Considering that it's written by Lost mastermind Damon Lindelof, I knew it was only a matter of time until things got weird on HBO's The Leftovers ... but still, I wasn't quite prepared for this Sunday's episode, "International Assassin." In what's sure to be a divisive hour of television, our protagonist Kevin Garvey traveled to the afterlife (or purgatory or something), took on the persona of an international assassin, proceeded to do battle with Patti — and then ended the episode by rising from the dead and making poor Michael Murphy say what we'd all been thinking for an hour: "Holy sh*t!"
For a show that has flirted with the concept of the supernatural for two seasons now, this episode seemed like an unexpected dive head first into the deep end. Other than the Sudden Departure itself, almost everything seemingly fantastical about the show could have an alternative explanation grounded in reality. Kevin wasn't being visited by Patti's ghost; he was simply going crazy like his father. Holy Wayne didn't have magical hugging powers; he was simply really good at reading people and telling them what they needed to hear. Nora wasn't a "lens" or the earthbound instrument of the demon Azrael; she was simply really really unlucky, statistically speaking. But now that we've watched Kevin crawl out of his own grave, it's hard to deny that there are some things on this show that defy scientific explanation.
I suppose that if you were the super skeptical sort, you could try to find ways to rationally explain what just happened to Kevin. Maybe Virgil didn't really give Kevin a poison that stopped his heart; maybe it was merely a paralytic/hallucinogenic that made Kevin seem dead while sending him on some sort of trippy spirit quest. Maybe Kevin didn't travel to some bizarro purgatory to do battle with the literal ghosts of his past; maybe the entire episode was the effects of that hallucinogenic on Kevin's mind as he tried to rid himself of his metaphorical demons.
But this version of events raises more questions than it answers. If Kevin was just hallucinating, how did he know that Virgil was dead? (The old man showed up in his vision as the hotel's "concierge.") Why did Virgil shoot himself, if not because he wanted to act as Kevin's guide in the afterlife? (There would be no reason to commit suicide if he hadn't just murdered someone.) And why did Michael bury Kevin in the woods, rather than just wait for the paralytic to wear off? (The young man was clearly acting on Virgil's instructions.)
To me, the biggest question is: how long was Kevin out? If it was merely a matter of hours, then it's possible — if unlikely — that there's a rational explanation for what he went through while unconscious (or "dead"). But if, as I suspect, he was buried for three days... then that makes his resurrection all the more miraculous.
There are a few indications that Kevin's sojourn in purgatory lasted three days on earth. First of all, it would mirror Erika's experiment with the sparrows, in which she buries them in a shoebox for three days. Secondly, it seems like it has been a while when Kevin emerges, given how Michael had seemingly set up camp next to his grave in the meantime. And finally, the three days would nicely mirror Kevin's trials and tribulations while in the afterlife, when he attempts to kill Patti three times. (First, he shoots an impostor; then he pushes the young version of Patti into the well; then he drowns the real Patti, which finally allows him to escape.)
If I'm correct and The Leftovers has now wholeheartedly embraced the supernatural, then that raises some tantalizing questions going forward. Should we reconsider everything we though we knew about the show? Should we NOT laugh off the suggestion that Nora is the earthbound instrument of the demon Azrael? Should we assume that every seemingly fantastical thing we've witnessed so far is real? What happens now?
In true frustrating Lindelof fashion, we'll probably have to wait two weeks until the season finale for answers. Next week's penultimate episode, "Ten Thirteen," looks like it's shifting its focus, based on the press release: "A personal loss and subsequent pilgrimage to Miracle offer clues on why Meg embarked on her path as a Remnant crusader. After a fallout with Laurie, Tom seeks to reunite with Meg." Only two weeks to go in Season 2... and it looks like things are headed for an even crazier finale than last year.
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