Welcome to this recap of the first episode of the third and last season of HBO’s The Leftovers. The episode offers a bit of everything: a prologue that contextualizes the main theme of the season (waiting for the end of the world), it reboots itself in terms of some of the characters and the main storylines, it brings some unexpected old characters (Dean the dog killer!), it hints at the possibility of Kevin as a Messiah (baptism in the river included), and it ends with a mysterious epilogue set sometime in the near future (presumably after the events of the third season). So let’s break it down.
Prologue: Waiting for the End of the World
The new season of The Leftovers opens with a prologue that takes place in a small town somewhere in 19th century America (1844 to be precise). In the opening, we find a family of pilgrims who, after listening to their pastor predict the precise date of the end of the world, give all of their possessions away, climb to the roof of their house all dressed in white, and await for the Rapture and be taken by God. We never hear the family or any of the other characters of the prologue speak, but the scene happens as a narrator reads Matthew 32-44, which describes the events that will signal the end of the world.
32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
After spending the night on the roof, the end of the world doesn’t happen, but the faith of the family is unshaken and after their pastor offers a new date for the arrival of the Rapture, they climb to the roof again only to have to come down the next day and being mocked by other members the community. After this second time, the husband abandons his wife and takes the children. The wife, though, persists in her belief of the upcoming end of the world. The prologue ends by transitioning from the face this 19th century woman dressed in white waiting for the end of the world, to present times, and the figures of the Guilty Remnant, also dressed in white, who had taken over Jarden at the end of the second season.
If during the second season, the prologue scene involving a pre-historic woman seemed to indicate the birth of religion and the existence of sacred places (the title of the episode was “axis mundi”) such as Jarden (the Garden of Eden), this prologue sets the tone for what will be the main theme for the third and final season of The Leftovers: the end of the world and the lengths to which some people will go to maintain their faith even on the face of facts that may contradict it.
Rebooting the Show: Goodbye Guilty Remnant.
Just like the show did at the beginning of the second season, the third season begins with a remarkable reboot. Instead of exploring the consequences of the violent breach of Jarden by the Guilty Remnant, Lindelof and Perrotta have decided to explore other issues and move the story forward three years by simply destroying the Guilty Remnant using a drone missile strike that kills them all (including their new leader, Meg Abbot, the character portrayed by Liv Tyler). This ability to reboot itself creatively every season is one of the aspects that I admire most of this show, and one that you do not see much in modern TV, where there is a tendency to follow a template when it is proven to be successful.
Only 14 Days Left:
Three years have passed since we last encounter the people of Jarden. Now Kevin is the police chief, and the town is open to everyone. In 14 days, the world will celebrate the 7th anniversary of the Sudden Departure and there is fear (and expectation) that the end of the world will finally occur. Matt Jamison, is quite convinced that this is what it will happen and it is preaching his congregation to be ready for what it may come. Matt’s faith seems to be strengthen by the events of season 2, with the extraordinary awakening of her wife, her ensuing pregnancy (she could not bare children before her illness), things that were medically impossible but happened in the miraculous town of Jarden. He thinks that all of this events, the Sudden Departure, and the inexplicable phenomena that happened after as seen in season 2, reflect what is prophesied in scripture, and that the time has finally come for the second coming of the Messiah. Interestingly enough, he has a theory as to who that Messiah may be…
An Unexpected Visit: Dean the Dog Killer
One of the most intriguing and puzzling storylines of the first episode of this season is the appearance of Dean, the resident of Mapleton that appeared for the first time on the pilot, and who became a companion of Kevin in killing abandoned dogs in the aftermath of the Sudden Departure in Mapleton and helped Kevin kidnap Patti. The story, in a traditional Lindelof fashion, is straight up crazy (it involves a candidate for president who may be part canine, and a peanut butter sandwich) and it ends with Dean being killed by Kevin’s son and now deputy Tom after a few scenes later, Dean tries to kill Kevin with a rifle. That’s seems to be the end of it, but I am pretty sure we will pick up this crazy story at some point later in the show.
Giving them What They Want (even if it is a lie)
Kevin’s ex-wife, Laurie, is now together with John Murphy (the father of Eve, one of the 3 girls who disappeared in season 2), and has moved from her scheme of having his son Tom pretend that he has the same powers as Holy Wayne, who could take people’s problems away through hugs, to have John Murphy pretend to read palms (as Issac Rayney, his childhood friend was actually able to do in Season 2) in order to offer comfort to people. While John is meeting with people who want to contact deceased loved ones, Laurie is upstairs looking them up online and telling John through an earpiece what to say to them in order to make sure they leave with a sense of closure. The interesting part of Laurie’s project here, as well as during the last part of season 2, is that she sees faith and religion as a necessary lie, and she is willing to use deception if it is for a good cause (end justify the means). Her actions can also be seen as a reaction to her embrace during the first season of the nihilistic doctrine of the Guilty Remnant. She, understands the comfort and certainty offered by faith and religion, but she also seems convinced that it is all a necessary lie that we tell ourselves in order to live in a world that is beyond our comprehension.
When Life is not Good Enough
After a brief scene in which we encounter most of the main characters of the show during a celebration of Tom’s 25th birthday (a good excuse to reunite most of the cast for a brief moment), we encounter Kevin the next morning getting ready for work. Before he gets dressed though, he uses the plastic bag of the dry cleaning to asphyxiate himself. It seems clear that, after the events of season 2, in which Kevin dies twice only to come back to life, Kevin wants to reproduce those events and, in particular the experiences he had during those moments. It is almost as if normal life is not good enough anymore, and Kevin’s daily routine cannot compare to the extraordinary experiences he went through while he crossed to “the other side” (see the episode International Assassin). As through most of the show, Kevin is trying to have a normal life only to be constantly confronted that life after the Sudden Departure is not normal, and that he is not normal.
“Then Kevin came from Jarden to the River to be Baptized by Michael”
A very powerful and important moment in the episode is the unexpected baptism of Kevin by Michael in the river. The scene confirms one of the most important storylines for the season, the notion that Kevin could be / may be the Messiah.
Matthew 3:13-17 New International Version (NIV)
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
This is later confirmed by the conversation that Matt’s wife has with Kevin in which she tells him that Matt thinks that “the New Testament is getting old,” and that he has been writing about Kevin’s life and the extraordinary events that took place in Jarden 3 years ago. As Matt’s wife tells Kevin “he became very excited when you arose from the dead.” Kevin confronts Matt about it, and he confirms that he has written a new Gospel of sorts and that although the idea that he may be the Messiah is crazy, he did come back from the dead… twice, and when he tried to drown himself and earthquake saved his life. This concludes with one of the funniest lines of the episode:
Kevin: “I am not fucking Jesus.”
Matt: “I am not saying you are, but the beard looks good on you.”
Epilogue: What happened After the End of the World?
The episode ends with a mysterious epilogue in which a mysterious woman brings a cage full with of messenger pigeons to a nun in a church somewhere in Australia (the church is named St. Mary Mackillop, after the 19th century Australian nun who became a saint in 1995), echoing the scene in the prologue in which a pastor was using pigeons to predict the end of the world. When the Nun asks the woman “Does the name of Kevin mean anything to you?” we see who is revealed as old Nora facing towards the camera saying “no.” So did the end of the world happen? Did Nora and a few others survive? Why is she saying that the name Kevin does not ring a bell? What is she doing with the messenger pigeons? And who is sending those messages? I guess will find our more in the next episodes…