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Ann Dowd.
Ann Dowd.
(Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

The Leftovers, Episode 8

A recap and an interview with Ann Dowd

The Leftovers' eighth episode gave us (SPOILER ALERT) a heartbreaking farewell to Patti. Ann Dowd spoke with us about her character's shocking suicide, and about how the series has transformed her as an actress. Here is our recap of "Cairo," along with our interview with Dowd.


story,interview

I hear the shadowy horses ...

There's clearly something going on with Kevin and animals. In episode one of The Leftovers, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) came face to face with a mysterious deer. The animal, like others on the series, seemed to have a special connection with Kevin, seemed to understand him in a way that no one else could. Both Kevin and the audience were unsure whether the deer was actually standing in front of Kevin, or whether it was some type of vision. Or phantom. Before Kevin could probe into the matter any further, a pack of wild dogs came charging at the deer, overtaking it and devouring it, as he, confused, looked on helplessly. Dean pulled up in his truck — the same truck that Kevin has since assumed as his own — and told Kevin that it was time to kill the animals. When Kevin protested, Dean responded, "Those aren't our dogs."

Dean's phrase, like much of his loaded dialogue, left us with many questions. Did Dean mean the dogs that he and Kevin shot at one time belonged to Mapleton, but have, after October 14, become more wild, less domestic? Or did he mean, the creatures he and Kevin are shooting aren't actually dogs? And if they're not dogs, then the question is, what are they? The other question is, why is one of them tied up in Kevin's backyard?

Then there are those dreams. Or visions. Or whatever they are. The thing where Kevin falls asleep and acts out, recollecting nothing in the morning. Last week, Kevin awoke to discover that his left hand had been bitten by a dog at some point during the night. He was also surprised to find a barking black dog tied up in his backyard. This week, he awakens to find that he's trapped another creature — but this one isn't noisy. She's silent.Episode eight of The Leftovers, titled "Cairo," begins to move us definitively in the direction of discovering what's going on with Kevin, if not sufficiently answer these questions. As it turns out, quite a lot is going on with him. His relationship with his daughter, Jill (Margaret Qualley) is steadily souring; his bond with Nora (Carrie Coon) is becoming firmer. He seems mostly over Laurie, and, for the time being, he isn't that concerned about his father, who, along with his voices, is safely locked away somewhere.

At some point after falling asleep in his home in Mapleton, Kevin wakes up in his truck in Cairo, NY. Knock knock, rap Dean's knuckles against the passenger side window, and Kevin flinches to life with a start. "Come on," says the mystery man, leading Kevin to a cabin in the middle of the woods, inside of which is Patti (Ann Dowd), tied to a chair in the middle of the room, hunched over, bleeding. The camera cuts to a close-up of her face, but the most important part of this shot isn't Patti. It's an animal. In the distance, just barely visible, and dimly lit, is a drawing of a horse.

Patti and Kevin

Ann Dowd, Justin Theroux, Michael Gaston. (Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

Ready?

Episode eight — like episode three, which focused on Matt, and episode six, which focused on Nora — fixes its storytelling gaze on one character, Patti. (I got to interview Ann Dowd about this episode, which you can read by clicking the interview link above.) Unlike Matt's and Nora's episodes, however, "Cairo" finds a way of striking a perfect balance between both giving us an in-depth look at a particular character and situating that story within the overall narrative of the show. While this episode is mostly about Patti, it isn't all about her, which is actually a good writing decision. With only two episodes left in season one, the writers have to start building momentum toward some sort of satisfying season conclusion. And for a show whose central theme is loss, that means letting go of a central character. In the show's most brutal moment since Gladys' horrific stoning, Patti slashes her own throat.

The beginning of this episode gives us a hint that something significant is going to happen with Patti and Kevin. In one of the more beautiful vignettes the series has given us, the camera flashes between Kevin preparing dinner for his family and Patti preparing the sanctuary of Matt's old church, which she bought from the bank in episode three. While Kevin unfolds a blue tablecloth, Patti unfolds clothes, and lays them in various patterns on the floor. Patti performs her job with the same detached quality we've come to expect from her, only this time, there's something different. As she opens a binder marked "M.D." (Mapleton Departed?), presumably double-checking her work, her eyes seem downcast and heavy.

The very next scene shows Patti in her office with Laurie. Patti gives the younger GR member the M.D. binder and an envelope of cash. When she writes "Ready?" on her pad, Laurie nods, which calls to mind Gladys' curious nod earlier in the season, the one that preceded her abduction and murder. What is Patti asking Laurie if she's prepared to do? Go to her death? Or maybe she's asking if Laurie is ready for the next development: the GR seem to be planning something momentous for Mapleton's Memorial Day celebration. (Memorial Day is a great holiday for prophets who refuse to forget anything.)

Laurie seems to be adjusting well to her new leadership role, until her daughter, Jill, shows up to the house requesting to be taken in. This obviously forces Laurie to ask tough questions. One of the taglines of the GR is "No family" — it might be hard for the two of them to commit to the phrase if they both are living in the same house.As it turns out, Laurie and Patti have different ideas about the question. Laurie believes Patti is asking if she's ready to take on one specific task — paying the deliverymen when they show up with bodies. But what Patti is really asking is if Laurie is ready to assume her boss's leadership. Patti knew it was time, that she was going away, and that someone would need to lead the GR.

Jill's decision to join the GR isolates her father even more. Kevin, like Nora, is now alone. Both of them have lost their spouses and two children. But while Nora's family didn't choose to leave her, Kevin's vanished from his house of their own volition. Kevin's grief isolates him because it is so unlike that experienced by any other Mapletonian since October 14. Kevin doesn't want to be alone, though. At one point in episode eight, he calls Nora, leaving her a voicemail that says he "needed" her. Sadly, she never called back. And he was forced to deal with Patti by himself.

Meg and Jill

Margaret Qualley, Liv Tyler. (Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

Guardian angel

Well, not entirely by himself. Dean was there, after all. But, as Patti says, Dean might not really exist. Part of Patti's job requires her to conduct research into the details of the lives of Mapletonians. She tried to find out about Dean, but couldn't even find a driver's license for him. "You might be able to shed some light on your friend here," Patti tells Kevin, "but as far as I'm concerned, he's a ghost." Significantly, Dean doesn't tell her she's wrong. "I prefer to think about myself as a guardian angel." But what is Dean guarding? Is he an angel assigned to Kevin? If so, what's his task?

The entire conversation confuses Kevin, who seems to have no idea how the three of them got to where they were. According to Dean, while he and Kevin made their way home from a bar, they passed Patti on the side of the road, which is when Kevin grabbed her, beat her up, and kidnapped her. He told Dean they would go to Cairo, NY. "You said you used come to Camp Something when you were little," Dean reminds him, noting that Kevin told him he used to sneak away from camp to the cabin to smoke cigarettes. That certainly seems like a significant location to trap the leader of the GR.

Patti doesn't seem like a victim. She doesn't pander to her captors' wills, or try to sympathize with them. Actually, she tries to get Kevin to sympathize with her. She is determined and resolute, her mind fixed on one thing: getting Kevin to kill her. Either you kill me now, she tells him, or I'll report you to the authorities and tell them what you did to me. When Kevin tries to tell her the entire thing was a misunderstanding, and that she should just forget what he did, she spits in his face and tells him that she never forgets.

The tension continues to build between Dean and Kevin, and Dean suggests Kevin go take a little nap. It seems like something really does happen to Kevin when he sleeps. As he walks around the woods, he notices his white uniform shirts hanging on trees - the same shirts that went missing earlier this season. "You're OK," he tells himself, trying to regain his composure.

When he walks back to the cabin, he finds that Dean put a plastic bag over Patti's face in an attempt to kill her. In an earlier episode, Kevin had a vision of his ex-wife Laurie, dead, in the back of Dean's truck with a bag over her head. Overpowering Dean, Kevin manages to rescue Patti. "I fucking wanted to help you," Dean says. "You are on your own, chief." And with that, Kevin's guardian angel departs, leaving only Patti and her oblivious captor behind.

Kevin and Dead

Justin Theroux, Michael Gaston. (Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

I want you to understand

This is where the series takes a turn, both in terms of answers and drama. The final scene of episode eight features some of the best written and acted moments of the entire series. Ann Dowd is an absolute genius, and is able to call forth a world of emotions with simply an almost-undetectable squint of her eyelids. And good thing, too: she's spent most of the season acting without words, delivering her dialogue on pads of paper, propelling her character's story further with nothing more than intense facial expressions and gestures. Dowd is truly remarkable, and The Leftovers will really have to up its game to make up for such a devastating loss. (At the same time, I'm fairly confident that Lindelof, in true LOST fashion, will resurrect Patti to give us a postmortem story of her relationship with Neil.)

As Patti tries to push Kevin closer and closer to the edge, he asks her what she wants. "I want you to understand," she says. "Understand what?" asks Kevin.

"What's happening to me," says Patti. "What's happening to you."

And then she delivers the best line of the entire series: a poem titled He Bids His Beloved Be At Peace, by W.B. Yeats.

O vanity of Sleep, Hope, Dream, endless Desire,

The Horses of Disaster plunge in the heavy clay:

Beloved, let your eyes half close, and your heart beat

Over my heart, and your hair fall over my breast,

Drowning love's lonely hour in deep twilight of rest,

And hiding their tossing manes and their tumultuous feet.

The speaker of the poem is bidding his beloved farewell — she, like Patti, is dying. The horses of the poem are heralds of this death. In his own notes on the poem, Yeats referenced the mythological horses of Mannannan, which are known in Irish folklore as "mischievous spirits" associated with death, that take the form of horses.

In Irish myth, Mannannan is a god of the sea, and is associated with the Celtic concept of the Otherworld. He's also, interestingly enough, considered to be a psychopomp, or soul guide. That is, like a guardian angel the psychopomp is responsible for guiding a soul to its final resting place. Psychopomps can also guide a person between his resting and waking states — which is something that Kevin needs help navigating between. This is all speculation, of course, but between the Yeats poem, Dean's remark about being a guardian angel, and the horses drawn on a wall of the cabin, a, I think it's safe to say that Kevin just might be living in some sort of mist between this world and the next.

At the conclusion of her poem recitation, Patti says, "Kevin Garvey, you don't have to hide from me," which reinforces the theme of his hidden identity. But just when we think he's going to play into her manipulation and murder her, he cuts her free. "No, Patti, I don't understand you."

"Kevin," she calls after him, picking up a shard of glass. "You do understand me." With that, she plunges the glass into her throat, and Kevin runs to catch her. As the two of them fall onto the ground, she repeats her haunting words, with a minor variation. "You … understand … " she says, unable to get out the "me." The "me" is gone. Patti finally accomplishes what she set out to do: she completely erases herself. It's a fantastic callback to the moment in episode three when she took down the letters "Y-O-U" from Matt's church sign.

As the camera pulls back, Kevin searches Patti's face for an answer. His guardian angel is gone. Nora doesn't return his call. He is all alone, with nothing except the dead body of the woman who took his wife from him. How is he going to explain Patti's dead body? What will he tell his precinct he was doing in Cairo? Is there any way that Kevin can fix this situation? Nora told him that things would get better, but when he asked her how they would get better, she admitted she had no idea. "But they will," she said.

Maybe the horses on the wall above Kevin and Patti have some idea how to clean things up.

First Gladys. Now Patti.

In tonight's heartbreaking episode of The Leftovers, the fearless leader of the GR took her own life by stabbing herself in the throat with a shard of glass. It was a devastating choice to kill Patti off the show. For one thing, we were just getting to know her character! But besides that, Ann Dowd was one of the strongest actors on the series. Her ability to silently portray her character's complicated inner workings is a testament to just how extraordinarily talented Dowd is.

I recently caught up with Dowd to speak with her about her role on The Leftovers, her departure from the show, and whether or not we'd see Patti again.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Brandon Ambrosino: What was it that drew you to the character of Patti in the first place?

Ann Dowd: I didn't understand her at first. That's always a very compelling thing for an actor: "Wait a minute, what's going on here?" Her strength, and her stoic nature, and her assuredness. I just didn't know what the core was, what got her here. So it was very compelling to me.

Brandon Ambrosino: How much did you know about Patti going into filming?

Ann Dowd: Not a thing. Nothing.

I knew what I read, what I auditioned with — I think you saw one of the scenes in the premiere episode — which was writing. Writing on a pad to, I believe, Amy [Brenneman's] character Laurie. And then another scene, which didn't appear, which was sort of talking to a new person coming into our group, someone like Meg, making sure that young person knew about what we did. So it was not a lot, but as I say, being Damon [Lindelof, co-creator and showrunner], it was enough of a hint to say, "Hey, wow, what in the world is going on here?"

Brandon Ambrosino: What about the opening scene of Gladys, where the two of you sat creepily across from each other, and she nodded her head? Did you know then that Patti was somehow involved with Gladys' murder?

Ann Dowd: Well, you know, it remains a question, which is answered later. Damon doesn't say, "And by the way, here's all the information." There's no way! If you want to know something as an actor, you call him, and say, "Hey, Damon, can you give me a heads up on what this is?"

He loves an actor forming their own path through the episode. And so it certainly was very intriguing. Hey wait a minute, what's going on in there [with Gladys]? What are they talking about? What are they agreeing to? But again, there are many directions that could go in. Not to be utterly vague, but really that's true! And I certainly did not have any one set opinion about it, even at the start of filming. I thought, "Well, this is going to evolve." Both internally for me, and as it is presented. Things will unfold, and become clearer.

Ann Dowd

Ann Dowd attends 'The Leftovers' premiere at NYU Skirball Center on June 23, 2014 in New York City. (Walter McBride/Getty)

Brandon Ambrosino: With Damon's other show, Lost, being dead didn't really mean being completely gone from the series. Can we look forward to Patti coming back in some capacity down the road?

Ann Dowd: You know, that's a good question. I don't know because we don't get the information. He, being very respectful of actors, let me know in the early part of shooting [episode] 107 that this was going to happen, and why it was important. Well, he didn't, you know — again, being Damon — explain why it was important. What he did explain was that's where his gut took him. And he followed that.

I did not see it coming, not for one second. And it's devastating, in true Leftovers fashion. And I really mean that in retrospect. Shocking and devastating was how it was to me when I first heard.

Brandon Ambrosino: How did Damon tell you that your character was being killed off?

Ann Dowd: He did it in exactly the way I would have wanted. He sent me a beautiful email, because, you know, we're on different coasts, and that does complicate matters in that regard. And it was exactly as I wanted it. The last thing I would've wanted to do was to talk in person, because it was too shocking to me. You know what I mean? So he gave me the privacy of an email, and my own space in which to react to it. So we exchanged emails a little bit that day. And it was the biggest shock.

This whole series — can I just say, without exaggeration — has had the most effect on me of anything I've ever done. I can say that quite openly. It has changed my way of looking at material.

Because prior to this, ... I didn't gravitate toward stories in which I couldn't figure out, oh, well this could happen, this couldn't. No, no, it was not on my radar. I have children. I don't watch a lot of television. So when I choose to watch something, it wouldn't necessarily have involved this subject matter. And that's when you asked me, what did I know about Patti? Nothing. I just thought, who's this creature, for goodness' sake? Because her actions, her way of life, would not have been something I would've related to at first at all.

It just got under my skin. And the shooting of it, and the people chosen in these roles, and the directors, and Damon — always the influence of Damon. He's not even present on set because he's too busy writing, of course, but always in communication. And Justin [Theroux] at the helm, who's beyond delicious. You know, seriously, if you're gonna pick someone, then you're gonna pick him. I can't say enough about him, and the rest of this group. So anyway, my point is, as time went on, I thought, "Wow, I don't know what's happening, but I am deeply involved here." So when I got the word that it was gonna end for Patti, when I said "in true Leftovers fashion" — just shock and devastation
.

Brandon Ambrosino: It has to be heartbreaking to say goodbye to the character you created.

Ann Dowd: In this episode, the things Patti says, and the way she tries to reach Kevin Garvey — it's all about letting go. Do you know what I mean? So in the beginning when you're told, "OK, this is not gonna go any further here, Patti's going away," and all of that resistance pops up — or the sadness, or rejection, whatever one goes through — it started to just dissolve.

I wish I had a better word. I wish I were Damon right at this moment because then I could talk to you about it. (Pause) I just began to let go of it all, and say, "Let's just stay with this material," which was very thrilling to shoot. I don't even mean the suicide. By "thrilling," I don't mean that. I mean, the unfolding of how it came to be. And how I started to understand where that character was going, and why the suicide was an act of strength.

Brandon Ambrosino: What is it like slashing your own fake throat?

Ann Dowd: You go right back to make-believe as a kid, so you can fully commit. You know what I'm saying? You don't add to it. I just said, "OK." You know, how do you prepare for that when you're preparing for the day's work ahead? And every time I tried to think about it, it would bounce straight off my brain. And then I realized, "OK, I'm going to get the help that I need." And by that, I mean, Michelle [MacLaren, episode director] was fabulous. That director is so good. And again, Justin: I think I'll be attached to that man for the rest of my life because of what we went through in that cabin. So I just didn't think a lot about it.

As the day unfolded and we got closer to it, I just listened to the direction I was given and tried to do it ... I mean, it's amazing on a set. I'm sure you've clocked many an hour on a set. But, boy, the people who are there to show you the way, it's just extraordinary! The effects guys, you know? And we worked out in advance: how does one do that? Do you hold it this way or that way? You know, you do the technical things. You figure it out. And then you go straight to, you dive straight off and you play make believe. And I mean that in the best sense of the word. You just commit. And you just say, "You know, this is where this girl's going, and it is time. She's waited for it. She believes in it fully. There's no sadness."

That was the great thing. That's what I mean by letting go, and letting go of my own personal feelings. Because when I first heard she was gonna, ya know, end it, I thought, OK, it's tragic, she's really had a hard life, or whatever I imagined her life to be because I don't know. And then I was, oh, no. No, no, no, no! That's me personally saying goodbye to a character. The reality is, for this woman, she is ready. She sees, she knows it's time. And so it just shifted course, thankfully, before we shot it. It was quite an amazing experience for me.

Brandon Ambrosino: Did you do the suicide in one take?

Ann Dowd: That's a good question because, you know, it comes in pieces. I think ... I think, ya, one time. I think it was practiced, do you know what I mean? And that's what I mean about a set. That whole crew is astonishing. It's done with all the people who are experts at that thing. They just go through it with you, and say, "This is what's gonna go down, and this is what to expect, and here's how you can orchestrate it and execute it." You just put yourself in their hands, I truly mean that.

Brandon Ambrosino: I imagine silent acting is challenging as an actress used to dialogue.

Ann Dowd: That's another thing about this show, as I said. It's just transformative. You realize about one second in, you better know what you're doing it, or what you want — by that, I mean the character. As an actor you better know! You don't have it, you're not gonna talk. Once you realize, "Oh, I see, I've gotta shift things," it became the most freeing, exciting thing in the world.

It's extremely freeing once you realize, "OK, just know what you want. What do you want to do to that person in front of you right there in the room? What is it that you're communicating here? And just own that. It was freeing, but really, you have to do your homework. Which, of course, one does anyway. But let me tell you, when you're suddenly there without words, it's like being without clothes. You think, "OK, well, better focus on what's in front of me here."

And I loved it. I loved it.




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