'The Leftovers' Flashbacks In The Book Aren't Exactly Flashbacks – Surprise, Surprise

Sunday night, while MTV was filling small screens across the country with visions of Beyoncé and Ariana Grande, HBO aired what might be my favorite episode of The Leftovers , even though it's one big flashback. When we open on Kevin Garvey, taking one of his signature stress-reducing runs, all seems normal. It's easy to expect more grim moments and perhaps some reflection on the violent, shocking events of last week's episode. But instead, we watch Kevin run home to a house we don't recognize, where a blurry woman is drinking coffee and calling him "honey." It's Laurie, pre-Guilty Remnant conversion. Upstairs is Jill, braces clad and singing dated pop songs. We're in full-on flashback mode.

As we make our way through the Garveys' day, it almost feels like we've entered an alternate universe where people are happy and every thing isn't shrouded in uncertain dread. It is nice to see that on some level, the Garveys were once happy people, but as the episode unfolds, the world pre-Departure doesn't seem so pleasant after all. We find that Laurie and Kevin were plenty unhappy when the world was normal. Kevin was still obsessed with seemingly supernatural occurrences that turned out to be real (that wild deer issue wasn't his first rodeo), he and Laurie weren't exactly working out, and Laurie was secretly carrying their third child. As we watch this unhappy family barrel towards the Departure, all of the devastating pieces come together.

We see Nora getting furious with her family on a typical weekday afternoon while she waits for a call about a potential job. She's absolutely seething, but we know what's coming. Tom Garvey helps his sister Jill with a science experiment at school and while these two sullen characters smile with reckless abandon, we know how soon those smiles will vanish. And when Laurie goes to the doctor to check on her unborn child, we finally understand why she's going to be so committed to the Guilty Remnant: when Nora's family, Jill's friend, and the other two percent disappear, so does Laurie's child, straight from her womb. It may be the single most devastating moment in TV drama in 2014.

This flashback does a great deal for the show that seems to beg more questions than it answers, giving viewers a better understanding of the characters before them. But is this background something author Tom Perrotta put forth in his novel, or is it something straight out of the minds of the series' writers?

With the exception of Nora's final moments with her family, which are described in a letter she writes to Kevin near the end of Perrotta's novel, this flashback is a total departure from the book. And while I probably say this every time the series departs from the novel, this time I really mean it: This changes absolutely everything. From this point on, we're all going to be in this together.

This world may have been inspired by Perrotta's fantastic novel, but it now belongs to Damon Lindelof. And if his past pursuits are any indications, we're going to be asking questions for a very long time.

Image: Paul Schiraldi/HBO