Note: This is the seventh of ten commentary recaps on the first season of the HBO post-Rapture show The Leftovers. (The six previous are filed away here.)
As with all TV recaps, there are some mild spoilers below for those who did not watch the episode. If you’re only looking for a content advisory, I’ll tell you: this HBO show, were it a movie, would be rated R for language, violence, sexual content, and thematic material, but it changes from week to week. The first commentary carried a Caveat Spectator, so you can check that out. Note that there’s also nudity in a sexual context in this episode.
“I think I might be going crazy,” Kevin Garvey, Jr. tells Nora Durst.
Like my dad, we can hear him thinking. Like men in a story from an older time, Kevin Jr. bears his father’s name, lives in his father’s house, and has tried to fill his father’s shoes, becoming Mapleton’s police chief after Kevin Sr. set the library on fire and then voluntarily checked himself into psychiatric care.
Now, though, he’s worried there’s more than a vocational match between him and his father; his mental chemistry seems at stake, too. In this seventh episode, somewhat ironically titled “Solace for Tired Feet,” Jill and Kevin Sr.—who’s escaped from the institution to deliver his son a message—discover that Kevin is maintaining a “f—king pharmacy” in his bedroom, all kinds of drugs. “He’s under a lot of pressure, I guess,” Jill reasons.
Well, maybe. There are tranquilizers in the mix. But while Kevin has been questioning his sanity since day 1 of the show, the writers keep bringing him back from the brink. Things do keep disappearing on him (bagels, people, shirts), but they reappear, too. For a while the show let us believe he might be imagining Dean, the man who shoots dogs, but it turns out others see him, too.
In this episode, in what is mostly easily explained as a drug-erased haze, Kevin dreams that Dean has trapped a dog in the post office box across the street and, in the dream, has handed him the gun. What Kevin doesn’t realize is he’s actually unconsciously combining some experiences he has no idea his children are having. Just after the episode begins, Jill and her friends are out in the woods near a refrigerator in which a bullied teenager was locked on October 14—and then disappeared. It’s a kind of a dare, an attempt to pay ironic honor to the departed boy while also proving who can stay in there the longest, flirting with death by suffocation. But never that seriously, like anything these teenagers do: it’s juvenile danger, a way to feel alive without actually fearing death. Suicide by suggestion.
This time, it nearly claims Jill when she beats the record, but then is trapped by a broken door handle. In a panic, as she sweats and then nearly passes out, her friends try to rescue her. But her grandfather, who has just run out of the institution, saves her. Neither of them are trapped, for now.
Halfway across the country, in Gary, Indiana, son/grandson Tom is still safeguarding Christine, who is carrying a child, too—not Tom’s, Wayne’s, but she’s sure it’s a boy all the same. Like Joseph, in a sense, he’s acting like a surrogate father to a child he and the mother believe is holy.
But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the “Holy” in “Holy Wayne” is exactly opposite. This man is not holy, despite his still-mysterious ability to take others’ pain upon himself by hugging them. He is a man with a harem of underaged girls who has manipulated a number of grieving young men (at least two) into caring for the damage he’s wreaked. He’s hoping for a son himself, and he’s promised each girl that she is the one carrying “the bridge.” So Tom is trapped by Wayne (who appears to be trapped himself), caring for Christine, though he’s become convinced that Wayne doesn’t have a marvelous plan beyond saving his own skin.
Which brings us back to Kevin Garvey, Jr., the man who dreamed about a dog caught in a post office box (the same kind of receptacle that led Tom to the “other” Christine). When you watch Kevin’s expressions during his conversation with his father—when you see the terror and recognition in his eyes as his father tells him “you know this is real”—it’s clear: there is something that Kevin is feeling that he wants to ignore, something he senses he may have to do before this is all over.
This links to the increasingly obvious point that the religious universe of The Leftovers, truth is something hidden and secret, something that is only revealed to a select few, and something that will cost you your life (“burn” you), once you have it: in other words, Gnosticism. There’s the Guilty Remnant, who smoke to proclaim their faith but won’t speak of what that faith is, and who seem to celebrate the fact that the truth is killing them. There’s Matt quoting the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. (In this episode, he quotes the Qu’ran to Kevin: “My son, relate not thy vision to thy brothers, lest they concoct a plot against thee: for Satan is a clear enemy to humanity.”)
There’s also the matter of the choral music that plays over this episode, which is a Miserere, a setting of Psalm 51, David’s most famous psalm of penitence: “Have mercy on me, oh God, according to thy lovingkindness: according to thy steadfast mercy, blot out my transgressions . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
This is a significant pick, for two reasons. First, David wrote it after Nathan confronted him about having committed adultery with Bathsheba. In the pilot episode, we saw a brief flashback of Kevin having sex with someone whose face we haven’t seen; a few episodes ago, he admits to Nora that he cheated on his wife, and in this episode, when he and Nora are becoming intimate, he pauses for a moment, looking at her, and then continues. But the camera angle mimics that early flashback, making it clear that that is what he was thinking about: his own adultery. He hasn’t addressed this guilt.
And for another reason: the Psalm says this—“Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.” Secret knowledge, again. Something imparted from spiritual beings that cannot be revealed. From what Kevin’s father tells him, he’s been trying to save him from bearing the same terrible truth that was passed on to him. “I tried to keep you out of this,” he says. just before handing him the May 1972 edition of National Geographic. “I tried to change their minds. But they wouldn’t stop. They’ll never stop.”
But Kevin Sr. can’t just tell his son this info: “You need to accept it,” he says. “I know you think I’m f—ing crazy. But I’m not . . . What i hear, what they say, is the g—d—n truth . . . I’m trying, this isn’t easy.” And then it starts to sound a little more like the disappearances are part of this: “The lucky ones. They’re not needed. They get to stay sane. But we’re in the f—ing now.” Are the lucky ones the ones who disappeared? Or are they the ones who aren’t burdened with this knowledge? He echoes something Wayne said to Tom in the pilot: “The whistle blew three years ago. Your services are being requested, eyes open, wide awake. This is your purpose. This is what you f—ing accept.”
Kevin says he won’t accept it: “I have responsibilities. I have commitments. I’m not going to leave my family.” (Not like you did, not like Laurie did, you can hear him thinking.)
But his father isn’t so sure. “Inside, you know this is real,” he tells him. The vision is real. The voices are real. They are trying to talk to Kevin, and Kevin is trying to plug his ears and sing loud enough to drown them out, because as Matt warns him, receiving and revealing the hidden, secret truth means death.
Right now, he’s sure he’s just going crazy. But his father warns him: “They’re not going to let you off that easy, son.”
- Kevin could conceivably have been born (or conceived) in May 1972. I’m having trouble locating the year of the Sudden Departures, but it was on October 14, three and a half years before the show’s current date, and if the show is set in 2014, then it’s conceivable that Kevin is in his early forties. That’s never mentioned, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a factor. (For what it’s worth, Justin Theroux was born in August 1971.)
- If you Google for it, though, you can find many speculations about why that issue of National Geographic, though in the world of this show it’s still unclear whether Kevin, Sr. is actually legitimately nuts (and whether the universe is similarly random), or whether it’s meaningful. We’ll have to wait and see, now that the show has been renewed for a second season.
- I haven’t talked about the Guilty Remnant’s apparent anger about the “Save Them” posters with Gladys’s picture on them, but note that when Kevin breaks into Matt’s house, looking for him, there are people in the house making those posters. And that when Kevin walks through the crowd of them without glancing at Laurie, the three women together in white who gaze after him form a sort of trinity.
- There’s a background implication, unsurprising and unstated, but rather obvious, that Aimee is sort of into Kevin. Note how much of a cold shoulder she gives him after he doesn’t come home one night.
- One wonders if Jill may have to take up her father’s not-so-metaphorical mantle, should he choose to reject it.
- Then again, Tom is the one who sustains nearly the exact same hand injury as his father, half a country away.