I’m about two thirds in to the black hole that is Leftovers, the cryptic, apocalyptic HBO drama that has taken my life over the last two weeks. I’m down in the well with Kevin, the psychotic protagonist, with Patti, his tormentor/imaginary friend, wondering when and how I’ll ever get out—not that I want out, necessarily. It’s complicated.
Actually, I’m glad Kevin got rid of Patti, finally. I mean, I think he got rid of her. For all I know, her death will have been another hallucination; a Twin Peaks-like spin into a netherworld, after which she will appear again, stalking him and us with her maddening presence. She reminds me of a girl who wouldn’t leave me alone when I was nine years old, and no, she wasn’t looking for her first kiss. At least we got an explanation out of Patti. Moments before getting her head blown off in a Godfather-like ruse, she pronounces to Kevin, her assassin, a rationale for the diabolic breakdown in feeling that has overcome humanity since October 14th. It concerns attachment, and love, and abandonment, she states—all themes that have dominated this mind-slogging second season.
Kevin thinks he’s in purgatory, having accepted a mission into hell to kill the demon Patti, who in this underworld dream has become a senator, having presumably ridden a wave of end-of-world fervor. Kevin’s been having a rough time lately. He’s dead, sort of, after an inferno-inducing overdose facilitated by…well, nevermind. Anyway, he is estranged from his wife—that happened before season one. He’s been dumped by Nora, his girlfriend, in season two; he’s also estranged from his son, who at this point has joined a Guilty Remnant (a cult devoted to smoking and stalking) split-off group; meanwhile, Kevin’s pissing off his teenage daughter, who thinks him unreliable, blameworthy for her own abandonment struggle. Kevin feels alone, desperately, epitomizingly alone. Patti thinks this is the new normal: October 14th, that spectacular cosmic event of 2011, in which 2% of the world’s population inexplicably vanished, has rendered love moot, by demonstrating once and for all that goodness and justice mean nothing. The seemingly random extraction of people has turned the world upside down: it has made a liar of religion, morality, even medical science. It has shown that personal responsibility, good and bad deeds, don’t matter. It has destroyed our implicit belief in a meritocratic universe.
Two thirds in, Leftovers is shaping up as a parable of depression and deadness: what happens when the event is over, the moment of choice has passed, and only the aftermath remains. Well, questions remain: does it matter if we take care of ourselves, each other? Does it matter if we smoke, for example? The Guilty Remnant hierarchy denounces violence as a means to elicit memory (the ‘We make them remember” ethos), declaring violence “weak”. But if self-care, morality, and love don’t matter, then what’s so important about strength? Is it, as Patti suggests just prior to her demise, a matter of survival in a context wherein happiness or personal growth no longer exist? Are all of these strange behaviors—the delusions, the mutism, the acting out—variations of self-defense? Season two ends in relief, with a breathless, tearful reunion between Kevin and all of the estranged. Paradise? A happy ending? Not quite, but it rebukes Patti’s decree, anyway. Some things matter. Good thing too, for Leftovers was starting to get me down, into defense. No, I won’t choose mutism or smoking.
Here’s what happened. Kevin had been through purgatory and hell. In fact, he technically went through it (them?) twice after being shot on earth after his first return. Guy couldn’t get a break. When he wakes up in that Twilight Zone hotel, recognizing the scene, knowing he was back for another ordeal, he yells “MOTHERFUCKER” into a bathroom mirror in despair. I felt for him, his frustration and hopeless. But I laughed. I laughed my ass off.