Chief Garvey might be killing the town's dogs; he's not so sure
“Am I awake?” asked police chief Kevin Garvey in the series premiere, as he watched a pack of wild dogs tear apart a noble buck. “You are now, aren’t you?” replied the Mystery Man, who likes to shoot dogs.
We quickly learned that Kevin might not be the most-reliable witness in The Leftovers, despite his position of authority with the town. His bedside table is overflowing with pills, and he sees things that may or may not really be there. In the second episode, titled “Penguin One, Us Zero,” it becomes apparent that his behavior isn’t going unnoticed by others around him, and the only real suspect in the dog killings is him.
Before he can wake up one morning, he dreams that his daughter’s flirty friend Aimee is in his bedroom, inviting him to follow her outside. She leads him into the woods—we suspect it is a dream because he’s shirtless and there’s snow on the ground—and the Mystery Man is there with his rifle. But he’s not scoping for dogs; he has a woman in his sights. She moves through the trees at a distance, and he pulls the trigger. Is it a member of the Guilty Remnant cult? Is it his wife, Laurie? It’s no doubt a dream, because Kevin then looks down to find his feet on fire, which wakes him up to find out that his deck fence is actually on fire. Either way, though, Kevin seems to be in hell.
He’s not alone, of course. His son, Tom, is a member of the Holy Wayne cult that thinks a messianic black man can hug the pain out of people—though his loyalty to the cause might be compromised by his infatuation with Christine, the pretty young Asian-American who is one of the gems in Wayne’s harem that Tom’s been assigned to protect. Wayne’s well-documented taste for teenage girls draws the attention of the Feds, and Tom is there the night armed agents storm the group’s secret compound. One agent corners Christine and threatens to shoot her, unless she tells him where Wayne is hiding. A shot rings out, the agent drops. Tom shot him. “I’m sorry,” he says. “She’s important.”
NEXT: Is the Mystery Man in Kevin’s head?
Tom’s daughter, Jill, is at the coffee shop with Aimee when she jostles a woman’s purse. When Jill straightens it up, she sees that the seemingly mild-mannered woman is packing a gun. It’s Nora Durst, the Heroes Parade keynote speaker, a local celebrity because she lost her entire family in the Oct. 14 vanishings: her husband, her 6-year-old son, and her 4-year-old daughter. The girls are fascinated by her and her gun—is it for protection or suicide?—but even more so as they watch her purposely edge her coffee mug off the table as she causes it to smash on the floor into pieces. The shop’s manager erupts in anger, until he sees who it is. She apologizes; he is mortified by his initial reaction and offers her another; she declines and leaves—without paying. What a scam.
The girls follow Nora out of the shop, and then hijack the Ping-Pong twins’ Prius to follow her Subaru, which still has those annoying family figure decals on the rear window. Nora drives to a house, where she meets with the parents of a vanished man about their “departure benefit.” Presumably, relatives of the missing get a fat government check for their loss, but Nora seems to be misrepresenting herself. Likely, she’s not there in any official capacity and is instead taking advantage of people’s greed to ask them curious and probing questions about their kin, perhaps in order to find some explanation, some common link, between what happened to others and her missing loved ones. She’s searching for answers, for truth, but she stomps on the emotions of the sweet but needy couple who lost their 34-year-old son with Down Syndrome by asking about his sexual history.
Kevin is still obsessed with the GR cult, which is somewhat understandable since his wife abandoned him and their children to join its ranks. His office wall is plastered with an alarming amount of photos and personal information about their membership and who lives in which house. “Jesus,” says Mayor Lucy. “I never should’ve told you to watch the effin’ Wire,” as she takes in the obsessive wall collage. Though Lucy and Kevin were at odds over the parade, she comes in peace and claims to be looking out for his best interest. The whole town seems to think he’s responsible for the dead dogs: the department shrink (with the inflatable penguin) was skeptical of Kevin’s claims about the Mystery Man, his deputy is doing his best to cover for his boss—especially when the Mystery Man’s truck shows up in Kevin’s driveway, with a fresh dead dog in the flatbed—and Lucy just takes it as fact that Kevin is responsible. But rather than deny it, Kevin says, “They’re not our dogs anymore,” the same line that the Mystery Man said to him in the premiere. As Kevin struggles to locate his
marbles toasted bagel, the line lingers as evidence that there is no Mystery Man after all.
Until the Mystery Man knocks on Kevin’s door that night. (Or does he?) He comes with beers and an invitation: there’s another pack of dogs out there that needs to be dispatched. A perplexed and dazed Kevin never tells him no, or arrests him, or even gets him to give his name. “We’re doing the Lord’s work, believe you me,” says the Mystery Man. So did this conversation really happen? Jill and Aimee walked in on it, with Jill even taking the six-pack from him. So… yes?
NEXT: Kevin signs in to loony bin… to visit
Out west, Tom and Christine escape the compound and meet at the rendezvous point, an out-of-the-way gas station. One of Wayne’s bodyguards (Peter Berg) arrived first, but lies dead in a pool of his own blood. Wayne finally arrives via the trunk of a car. Christine is thrilled to see him, which breaks Tom’s heart just a bit. But Wayne knows what Tom did to protect her, and he offers him a magical hug. “You don’t have to feel this anymore,” Wayne says, referring to the weight of killing someone. “Come on in.” But Tom resists, feeling either unworthy or conflicted. “You’re the one motherf—er I can’t figure out,” says Wayne. “You’re all suffering and no salvation.”
Wayne sends Tom and Christine off together and gives Tom a special novelty cell phone adorned by a yellow happy face. The happy face echoes the whipped cream pancakes that Meg was served at the GR house—put a smile on any cult and unhappy people will find it. Meg is struggling through her pledge period, which requires giving up her material things and apparently chopping down a tree with an ax. Laurie is her mentor, and their only thing in common is Kevin, who meets Meg during one of his routine house inspection searches for citizens who have been reported as missing persons. Her fiancé doesn’t want her back, in turns out, but there was a spark between Kevin and Meg. Maybe it was just the pretty damsel-in-distress charge that cops feel, or maybe it was something more. (For Liv Tyler’s sake, let’s hope it was something more. Her character needs more, not a fate of silence.) Later, she describes Kevin as the “hot cop” to Laurie, so she at least took notice.
When Lucy and Kevin met at his office, amid GR wall-art and missing bagels, there was more of that unusual tension that was on display at the pre-parade planning session. It was almost like they were either siblings or ex-lovers. Their last conversation ended with Lucy saying cryptically, “I’m visiting tonight,” and in the final act, the links were revealed. Mayor Lucy is romantically involved—perhaps even married—to Kevin’s father (Scott Glenn), the former police chief who was institutionalized after going crazy and running through the town naked. Fresh off his encounter with the Mystery Man, Kevin decides to visit his father, too. At first glance, his father seems lucid and wise, acting paternal both as a father and as the town’s former police chief. But Kevin came for a reason; he’s worried that what happened to his dad is now happening to him. And Kevin’s dad hears voices. Right now. In the lounge. “They’re sending somebody to help you,” he says. “Whatever it is, you might want to keep it to yourself.”
So we’re on the fence about Kevin and the existence of the Mystery Man. His father suffered the same mental breakdown and the man’s truck sits in Kevin’s driveway. But Jill clearly saw the man on her doorstep, yes? If only there was some way to clear things up. For Kevin, that means going back to the station and tearing the bagel machine apart. If the missing toasted bagels are there, clearly he’s sane. If there are no bagels, then he’s slipping into the abyss. He rips off the back of the toaster with a power screwdriver and… the burned bagels are there. So, he’s not crazy?
It’s too early to push away The Leftovers, but the second episode did closely echo the premiere in particular ways, with the payoff being a surprising link between characters. In the premiere, Laurie’s relationship to the Garveys was only revealed near the end, and the second episode relied on Lucy and the crazy ex-chief’s relationship to provide some oomph. It’s a trick that gets less impressive each time—and, in theory, it shouldn’t be necessary after the first few episodes—but future installments will need to focus more on the present and future instead of dwelling on the past.