With the final season of The Leftovers available all at once on-demand, we’ll be bringing you our thoughts on each episode one at a time. Warning: This contains spoilers.
“I am not a part of Kevin Junior’s story. He is a part of mine.”
Religion is subjective. Part of its beauty is that is means different things to different people. And why shouldn’t it? In a world where people can’t even agree on the right way to run a country, or whether people are entitled to affordable medical care, asking them to all agree on the meaning of life is an impossible task. The Leftovers has excelled because it acknowledges that – and, moreover, embraces it. Ever since Season 1, some of its best episodes have been almost standalone tales that immerse us in one character’s worldview. As its final, third season unfolds with more clarity, confidence and purpose than ever, it’s no surprise that it should return to that format, taking us away from Texas to Australia – not to catch up with Nora and Kevin, but his dad, Kevin Garvey Sr. (Scott Glenn).
Kevin Garvey Sr. has never been the show’s strongest character, primarily popping up in Season 1 as a harbinger of instability, insanity and anti-social behaviour in Kevin Jr.’s life. As the sheriff attempted to keep a cool head amid a increasingly crazed population, Kevin Garvey Sr. was a taste of his possible destiny looming on the horizon, running about with a copy of the National Geographic like a subplot without purpose. Fast forward two seasons, after Kevin Jr. has somehow beaten death – and communicated from the Other Side with his dad via that Limbo Hotel telly – and the roles have almost reversed: the son has replaced the father as the one who hovers in the background over the other’s life. Everyone needs to talk about Kevin. Just not the old one with the beard.
We had a taste of that in Episode 1, as we saw that the Book of Kevin had made the leap around the world, inspiring a new group of followers. Episode 3 explains how that happened, once again taking the apparently impossible and demystifying it with practical facts. And once again, the mundane reality behind the miracle involves Matt (Christopher Eccleston). He’s been in contact with Garvey, we learn, and actually sent him a copy of this new scripture to read. Garvey, though, is mostly annoyed that it isn’t a book about him – he doesn’t even feature in it.
“The scriptures never talk about Jesus’ childhood,” reasons Matt, simultaneously underscoring the way that this new holy book is partly an imitation of what already exists. “What about Isaac?” asks Garvey, tellingly going straight to the tale in which a father has to sacrifice his son. “He was a grown man. He was 36 years old,” explains Matt. “That makes no fucking sense at all,” Garvey spits.
While he loves his son, for him, Kevin is just that – the young boy he recorded on cassette tape years ago, as they discussed everything from politics to life and death. It’s those recordings that led Garvey to find his new purpose Down Under. But that doesn’t make him a Messiah, merely John the Baptist to Garvey’s own sacred mission.
That, it turns out, is preventing the apocalypse that will happen on the seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure – a flood that will strike from the heavens. The only way to stop it? Perform the sacred rain dances of Australia’s aboriginal tribes along a specific spiritual line down the country. He only needs one more: the dance belonging to elder Chris Sunday. When they meet, Chris is receptive to Garvey’s outlandish tale of belief and bizarre ritual. The price to learn the dance? Fix his air conditioning.
It’s classic The Leftovers, blending the divine and, in this case, air duct maintenance to create a beautifully poignant slice of magical realism. Complicating the matter is that Garvey is being chased by the cops for illegitimately appropriating aboriginal culture – another reminder of how even the most ardent beliefs borrow from what has come before. And just before he can successfully complete his quest, Garvey slips on Sunday’s roof and lands on top of him, effectively knocking him off his mortal coil – divine intervention or pure bad luck? In a world where the forsaken have been left behind, is there a difference?
And so Garvey ends up wandering the outback, where he sees a string of twisted Biblical vignettes. When a snake appears, it isn’t charmed by Garvey or seductive towards its human prey; it simply bites him, prompting Garvey to bash it to death. When he comes across a burning object, it’s not a bush, but a man set himself on fire out of grief-stricken despair. As for the Book of Kevin? That was left behind in a bin, where, in a touch of delicious irony, it is washed away in a prophetic downpour.
Well, almost all of it – one page is kept by Garvey, folded up with money inside (you guessed it) a National Geographic Magazine. Is that a sign that Garvey wasn’t mad all along? Or a simple coincidence? In a world where any piece of paper can become a holy relic, and people find meaning in any insignificant object, is there a difference?
Garvey wakes up to find himself in the company of a woman who does see the difference: Grace. One of the quarter from Episode 2, she confesses that she has lost her family and, in her tragedy, found meaning in the piece of paper discovered upon Garvey’s body: the only remaining part of the Book of Kevin. (Christopher Eccleston’s reaction, when Matt finds out that Garvey just threw the Book away is priceless.) That was what let Grace to commit murder in Episode 2, killing a police officer named Kevin because she thought it was Kevin Garvey Jr.
It’s only when this scene happens that you really appreciate just how sublime the performances are. Lindsay Duncan carries the huge weight of guilt and confusion in only a few minutes of screen time, while Scott Glenn (who can also be seen bringing sarcastic sass to Marvel’s Daredevil) proves he doesn’t need a stick to hold our attention – he does so for almost an entire hour mostly by himself, the sheer force of his conviction shining through his grizzled stare, his frayed hair, his frantic carrying out of aboriginal customs. For every inch of Grace’s doubt, he has miles of certainty. Is she just wrong?
“No, Grace,” he reassures in the kindest tones we’ve ever heard him speak. “You’re not crazy at all. You just got the wrong Kevin.”
The catharsis of that reassurance is powerful, potent stuff, a perfect encapsulation of the overwhelming comfort that knowing something in the face of great unknowns can bring. The Leftovers is full of people all making that same reassuring rediscovery every step of their stumbled journey through darkness. Who cares if that reassuring certainty is true or not? The feeling it brings is just as genuine.
The opening credits, which again are accompanied by a different song, introduce us to Personal Jesus by Richard Cheese – a folksy cover of the Depeche Mode song. A tune about being a Jesus to somebody else, it sets the show’s stall out for all to hear. Just like the religions, sects and superstitions that spring up from the well of this world’s grief, the series echoes truths that are found in exciting theologies. In Western, we’re all heroes in our own stories, finding solace in being part of a bigger narrative that has an acknowledged Messiah – and yet enjoying the validation of having our own life and purpose. God has a plan for us, we’re told; we’re part of a wider story, but never at the expense of our own purpose. It’s no wonder that Matt, a Christian priest, finds it easier to adopt to the Book of Kevin than Garvey.
But whether it’s Kevin, or some other movement that you buy into, The Leftover’s profound magic lies in the fact that it knows there is no difference. The Book of Kevin Sr. has no more revelations than the rest of them, but that doesn’t mean it’s redundant. Here, all books are welcome – and, in a wonderful blend of form and content, given their own chapters to shine in their own right. The result is a show that allows them all of these stories to be read and appreciated at the same time. Don’t we all, in some way, simply have the wrong Kevin?
The Leftovers Season 1 to 3 are available on-demand through Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription – with a 14-day free trial.