When The Leftovers premiered back in 2014, it was unclear if it was going to be a work of purely speculative fiction in which a mundane world experiences a single inexplicable event, or a magical realist series more on par with Damon Lindelof’s earlier creation, Lost. And though there were some surreal elements sprinkled throughout the first two seasons hinting at the latter, it wasn’t until “International Assassin” that it became clear the writers were intent on heading in a supremely supernatural direction.
Since that episode, the otherworldly elements have only grown in prominence, building a mythology that adds myriad layers to an already-thematically-rich world.
So it only makes sense that in “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)”—which serves as both a sequel to that aforementioned episode as well as the penultimate installment of the series as a whole—we would return to the dreamlike afterlife that first marked the show’s swerve into the mystic.
The episode, as per usual, picks up where last week’s left off: Kevin (Justin Theroux) is ready to kill himself in order to return to the strange other world he apparently has unlimited access to in order to learn a song from a dead Australian aboriginal tribal elder and prevent a great flood that will end the world, at the request of his potentially psychotic father. Naturally.
But, before we get to the main action, we’re shown a flashback to a time when Kevin and Nora (Carrie Coon) were happy together, which I believe is important for two reasons. First, it reinforces the idea that one of the more important throughlines of the show is the relationship between these two damaged people, however rocky it may be. And second, it reveals facets of Kevin Garvey that we haven’t seen for a long time: kindness, jollity, and a distinct aura of actually wanting to be alive. It reminds us that there are inherent contradictions in the very nature of our central protagonist.
And the subtext of those contradictions is made text when Kevin reenters the other world…and meets his identical twin.
Apparently, in the underworld, looking at reflective surfaces causes one to turn into their own reflection. It’s a little on the nose perhaps, but as a concept it’s utilized to great effect here to show the two sides of Kevin Garvey as distinct individuals.
When Kevin is drowned by his father and friends, he washes up on a beach in his usual “international assassin” persona, about to be accosted by a stranger but rescued by his old buddy Dean (Michael Gaston). He is taken back to some kind of island base and given a new mission: kill the President of the United States.
Kevin’s handler, who turns out to be David Burton aka God (Bill Camp), explains that the Commander in Chief intends on launching a nuke which will trigger a catastrophic war that will destroy the world. And as it happens, the man with his finger on the button is also Kevin. These two Garvey’s end up duking it out with the help of the Secretary of Defense and Vice President, played by Patti (Ann Dowd) and Meg (Liv Tyler) respectively, until the sacrifice himself to allow the world to be destroyed.
The metaphors here are awfully potent, and the idea of splitting Kevin in two is especially inspired. From the beginning of the series he’s seemed like a paradox of a man: he was a chief of police who spent his time drinking, taking drugs, and disobeying authority; he desperately wanted to be a hero yet couldn’t care less about the problems people in his life were facing; and ultimately he ended up being a Christlike figure who was suicidally depressed.
As follows, the two Kevins in this episode reflect those disparate parts. Assassin Kevin is the apathetic man who distrusts authority and wants to see those he despises brought to violent ends, while President Kevin is the authoritative chief who wants to save the world. And in the end, both of them ignore their advisors and come to the conclusion that they need to work together in order to destroy the world so that it might be saved. And through this, the less noble Kevin is given a hero’s end while the put-upon leader has his burden lifted.
And both of them realize they should never have taken Nora for granted.
By the end of the episode, Kevin appears to have made peace with himself, the storm has cleared, and Garveys Jr. and Sr. are sitting together on a rooftop in Australia, wondering what comes next.
As are we…
Will Kevin try to somehow put a stop to Nora’s suicide mission and make his love for her known? Will the true apocalypse actually take place? Will these people all continue to live their deeply troubled lives one day at a time? Will the mad geniuses behind this show somehow make all three options possible?
For now, God only knows.
- Laurie did not appear as one of the denizens of the other world, and that’s probably for the best.
- Being told Evie is dead and in the other world is probably all the closure John and Michael will get—I can’t imagine those characters getting much focus in the finale, though I’ll be pleasantly surprised if they do.
- More great music cues, with special mention going to “God Only Knows.” It’s an overused song and yet…somehow it really worked.
- I am hyped beyond belief to see how this all ends.