In the penultimate episode of its inaugural season, The Leftovers finally gave viewers a reason to care about the Garveys. It took nine hours to get here — was it worth it? Like so much about The Leftovers, the placement of “The Garveys At Their Best” is a question of pacing. It would have been a harrowing season opener, or another early episode. Was Damon Lindelof afraid that a flashback episode would feel too much like Lost? (That the present only matters because of the revelations of the past?) Or was there a feeling that waiting this long would make the character reveals more interesting? In any case, it arrived — hit the jump for why “I smoked. And I don’t want a dog.”
Seriously consider for a moment just how different the viewing experience of The Leftovers would have been if the series had opened with “The Garveys at Their Best” (or had it as the second episode). This hour provided groundwork for the guilt and disillusion that permeated the rest of the season. Nora was in the midst of resenting her family, and desiring time and space for herself. She got it. Laurie seems ambivalent about keeping her baby, and then the baby is taken away. Jill and Tommy witness a disappearance, just after discussing the problems between Laurie and Kevin. Then Laurie, presumably, leaves without an explanation, which causes them to resent Kevin for it.
The Garveys, Nora, Matt and his wife, Kevin Senior, and almost every character make so much more sense in this context. Even Kevin Junior’s hallucinations (or visions) have more power now, with the deer as a recurring theme, the idea of a dog he doesn’t want, etc. Like Nora, Kevin resented his family, too. He admits to his father that it’s not enough — he has an unfulfilled hero complex, essentially. The reason why he and Nora connect so quickly and so easily is that they are both harboring the same guilt about themselves: “I wanted them to disappear, and they did.”
The little touches like Patti being someone Laurie counseled, or Gladys being the dog breeder where Laurie goes to get the puppy, were all fine little twists. But they weren’t so full of impact that it necessitated viewers to watch eight episodes in order to get the joke; it would have worked just as well the other way (seeing Patti, for instance, go from a confused and abused woman to becoming the harsh leader of a cult).
The miscalculation that The Leftovers has made this season is one of purpose. What is the show supposed to be about? And almost regardless of the answer (be it about guilt, pain, grief, loss, or something supernatural), “The Garveys at Their Best” set the stage for it. It created a baseline for all of the major characters that not only would have given their individual stories more emotional connection in prior episodes, but it also would have tied in the supernatural (or at least, the fact of the Departure) much more closely to those individual stories, making it all matter more.
Non-linear storytelling can be a powerful and beautiful narrative device, but “The Garveys at Their Best” proved that The Leftovers would have worked better with a more traditional timeline. Granted, there is still one more episode left in the season to see how things will resolve (or more likely not) at the the end of this run. But for now, this hour was one that was almost a reward for sticking around with the show for so long. Is it too little too late, though? Especially since we now know it didn’t have to be that way.
Episode Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I would have felt favorably towards this episode no matter what though, if only because of Justin Theroux jogging, and then hanging around in soft pants. Blessed are those …
— Hearing Laurie finally speaking was almost jarring.
— Margaret Qualley did such a great job portraying 13-year-old Jill. Hilariously accurate, not only in her dress (and braces) and Nyan cat sensibilities, but her goofy laugh and slumped shoulders. Great work.
— The foreshadowing of The Departure was a little too heavy-handed in Nora’s story, but it still worked. Her love but also annoyance with her children was also beautifully and realistically acted. Her guilt complex also makes so much more sense.
— “I’d rather us be afraid together” – Mary Jamison. That also explains Matt’s horror that he got drunk and let his wife drive, and she was paralyzed in the accident following.
— This episode tried to give Tommy a little more context, but still failed.
— Kevin having a psychologist wife and not bothering to tell her about his visions and hallucinations seems like a missed opportunity.
— Laurie seemed to really take Gladys’ comments about puppies needing to be free of their mother a bit too seriously, when she abandoned Jill and Tommy for the GR. Her leaving Kevin I kind of understand, but the rest …
— “So cut the shit, ok?” – Kevin Senior.