I held off on starting my episodic reviews of The Leftovers Season 3 to binge through the entire series up to this point. I had hoped to prepare myself for the inevitable torrent of ‘what the fuck is happening’ moments—a constant in the season premiere.
After re-watching the series, I still don't know what the fuck is going on.
SPOILERS for The Leftovers S3E1 and E2 follow...
Setting up an entire season's worth of questions within the first episode seems to be a repeated tactic from last year to now. Last season's premiere episode treated its audience to an entire town of mysteries, from Evie's strange private reticence to the mysterious guy on the pillar. So many of these peculiarities remained a mystery until the end of the season; some remain a mystery still. This year, instead of clearing up some of those loose ends, The Leftovers Season 3 premiere gave us even more entropy to contend with.
Some of this year's serving of dramatic riddles are unique in that they focus on presenting familiar characters...uncharacteristically.
On paper, some of the folks of Jarden have fallen into their natural states; Jill is off to college (donning a fitting Nirvana tee), Nora is back with the DSD, Laurie continues her therapy-through-deception practice, and Kevin has resumed his universally transferable role as Chief of Police. It seems three years was more than enough time for the makeshift Garvey family to get over the honeymoon phase of escaping from their past selves to Miracle. As Jill wisely quoted: "Wherever you go, there you are."
What's off are the behaviors of these characters. It would make sense for Kevin to appear happy and contently grumpy; having finally reunited his family, extricated himself of Patti's maddening presence, and found himself reinstated as top cop, there's plenty for Kevin Jr. to be happy about. But it was hard to immediately get over the need for further exploring where the last episode left off. You know, how Kevin actually came back from the dead. Twice. Watching Kevin handle mundane day-to-day policing tasks seemed to suggest a complete mental dismissal of last seasons events.
The once-broken family man's gracious acceptance of Laurie and John's apparent marriage was also very confusing and hard to swallow. John seems to have gone through a complete transformation from his strict demeanor (epitomized by a more elderly, carefree haircut and overall look). And it's a great look, seeing as his overly controlling character nearly destroyed the Garveys and the entire town of Jarden last year. But it's hard to forgive him of his sinful past, especially seeing as he and Laurie are currently running a scam. As Laurie and Tommy's Wayne bit was for the benefit of those in pain, so is this, I guess—but it's not a great look for John to take up a practice he once saw criminal enough to warrant evicting an old friend by way of burning a house to the ground.
It was safe to assume Ericka had left John after the bombing of the Guilty Remnant, especially since she had once planned on leaving her husband prior to Evie's disappearance (as she admitted to Nora during the DSD questionnaire last season). But again, we saw an unexpected kinship between two unlikely characters here: Nora and Ericka, who once traded rocks through respective windows, seem to be intimate drinking buddies now. What could have transpired in the past three years to bring these two together? Is Nora often stopping by for a pint, or was this the first they'd seen each other for years? And if Ericka remembers burying Evie, how is John convinced she's still alive? Is Nora the puritan from the premiere's cold open? What about the Hurley bird?
There are several mysteries like this still up in the air, and it's frustrating not being privy to details the characters are all pleasantly aware of. Instead of trudging through the nebulous unknown with our heroes (like we did with Kevin throughout the majority of the series), we are instead taken through an annoying tease of an episode for our introduction to the series' conclusion. However, this show has a commendable knack for answering the most pressing questions early on.
We got several of those nagging questions taken care of almost right away with Don't Be Ridiculous. As many suspected, Lily is with Christine, and Nora's recollection of how this transpired makes a lot of sense. Having lost two children herself, it became more than believable for Nora to surrender her adopted child to her biological mother.
This could very well be Nora's only soft spot at this point in her life. After the Departure, the fall of Mapleton, and the loss of Lily, it seems Nora has lost any lasting sense of compassion by now. Her shrewdness seems to pervade every human interaction she finds herself in, making her even less likable than before.
Personally, I find Nora to be entertaining, but despicable. Her cattiness serves as some of the show's most imperative comic relief, but it has come to reach an all-time low with her heartless besmirching of Pillar Guy—she even buts into harmless prayer circles just to shoot people down! Nora's disdain for religion was once reasonably defensive, but she now seems to seek out confrontation with venomous, obsessive vindication.
It's also hard to continue pitying her after she abandoned Kevin last season. I'm a big fan of Junior, so seeing Nora take full advantage of her non-committal relationship status and run from Kevin at the first sign of trouble—well, I'll just say I haven't forgiven her yet.
Nora isn't the only one guilty of avoiding commitment. As of The Book of Kevin, our hero seems to be conflicted about his belief in whether or not what happened to him was ‘real.’ When speaking to Dean and Laurie about his metaphysical antics, he seems to be convincing himself that none of it was real and that he is "better now." However, after Tommy shoots Dean, Kevin recounts his assassination of Patti in the hotel as if they were real events. This week, Kevin still seems unsure of how much he disbelieves his own divinity, hesitating to let Nora take Matt's book with her—perhaps fearing that she will destroy, misplace, or otherwise mishandle the only written testimony of his pseudo-biblical endeavors. It's nice to know that the once curmudgeonly skeptical New York cop is coming closer to accepting the unknowns of this world, but it also feels like a betrayal for us (the audience), having seen him last in one of the most surreal, other-worldly adventures of modern television.
And I hate to brake it to you, Kevo, but "better" doesn't look like wrapping a plastic bag around your head.
So yeah—let's talk about that scene. First off, props to Justin Theroux for producing a frightfully convincing scene. From the look of it, there doesn't seem to be any ‘trick’ happening here; Theroux really had that sucker strapped to his head. It may look easy, but it takes guts to pull off a stunt like that.
This scene is pretty loaded, considering Kevin's arguable divinity. Is he trying to go back to the hotel, or is this just a coping mechanism? By episode 2, Kevin seems to clear up any question of whether or not he's suicidal (thankfully, he isn't). But even the initial scene seems to allude to the supernatural while also suggesting there's no imperative danger here. While Kevin is setting up his little stunt, he doesn't seem to be distraught, and he prepares with familiar authority. No doubt, this isn't his first rodeo. The music also suggests that everything is, indeed, "groovy," (the song is Feeling Groovy by Simon and Garfunkel), but it might also be a hint. Simon and Garfunkel first made their scored appearance in the Season 2 finale, when Kevin had to karaoke his way out of the hotel. The song he sang was none other than Simon and Garfunkel's Homeward Bound. Perhaps Feeling Groovy is a callback to the hotel, hinting that Kevin is indeed trying to get back to the purgatory-like building.
There's far more to dig into with these past two episodes, but I'll reserve some of my other thoughts until more is revealed in the coming weeks. So no, I'm not going to speculate on what the cold open means, nor the strange (apparent) flash-forward with old Nora. For now, I'll let the mystery be (anyone else miss that song?). However, I will say that I'm concerned that some of these mysteries—those presented by three years of undocumented events—may remain unexplored. Written off as events that transpired and need no further explanations. There have been some serious transformations in these folks from last season to now, and the stories behind these transformations beg to be divulged.