The Leftovers S03E03 Recap: 'Crazy Whitefella Thinking'

I've never gotten the impression that The Leftovers was meant to be any sort of takedown or condemnation of religion or faith. There are characters in the show (and in the Tom Perrotta novel it's based on) that might have some interesting takes on those subjects, but I don't think they really represent what Lindelof or Perrotta believe, or even what they want to convey through their work. Instead the show presents more general ideas about faith, and how people use it and religion when in periods of great stress or grief.

In "Crazy Whitefella Thinking", Scott Glenn's Kevin Garvey Sr. finally gets his moment to shine after seldom being seen over the course of the last season and a half, and he uses his time to show us exactly the kind of complicated relationship with faith and religion that Perrotta and Lindelof seem to have. The episode and what happens to Kevin Sr. in it are not quite condemnations, not quite endorsements of those concepts; it just presents the journey of a man who sees and experiences things on a quest for, in his own words, purpose, as well as meaning. How those things are to be interpreted are up to the beholder, and in our case, the viewer. In that sense, this is an episode of The Leftovers that's very true to its formula, its roots, its own thesis. It's giving us a different viewpoint to the journey that everyone else on the show is going through, and through, in this case, a singular cameo from another member of the cast, juxtaposing it against someone else's journey.

What Kevin Sr. is going through is in many respects spiritual. He very clearly establishes that he believes in a higher power and sees truth in the practices of various sects and groups. He's traveling all around Australia in search for the lyrics to a song that will stop a flood he believes is coming on the seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure. This is the kind of behaviour that would generally be labeled as insanity, and we only have more reason to disbelieve it knowing Kevin's past, yet the episode doesn't outright dismiss any of it. In fact, it uses behaviour around him that is abjectly crazier to ground Kevin as a character and force us to view what he says and does with more of an open mind, and Glenn sells it with a riveting performance.

Kevin looks at things and sees everything as a sign. He listens to a recording his grief-stricken son makes in 1981 and uses it to guide his path on his extended walkabout. A man driving up to him when he needs him most, only to set himself on fire thanks to nearly seven-year-old guilt and a weird analogy about murdering a baby. He sees a snake, an image he considers to be his totem, and decides he needs to kill it and eat it, but he gets stung in the process. And he happens to wake up on a compound where people happen to be building an arc, and where the local sheriff also happens to be named Kevin (as we saw in last week's excellent episode). Another character, maybe a Nora or a Kevin Jr., would go through a lot of these things and try to rationalize them or write them off. Kevin Sr., however, seems to be 100% in for whatever life throws his way.

Yet the show seems pretty objective in conveying that what happens to Kevin Sr. is kind of arbitrary. For example, he stumbles onto those women murdering the sheriff simply by happenstance, even though last week's cliffhanger made it seem as if he chose that moment to reveal himself. In fact he's even the cause of that sheriff's death due to the page from Matt's manuscript that he kept, but it's purely the design of his own carelessness. He brushes off the death and reinforces the woman's insane belief that murdering a sheriff named Kevin would let her talk to her family again (a family, which, by the way, didn't even depart). And maybe there's something there, but also maybe it's just another crazy Australian trying to set fire to themselves in the Outback, and Kevin just happens to be around.

What's especially interesting is how the episode differentiates him from someone like Matt, who has a firm, unshakable belief system. The episode cleverly presents that dichotomy in two phone conversations in which Kevin Sr. and Matt wind up telling each other to go fuck themselves. So Kevin Sr. isn't like his son, he's not like Nora and he's not like Matt. He's an entirely new viewpoint for a show that has heavily explored this idea of purpose and meaning. He's the kind of person who's so desperate for those things that he'll cling to whatever latest idea or wrinkle that's thrown his way. There's actually a scene in this episode where he casually throws away what he previously describes as the secret to the Bible, after he finds out that Matt made it about his son and not him. And again, that's not Kevin rejecting God or even Christianity itself, it's just part of his journey.

This is admittedly kind of a difficult, complex episode to unpackage. While it's seemingly straightforward in presentation, filling in the blanks between the last couple of times that we saw Kevin Sr. and presenting us this alternative way of dealing with Departure-related grief, it's also a lot of exposition and a lot of abstract idealizing. This is Lindelof and his people setting up the message they want to deliver in five episode when the finale rolls around. It's showing things from another perspective. It's also something completely different, in a completely different setting that's thousands of miles away from the rest of the story, following a character we seldom see with an appearance from only one series regular in two short scenes. That makes from a relatively clunky episode that doesn't quite stand up to the standard the other focused-in episodes of The Leftovers have set. While new and different and exciting, there were parts of "Crazy Whitefella Thinking" that left me longing for an appearance by Nora or Kevin Jr., that kept me waiting for those "oh, fuck" moments the show has delivered in the past, a moment that never came.

That being said, all those positive things I said about the episode, I stand by, and Scott Glenn delivers an incredible solo performance throughout the whole thing, anchored by a couple of scenes in particular that really let him shine, notably the scene where he's talking to the guy he needs the last song from, explaining his entire journey. They say that you should show, not tell in your story, but this is a case where Kevin Sr. does nothing but tell, yet manages to make it vividly entertaining. That alone is worth buying what "Crazy Whitefella Thinking" tries to sell. "Crazy Whitefella Thinking" gets 8 leaky air conditioners out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • Kevin essentially murders two people in this episode with no fanfare and I think we're all okay with it.
  • I was all in with the "Perfect Strangers" version of the theme, but to be honest, this week's "Personal Jesus" version fell a little flat.
  • By the way, Scott Glenn is legitimately just as crazy as Kevin Sr. in real life.
  • "What are you doing?" "Preventing the apocalypse. What are you doing?"
  • "Go fuck yourself, Matt."
  • "Kevin." "Yeah?" "Go fuck yourself."