Wow. Just wow. I had kept my expectations pretty low for the season finale since last week’s episode, but boy did this one exceed them by a mile. Every other show on TV, take note: this is how you do a finale.
Not only is this a pretty near perfect capper for this season, but it could have been the actual series finale and I wouldn’t have minded the unanswered questions one bit; I would just let it go and go on to declare this one of the top five shows on television in recent years, hands down.
Alright, from the top:
The episode begins with a flashback all the way back to the first night the Garveys spent in Texas (and the first episode of the season): John’s birthday party is coming to a close as Evie and her friends take off, but this time we get to see what happens after they left.
As soon as the car speeds away, the three friends wipe the smiles off their faces. They listen to music without talking, until Evie turns it off, and they continue in silence. Guilty Remnant-style silence, in fact: when the girl behind the wheel tears up, Evie holds up a notepad saying ‘don’t‘.
They make it to the pond just in time to watch Kevin hug the cinder block and dive in feet first. All three girls dismiss this as if it’s the most normal thing in the world and just walk away as the earthquake hits.
And just when I was getting a bit bummed at the direction this episode was taking, we get back to the here and now, and what we really want to know: Kevin digs himself out of his shallow grave and Michael is there to offer water, warm clothes and a friendly chit-chat about Kevin’s foray into the afterlife (or limbo, or whatever the phenomenal episode 8 was all about). Kevin is informed it’s been three days since he ‘died’ and is laconic when it comes to narrating his exploits in the trippy hotel universe. On the upside, Patti is gone. When asked if he saw Evie there, he says he didn’t. But he saw her somewhere else, and he needs to talk to John.
It’s just one day after the events of the previous episode, which makes it – you guessed it – October 14th, the anniversary of the departure. John is celebrating in his own special way: by boozing it up bright and early in the morning, his birthday present from Evie still sitting on the kitchen table, unopened. Erika finally unwraps it for him, and what’s inside is the exact opposite of Evie’s statement that this would be the best present he ever got: it’s a dead cricket. Remind me not to invite her to my birthday party.
It’s apparently the cricket that drove him nuts in the season opener, except we now know it was probably a cell phone ringtone (thanks for reminding me, mjennings!). Erika knows it’s not the one John was trying to find, too, and when she explains that Evie probably just caught another one and gift-wrapped it for him because he just wouldn’t let it go, it earns her a loving little f*ck you from her husband. What a doll, that John.
As long as John is in such a lovely mood, let’s brighten up his day a little more: the cops show up to let him know they got a match for the palm print on the girls’ car. John wastes no time in grabbing his gun from the toolbox and heading next door, but of course Kevin isn’t there. He and Michael do get there just in time though, and he’s quickly hauled away, presumably to the police station, as he assures Jill and Laurie that everything’s going to be all right. He seems much more together than he has in ages, so I guess dying and coming back to life is a confidence-boosting experience.
Michael returns home as Erika is headed out the door, and when she asks him where he’d been, he tells her he was with her dad. Wait, Virgil was Erika’s father? Not John’s? Whoa.
Next door, Laurie tries to engage Jill in conversation, and blurts out the most ironic statement she could come up with: You’re going to have to talk to me eventually. Jill’s reaction is pretty much what you’d expect, and Laurie’s follow-up revelation that she only came to Jarden looking for her brother doesn’t help her case much, either. Gee, thanks, mom.
Over to Nora’s now (yay!), where she’s listening to departure survivors on the radio as she looks after Lily and Mary. When the interviewer turns out to be a Jesus freak, she prompty hurls the cd player onto the floor and smashes it to pieces (Fix that, Jesus! Excellent.), and right then, an earthquake hits. As soon as it subsides, Mary wakes up – hallelujah! Well, that was unexpected. At least now we know Matt wasn’t imagining things.
Mary is confused, but Nora is ecstatic! She quickly drives Mary over to the camp to share the good news with Matt. (btw, how cute is baby Lily and her little afro hairdo?). Matt and Mary’s reunion is sweet as can be, especially when he breaks the news about her pregnancy, and it’s so nice to see the happy grin on both their faces! He’s in a hurry to get Mary back into town, where she’ll be safe: Nora must take her home, and he’ll be there as soon as he can.
Matt definitely has the right idea: it’s 10/14, after all, the giant stadium scoreboard clock countdown has reached zero hours, and we know Meg’s just around the corner plotting whatever twisted stunt she’s got in store for Miracle. While Nora steps away for a few minutes to feed Lily, we see Tom recognize them as they walk by. And yep, there’s our lovely psycho Meg, ready to go.
She doesn’t waste any time, either. When stopped at the gates and informed that no visitors are allowed into Jarden on this particular day, she sweetly tells the officer she has 35 pounds of explosives in her trailer car and just drives right through the barricade.
Well, that’s somewhat disappointing. You’d think she would come up with something more imaginative than a big blast that will blow up the bridge. When she reaches the middle of the bridge, she cuts the engine, steps outside the car and throws the keys over the railing. The cops are in a panic by now, yell at her to get down on the ground and she slowly obliges, with a self-satisfied smirk on her face no less, while the trailer door opens and three pairs of white-clad feet emerge.
Back in Jarden, John doesn’t take Kevin to the police station after all, but to the kennel where Kevin’s dog was placed in quarantine when they first arrived into town. Well, this is a strange interrogation venue, but then John proposes a simple exchange: you tell me where my daughter is and I’ll let you have your dog back. It’s a odd kind of extortion at this point, given that Kevin is in a pretty tight spot anyway and he hasn’t shown much interest in even visiting the poor dog in the first place.
Kevin reveals the unbelievable story: Evie and her friends staged their departure; he doesn’t know where she is, and he only just remembered having seen them fake their disappearance this morning. John is surprisingly calm through all this, even when Kevin tells him about Virgil and – oh yeah – dying. Choosing not to focus on the one piece of news that’s the most difficult to digest – seriously, Kevin died and is now alive and kicking – John, obviously distressed and heartbroken, asks Kevin the one question he can’t possibly answer: why would Evie do this to us? She loved her mother, she loved her brother, and she loved me.
Maybe she didn’t, Kevin says, and boy does he pick the wrong thing to say. John whips out his gun and shoots him right in the chest. Holy sh*t! So the entire hotel adventure had been for nothing?
As John walks out, the cops tell him they found Evie and everyone’s running frantically towards the bridge. Nice going, asshole. He leaves Kevin for dead and tries to reach his daughter but the cops won’t let him through because there’s a bomb in the car.
Evie, meanwhile, looks absolutely nonplussed, doesn’t acknowledge her father and simply holds up a sign informing everyone they have one hour left. Nora, Matt and Mary watch from the camp, and it dawns on Matt that they won’t be able to make it back into town, while the rest of the crowd is cheering for some reason. Despite the sh*tty situation they’re in, it’s a moment of vindication for Nora: she had been right about Evie all along; she hadn’t departed.
At church, the pastor delivers his 10/14 four year anniversary sermon. Michael has changed into his Sunday clothes and asks to say a few words. He shares a story about him and Evie as five year olds letting the bathtub overflow. Only it wasn’t Evie who turned the water all the way up that day, as her mother believed all this time; it was Michael, trying to drown out Evie’s crying because they dad had left (I assume we’re talking about John going to prison, right?).
People disappear, is the moral of Michael’s story; just because no one left on 10/14, it doesn’t mean we’re spared. And just then, John opens the church doors and his face pretty much says it all.
The family rushes over to the bridge along with the rest of the town – which, by the way, is a terrible idea, isn’t it? Why would they all flock towards the bomb? Why not send someone to unhook the trailer from the car and tow it off the bridge, away from the town and the campsite?
In the confusion, Erika manages to slide under the barricade, runs towards the three girls and hugs her daughter, but all three of them seem completely unfazed. Evie doesn’t even make eye contact and I just want to slap the hell out of her. Erika’s trying to make sense of the situation, while at the camp an annoying woman full of facial piercings is pestering Nora about Lily not being hers, because of course, let’s not focus on the bomb about to explode.
But, in true Leftovers fashion, that’s not even the strangest thing going on there: as the clock counts down, a disturbing number of campers start stripping down to their underwear – and Tom does the same.
And, of course, they all put on GR white outfits.
On the bridge, Erika’s words are finally getting to Evie, but she still won’t budge; Erika refuses to leave the bridge and would rather get blown up along with the three girls, but then she steps into the trailer… and finds it empty. This wasn’t Meg’s master plan, after all – merely a diversion. (All this time the clock has been counting down, no one thought to take a look inside the trailer and verify Meg’s claim about the explosives? The Jarden PD must be the most incompetent group of law enforcement officers ever).
As the clock reaches zero, the white-clad GR members masquerading as campers all head towards the same direction. Matt climbs on a roof to get a better view as the crowd floods the gates and makes their way onto the bridge, because, of course, the incompetent cops are unable to stop the flow. Erika, naturally devastated, asks Evie why she’s doing this, because she doesn’t understand (does anyone?).
Evie finally looks at her mother. You understand, she replies on her little pad, and joins the rest of the Guilty Remnants as they head into town. That vacant look on Evie’s face really makes me want to punch the little brat.
So this was Meg’s master plan all along? To create a diversion so that the GR could invade the quiet little town? As far as epic GR events that would “change everything” go, this was pretty underwhelming. We should have seen it coming, since last episode’s school bus bomb fake-out, but it doesn’t exactly scream ‘earth-shattering statement’ now, does it? I mean I get it, Jarden was the one town untouched by the departure, the one town that held some semblance of security for the people flocking to Miracle, so it makes sense that she’d want it overrun by the ‘living reminders’ of the events of 10/14. Still, it felt a bit anti-climactic. Not that I’m complaining; every character on this show has suffered enough devastation by the stupid cult already, and psycho-Meg is pretty hateful as it is: no need to blow up a few hundred people to achieve super-villain status.
Matt decides to take advantage of the chaos and take Mary back into town, but that’s the moment the horrible pierced lady picks to once again tell Nora the baby isn’t hers and grab Lily! Everyone’s running towards the bridge now, GRs, campers and tourists alike, and Nora loses the crazy bitch in the crowd. When she reaches the bridge, she sees Lily on the ground a few yards away, in danger of getting seriously trampled by the herd, rushes to her baby’s side and cradles her. Okay, how pointless was this scene? Why grab the poor kid if you’re going to drop it a few seconds later? We already know the camp crowd is short a few marbles, so what did this shortest-kidnapping-scene-ever accomplish? Sigh. I’m just glad Lily wasn’t hurt in the stampede and Nora got her back. Tom’s arm appears out of nowhere, helping Nora to her feet, and takes her and Lily inside the trailer, where they’ll be safe.
The screen fades to white, and just like in Michael’s story, we see a bathtub overflowing as a faucet is slowly dripping. This looks eerily familiar.
And then a perfectly unscathed Kevin emerges from the water, his chest completely clear of blood or bullet wounds, as he climbs out of the tub in a panic. I have to say, no matter how fascinating a Leftovers episode can be, every time we get to see Kevin in the buff is the highlight of the show.
And yep, it looks familiar for a reason: Kevin’s back at the hotel limbo/afterlife for a second time. Motherf*cker! he screams, and I can’t say I blame the poor guy. Hasn’t he been through enough by now? I’m not f*cking doing this again, he says as he’s trying to get TV reception, but instead of another video-conference from beyond the grave, all he gets is static.
Talk about the Groundhog Day from hell: he opens the closet, and the same four outfits are hanging inside. He goes for the suit but hesitates and reaches for his old Mapleton PD uniform instead. He’s not an international assassin this time; he’s himself. The phone rings, and he is summoned to the hotel lobby, where another cop is being attacked and Kevin’s assistance is needed.
Or so would the mysterious caller have him believe. Instead of an emergency, he walks into a wheel-of-fortune/karaoke game night for the hotel guests. And who might be the MC? It’s none other than the crazy Australian noose guy from the bridge, telling Kevin he should go up there and sing.
Kevin asks him how to return home and Aussie Man says he’s already given him a way back: all he has to do is sing. Kevin understandably thinks it’s a trap, because surely the way back can’t be as stupid as singing on stage for a bunch of random people, can it? Still, he pushed a little girl into a well, but he won’t sing? observes Aussie Man, and, well, when you put it that way…
Kevin steps up on stage, gives the wheel a whirl and lands on a Simon & Garfunkel classic: Homeward Bound, because of course it wouldn’t be something subtle at this point.
Kevin gives an emotional, albeit a bit off-key performance, but who cares if he hits the notes perfectly when the performance is so captivating? Justin Theroux is amazing in this scene, and the close-up on his face as he sings, with flashbacks from his loved ones accompanying the lyrics perfectly, is phenomenal. As detached and emotionally unavailable as he may have appeared throughout the two seasons, this moment right there serves as his big revelation. He starts to weep as he sings, realizing that not only does he want to get out of Hotel Hell, he’s dying to get back to his family. As soon as he hits the last note, he’s back on the kennel floor, gasping for air. Whaddoyaknow, it actually worked!
As a side note: so far, aside from Virgil’s help during the afterlife sequence, Kevin’s ‘guides’ to getting back to the here and now have been his own father, currently residing in Australia, and the Aussie MC/noose guy, who doubted his purpose the first time around, but is apparently convinced after Kevin’s spectacular rendition of the old S&G song. This has to be significant, but I guess it shall remain unanswered for now.
Kevin inspects the gaping hole in his chest and it’s oddly quiet in the kennel; as the camera pans out we see that all the dogs have been set free. Oddly, no one actually bothered to look after the body on the floor. I guess they just saw a dead guy and figured he didn’t qualify as an emergency? All the dogs are gone save one: his own dog is patiently waiting in his cage as Kevin pulls himself up, picks up the bullet and hugs his dog, and my heart melts for a second time in under 3‘. He goes outside to find the area deserted, and the big Welcome to Jarden sign on fire. [Is it just me or did everyone else expect Patti to pop up again at this point? We’re not used to seeing Kevin wondering around Jarden without the late GR leader shadowing him.]
Suddenly, the dog takes off and heads onto the bridge. Kevin goes to the visitor center, where he finds all the GR crazies lounging around and smoking. What are you doing here, he asks Meg, and we get a lovely a capella rendition of the Miracle anthem (Liv Tyler definitely got the singing gene from her dad but the depth of emotion Kevin injected into his own performance is definitely lacking here), with Evie looking as dead-eyed as ever. I still want to punch the bejesus out of her..
Kevin walks away from the crazies, picks up a nightstick from the ground and walks among the few remaining campers in the area; all the rest are having a rave in the middle of town, destroying property and setting things ablaze, because of course that’s what they’re supposed to do.
He heads straight to the medical center, and by now I have to marvel at just how resilient he is for a guy with a through-and-through bullet wound in the chest. [I also want to see him in something other than that brown t-shirt by now.] Just in time, he collapses to the floor. Somehow in all the chaos, John manages to track him down and is pretty bewildered at seeing him alive and breathing. I killed you, he says, and Kevin’s reply is pretty succinct: Nope. As John does a pretty lousy job at caring for Kevin’s wound, he starts to cry. You’d think he’d apologize for shooting the guy, but all he says is I don’t understand what’s happening. Me neither, agrees Kevin, and after what I assume is a little more effective first aid than just staring at the hole in Kevin chest, John helps him walk back home.
What if there’s nobody home? asks John. Then you come over to my house, says Kevin, and that’s really magnanimous of him towards the guy who practically killed him. Just then, another earthquake hits. He falls to the ground, waits for it to subside and then slowly walks into the dark house…
..And everyone is there! The lights are off, which makes sense considering the anarchy in town must have caused the black-out, but really, it’s just good, suspenseful filmmaking at this point. Talk about family reunions – Jill, Laurie, Matt, Mary, Tom and Lily all smile at him as Nora walks into the room, greeting him with a relieved ‘You’re home’.
Is this a dream? Is it yet another version of the afterlife, where he’s surrounded by all his loved ones? It’s definitely too good to be true by Leftovers standards, but then again, Kevin has been through the wringer since the pilot episode, he deserves a moment of happiness!
So what did we learn in this tenth episode of The Leftovers’ second season? Not a whole lot, but this phenomenal episode was a lot more than the sum of its parts.
For one thing, we got to see Meg’s evil plan for Jarden realized. Although not as spectacular as the explosion we were temporarily duped into expecting, the relatively uneventful, in comparison, GR invasion was far more effective than any bridge-destroying blast could have been. Rather than a singular event, which would have momentarily disrupted the quiet Jarden way of life, the carefully orchestrated takeover signifies an important shift that looks to be far more permanent and efficient as far as the GR’s agenda goes. Much like Kevin informs Meg “I live here now“, the same sentence could have been uttered by our favorite psycho, or indeed any of the GR crazies. We’re taking over your safe place; you may have traveled far and wide to avoid the aftermath of the departure, but here we are, living reminders of the day the world ended, and we’re not going anywhere, until we make sure none of you forgets. Or, as Michael put it in his little speech at the church, ‘We were not spared‘.
The finale also gave us the feeling of having come full circle: the horrible events of last season’s finale precipitated much of the plot in season 2; they also led to the various characters leaving Mapleton and scattering all over the place. As we followed their separate storylines throughout this season, they not only started to diverge in terms of the plot, but also geographically, culminating in the big finale reunion that finds them all in Jarden, Texas, and in the midst of yet another GR-initiated disaster.
Although completely silent throughout this episode, and mostly absent this entire season, Evie turned out to be the catalyst for most of what went down in the finale. What we had suspected about her staged departure was confirmed, but her motives are still unclear. How does one go from being a loving daughter to faking her disappearance, causing her family so much grief, and becoming the mute spokesperson for the GR Jarden chapter? Sure, Laurie and Meg’s decisions to join the GR back in season 1 had been just as devastating for their loved ones, but they both had ample reason to lose their mind and join the chain-smoking cult. Laurie lost her unborn baby, Meg lost her mother the day before the departure. There was no such turning point for Evie, at least none that we’re aware of. Perhaps we’ll get an answer next season* – then again, perhaps not; The Leftovers has a way of eventually explaining the minor details and leaving the big questions unanswered. And if that fact makes the story this compelling, it’s perfectly all right by me.
We also got confirmation of the theory that the earthquakes are directly connected to the unexplained events going on in Jarden… except on last week’s episode, the tour guide explains that the gaping hole in the asphalt created on October 14th and left unfixed as a reminder wasn’t caused by an earthquake at all, but as a result of a gas explosion in the sewer system. Surely this can’t be a coincidence? We’ve come to learn there’s really no such thing on this show. Too many things have happened during or just after an earthquake in this town for the natural phenomenon to be insignificant to the story: yet another question that needs to be answered.
And what about Mary’s awakening? The last time she woke up, it was Matt and Mary’s first night in Jarden, and only lasted for three hours. We know she’s stayed awake much longer this time, so what changed? When Kevin was talking to Aussie Man at the hotel lobby and a blonde woman got up on stage, for a minute I thought it might be Mary making an appearance again, and maybe that would have been somehow significant (although I can’t put my finger on how, exactly), but it was just some random hotel guest. So what happened this time? Is her newly lucid state permanent? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
*Hopefully we’ll see, that is. So far there’s no concrete evidence we’ll be getting a third season of The Leftovers, as HBO hasn’t officially renewed the show. This season finale wrapped things up as neatly as last season’s finale had left it open-ended, so the Garveys and the Murphys not returning next year sadly remains a possibility. Maybe our questions will just never be answered. Let the mystery be.
I really hope that’s not the case. As an amateur recapper, the fact that it’s virtually impossible to skip over a single scene of each episode as I write about it really says a lot about how well the story is constructed and translated onto the screen. None of what goes on is ever merely filler. As a viewer, not only does it succeed where many other shows fail, by keeping parts of it open for interpretation and making you think; it’s also simply immensely satisfying to watch, and at the end of the day, I just want more.