The Leftovers, Season 1, Episode 9, “The Garveys at Their Best”
Written by Kath Lingenfelter & Damon Lindelof
Directed by Daniel Sackheim
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on HBO
Well, that was a neat trick.
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Not the final reveal, no, that is something that (I hope) will become almost beside the point. But what I’m really talking about is the episode itself. That is something that I did not expect the show to pull off so well this late in the game.
Nine episodes after the fact, we are now getting who Tommy is and what he means to Kevin. We get what Jill has lost. And we see where Kevin’s head has been at, and where it might go, all in an absorbing, if necessarily stuffed hour. This flashback to flesh everyone out is absolutely invaluable as we head into the finale and the second season. It is also pivotal in continuing to explore Kevin’s hero’s journey, which has been smartly pushed to the forefront in the previous two episodes, and looks to be the definitive crux of a finally focused series.
This episode is really like discovering a whole new secret show within the show, and it finally feels more like a Tom Perrotta/suburban angst work. There are even heavy shades of Revolutionary Road as we see a husband who has everything, and yet can’t seem to be happy, along with a wife who is pregnant but may not want another baby. “I love you”s live side by side with “fuck you”s as the couple navigates their place in the world and with each other, and we suddenly see everything the Garveys (and to a lesser degree, the Jamison-Dursts) have been going through in stark light.
It’s great to see that Kevin’s “I cheated” revelation is really more like “I was unhappy and confused,” as we see his tryst had almost nothing to do with love or lust. That he and Laurie had their own problems. With this situation laid out, and with Kevin’s conversation with his father where he gets some pretty tough advice, we can finally see the matters that he has been wrestling with all along, and begin to really get behind him in his quest to get his life back together, and perhaps find solace.
Not that it’s all about Kevin. In my last review, I said that we would soon need Laurie’s version of her reason for joining the GR. (Kevin’s was that he cheated, Patti’s was that she needed purpose.) There is some initial shock and dismay on my end that it ended up being so concrete, but really, a departed fetus is as good an impetus as any to hook up with Patti, who we now know is beyond extreme. In other words, we needed a really intense reason like this on Laurie’s end to believably push her to that limit.
Also, even though it disappearing raises messy questions of personhood in the abortion debate, the fact that Laurie was thinking of aborting it and that it’s something only she knows about is good drama, and doesn’t re-write history too much to be distracting. This is something Laurie lives with and processes alone, and there is hope that it won’t be treated in too trite a manner. Or too easy as, “I lost my baby, so I joined a cult.” Patti being Laurie’s patient, having an already intimate connection, helps in that regard.
Speaking of connections, there is a huge Lost feeling to this episode, as it seems that everything intersected and collided with each other that possibly could before the Departure. There were times the cute little callbacks were too much, but unlike Lost, there is wiggle room for it not to need too much meaning, or have it be accounted for later. This is one small town’s story—and really the story of two families—the Garveys and the Jamison-Dursts. The fact that there are coincidences, and a lot of events occurred close together can be waved away as television magic, for now. (Even if I could’ve done without Gladys the dog groomer.)
So, only this lingering question remains: could we have had all these things earlier and moved on further by this point? Let’s say, if this was episode 3? Probably. But there is something to be said for style and finding meaning from an atypical chronology. Plus, the show really has been making strides in the last few episodes. Patti’s suicide, Jill’s joining of the GR, Kevin’s madness and relationship with Nora–none of it has been impeded by the fact that we didn’t know the whole story. Now that we do, I just hope it is acknowledged as much as possible, and even more dots are connected, because it is material that works.