out. As they cross the bridge, a man reaches into the car and grabs Kevin by the throat, attaching his neck to a noose. He says to choose: jump off the bridge now or face the consequences of pushing Patti down the well. Kevin chooses the latter and the mysterious man whispers something unknown into Kevin’s ear. Patti asks what and Kevin replies that it’s private and not about her. Together, they walk hand in hand into the woods to find the well (with Kevin even carrying Patti).

This final scene at the well is heartbreaking because it’s a difficult decision. Boy, do these two want to be separated from one another, but they understand each other better than maybe anyone. Patti believes she deserves to be in the well because of all the terrible things Neil called her, but Kevin insists that’s not true. Unable to push off the inevitable anymore (get it?), Kevin pushes her (a child) into the well. Patti (the one we recognize as an adult) calls Kevin for help as she can’t go through it with completely and he jumps down to see her.

Then she tells him by far the most surreal (and real) story of the whole thing. Patti was a Jeopardy champion for a while. She figured that if she could win $50,000, she could leave Neil for good. In that competition, she learned the power of silence and won four days in a row with more money than she bargained for, but she couldn’t leave him. And now she’s scared to leave Kevin, even though she wants to be rid of him too. In a tender moment, Kevin reaches out to hug Patti before pushing her face forward into the water. She fights him off a bit as he cries, but it’s over. The earth begins to quake, he climbs out of the hole and into…

The earth, covered in dust. It’s nighttime and Kevin is confronted with Michael, who says, “Holy shit.” Holy shit, indeed. It’s a strange, wonderful pilgrimage that will take a lot of time to unpack. Until the next episode.

Other Thoughts

  • This is the path Kevin has chosen — to rid himself of Patti, who’s hitched herself on him in the physical world — but there are many paths unchosen. We see men in Kevin’s other uniforms in other situations, so perhaps it is possible that there are other Kevins walking around and suffering in Limbo still. 
  • I love that The Leftovers is still so ambiguous. Is Kevin just tripping on those drugs or did he go to Limbo? 
  • So there is a delivery for Mary Jamison in this episode. What does that mean?
  • What do you think Jeopardy will think about Patti winning? 
  • I have no idea if there will be a season 3 of this show — the ratings are dismal, but sometimes HBO doesn’t care about the ratings — but I really need to see where this show ends up, you know? 

The Leftovers airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.

(Image courtesy of HBO)

Emily E. Steck

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV