The Leftovers: Season 3 Episode 1 review – The Book of Kevin
This review contains spoilers.
With its usual poetic intellect and lofty awe, The Leftovers graces our screens once more, for one final swan song, which Damon Lindelof and company hope will cement the show as one of HBO’s greatest achievements. HBO granting this genius show (and I don’t use that word lightly) a third and final season allowed its fans (myself included) to breath a collective sigh of relief.
Although we don’t expect answers to such things as where the departed went (Lindelof said he would never answer that), we all know that we’re in for a season of sublime emotion, beautiful mystery and intense wonder. Australia has always been treated as the fabled source of the show’s mysteries and this season Kevin will finally arrive there, which no doubt will allow for a host of superb content.
Given that we had long been told about the Garveys’ move down under, you would be forgiven for having thought that the premiere might open in Australia. Instead, we open almost wholly in Jarden, Texas (Miracle; the town from last season), but not before a traditionally cryptic flashback.
Season 2 opened with a flashback deep into mankind’s past, depicting primitive man sleeping in a cave for warmth and one woman’s coincidental survival. This year, we’re taken back to 1844, in an even more baffling set-up. We see a family of three, who live in a colony of settlers. These settlers dress in white and stand on rooftops each night, seemingly hoping for some great miracle to occur.
The mother of the family is then shunned, to her surprise, and chooses to stand on the rooftop alone one night, amidst a storm. The following morning she goes to lay down – perhaps to die – amidst other bodies who are also dressed in white. It’s the kind of insane opener that both speaks heavily towards the show’s themes (confusion over apparent deific events, waiting for miracles, becoming an outcast, choosing your own death), but one which at the same time feels so far removed from the plot that it seems almost redundant.
It should be remembered that Season 2’s opener was never really revisited or answered; it seemed only there to highlight that mankind has always faced mass death or survival at the hands of chance alone, and to highlight that strange events have always happened close to Miracle’s spring. I’m guessing that this 1844 settlement was based in Australia, which was colonised in 1788.
This would allow it to bear some relevance on events later on in the season, even if it is just another nod to the importance of a particular location in the Australia outback perhaps. I would like to also think that the white signifies that this is some early version of The Guilty Remnant (in my theories for how Season 3 might end, I speculated that we might find out more about the origin of the GR this season), but Matt’s congregation also wore white this week, so I don’t think too much can be pinned on that colour of garb.
After this baffling conundrum came some definitive answers. We are told (and shown) that the GR were blown up by a drone after their assault on Jarden. Although if you believe John – who is now undertaking readings precisely like Isaac was (only Isaacs were perhaps real, whereas John and Laurie are pulling a con) – then you would be of the persuasion that they didn’t die.
It does seem a very strange move to remove the GR entirely, given that the GR have always remained a solid foundation of the show. It seems the writers want us to believe they have been “vaporised” for now, but I’m betting heavily on them making a late season re-appearance, in some form. And don’t forget that if they are in fact dead then they could always appear in the after life, to Kevin, rather than in the world of the living.
The above was one of many bold surprises that the writers threw at us this week. Some even came across so bold that they seemed untypical of how we expect our characters to act. These included John and Laurie now being a couple, Mary leaving Matt, Erika and Lily having left, and most bizarrely, Dean returning with a theory about canines masquerading as humans.
That final conspiracy theory isn’t something I ever thought the show would present. Season 1 used the dogs as an allegory for mankind descending into animalistic brutality and as a plot device for Kevin’s sleepwalking mishaps. So to have it presented here – even if only in one episode (as Dean is now dead, thanks to Tom) – as an all-out lizard people-esque conspiracy theory seems strange. Dean even tested whether Kevin was one of the canine imposters, by blowing a dog whistle.
I don’t think the writers will ever have Dean’s theory come true, but I do think it is a strange thing to spend so much screen time on, if you’re not going to have it tie in somewhere, and it worries me how exactly the writers are going to do so later on. I’m hoping it was only present in order to exhibit what the extreme end of delusion looks like (which afforded Laurie and Kevin that interchange about what to say to people like that).
Which brings me to another potentially worrying point; Kevin seems to now (at least, when he talks about it with others) think that everything he experienced in the after life wasn’t real. In this episode he spoke about a variety of his experiences as being nothing but “in his head.” If this is the case, then this would be a very regressive move on the writers’ part. Kevin also told Tom that he killed people though – referring directly to his afterlife assassin escapades – so he might well be holding his true beliefs about his experiences to himself.
What’s certain is that Kevin is still undertaking suicidal actions. This is different to Season 2’s suicide attempts, however, which were undertaken when he didn’t know about the afterlife rulebook. This week he asphyxiated himself and he also leaped without pause into a potentially contaminated spring (the very same, special spring from Season 2 that he plunged into before). When asked how he knew it wasn’t poised, Kevin simply said “I just knew”, but I think the truth is that he simply no longer has any concern about whether he lives or dies – not because he wishes to die, like in Season 2, but because he knows he can easily come back.
This begs the question of whether Kevin is actively killing himself, while alone (such as with the plastic bag), then returning from the afterlife. If he is doing this then that means he has become highly adept at being able to return – to the point where he has no fear at all about being stuck in the hotel (if the afterlife is always represented as a hotel).
It makes me think of the man mentioned by the publisher in Season 2. This publisher states:
“This wing nut in Australia said he went to the other side and cannot die.”
This was referring to a man who wrote a book about his ability to return from the afterlife. This implies that the man in question has managed to master the ability to return. This is what I always thought would be an endgame achievement for Kevin – I thought he would reach this level of ability eventually, but never this soon. So if the writers have already got Kevin to that stage now, in the premiere, then that’s great and I can’t wait to see how they elevate that from hereon in.
Kevin’s apparent adept ability also plays into his being seen as a deific figure. This week it was revealed that Matt is writing a book (gospel) about Kevin, with the support of Michael and John. An enraged Kevin says: “I’m not f*cking Jesus,” prompting Matt to answer: “I’m not saying you are, but the beard looks good on you.” It’s a superb and logical step for the show to deify Kevin in this manner and it’s a move that I never saw coming. Suddenly, the beard makes perfect sense, and the scene in which Kevin is wearing a crown (highlighted by Jill) shouldn’t go unnoticed either.
Lastly, there was the flashforward at the end of the episode, which showed an elderly Nora (going by the name “Sarah”) bringing doves to a Nun. When asked if she knows Kevin, Nora declines. This tells us not only that the world doesn’t in fact end (no doubt Kevin Junior and/or Senior save it), but that Kevin perhaps didn’t make it out alive. Not only are flashforwards a true LOST staple, but killing off the leading man is too. So, just like Jack Shephard, Kevin might not make it out of this alive.
This opener hurled a lot of changes and surprises our way, some of which it will take some time to get used to. It should be remembered that the crux of this season is and will be Australia, however, with the Garveys moving there in Episode 4 (but us seeing Kevin Sr content before then, in Episode 3). So all of this Jarden content is simply warming us up for what I have no doubt with be some truly heady and lofty experiences down under.
The show is already plugging hallucinations (Matt’s story about cow brains), so I’m expecting some mind-rupturing, Carlos Castenda-style undertakings later on this season. All of which might lead to some crucial answers, which – if this episode is anything to go by – will be surprising and unexpected.
This episode was inferior to the Season 2 premiere, in my view, but it was a robust opener nonetheless. The opening flashback and closing flashforward could have been stronger, but the Jarden content in between was bold, satisfying and wonderfully true to the show’s style and approach to mystery. The best show on TV (and a contender for best show ever) is back; so let’s relish in the beauty of what’s to come. Stick with us every week and you’ll always find extensive and detailed post-episode analysis.
Image credits: HBO