The Leftovers: “The Book of Kevin” Season 3 Premiere Review

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Can Kevin Garvey die? That’s the question his new extended family is asking, the existence of which is probably the biggest surprise of the premiere. But The Leftovers has always succeeded in finding ways to emotionally surprise us. In the case of “The Book of Kevin,” everything seems to be hunky dory in Jarden, to the point where this premiere is actually written to be very funny in parts. Like, very funny. That’s a feat that only the highest of dramas pull off. But fans of this show’s grim tone needn’t worry, the bookends of this premiere are fascinatingly bleak.

Let’s start with the opening scene with the pilgrims, which, succeeding season two’s cavewoman opener, perfectly encapsulates the show’s tone without uttering a word. A positively normal family goes to church in their community, where they are continually told a new date in which God will make himself of this earth once more, roughly every four months. But as the dates pass, only the mother is left standing on the roof waiting for God. With a lightning storm approaching, she isn’t even able to find solace in the heavens smiting her. So she climbs down, soaked, in view of an entire community that thinks she’s gone insane. Her husband and son watch as she walks to the church and lays down with her believers, ostracizing herself from a society that has left her behind. Yet she marches on. On a personal note, I don’t think the first five minutes of a season of television have ever made me cry. But then there’s never been a show quite like The Leftovers before.

Their white clothes slowly transition into those worn by the Guilty Remnant in Jarden in season two’s finale, and we’re caught back up with Evie and Meg the day after the anniversary. Another stunning shock from the premiere comes when a missile reflects in Evie’s glasses, indicating that the GRs that invaded Jarden have all been slaughtered, just before a “Three Years Later” card comes up. This is an insanely grim start to the season, but both these scenes feel entirely earned based on The Leftovers‘ tone and the events of last season. Suddenly we’re back in this world.

The most sizable chunk of the premiere comes next, devoting itself to establishing where all the main characters are at in their lives. The shock comes with how cheery everything is; the characters do more smiling here than if you compiled all their smiling from the first two seasons. Kevin and Nora essentially run Jarden now. Cute! Tommy is a cop, following his father’s footsteps. Aww! Laurie and John are married, and essentially part of Kevin’s family. Sweet! This Stepford Wives version of The Leftovers is so delightful it’s haunting. But in a moment where Tommy, for his birthday, offers to give his wish away before blowing out the candles, a tiny crack forms thanks to a quietly sorrowful expression from Nora. As the episode goes on, this crack starts to get bigger and bigger, enveloping all the characters into a state of mourning.

It’s revealed that Matt is now completely devoted to Jarden, thanks to Mary waking up and having a child in town. But Mary is leaving him, tired of having to live up to the miracle Matt believes her to be. She also reveals that Matt is writing a gospel in Kevin’s name. That sentence is a crazy thing to hear, but even Kevin wants to find the limits of his mortality. A group of protesters interrupt Matt and Michael’s group baptism in Jarden’s “holy waters” by supposedly putting barrels full of poison in the water in an attempt to make people aware of the missile that killed the GRs three years ago. So Kevin jumps in. In a way, hey turns the poison back into water, allowing the baptism to continue, with Kevin getting the inaugural dunk.

And so the Book of Kevin has some real grounds to it. As Matt, Michael, and John remind Kevin of all his miraculous resurrections, The Leftovers finds a way to make the writing of a new Gospel, in 2017, feel justified. The show’s tone puts some great comedy into it as well (“The beard looks good on you,” Matt coyly says to Kevin after he laughs off being Jesus). Kevin isn’t going to accept that he’s worthy of joining the Bible, but he won’t burn the book that Matt wrote either. If in two weeks, which marks the seventh anniversary of the Departure, something does happen, you can bet that The Leftovers will put Kevin at the center of it.

The episode ends on an enticing cliffhanger. Just what is Nora, if that even is Nora, doing bringing doves to a church, presumably in Australia? When is that taking place? “The Book of Kevin” didn’t need a cliffhanger like this to keep me excited for next week, let alone the rest of the season, but damn do I have a lot of questions now. Thankfully, these questions are positioned in such a way that The Leftovers will likely answer them before the end, unlike whether Kevin can actually die or not. But have faith, it is the Lord’s day after all! Happy Easter and rejoice! Hallelujah! For The Leftovers has finally returned, and it looks to be ready to royally fuck us up for the next seven weeks. Grade: A

Some Other Notes:

  • I didn’t get to touch on Dean, but his return in the premiere, after sitting out season two entirely, was fun. First, his declaration that dogs are taking over people’s minds was hysterical. Second, his attack on Kevin was harrowing. Third, a dog walked away with his peanut butter sandwich, a vibrant display of The Leftovers‘s pitch-black sense of humor.
  • Kevin rides a horse and holds his cigarettes like a goddamn Western superstar, all with his thick Long Island accent. He’s perfect and deserves every extra chance at life he’s gotten.
  • I have no idea what to make up of Laurie and John, but we learn later in the premiere that John believes Evie to be alive after the missile. Just another example of how this show knows precisely when to punch you in the gut.
  • Fun new dynamic: Matt and Michael, both incredibly good-natured, both a little naive.
  • What’s to be Jill’s role this season? That goodbye sounded oddly definitive, and she is probably the least interesting character in the cast.
  • The only regulars missing this week were Scott Glenn and Regina King. Hopefully it won’t be too long, but then sometimes The Leftovers manages to develop its characters while they’re off-screen for weeks in a matter of seconds. So really, whatever, I trust they’ll be brought in precisely when they need to be.
  • I cannot tell you how excited I am to be back reviewing The Leftovers. This premiere was everything I had hoped it would be, in that it made me feel a wide range of intense emotions all while finding surprising and unique ways to tell its story. I fully believe this show is an all-time classic, to be remembered after it’s ended like much of Kubrick’s resume. But for the hopefully growing viewers, check back on Sundays for reviews. I don’t think I’ll be missing an episode no matter what, this show is just too good for that.

By Matt Dougherty

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