The episode in a sentence: The show finally gives us a flashback to the events of the Departure.
That's right. This is a Damon Lindelof series. Just like Lost (his other "WTF is happening?!" television show), The Leftovers sure knows how to tell a story. Lindelof doesn't take audiences from A to B to C, then on until Z; he takes them from A to C to X, then back to B, before jumping to the number nine.
Here's a look at what the Departure was like for each character on the show.
The episode opens on Kevin (Justin Theroux) going for a run. The world around him is chipper and friendly, and "The Girl from King Marie" plays in his headphones. Per his usual routine, he stops at a mailbox, taking a cigarette from the pack he's taped underneath it. He has to sneak away and smoke — like he did at summer camp in Cairo! — because, surprise, Laurie (Amy Brenneman) doesn't want him to smoke. He makes his way home, and in typical Lost-reveal style, we learn that the Departure hasn't yet happened, but is imminent.
Kevin's relationship with his children is great: he's interested in them and protective of them, and they return his love. (Seriously, there was so much affection going on between the Garveys!) His relationship with Laurie seems picture-perfect, maybe almost too perfect. Lurking beneath the surface is a man unsatisfied with the whole thing. He feels trapped, like the deer he insists on saving from slaughter. No need to kill the creature — a tranquilizer can do the trick.
During a fight at the end of the episode, Laurie makes it obvious that Kevin identifies with the trapped deer. He gets angry and hollers, "Fuck you, Laurie," and then goes and fucks someone else. (Were those the last words he said to his wife before she left him for the GR?)
Kevin seems to have everything an American man is supposed to aspire to: a beautiful spouse, loving children, an exquisite home, and an honorable career. The contrast to his life post-October 14 is painful to watch — like the biblical Job, Kevin really had everything taken away from him in one fell swoop.
The last time we saw Kevin's dad (Scott Glenn) was when Kevin locked him up after he went crazy and tried to recruit his son to do The Voices' bidding. In episode nine, however, he's trying to convince his son that there are no voices, even voices of ambition, and Kevin should stop listening to them.
"Why isn't it enough?" Kevin asks, referring to his picture-perfect life. Kevin feels like he should be content with all that he has. His father tells him he's not alone in his dissatisfaction: "Every man rebels against the idea that this is fucking it." Garvey wants more than the family he has. After October 14, all he wants is the family he had.
Kevin's dad is much more interesting as a character in the post-Departure world. And his romantic relationship with Mayor Lucy (Amanda Warren) is one I still don't understand. At any rate, father/son relationships are incredibly important to the overall narrative of The Leftovers — next week's episode is titled "The Prodigal Son Returns" — and Kevin's father serves an important function. The Garvey man-hug, the tight embrace of three generations of Garvey men, was a tender moment to watch, but also bittersweet because we know dissolution is coming.
We learn Laurie is a therapist, and one of her clients is Patti (Ann Dowd), who just died in last week's episode, set in the present. Laurie's office bears a calendar, very similar to the GR's own wall-hangings, that says, "The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground." This seems like it may be included because, well, it doesn't really mean anything. It's one of those fancy-sounding sayings that serves more as a distraction from a riddle than an answer to a question.
Laurie's home is luxurious. Her office is elegant. Everything about her life is in meticulous order. But Patti sees through it. "There's something wrong inside you," she says during one of their sessions. Laurie seems momentarily affected by the would-be prophet's diagnosis, but in the end, she maintains her brave face and tells Patti she's got it wrong. "There's nothing wrong with me," she answers. (Now we know where Jill got her "I'm OK" stuff. The self-deluding apple doesn't fall far from the tree.)
Laurie really wants a dog, but she knows Kevin doesn't want one. Still, she dabbles. In an interesting Oh-that's-how-they're-connected moment, Laurie visits Gladys (Marceline Hugot), who's a dog breeder. In the world of The Leftovers, dogs aren't cute and cuddly; they're raucous and angry and vicious. The contrast between pre- and post-October 14 animals is quite noticeable, and it's also worth mentioning that Gladys's comment about how wonderful dogs are seems foreboding in the most creepy way.
Further propelling Laurie's gradually unraveling relationship with her husband is her secret pregnancy. If Kevin doesn't want a dog, then she can only imagine how he'll respond to the news of a baby. Pregnancies seem to be an integral component of the mythology of this series, and it'll be interesting to see if and how Laurie's pregnancy is dealt with in the future.
It's probably worth mentioning that the final shot of the episode does not confirm that the baby vanished from Laurie's body, though it's strongly implied. With Lindelof, however, the camera's implications can be used to distract from what really happened. Given the fact that the ultrasound shot isn't confirmed, coupled with Patti's ominous "There's something wrong inside you" and that strange "It's a girl!" balloon Kevin finds in the dead deer's antlers, it's probably safe to bet that the final shot of episode nine will have major ramifications for the entire series.
At this point, we don't know how long Patti has been seeing Laurie, but the two seem to know each other well enough. Patti feels comfortable expressing herself in front of her therapist, just as she did during her hotel restaurant trip with her. What Patti said to Laurie — "There's something wrong inside you" — is certainly interesting, however.
I don't think Patti knows her shrink is pregnant. Then again, Patti doesn't know what she knows; she feels it. She has bursts of prophetic "tremors." She feels deep down in her soul that the world is going to end. Laurie interprets this as a manifestation of Patti's tense relationship with her abusive partner Neil, who recently kicked Patti out of their home. ("He paid for it. It's his house," she tells Laurie. When Laurie says, "That's not how it works," you have to wonder what she thinks of her own financial situation with Kevin.)
The reveal of Patti's relationship with Neil was set up wonderfully. Think back to episode five, "Gladys," when Patti gave Laurie a holiday from silence and smoking. At the end of their meal, Patti asked the waitress for a doggie bag. "Remember what you told me to do in the last session before everything changed?" she asked Laurie, and wrote down the name Neil on the bag. Later in the episode, Patti dropped the bag on the doorstep. We knew she wasn't leaving leftovers — are there really any leftovers on the show? Hasn't everyone departed, in some sense, since October 14? But now we know what was in the bag: all the abusive things Neil said to her.
Patti and Laurie's relationship is fascinating. Before the Departure, Laurie held the power, but the balance has shifted since the Vanishings. Laurie submits to her GR leader probably because she now believes her former client's doomsday preaching. The world did end, and Patti knew it.
Jill and Tommy
It was nice to see Tommy (Chris Zylka) and Jill (Margaret Qualley) together. It's clear they love and are devoted to each other. They also love and respect their parents and have been picking up clues that not all is well with mom and dad. "I think he's gonna leave," Jill tells her brother when he asks what she thinks is happening with their family.
Jill's relationship with her parents has been explored in several other episodes, so it was great to see some of Tommy's backstory with them. We've long known that Tommy isn't Kevin's biological son, but what we didn't know is that Tommy has a habit of getting drunk and sneaking over to see his biological father. Tommy tells his mom he should probably just try and forget about the man. But Laurie tells him, "As a trained professional, it doesn't work." In both her pre- and post-October 14 careers, Laurie is a professional rememberer.
The science fair scene was one of the most captivating moments of the series. I've long wondered how the writers would go about showing the Vanishings without falling down the CGI rabbit hole. The episode nails that image.
When one of the teachers asks for volunteers to help make a circuit, Tommy volunteers himself and Jill. As they join hands in a circle with several other students, completing the circuit and acting as a conduit for the electricity that will serve to light the oversized light bulb, Tommy makes faces at his sister to get her to laugh. Max Richter's musical motif starts to play in the background, with its usual perfect timing, and the action slows to a crawl. One of the children from the circuit vanishes, and the light shining on Tommy's face went dark, a beautifully foreboding image.
The last scene of episode nine hearkens back to the last scene of the pilot, in which the the camera flashed from one Garvey to the next as they responded to their grief. In spite of all that's happened to them, this family's members really love each other, and I'm hoping that season one doesn't end without giving us some sort of family reunion, however brief, however tearful.
We knew the writers had to explain that paper towel — and they did!
In episode six, we learned Nora kept performing her motherly duties even long after her family departed. She bought gallons of milk and children's cereal, even though she didn't eat any of it. She wouldn't replace the paper towel roll on her kitchen counter. The roll itself was empty, save the remains of a paper sheet that had been pulled off in haste.
In the immediate moments following her family's Departure, Nora, wad of paper towels in hand, stood staring at the mess her children just made at the breakfast table. She'd never again have the chance to play supermom, to clean up her children's spills, to beg them to quiet down. That's why, before her encounter with Holy Wayne, she left that roll of paper towels just as it was: it reminded her that she used to be Nora Durst.
Matt and Mary
It was nice to finally get to hear from Mary (Janel Moloney). She loves her husband Matt (Christopher Eccleston) and is concerned for his health. As she explains to Laurie (whom she meets in the doctor's office of Laurie's OB/GYN) Matt has been sick since childhood, and every few years, he has a cancer scare. Of course, he puts on a brave face for his wife and doesn't let her go into the doctor's office with him while he hears the news. Laurie understands what it's like to hide your vulnerability from your spouse: "He's scared. He doesn't want you to see him like that." As Mary reminds Laurie, for better or for worse, spouses see all the things the other tries to hide from them.
When Matt comes out and gives the good news that he isn't sick, he tells Mary they should go celebrate. "You get drunk, I'll drive," says Mary. It's heartbreaking to think that their time of celebration would be cut short by the accident that left Mary paralyzed. Given the moments leading up to their car wreck, I'm beginning to think that Mary is more of a Job figure than her husband.
One of the biggest criticisms of Lost was that Lindelof and fellow creator Carlton Cuse were just flying by the seat of their pants: they weren't really sure what exactly was happening with the Island, and the series suffered slightly because of it. But with The Leftovers, Lindelof seems to have learned his lesson. Episode nine, from a purely literary standpoint, is gold, and it suggests we can trust the writers because they know exactly what they're doing.
Besides the perfect script, "The Garveys at Their Best" is everything you'd want from a television show reveling in mystery: it was, in essence, an explainer that didn't over-explain. How did the Garveys end up this way? What motivated Patti to found the GR? When did Kevin's obsession with deer begin?
Tom Perrotta has said from the beginning that The Leftovers is a show about ordinary people living ordinary lives when, all of a sudden, on one ordinary day, something inexplicable happens. And the ordinary moments leading up to the Event — paper towels, spilled juice, a foolish affair, a high school science experiment — take on new significance as the characters are forced to confront them in search of meaning or forgiveness or hope. The question episode nine asks of its characters is, where were you on October 14?
The question episode nine asks of its viewers is, where will you be when your own October 14 happens?