There are plenty of reasons to lie. Lies clean wounds, mend troubles, make the world feel safer. In a world absent of moral code and probability, what’s left to distinguish truth from lie? That seems to be the modus operandi of Kevin Garvey, centerpiece of HBO’s The Leftovers, whose lies and buried truths anchor the show’s season three premiere, “The Book of Kevin.” He lies to his son, to the townspeople of Jarden, and the friends he’s made there. His miraculous state of being comes with a wariness that he doesn’t speak to, but that plays brashly in the margin moments.
“The Book of Kevin” opens with a series of puzzling moments that only later gain some kind of clarity. The entire opening montage harkens back to season two’s premiere, a flashback to the early days of the world involving a cavewoman, a baby and a snake. It’s hard to make total sense of the sequence here — it looks to be citizens of a small American village in 1844 awaiting either the rapture or another great flood. But a storm comes, and they’re all still there, including a woman dressed in white that parts from her family and stands on a roof awaiting some Godly intervention that never comes. The next morning, she shamefully walks to a chapel and lays with other people in similar white robes. The sequence bleeds black into the modern day, cutting from the white robes of the villagers to the white clothes of the Guilty Remnant, who survived their attack on Jarden last season but are seemingly wiped away for good when a bomb drops on their quarters. From the looks of it, that means Evie, Meg and the other lingering members have all died.
It’s a bold way to kick off the season. The rest of the episode picks up the pieces of that revelation while dropping more. After the Guilty Remnant explosion, we fast forward three years. Kevin and Nora are still in Jarden, which seems even more Mecca-like and exotic than last season. We learn that wristbands are no longer needed to enter, and the center of town is bursting with interesting people and sights, including a giant inflatable Gary Busey for some reason. A series of surprises are dropped without much fanfare, namely that John and Laurie are now married, that Erika and Lily are both gone, that Kevin and Tommy are both Jarden cops, and that Matt is hypothesizing another “big event” to collide with the anniversary of the Sudden Departure.
But still, the lies. The biggest one hovering over the episode is the reality of what happened to the Guilty Remnant. Kevin and other officials have conjured up a story that they were killed in a gas leak explosion, but they were actually the victims of a targeted militarized drone strike. The true nature of their deaths leaks to a group of people who retaliate against the townspeople by attempting to poison the river where Matt is performing baptisms. To cure the chaos that erupts, Kevin, who is called to the scene with Tommy, jumps into the water and allows himself to be baptized. It’s a mock procession as Kevin remains unfazed by the fateful collisions in his life – life dying and coming back to life repeatedly last season – but it alleviates the tension. Later, as they drive away, Tommy asks how Kevin knew the water wasn’t poisoned.
“I just knew,” he replies.
Weirdly, that’s less of a lie than Tommy deems it to be. Kevin knows he can’t die in Jarden, though he won’t admit it, not even by episode’s end, when he is confronted by Nora and Mary, who inform him that Mary is leaving Matt and taking their young son back to Mapleton because of Matt’s religious fanaticism. He’s writing a book about you, Mary tells Kevin. Why? “He got pretty excited when you rose from the dead.”
Now that Kevin’s secret is common knowledge, the secret torment he’s been living with feels weighted. That secret torment includes the aforementioned poison diving and trying to suffocate himself when Nora is out of the house. He’s testing the limits of his Messiah status because he’s not sure how else to live with it.
And, like kismet, another mysterious figure returns to Kevin’s life at this transformative moment: Dean, who you’ll remember from season one as the dog-shooting guy. Dean has always been a mystifying character. Many wondered if he was real, or a figment of Kevin’s troubled psyche. Perhaps he’s a bit of both. He finds Kevin in Jarden to inform him that he believes that top government officials are mutating into dogs, a claim Kevin dismisses as completely crazy.
But is it? Later, a disgruntled Dean tracks Kevin down in his police car, shoots out his windows, and tries to kill him. “You changed, you son of a bitch,” he growls, before Tommy shoots him in the head, killing him.
As Kevin feeds Tommy another lie about a time he killed someone – referencing Patti, but twisting the circumstance – a dog comes and rips a sandwich out of the dead Dean’s pocket, the same sandwich Dean claimed contained the canine DNA of a Wyoming senator. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, just a dog eating a sandwich. But Kevin appears disturbed by the sight. Dean was always a bite of his own conscience, there for his most vulnerable moments. The dog thing is likely a delusion, but the lack of a sure thing in Kevin’s reality makes it a dangling thread. How many more before he comes unraveled?
— I won’t even attempt to understand what that epilogue was going for. Apparently somewhere in the future Nora goes by the name of Sarah and pretends not to know who Kevin is. She also sells doves? Like the prologue, that’s one I will choose to set aside and return to, when the pieces start lining up.
— Although I’m wondering where Erika went, it’s cute that Laurie and John work as a tag-team psychic service. He talks to clients, she looks up their history on Facebook and uses her background as a therapist to lend the clues meaning. The fact that they destroy the money they receive implies that they’re doing this simply to ease the minds of the troubled people of their town.
— It’s cute that Jane is a moody college kid in a punk t-shirt. Hopefully we see more of her this season.
— But seriously, what happened to Lily?
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