The Leftovers premiere recap: 'The Book of Kevin'
“That whistle blew three years ago and you can’t ignore it any more. Your services are being requested, eyes open, wide awake. This is your invitation. This is your purpose.”
—Kevin Garvey Sr., Season 1, Episode 7, “Solace for Tired Feet”
Walking Dead debuted on Halloween night, but it’s the rare TV series that targets Easter Sunday as its launching pad. Welcome to the third and final season of The Leftovers, which wraps its arms around Biblical themes and imagery and is unapologetically sprinting towards the End Times, albeit in zig-zags. In two seasons of dark days following the inexplicable Sudden Departure of 140 million people from the face of the Earth, there have been (false?) prophets (Holy Wayne) and chosen children (Lily), but after Kevin Garvey’s dalliance with death in season 2 — crawling out of a grave, surviving a point-blank gunshot wound — there seems to be a new halo around his crown. He literally rose from the dead. And in the minds of people who appreciate that sort of thing, Kevin Garvey is their last best hope.
But first, some history. In a lengthy prologue to last season’s premiere, a primitive cavewoman gave birth, suffered in the wilderness, was bitten by a snake, and the baby was rescued by a stranger. In the new premiere, titled “The Book of Kevin,” Mimi Leder (who directed both episodes) sets the season’s tone in a community of Millerites, the fundamentalist Christian sect that had pinpointed the exact date of Jesus’ return — Jan. 21, 1844. So as the 1970s Christian-rock band Good News Circle sings “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” a devout woman, her husband, and their son give away their Earthly belongings to some poor ignoramus who can have their goat but will never feel God’s imminent embrace. On the night of Jan. 21, the community of excited true-believers dress in white ascension robes and scale their roofs to wait for Jesus. Morning comes and disappointment cracks a few faces. Hark, the pastor forgot to carry the 1 in his initial calculations, but he corrected his math! The new date is April 16. And then Aug. 7. And so on. Disappointment gives way to confusion to doubt to disillusionment to anger. The woman loses her family, the flock scatters, and she is one of the last remaining believers, weathering a thunder storm in a final failed effort to witness Christ’s return. Retreating to the church, she collapses next to other white-robed broken souls. Are they sleeping? Have they committed suicide? They resemble the Guilty Remnant cult, which is where the camera takes us…
Evie wakes up in the Miracle Visitors Center the day after the GR stormed the park. Meg is smoking and feeling philosophical. She got her revenge, and knows its price. “It’s just a matter of time before one of those f—ers bites your face off,” she tells Evie, comparing Siegfried and Roy’s tigers to the Feds who are probing the compound with a camera and calling in coordinates for a special delivery. Evie bursts out the Center’s door to see people fleeing; then, she looks up to see the world’s lowest-flying drone launch a missile right between her eyes. Once in season 1, a crazy conspiracy-believing lady who posed as Nora at a Departure panel claimed that the government has the technology to vaporize people from outer space. She wasn’t all wrong.
Fade to white: “Three Years Later.” It’s now year 7 after the Departure, and as Rev. Matt will teach us, the Bible is funny about that number. It pops up repeatedly in important ways, and some Christians who believe in the Rapture think that Jesus will return only after seven years of strife and tribulations. And if it’s unclear who might be riding shotgun in that heavenly mission, there’s Kevin Garvey, wearing a badge again, riding a white horse right out of Revelations to lead new pilgrims into Miracle two weeks before the anniversary on Oct. 14. (Revelations 19:11-16: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.”)
Jarden has changed since the GR’s attack and subsequent ka-boom. But the town square is still a carnival: There’s Pillar Man reigning on high, and two yokels refusing to remove their giant inflatable Gary Busey because the presumably Departed actor needs to know where to land when he returns. Tommy is a cop now, too, which makes perfect sense, considering his demonstrated dedication to protecting the weak and vulnerable. It makes even more sense later when we discover how Kevin and Tommy met.
Rev. Matt is directly responsible for the influx of pilgrims, as he’s not so secretly sending out the message that something remarkable is going to happen in Miracle on Oct. 14. His followers listen intently as he preaches about the imminent events, introducing a revived Mary and their miracle son Noah as evidence of the town’s blessed connection to heavenly events. Mary had been in a coma, and even before that, doctors had told her and Matt that she would never have children. Miracle changed all that.
Kevin doesn’t appreciate Matt stirring up the populace, but he holds his tongue for a bit and visits Michael, who nervously slams his laptop shut at the first sign of Kevin. No, he’s not watching porn, as Kevin says. Actually, he was reading a news article from the Mapleton Gazette. Research perhaps.
Michael seems like the same person we knew in season 2, but his father, John, is a changed man. When I saw him doing handprints to help desperate people connect with Departed loved ones, I almost didn’t recognize him behind the glasses, beard, and sympathetic tone. Recall, John despised the notion of mystics and miracles, and he specifically targeted his friend Isaac, who actually had a real gift for channeling the Departed with this exact technique. “I don’t understand what’s happening,” John told Kevin in the season finale, after his daughter reemerged as a hellraiser, after John shot Kevin and watched him refuse to die. And apparently, after getting a divorce from Erika. She had secretly planned to leave him in season 2, but that derailment didn’t crush John; he’s fallen into the arms of Kevin’s ex, Laurie. Together, they’re healing the downtrodden the only way they know: tricking them with phony magic and a Facebook account. With Laurie whispering secrets into his ear from an upstairs office, John tells patients what they need to hear to move on with their lives. “They won’t believe it unless it’s harsh,” says Laurie, who makes the case for altruism by shredding the customer’s $80 payment.
Where’s Erika? Or for that matter, where is Lily? Kevin and Nora’s adopted daughter, who was shepherded to them by Tommy after Holy Wayne was murdered and Christine abandoned her at a highway rest stop, seemed destined for something significant. But something has happened to her, and it’s unrelated to the crazy lady who stripped her out of Nora’s hands during the GR’s ill-fated Oct. 14 stunt. The only trace of the child is what’s left unsaid between Kevin and Nora, and the pain that Nora seems to be wearing. At Tommy’s birthday party, Nora holds toddler Noah as if she’s afraid someone is going to pull him away. Is Lily’s absence related to Nora’s broken arm? We’re sure to find out, because Nora’s future looks very dark.
Kevin seems to be holding up pretty well, all things considered. But maybe not. For one thing, he still has a death wish. When he’s left alone before work, he wraps a dry-cleaning plastic bag around his head and asphyxiates himself. Nora might actually understand such urges since she used to don Kevlar vests and pay prostitutes to shoot her, but this feels like a me-time thing. Though it’s ghastly to watch, his subsequent up-and-at-them prance out the front door makes the stunt seem like part of his regular routine.
The appearance of a sketchy character from his past also bodes ill for Kevin’s inner demons. Dean the Dog Killer is back with some crazy ideas about hellish end-of-times dogs, a Wyoming senator who is really a canine, and a PBJ sandwich that is the key to it all. When the world blows up on Oct. 14, beware of dogs, Dean seems to be saying. Kevin makes the mistake of being honest: “What you’re thinking is happening? Isn’t. It’s all in your head. It’s not real.” Dean blows a dog whistle and leaves disappointed and agitated, reminding me of Meg’s line about tigers…
The next day, Kevin is rattled when a group of protestors disrupt Matt’s baptisms by dumping drums of toxic waste into the Miracle springs. The police try and separate the two groups, but a riot breaks out when the Christians rifle stones at the agitators, some of whom wear T-shirts with Evie’s face on them. While a panicked Tommy looks at his stepfather for guidance, Kevin drifts away from the action, up near a ledge, and then plummets lifelessly into the water. He surfaces and examines the toxic drums. False alarm. The water hasn’t been poisoned after all. Did Kevin really suspect that it was a ruse? No. Does he still want to die? Apparently. But before he wades out of the water, Michael moves toward him and asks to baptize Kevin. Matt watches intently. With the crowd paying close attention, Kevin acquiesces. When he’s dipped under the water, Kevin flashes back to his bathtub birth scene in the dream hotel. Back in the lake, he skeptically whispers to Michael, “That didn’t count.”
Afterwards, Tommy drives a soaked Kevin to change. Understandably, Tommy has questions: about Kevin’s actions, about the Oct. 14 “gas leak” that killed Evie and the GR. But their conversation is interrupted by a bullet that whistles through the windshield. “You changed, you sonofabitch,” yells Dean, who trains his sights on Kevin, whose wet gun malfunctions. Just as Dean is about to kill Kevin, Dean’s head explodes. Tommy shot him. Interestingly, when the on-duty police arrive to investigate, an unruly mutt violates the crime scene and swipes a PBJ sandwich from Dean’s corpse.
Kevin survives again, and if you’re paying attention, it’s almost as if he can’t be killed. For example, he wrapped a cinder block around his leg and jumped into a lake… only for an earthquake to save him. He swallowed poison and was buried… only to rise from the grave. He took a bullet in the gut… and lived to walk home and embrace his family. He tries to suffocate himself with a plastic bag… but can’t. He plunges into what could be toxic waste… and gets lucky that the water is clean. Now Tommy, the man who once was the little boy who helped bring Kevin and Laurie together after a seemingly random traffic accident, rescues him from certain death.
People are paying attention. Matt is paying attention. So are Michael and John.
Mary is leaving Matt and taking Noah back to New York. When Kevin defends him and asks Mary for patience, she tells him that Matt is writing a book about him, a gospel. “He thinks the New Testament is getting old,” she says. “He got pretty excited when you rose from the dead.”
Kevin rushes to confront Matt and lashes out, telling him crazy stuff like this is why his wife is leaving him and taking his son away with her. Very calmly, Matt lays his cards out on the table in the most Matt-like way possible, quoting Jesus: “If you come to me but will not leave your family, you cannot be my follower.”
John sheepishly concedes that he too believes that Kevin might be something special — especially if there’s a chance of Kevin’s powers bringing Evie back. Michael brings Kevin the gospel, the one and only copy, trusting him to do the right thing. Hurrying outside, Kevin is about to toss the book into a barbecue pit. But something stops him, and when he looks up to see what all the other tourists are staring at, he sees a skywriter announcing the time until the Oct. 14 anniversary.
A bird approaches. A dove? A carrier pigeon? And then more of them — carrying messages. A woman gathers them in cages and bikes them past green pastures of sheep. It’s Australia, yes? She pedals to an Anglican Church (a church that resembles one from a Leftovers promo that revealed an ark being built near it). We can’t see the woman’s face until the woman she works for, a nun, says, “Sarah: Does the name Kevin mean anything to you?”
“No,” she says, and we see that it’s an older version of Nora.
“The Book of Kevin” was a terrific bolt of a premiere, reframing everything’s that happened in two seasons, shuffling some of the essential relationships, and doubling down on clues that once seemed too preposterous to be anything more than the ravings of a lunatic. I’m happy to play the role of the Millerite woman for seven more episodes.