“The Leftovers” – 2.08 or It Makes No Difference If You’re Black or White

Van Redin/HBO

Sunday night’s episode of “The Leftovers” was brought to you by the letter A. A is for “attachment”.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted and it should be no surprise that Damon Lindelof, the man responsible for my first post in 2007 (hi old Facebook “Lost” followers!), would bring me back. Ironically, Sunday night’s episode was co-written by Nick Cuse, son of Carlton Cuse, the ying to Lindelof’s yang on “Lost”.

In this week’s episode, “International Assassin”, we find Kevin Garvey eating Alice’s proverbial mushrooms and going down the rabbit hole (or getting hit in the head and travelling to Dorothy’s Oz), if you will. In other words: a stranger quite lost in a world they are actively (though subconsciously) creating. Call it a spiritual journey, a “dream sequence”, hell can call it an unapologetic Lindelofian smorgasbord of cryptic easter eggs –but above all else it was a glimpse into the dark night of the soul where all of Kevin’s demons live.

Demons hide. We all have them, and they scurry away from us until, of course, the moment comes where we choose to stop and look them dead in the eye — and this is where Kevin differs from Alice or Dorothy: CHOICE. Kevin made the choice to drink the poison at the end of “A Most Powerful Adversary” and therein battle his “demon” in the form of Patti Levin, even if it could kill him. The question as to whether Patti has been “real” or a figment of Kevin’s mental illness is important, but inconsequential in understanding the world in which the two adversaries came up against each other in Sunday’s episode, because that world was surely of Kevin’s own making. Now let’s explore it.

“Don’t drink the water”

It is no coincidence that this episode begins with a rebirth — a baptism of sorts symbolizing the Holy experience in which Kevin is about to partake — when Kevin emerges from a bathtub gasping for life like a newborn child. (This holiness is echoed and comes full circle in the episode’s closing scene; read on.)

“Know first who you are, and then, adorn yourself accordingly.” – Epictetus, Greek Philosopher

As divine as Kevin’s journey may have been, the show is sure to mark the importance of free will in our human experience along with that divinity. Once again, CHOICE. Nude, Kevin is forced to chose from four outfits hanging in the closet of that unknown hotel room where he awakens. They are:
  • A clergyman’s robe
  • A Guilty Remnant all-white outfit
  • A smart black and white suit
  • A Mapleton Police uniform

Not much of a surprise, Kevin choses the suit. I don’t think its a stretch to assume that this choice was based on the apparent and relative neutrality of it, representing no allegiance to any group or idealism. In a twisted turn of events however, Grandpa Virgil later tells him, “Look at the way you’re dressed, man. You’re an international assassin.” Once again, just as with Patti, Kevin has aligned himself with something/someone in a subconscious way, and despite his best not to, because (“Lost” pun intended) no man is an island — we are all “attached”.

Black and White Symbolism

Leftovers 2x08 YingYang

Lilies, water, birds, white noise. I group all these together because of their intersecting symbolism and their basis in dark and light. The white lilies delivered to Kevin’s room by a man trying to kill him, the water which Virgil warns against drinking and almost drowns young Patti, the tiny black sparrow which “terrorizes” the hotel lobby, and the white noise that continuously startles Kevin, are mostly white/clear seemingly harmless and even calming elements turned “evil” in this world. Here the classic “battle” between ying and yang –darkness and light– is reinforced because one thing cannot exist without the other. There is no good versus evil. It is not a battle to be won but played out and actively balanced in that play. Is this not what the episode’s resolution between Kevin (dressed in a black suit with a white undershirt) and Patti (always in white) showed us? Kevin emerged (literally from the ground!) with a piece of Patti forever a part of him, and he a part of her. Without good and evil, nor right and wrong, what is left is an understanding that opposing forces and “beliefs” must dance with each other and learn from one another. What new sense of understanding will Kevin –a puppet once and again– bring back to the “real” world? Or will it just lead to more suffering and confusion?

“On October 14th, attachment and love became extinct.” – Doppleganger Patti (Kevin)

In my opinion, Doppleganger Patti’s speech about the uselessness of attachment and love in this episode is the root of everything the show has been tip-toeing around. If you’ve had trouble understanding what “The Leftovers” is even about, watch it again. Or just read this.

For Patti and The Guilty Remnant, the departure showed the world that human life is just that: human, not divine. It is disposable and fragile and it always has been, so for one human to attach itself to another is not only useless, it is detrimental. This is evidenced in the widespread depression, devastation, and confusion which followed the departure. According to the GR, had the world been aware of something so obvious before the departure occurred, it wouldn’t have caused so much pain and suffering. Should any death or departures occur from here on in, the Guilty Remnant is preparing the world for it. A world with no human attachment.

The flipside of course is that love gives humanity strength through companionship, encouragement, understanding, and communication (this is why the GR promotes silence). Kevin battles with these two ideas as he both loves deeply and fears how love may crush him should it vanish. He questions his own desire to love despite his ability to do so.

Here are my two cents: Patti  and the GR may be equivocating love for attachment. Although the former breeds the latter, is it perhaps not possible to love without attachment, or is that simply part of our humanity? Can the two be separate? Should they be? I believe this is the dilemma at the core of the series because it is at the core of us all.

Leftovers 2x08 Young Patti and Kevin

“She will try to deceive you.” – Virgil

The first time Patti tries to deceive Kevin is when, disguised as a child, she pretends to drown. In this way she attempts to trick Kevin into “drinking the water” which Virgil warns against as it would blind him to the truth.

The second time is when Presidential candidate Doppelganger Patti appears. Although a creation of Kevin’s own when he is unable to find “Patti” in her known form, it was a purposeful if indirect consequence to Patti’s disguise. (Remember Virgil tells us that she thinks in zig-zags, spirals, and circles.)

The third and strongest deception occurs when young Patti slowly reveals (firstly through Neil’s evil nature towards her) that she is the neglected and abused little girl who almost drowned. As Kevin learns to hate Neil, he aligns with and attaches himself to Patti. Ultimately, he sympathizes with all the pain he caused in her life (“I feel sorry for you,” he says through tears). Young Patti’s repetition of “I talk too much” is parts comical and effectively heartbreaking considering how she’s been talking Kevin’s ear off all season.

The fourth and final deception occurs as Patti takes her adult form after Kevin has pushed her down the well. She opens up as to her own stories of pain and attachments in a devastating retelling of when she won $65K on Jeopardy and still could not muster the courage to leave her abusive husband, Neil.

“Feed that motherfucking fire” – Kevin’s father
“Then we’ll burn.” – Neil

They say fire purifies. That the phoenix will rise from the ashes. Fire alarms blare twice in this episode but there is no fire. Where as Kevin fears the alarms and evacuates his room, others remind him that there is nothing to fear in fire. On the other hand, it is water that is made to fear in both drinking it and the well which will ultimately kill Patti. Ying/Yang.

“There are Miracles in Miracle.” There are miracles, period.

This episode was a game changer for one reason: Kevin’s resurrection (like Erika’s bird buried for 4 days underground) exposed the existence of a “God” or divine force in the world. Where “Lost” asked the question for six seasons and answered it (YES!) at the finale (that’s all folks!), “The Leftovers” has revealed the same in its second season and will have to deal with the consequences of such to follow. But to say there is a God is not to say that there is a divine purpose or even a sense of destiny as we saw with the focus on free will and CHOICE. It would appear that the divine power allows for miracles based on those choices.

More allusions to a divine power:

  • The Guilty Remnant security guard asking Kevin to “make like Jesus” before patting him down.
  • Kevin’s father mentioning that he has taken a drug called “God’s Tongue” which revealed to him that Kevin must take Patti to the well (“Get Well Soon”) and kill her. This implies that it may be God’s will for Kevin to kill her and once again echoes his place as a Jesus-like messenger. The use of “God’s Tongue” as divine guidance also seems to align God with speech and communication rather than the silence which the Guilty Remnant dictates.

“Holy, shit.”

And just as it began in a rebirth from the water, the episode ends in a resurrection from the Earth. Kevin gasping for breath yet again– a bittersweet reminder of humanity. Living is hard, folks, but we’re gasping for more.

Other things to ponder on

Mary Jamison getting blue balloons. It’s a boy? What else could her presence mean?

Gladys tells Kevin, before hooking him up to the lie detector: “We just need to make sure you belong here.” That’s a big question for Kevin. Does he belong “here” with those that were left on Earth after the departure? Or “here” in is his own possibly ill mind? Or even “here” in the divine space he has created?

Was Wayne truly divine? His presence in Kevin’s realm despite Kevin’s conscious unawareness of Wayne’s powers makes me think so. As if he was present in a real way much like Patti rather than part of Kevin’s construct. After all he reminds Kevin right before shooting Doppleganger Patti that “the mind plays tricks on us” as a warning.

What was up with the people discussing a medical emergency in Spanish throughout the episode? My best guess is that Kevin knew he was dying and fighting for his life deep down and this was his subconscious seeping in to remind him without him understanding what everyone was really talking about. I speak Spanish so I know that’s what was being said: someone is in medical danger and something needs to be done. Yet another example of how communication barriers keep us from connecting to the truth. “There is a power to that. Silence.”

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2 Trackbacks

  1. […] « “The Leftovers” – 2.08 or It Makes No Difference If You’re Black or&… […]

  2. […] was brought to you by the letter F. F stands for Family. Family over everything. In the past two weeks I’ve discussed the problematic issue of human attachment as it plagues the characters of […]

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