Tea & Review: The Leftovers – The Book of Kevin

“You’re home.”

These are the words that close out the second season of HBO’s The Leftovers, spoken by Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) to her partner Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) when he returns to his half-makeshift family after coming back from the dead in a town about to succumb to the chaos engendered by the Guilty Remnant.

Both seasons of The Leftovers thus far, but especially Season Two, have been at least partially about how great tragedies turn disparate groups of people into families, and how the idea of home hinges around those families.

Obviously, this isn’t a profoundly new idea; its novelty and beauty is in its context. The characters on this show exist in a world torn apart by inexplicable loss—loss that we in the real world may not be able to fathom—and have managed to find love and companionship despite this.

But is it sustainable?

Season Three picks up—after a brief prologue—right where last season left off. Evie Murphy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), Meg Abbott (Liv Tyler), and the rest of the radical GR members camped outside Jarden, Texas, are waiting for what comes next. Evie has abandoned her family for what she believes is a righteous cause. She wants to enact whatever grand plan will wake the townsfolk up and make them accept the end of the world. And then the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Cults drops a UAV on their encampment, killing Evie, Meg and the rest of their companions…probably.

Three years later, everyone seems to have moved on. Kevin is now the chief of police of Jarden, with Tommy (Chris Zylka) as his deputy. Jill (Margaret Qualley) is making her way through young adulthood and college. Matt (Christopher Eccleston) is expanding his influence in Miracle and mentoring Michael (Jovan Adepo), while Mary (Janel Moloney) and Nora help raise his son Noah. John (Kevin Carroll) and Laurie (Amy Brenneman) have gotten married and are now running Isaac’s fortune telling business. Life goes on.

But something’s off, and there are more than a few red flags.

Erika is gone, though that’s perhaps unsurprising considering her daughter abandoned her and was killed shortly thereafter. Mary feels suffocated under Matt’s control and plans on leaving him. Kevin is still at least a little depressed and appears to be killing himself through asphyxiation each morning. And perhaps most distressingly, Lily, Kevin and Nora’s adopted daughter, is nowhere to be seen. Her lack of presence is apparently something Nora doesn’t want to talk about.

So was the emotional payoff of Season Two all for naught? Or are these all merely bumps on the road to closure?

Well, by now we should know not to expect much closure from The Leftovers.

These characters all have their own motivations and neuroses, which of course don’t always align with one another. Kevin’s regular trips to the afterlife are at odds with his position as the most resistant-to-weirdness character on the show. Nora’s unique relationship to loss has isolated her from her friends and family. Matt’s near-blind faith continues to chafe against just about everyone else’s rationality. The community may act as a nice salve, but it will never be a cure-all for what these people have gone through.

The episode ends, after establishing that the titular “Book of Kevin” is a gospel being written by Matt about everyone’s favorite Christ analogue, with what appears to be a flash-forward. We move from Jarden to the Australian countryside, where a grey-haired woman is keeping doves. After finding notes attached to the legs of some returning birds, she bikes over to a church, where a nun asks her if she knows anyone named Kevin. With pained resignation, Nora responds, “No.”

This ending poses many questions, both narrative and thematic, but one, in particular, reflects the series as a whole: How fractured can families become? Will the events taking place in the following seven episodes continue to drive wedges between our central characters? Or are they already doomed, set on their paths since before the Sudden Departure, with the supernatural only giving them the occasional nudge in the wrong direction?

The Leftovers has always been both hopeful and devastating, serving as a magnification of one of the great dichotomies that rules our lives: pain vs. joy. This fact is clear both in the way it treats its characters and the way it makes its audience feel. We marvel at the scope of the world and the mythology, watch in awe as beautiful visuals and an impeccable score stir our emotions. We laugh with the characters and cry when the suffer. We want them to find a home, and we loathe to think that if it isn’t where the heart is, it may not be anywhere at all.

The best we can hope for is that the individuals occupying this narrative are steered in a direction which showcases the breadth of their humanity in new and exciting ways. And judging by this premiere, we’re in for one hell of a ride.

Additional Notes:

  • The interlude with Dean from Season One was hilarious, disturbing, and a little sad. Did he attempt to assassinate Kevin because he thought he was a dog in disguise, or because his only ally in the world had turned on him?
  • I was worried for a minute that Kevin trying to keep his resurrecting abilities a secret or others being skeptical about them would become a plot point. My fears were assuaged when he was confronted by John, Matt, and Michael in the church.
  • The opening scene didn’t blow me away as much as last season’s, but it certainly tied more neatly into the narrative.
  • I’m curious as to whether John’s belief that Evie is still alive is just a tragically ironic inversion of last season’s disappearance, or if it is indeed foreshadowing something.

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