The Leftovers S03E01 Recap: 'The Book of Kevin' [Season Premiere]

Damon Lindelof is the kind of writer who wears his material on his sleeve. For everything you can say about his work on Lost all the way through to The Leftovers, you can't say that there isn't a complete sense of earnestness to it, even though he often aims to deceive through cinematic trickery. The Leftovers has especially been good about this, probably due to a more transparent creative license that Lindelof has thanks to the magic of HBO. In season 2, Lindelof took a lot of the criticism lobbed at a first season that you either loved or hated, blew up the concept by making it about something completely different, with a completely different setting, but kept some of the flair of that devastating first season that made the other half love it.

So what do you do for a third (and final) season now that you everyone from critic to former Lost fan alike raving about your work? It turns out, kind of the same thing. You keep the good and you blow up the shit that doesn't work, in this case, literally, as one of the first scenes of the season (following the prerequisite short story set in the past) has the government literally blowing up the Guilty Remnant that has been squatting in the Jarden visitor's center, including Meg and Evie. It seems as if Lindelof is done with the Guilty Remnant, at least for now, and if you don't believe him he makes sure to give us a couple of shots of the crater the drone's missile left behind. But the good stuff that you remember from the first two seasons is all still there.

"The Book of Kevin" is, in many ways, very reminiscent of what was great about The Leftovers in its first two season. For instance, the premiere is all about the titular Kevin Garvey, following Justin Theroux's character on what seems to be a normal handful of days for the new sheriff of Jarden, formerly Miracle, Texas. Everyone is there and everyone seems mostly happy, from Kevin's kids, to Nora, to Reverend Matt and even Laurie and the remaining Murphys. Jarden is different, now open to the public after the strict control that led to the madness of the season two finale, but its spirit stays the same, with a lot of the same weirdos condensing on the town, especially with another anniversary of the Sudden Departure approaching.

A lot of what's on the surface seems normal, but if any show has taught us that looks can be deceiving, it's this one. There are schisms in this new Garvey-Durst-Jamison-Murphy family dynamic, and it's no coincidence that the seams are ready to explode as the all-important seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure is fast approaching(important because, as Matt points out in a gospel we hear him deliver, seven years is a magic amount of time in the Bible). We find out that Kevin is apparently immortal now. Matt, Michael and John are aware of the details of what Kevin went through three years earlier, so they conspire to write a Gospel about him, to deify him as some sort of new Jesus to replace the one in the New Testament.

Kevin puts off the idea that this is crazy. He takes the only copy of the Gospel, but stops short of destroying it, because he knows that's something is up. We see him earlier in the episode try and suffocate himself to no avail. To be fair, the camera cuts before we see if he actually dies, if he goes to some weird Heaven-like hotel, but he's also immediately up and about, so it seems like this is something he might have been doing for a while now. The truth may not be as incredulous as the people writing a literal holy text about it make it seem to be, but then again, this is The Leftovers, so who knows where it might be going?

What we do know is that this third and final season is only eight episodes long, and that some big things are coming. What this premiere does best is establishing that through a general feeling of malaise, of discomfort, of tension. You know that something wacky, something crazy is going to go down, and the stuff we witness in this premiere is only the beginning, be it Kevin trying to kill himself, his buddies writing a new bible about him or his dog-hunting friend from Mapleton (the returning Michael Gaston) coming to visit him in Jarden with a sandwich in a cooler and a crazy story about dogs taking human form and infiltrating the government. Dean comes at Kevin and Tommy with a rifle, so Tommy shoots in him the head, by the way.

What's especially ambitious, and even a little terrifying, about this premiere is that the show not only gives us a beginning, but it also teases the end, as it takes it long into the future where a woman who looks a lot like an aged Nora (but who goes by the name Sarah) is farming carrier pigeons in Australia and pretending like she never knew Kevin. Whatever that's about is going to be interesting to find out, and I'm sure the rest of the season will zero in on all of what these characters have been going through.

Nevertheless, embracing the craziness seems to be the theme this season is going with. Not only with everything established above about the premiere, and possibly how it'll be about Kevin coming to terms with his status as a potential prophet, but from the very beginning with a short story set in the past, a holdover from last season. In this case, we follow a family of some sort of settlers or Puritans from the mid 19th century who are told the rapture is coming. They stand on a rooftop in white garb, awaiting for a faith that never comes. Slowly but surely the matriarch's beliefs alienate her husband, who is ashamed of her by the end. The last time she stands on that roof, not only does she not get raptured, but she has to deal with a storm as well. She comes down, everyone laughing at her, and lays to rest as the camera pans 175 years into the future to the present day. I don't know if I'm smart enough to pick up on what Lindelof meant by this, at least not before reading a handful of thinkpieces about it tomorrow, but it seems to me that through this he's visualizing insanity. This lady is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results that never come. People will argue that there's something wrong with her. However, two centuries later, what she was waiting for actually comes. Is this a result of the devotion of people like her, or some random act? Is insanity the root cause of the Sudden Departure, or merely a symptom?

I don't know if Lindelof wants to answer any of those questions, but he has set in motion events that over the course of the next seven weeks are most certainly going to be must-see, exhilarating and most likely devastating. "The Book of Kevin" is all of those things, but is also only the beginning, so it gets 9 peanut butter sandwiches out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • Gratuitous Justin Theroux nudity count: 2
  • This week in celebrities we find out were raptured: Gary Busey.
  • No opening credits this week. Hopefully that's not permanent, because the season 2 opening credits and how different they were from season 1 is absolutely one of my favourite things about the show.
  • The soundtrack in this episode is just one phenomenal choice of licensed music after another.
  • Kevin hides the roll of duct tape he uses to suffocate himself with in a shoebox marked "cuff links", because Nora probably already went through the box he marked "tax stuff." Who the hell keeps a box dedicated to cuff links?
  • "It's just a matter of time before one of those fuckers bites your face off"
  • "You watching porn?"
  • "Do you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and saviour?" "What!?"
  • After Michael dunks Kevin in the water: "That didn't count."