Justin Theroux has a unique gift: When Kevin Garvey is completely clueless about what is real or imagined, the actor can transform his face into one of boyish befuddlement, as if his brain is about 12 seconds slower than his eyes. It’s a look of WTF-edness that pops up in almost every episode of The Leftovers, but in “International Assassin,” he aims it right into the camera as Kevin stares at himself in the hotel bathroom mirror.
It may as well be our faces now. Because The Leftovers just got real.
Yes, 140 million people inexplicably disappeared in an instant on Oct. 14. Yes, Kevin’s been haunted by Patti Levin, the sneering leader of the Guilty Remnant cult who died in his arms. And yes, we’ve encountered our fair share of dog killers, renegade deer, and false(?) prophets over two seasons. The Leftovers has taken great care (and delight) to perpetuate enormous ambiguities about the show’s reality, but when Kevin spilled out of the bathtub like a newborn one week after he imbibed lethal poison and his supposed spirit-guide, Virgil, blew out the back of his brain with a bullet, the show pulled us to the other side.
“Know who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.”
That’s from the Greek philosopher Epictetus, and after Kevin’s rebirth, his hotel wardrobe offers him four options: a rabbinical or clerical vest of some sort, a white GR uniform, a stylish suit, or his Mapleton PD jacket. He opts for the sleek James Bond number, and wearing it seems to determine his path: A hotel employee almost immediately knocks to deliver flowers to a Mr. Harvey, and before Kevin can tip him with the stash of Euros he digs out of his pocket, the bellhop pulls a knife and attacks.
Suddenly, it’s a Bourne film, and the two men bounce each other off the walls until Kevin slams the man’s head into the bathroom counter and renders him dead. But this isn’t the “most powerful adversary” Kevin was sent to confront.
Cue Verdi’s “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” from Nabucco, the episode’s recurring musical motif. With the fire alarm going off, Kevin slips down to the hotel lobby in order to learn who sent him the flowers. There’s fireman (the Jarden FD?) and a tweety bird loose (Erika’s miracle birds?), so if this isn’t Kevin’s subconscious’ stew, it’s The Leftovers’. And there’s Virgil, no hole in his head, working as the concierge. Thematically, it almost resembles the season 6 episode of The Sopranos, “Join the Club,” where Tony coma-dreams he’s a traveling salesman at some purgatory resort while he drifts in between life and death after he was shot by Uncle Junior.
Virgil wasn’t bluffing, though. He’s Kevin’s guide through this hell (See: Dante’s Inferno), and though he pretends not to know Kevin in order to keep up appearances, he arranges a secret meeting in the garage. Kevin gets there late, presumably, since he takes a detour to save a girl from drowning in the pool. The girl’s father isn’t very grateful.
In the garage, Virgil is more forthright: Patti is the target, quite literally. She’s running for president and Kevin, International Man of Mystery that he is, has been promised a meet-and-greet for his generous campaign contribution. During the meeting, he’s to excuse himself to go to the bathroom, find the gun that’s been hidden for him in the toilet, and assassinate her. “Like The Godfather?” Kevin asks. Exactly.
But Patti is not some simple soldier, like Sollozzo or the crooked McCluskey. She’s more Barzini, bound to play tricks on Kevin. “You’ve got to stop thinking in such straight lines,” Virgil counsels. “She thinks in spirals and helixes and zigzags and circles.”
Also, don’t drink the water.
NEXT: Another guest joins the hotel