Skip to main content

Friend, this is more real than its ever been.

The Leftovers
Season Two: Episodes 7-10

(SPOILERS) Damon Lindelof may not be about to tell us (or work out for himself) what the Sudden Departure means, but that’s in no way going to prevent him from lobbing non-stop surprises and curveballs around its periphery. I couldn’t have conceived the manner in which the later stages of Season Two veer completely off (Kevin’s in particular) reservation, and, indeed, I was looking in completely the wrong direction regarding much that transpired. All the better to immerse oneself in the best TV show of 2015 (or, to be more specific, the best show of 2015 that I’ve seen).


It would be easy to simply assume HBO execs were as wowed as I was, and wanted to see more of The Leftovers (but that didn’t stop them axing Carnivale). While they cite little things like a ratings uptick, critics’ rallying behind the show, and the kudos attached, probably helped them their decision to give a final third season the go-ahead. After all, it keeps a talent (I know, many would dispute that, none of them fans of Prometheus) like Lindelof sweet, and draws a line under throwing too much money the way of a show that just wasn’t ever going to break out.


Mostly, in relation to the second half of the season, we need to talk about Kevin. Mostly because half of the last four episodes revolve around him, and a large chunk of the finale to boot, by dint of his indeterminate fate. I had no advance knowledge of Justin Theroux’s continuing involvement with the show, so it was quite conceivable he would be killed off (or that Lindelof would pull a John Locke on him). That Kevin’s killed off twice, and I still bought that the second one might be for real, rather than following through with the same goofy reveal that encapsulates 2.8 International Assassin’s season highlight, is testament to the manner in which the season continually wrests expectations away from the viewer. Even being reasonably sure Meg didn’t actually plan to blow up a bus didn’t mean I was completely certain she wouldn’t.


I love that Kevin’s brushes with death aren’t just odd, touching and profound, but also very, very funny. Which comes as much from the use of Verdi to undercut and exaggerate his experiences as the experiences themselves. Which include meeting Steven Williams’ Virgil in an underground car park, exactly what Williams used to do in The X-Files. The world of Kevin’s afterlife hotel and international assassin is sublimely hyperreal, and entirely captivating.


Wayne Gilchrest: The mind, you cannot trust the mind, for it will play tricks on you.

The episode manages to answer, or provide enough of an answer to, a raft of questions raised during the course of the season (the burying of the birds by Erika leads in to Kevin rising after three days interred, “Our cave collapsed, Kevin” explains the parallel to the season’s Stone Age opening, Kevin’s dad – let’s hear it for the great Scott Glenn – has actually arrived in Oz and is fucked up on God’s Tongue, which allows him to communicate through the TV of the afterlife, or nethersphere) while giving voice to series themes (“You want to destroy families”; “I love you dad”; for more on these, see the finale).


But as enthralling as it is, it doesn’t reallyexplain the relationship between Kevin and Patti. We almost managed to allow Kevin’s screwed-up ex to convince us there was a logical explanation for Kevin’s malaise in 2.7 A Powerful Adversary, despite evidence in almost every scene that she is the show’s most self-deceived character; Kevin at least has no doubt of his non-existent grip on reality, which puts him ahead of her, and which is why he sets off in the middle of the night to see Virgil.


Yet his and Patty’s fates are/were entwined and, while one might make hay with International Assassin as the latest manifestation of a world going on in Kevin’s head, it is clearly fashioned as one from which we are supposed to transcribe tangible details as vital to the real one. After all, it’s now in the fact sheet of the show that Kevin survived death/ was resurrected; the supernatural is all around, even if it merely comes down to a Lost-esque magical tract of land.


Patti: I am so desperate to do battle.

But the version of Patti we assumed was some sort of guide earlier in the season came crashing down in 2.7; “I’m just as fucking lost as you are”, she informs her haunted partner. Which means she can’t be relied on, to wit telling Kevin the girls weren’t coming back. Either this was an outright lie, or she didn’t know and was just blustering because she’s as lost as he is, or because she isn’t there at all, and only knows stuff when Kevin is consciously aware of it, but that isn’t really Perrotta and Lindelof’s schematic. So Kevin’s journey to the underworld is to expel this fellow traveller (“She ain’t in you Kevin, she’s on you”).


Lindelof and Perrotta take in underworld lore, in which there are guides along the way, and waters of forgetfulness (“Did you drink the water?”, very Lethe) but also indulge the classic movie furnishings of hallucinatory near-death experiences/ altered states, where the characters we know take different forms, including Holy Wayne. They also throw in the old “Could you kill that child?” conundrum of offing Hitler as a nipper, in which Kevin meets the challenge and thenhas to murder Patti as an adult too (and all that after saving her life before he knew who she was). Naturally, the well where he does the deed is the same spot we saw the cavewoman and her child in the season opener. Confusing accounts are offered of the nature of this realm (“Friend, this is more real than its ever been”) and, although Kevin is affected (“It’s hard – because I feel sorry for you”), he nevertheless treats the environment as one that isn’t real, or at least one where his acts don’t have real repercussions. It will be interesting to see if/how Lindelof and Perotti pick up on this in the third season.


Kevin: I’m not fucking doing this again!

And also what they do in the aftermath of the aftermath of his subsequent visit. Kevin as International assassin has its appeal stated outright (no wife, kids, responsibilities) – his subconscious wish to escape, which is why, the second time, he must choose the policeman’s uniform. Perhaps, even, he had to go under again, in order to make that correct choice. The sequence is even giddier this time, as we’ve got the groove of it. Speaking of which, Kevin is required to sing Homeward Bound (“You pushed a little girl into a well but you don’t want to sing?”) while his nearest, dearest, and weirdest (National Geographic, May 1972) flash before his eyes. His emergence, to John’s disbelief (John hasn’t really got the sure touch for killing people outright, it seems) in a town now reminiscent of the nightmare version of 1985 in Back to the Future Part II, is a masterpiece of unlikeliness. And then Lindelof takes Kevin home, where all are assembled.


John: I don’t understand what’s happening.
Kevin: Me neither.

While the strange goings-on with the extended Garvey clan are fairly well-established, much of the Murphys’ lore remains inscrutable. In particular, the abuse suffered and its continuing ricochets resist clear definition. We have Virgil’s confession (“I hurt him a long time ago. And then he hurt me back”) for which Virgil took his punishment gratefully (“That foul machinery below the waist which transgressed the laws of man”). Although he doesn’t spell it out (that we see), Kevin takes this to mean Virgil’s abuse of John (John, a man living in denial, denies this).


So presumably Virgil, Erika’s father, knew John as a child? So what was the incident Michael references in church, how he and Evie “didn’t know why he did what he did”? Is this a cycle of abuse running through broken families, broken families that are Lindelof’s main subject matter, that John in turn has become abuser? Or is this in relation to Virgil’s actions directly, Michael and Evie’s response to the punishment meted out on their grandfather? I’ve seen it suggested Evie may actually be Virgil’s daughter, but I’m doubtful as Erika’s attitude to her father hasn’t really suggest such a dimension.


Whatever the nature of the abuse, Lindelof is setting up the vagueness purposefully, more than simply Evie’s “You Understand” as a reference to her mother planning to leave them. There’s something occasionally a little uncomfortable about the writers trading in narrative trickery with such subject matter (the same with the “Did he or didn’t he?” Matt and Mary pregnancy), turning it into a guessing game rather than with due deference, but it’s nevertheless powerfully inscrutable.


The Evie reveal is a show-stopper, though, and the manner in which the campers are integrated into the larger plot for a tumultuous invasion of Miracle is rather deft. A couple of elements in this regard are less so, though.


Its very evident that Lindelof and Perrotta are most transfixed by these Miracle plot threads. Perhaps strangely, since she’s such a standout character, Nora drops mostly from sight for the last four episodes while Kevin undergoes his long dark night of the soul. She resurfaces to have trouble with her baby (“That’s not your baby. She doesn’t belong to you”) and gets rescued by Tommy. Who, now it has been revealed that his Holy Wayne-ing was just an act, has become the least interesting character in the show again. Whether it’s his mum telling him what to do or Meg (who exerts a lure, seeing as he has a craving for hugs).


Evie: I’m sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for here. No one ever does.

Meg fares better, but the remnants of the Mapleton plotlines have been the lesser ones of the season. Meg’s barely been in this run, so it says something for Liv Tyler’s performance that she makes such a powerfully hostile impression. I’m not sure her use has been especially ornate, popping up in 2.9 Ten Thirteen to announce her grand plan, but it’s at least startlingly effective. She has some great scenes and lines (“I wanted to get you pregnant” she informs idiot Tommy), including the informative flashback scene with Isaac, where rightly or wrongly she tells her fiancé he wasn’t the real deal, and her first meeting with Evie.


And the scene where Matt (who is vindicated in 2.10 I Live Here Now; it’s just a shame we don’t get to see him wave it in John’s face) apologises for being Meg’s living reminder, pointing out how both have been emboldened and entrenched by the Departure.


Laurie continues to be the most difficult character to like (well, apart from John), because she so resists self-awareness, displacing her own anger and lack of understanding on those she seeks to manipulate. She constantly thinks she has an answer but never does, and so leaves destruction in her wake. Laurie still gets one of the funniest lines in the season, though, when judge, jury and executioner John comes looking for Kevin; “Oh, he’s definitely coming back” she advises, as Kevin walks across the street behind Pa Murphy.


Tommy: There is no family.
Meg: Family’s everything.

Lindelof and Perotta’s exploration of a dichotomy comes to a head in the last episode, as broken families assemble and cohesive ones dissolve. There’s still much left to reveal here, it seems, more mysteries corporeal and non-. Season Two manages to surpass the first, which I also found enormously satisfying right from the get-go. The regular strains of Where is My Mind?informed this run, and the question mark still remains in place at is close. But, in spite of the series’ emotional maelstrom, it finishes on an upbeat note, not unlike the first.


Occasionally Lindelof and Perotta try to be a bit too clever for their own good (“A magical black man sitting at the edge of town – that’s borderline racist, that is” is the sort of meta thing you’d more expect from Joss Whedon, if he had an HBO series), but now they’ve taken the plunge into the unknown beyond, hopefully the third season will embrace that further, amid more surreal-a-soap domestic strife. Lindelof likes to posit acts of God as turning points for his characters; Nora mocks the Almighty before a quake in which Mary awakes. Kevin’s suicide by drowning is prevented by another quake, such that “Either somebody is looking out for you, or you’ve got yourself a most powerful adversary”. We may never learn who’s behind it all, or what they’re doing, but in Lindelof’s vaguely definite universe something or someone is definitely up there, or out there, or both.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.