TV Performer of the Week: Justin Theroux, ‘The Leftovers’

     December 11, 2015


Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Season 2 finale of The Leftovers.

Was there any other choice for this week’s TV performer of the week? I’ve already written at length about how creator/showrunner Damon Lindelof stuck the landing of one of TV’s all-time great seasons with this year’s The Leftovers, but now it’s time to focus in on one of the key aspects that made the show work so well this year: Justin Theroux. As the confused/frustrated/angry Kevin Garvey, Theroux doesn’t have the most fun job in the world. Like most people in The Leftovers, Garvey’s not a happy guy most of the time, but Season 2 threw in a hefty dose of psychosis/supernatural to the Kevin Garvey mix, making for one of the most fascinating character arcs on TV.

And it all came crashing down this past Sunday with the Season 2 finale, in which we saw the resurrected Kevin dealing with the impending Guilty Remnant “event” and then, suddenly, dying once again. Theroux’s expression as he wakes up in that tub again, after the hell he went through to get out of this…place in “International Assassin” was absolutely perfect. The frustration is echoed in the viewer, as Kevin was so close to finding some semblance of happiness before it was snatched away by John Murphy.


Image via HBO

But the journey, it seems, is what it’s all about. Kevin does get out and come back to life (again), but not before he’s forced to take part in a karaoke rendition of “Homeward Bound.” What begins as something that seems a little absurd soon becomes an incredibly emotional breakthrough moment for Kevin, played with pitch perfect resolve and despair by Theroux.

It wasn’t just Kevin’s time in the afterlife where Theroux shined, though, as the episode’s closing moments hinge on the interaction between a revived Kevin and John Murphy (played by Kevin Carroll, who also did terrific work this year). This twice-resurrected Kevin is indeed a very different, more confident iteration of the character than we’ve seen before, and Theroux plays this change with a brilliant degree of subtlety. He’s still Kevin Garvey, but he’s not the same Kevin Garvey. It’s made all the more emotional when Kevin and John cross paths in the hospital. Kevin’s offering a degree of comfort to John—whose life has just been thrown into chaos—in the form of a second chance. It culminates with a nice moment in front of their houses, as they both walk into their homes with total uncertainty about the future.

I really think Theroux’s been undervalued a bit throughout The Leftovers’ run. Again, Kevin Garvey isn’t the easiest or most fun character to play, but Theroux’s work has been beautifully layered, keeping Kevin relatable and compelling as he falls deeper and deeper down a hole of possible insanity. He’s been incredible all season, but his work in the finale “I Live Here Now” is particularly noteworthy for bringing this season home to a thrilling, wildly emotional, and fitting conclusion. And now that we know a third and final season is coming next year, I can’t wait to see how this changed yet determined Kevin Garvey grows further.

Read about more TV Performers of the Week here.


Image via HBO