Spiders, snakes, and Chief Garvey's song to save the world
The premiere episode of the final season of The Leftovers was titled “The Book Of Kevin,” and the second episode may as well have been titled “The Book of Nora” (though, coincidentally, that’s also the rumored title of the series finale in June). This week’s third episode was titled “Crazy Whitefella Thinking,” but it could’ve also been called “The Book of Kevin Sr.,” because it went deep Down Under to show us how Kevin’s half-crazy dad (let’s call him Chief from now on so there’s no Garvey confusion) has been spending his days since he and the voices in his head bolted Mapleton. In Chief’s head, as he makes clear early in the episode, this entire adventure is his story. Perhaps other characters will get their own gospels in the final five episodes, adding pages to Matt’s new New Testament.
Fade in: Richard Cheese’s 2004 jazzy cover of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus.” This show steamrolled subtlety long ago, and besides, the tune is full of lyrics that matter to this character, from the profound to the specific: “And you’re all alone/ Flesh and bone/ By the telephone/ Lift up the receiver.”
It’s moments after the Departure of Oct. 14. Mayhem erupts in the streets on Mapleton, and all we see is the Chief’s back: He can’t move. And then the voice begins. But not yet the ones that will come to haunt him. Instead it’s the voice of his 8-year-old son from 1981, an audiotape Chief plays in the present day while driving across the Australian Outback. As we’ll later learn, young Kevin once wanted to grow up to be a news reporter, and the summer after his mother died, Chief took his boy up to Niagara Falls, a road trip in which his son recorded their conversations and announced the “news” they encountered along the way. Young Kevin scares easily, in this particular case, by the way that ducks dive under the water for long periods of time before resurfacing. Where are they? the boy asks. Are they dead? “Ducks go down, ducks come up,” Chief reassures him. “This is the natural order of things, son.” And so it is. The ducks reappear, as ducks do.
Ducks diving to the bottom of a pond for 10 minutes is natural; 140 million people disappearing is not. But it’s an interesting idea, introducing this episode with that particular recording: Are the Departed just “underwater” in some other dimension due to some scientific anomaly, waiting to pop up for air at some moment in the future? Are we heading towards some Close Encounters of the Third Kind climax where missing people are returned to their loved ones en masse (minus the aliens, of course). I could be wrong; I can’t get the fire on my mattress to stay lit long enough to think clearly…
Chief is on a mission. It makes perfect sense to him: He has to sing to prevent an apocalyptic flood from happening. More specifically, he needs to learn an Aboriginal songline, a sacred indigenous tradition that is passed on from one generation’s shaman to another. He sneaks on to tribal land, records an Aboriginal ceremony from a distance, and then gets arrested that night when he tries to replicate the rite all by himself. The cops are not pleased with the intrusion, but they let Chief go, even allowing him to keep the Niagara 81 tape that means so much to him. But they know they have a wackjob on their hands — not necessarily a Travis Bickle/John Hinckley wackjob, but definitely someone the local authorities should keep away from the tribal elders.
Chief’s charm offensive runs into a roadblock at the Kurripa post office, where he tries to locate an address for a Christopher Sunday, the final missing link to his songline. The clerk doesn’t buy Chief’s brand of honey, but at least he lets him walk out with Matt’s forwarded mail package: an early copy of the Book of Kevin, or, as Chief calls it, the “goddamn sequel [to the Bible].” The package includes some cash, too, which Chief carefully folds into a page of the gospel and tucks into his May 1972 National Geographic, opposite the map of Cairo. But Matt’s prose is not Chief’s cup of tea, and he proves to be a heavy-handed editor, his red pen circling and slashing lines through near every mention of his son’s name on Matt’s “John Doe”-like handwritten pages.
“I’m not in it, a—hole,” Chief barks at Matt long distance from a lonely phone booth. “I spend hours talking you through what I’m doing down here, and there’s not a word in your goddamn book.” Matt is clearly preoccupied with other things, including his shaky marriage with Mary and Kevin’s Biblical connection to current unexplained events. Chief yells, “I am not a part of Kevin Jr.’s story. He’s a part of mine,” and also lets slip, “I don’t want him anywhere f—in’ near Australia!” Oops.
That money tucked in Matt’s package was a bribe of sorts, to keep the Book of Kevin secret from Kevin. So there’s a time shift going on, and “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” takes place before, perhaps around three weeks before, the events from the season premiere.
Before Chief rudely ends their phone call, punctuated by a thunder clap and downpour, he makes the episode’s first mention of Abraham and Isaac, the Biblical story of how God tested a faithful man (Abraham) by asking him to sacrifice his own son (Isaac), who, according to Matt, was not a child but a 36-year-old man. (It’s also worth noting that Abraham’s wife was named Sarah, just like Nora’s Australian doppelganger.) Is Chief going to have to sacrifice his son to save the world from a flood?
Chief resumes his search for Christopher Sunday, trashing Matt’s gospel and heading in to the Aborigine cultural center. (Did you notice the young man with the Wu-Tang Clan hat?) Chief basically seals his karmic fate by buttering up Sharon, the sweet (clearly single) community liaison, by complimenting her painting of the snake. She sees the Wanted poster on the wall listing his crimes only after she fetches Sunday’s address, and Chief snatches it out of her hands and shuffles out the door.
Before Chief can be caught, he makes straight for Sunday, the man who can teach him the final verses to complete the songline. (Crocodile Dundee fans may recognize the actor, David Gulpilil). Opening his door to Chief, the clever man recognizes that his unannounced guest is scared, and once inside, Chief tells his story. It’s kind of amazing, kind of bats—, but it makes perfect sense to Leftovers viewers. In brief:
• The voices in his head told him to go to Australia.
• Once in Sydney, he bought a ticket to hear Verdi at the city’s famed Opera House. (Note: Verdi’s “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” from Nabucco was the recurring musical motif from season 2’s pivotal “International Assassin.”
• Looking for answers, he skipped the concert to consume a basement-brewed hallucinogenic from a guy who promised he could talk to God. The hippie called his “gateway” drug God’s Tongue, a term and scene viewers remember from “International Assassin,” when dead-Kevin communed with his father via the hotel television.
• Disappointed by the head trip, Chief recovered his faith when he learned from the TV news that a miracle Australian chicken had been one town’s lone survivor from the Departure and now pecked out the answers to life’s most elusive questions. The chicken pecked on Chief’s Niagara 81 tape, which gave him his purpose: a scared 8-year-old Kevin begs his father to sing “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” to make the rain stop. Reluctantly, Chief sings… and the rain stops.
• Christopher Sunday needs to teach Chief his song in order to prevent the flood.
Okay. Kudos to Chris Sunday for listening politely to the end of Chief’s story and negotiating some manual labor out of the crazy old man. But when I put on my Leftovers tinfoil hat, I also go deep on the Itsy-Bitsy Spider. One of the stories in the 1972 National Geographic was titled “The Spider That Lives Underwater,” describing a vicious critter that lives almost its entire life underwater. Also, when pregnant Christine woke from a fever in season 1, her first words to Tom were, “Spiders underwater.” So maybe scratch the Close Encounters of the Third Kind reappearance of the Departed. Instead, the duck story could be a reference to some spider, some beast, that’s been hiding underwater, biding its time until it emerges. And only Chief’s song can keep it at bay?
But Chief’s songline will never be complete. Chief goes up on Sunday’s roof to check a leak, Sharon arrives with the authorities, and Chief falls off the roof, knocking down the ladder and crashing on top of Sunday. The ambulance takes both geezers to the hospital, but while Sunday is unconscious, Chief is a royal pain in the ass, insistent that Sunday has given permission to teach the songline. The peeved EMT tosses Chief into the road and leaves him only with a pair of crutches in the middle of nowhere.
Guided by the sound of Kevin’s 8-year-old self and the slightly mocking Eddie Rabbitt hit, “I Love a Rainy Night,” Chief limps into the dusty wilderness. He finally sees a VW Bug and yells out to it, but the well-dressed driver who emerges proceeds to pour gas on the car and himself. Chief tries to stop him, and the clearly distressed man tells him, “They didn’t take me.”
“Would you kill a baby if it would cure cancer?” the man asks Chief. No, is the answer, which is an interesting response for a man who might be asked to make a similar sacrifice in the doomsday future.
“That is exactly what I said,” says the man, who then lights himself on fire.
The man wasn’t Australian, was he? He sounded Eastern European, perhaps. I suspect he’s in Australia for the same reason Nora is heading there: He came to meet the shady Swiss scientists who promised to send him through to see his Departed loved ones. “They didn’t take me,” he said, crushed. And that question he posed: “Would you kill a baby if it would cure cancer?” It sounds like one that might have been on a questionnaire to qualify for the procedure. Mark Linn-Baker had emphasized that applicants had to clear a series of hurdles, including IQ tests. Perhaps this man didn’t make the cut, and could no longer live with no more hope.
Chief’s own hope is dwindling. Not only is he injured and dehydrated, but another angry downpour ruins his Niagara 81 tape. He’s broken spiritually, and on his last leg, literally, he confronts a venomous snake that he needs to eat if he has any hopes for survival. As he prepares to smash the snake with his crutch, he gently speaks to the serpent — his personal totem — as an equal. In fact, you could copy his speech and paste it in the future episode if and when he has to sacrifice his own son, Kevin: “Know that you gave your life for something greater than yourself.”
Thinking the snake is dead, Chief gets within striking distance, and the injured reptile leaps at him and sinks its fangs into his left arm. The scene parallels the disaster of the prehistoric woman in the season 2 prologue, the lone mother who rescues her newborn from the snake but dies of a venomous bite. Chief drags himself forward until he sees a cross, not the worst place to die. There, he collapses, with his head resting against the post, his red pen and gospel page by his side, his crutches fanned out beneath him like angel’s wings — which is how Grace Playford finds him when she gallops up.
Chief wakes in a child’s bedroom, hooked to tubes. The house is empty, so he calls Matt on the phone collect. Turns out three weeks have past since their last phone conversation, and Matt is none too pleased when he learns Chief trashed the only other copy of the Book of Kevin.
Outside the house, several young adults are building a boat — an ark actually. It was not absolutely clear to me whether they were dismantling the wood from the church to use as planks for the vessel. But I suspect yes. And if you’re wondering, I’m 99 percent sure their backyard church is different from the one that Nora/Sarah visits in the near future.
Chief takes some measure of satisfaction at the sight of the ark, and he notes to the youngsters that it’s for the flood — though their ambiguous reaction doesn’t necessarily confirm his hopes. Inside, he digs for food in the freezer and finds Grace’s family photo album. We review the Playford family’s history, meet the couple’s five adopted children, see the seesaw near the pond that will soon be used for a more sinister purpose. And we find a page of Scripture, Isaiah 41, and Chief’s thumb points to the following passage: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
Chief falls asleep, and when he wakes, it’s night, and he limps outside to witness the confusing commotion from episode 2 — Grace and three other ladies drowning Australian Kevin in the pond. They shoot Chief with a tranquilizer and wait until morning.
Grace pours Kevin tea when he wakes. She admits to killing Australian Kevin and shares her tragic Departure story. Is it okay to say that hers is the worst of anyone’s? She lost her pastor husband and assumed her five children vanished instantaneously with him. But it turned out that only her husband had departed, and the young children, terrified to be alone when it happened, set out to find Grace or any other adult in town. Two years later, Grace learned the awful truth: The children had died alone in the wilderness, their bones discovered on her property, a site now marked by the cross that inadvertently saved Chief’s life. There, she found him lying like a fallen angel. There, she found the page from the Book of Kevin that told of a police chief named Kevin “who passed into the land of the dead and spoke to them and freed them from their pain and rose again.” And just 20 kilometers away lived a police chief named Kevin. God was speaking to her — and testing her like Abraham had been tested. This was not her son, but he was an innocent man. “I thought you were sent by God, sent with a message just for me,” she tells Chief. “But you’re not an angel. There is not a message. And God doesn’t care about me. It’s all just a story I told myself. It’s just a stupid silly story and I believed it because… I’ve got to be crazy, haven’t I?”
“I’ve got to be crazy” is The Leftovers’ version of “Watcha talkin’ about, Willis.” And Chief speaks Grace’s language: “I don’t think you’re crazy at all. You just got the wrong Kevin.”
And the right Kevin is heading to Australia.