The Leftovers S1-Ep9 Review: Everything Was Beautiful and Everything Hurt
From the opening shot of "The Garveys at Their Best," it was immediately apparent that the episode was a flashback to before the Departure. The colors were overall warmer, the sun shone a little brighter, and everything was a little more beautiful. At first, it seemed like the writers were trying to establish a happy, nearly trouble-free baseline in order to demonstrate the tragedy of the events of October 14th, and the profound impact they had. What they actually did was much more interesting; they demonstrated that all the characters were miserable before the Departure, but in a much more run-of-the-mill way. The episode was like a mini-Ice Storm or American Beauty, uncovering the painted-over cracks of pretty suburbia. This would have been an accomplishment on its own, but in the context of the rest of the series, it changed the viewer's perspective on the Departure. Until now, the Departure has been this looming presence, assumed to be a catastrophe that ruined everyone's lives. But now we can see that the Departure just brought everyone's misery out into the open and out from behind closed doors.
This is especially apparent in the "finding a greater purpose" rhetoric that was employed both this week by Kevin's father and last week by Patti. Last week, Patti told us that Laurie joined the GR because she was looking for some kind of higher purpose after the Departure. This week, we saw that Kevin was looking for some kind of "greater purpose" when he cheated on his wife, and Nora was doing the same when she sought a job as campaign manager for the future mayor. Kevin clearly felt enormous pressure to be satisfied with his life, as he had a beautiful house, an accomplished wife, a productive career, and two children whom he loved. But, as his father pointed out, he couldn't help but wonder if this was it, if it was "enough." He's generally a nice man, and he must have thought he was above feeling emasculated by his wife being the breadwinner and not being the biological father of one of his children. But, as he learned, this was an inaccurate and self-aggrandizing view of himself. Similarly, Nora felt dissatisfied with her life as a full-time mother; she resented her husband for expecting her to be subservient and resented her children for defining her entire identity. The Departure served to expose these unpalatable, socially unacceptable parts of Nora and Kevin's personality to themselves. While October 14th has taken on this mythic significance as "the day that changed everything," in some abstract way it didn't change a thing. It simply brought everyone's true nature a little closer to the surface.
If the Departure changed anything, it shifted the balance of power in some cases. Patti was utterly fascinating in this episode, even more than usual. She was a broken, vulnerable individual, a far cry from the calculating, charismatic cult leader we used to know. She was the crazy person that no one took seriously, spouting paranoid delusions about the apocalypse. The Departure gave those who had no power in society, like Patti, to take advantage of others' vulnerability for a change. This power reversal is explicitly demonstrated in the dynamic between Patti and Laurie; Laurie was Patti's therapist, compassionate but completely dismissive of her apocalyptic predictions. Once her predictions "came true" (presumably as pure coincidence), she took advantage of the newfound vulnerability of a woman who once had ultimate power over her. When Patti spoke of searching for a higher purpose. she was referring to herself as well; she found her purpose in the abject misery that followed the Departure. Everything was inverted in some way after October 14th; Kevin and Nora, once quietly dissatisfied and experiencing a repressed ennui, got to wear their misery on the outside instead of the inside, and Laurie, who seemed to be satisfied with everything besides her marriage, became the poster child of searching for a higher purpose.
This episode was not without its problems, however. The symbolism got a little heavy-handed again; the leaking "My Hero" mug on Kevin's desk that symbolized his crumbling misconceptions about his own nobility was particularly overt. And the symbolism behind the deer was both in-your-face and slightly muddled; Laurie significantly told Kevin that the deer was "trapped" and that he would go "save it." Laurie may have been in an abusive relationship, so she might be referring to Kevin "saving" her and Tommy without being ready for the responsibility that went with it. But, on the other hand, Kevin felt trapped in their picture-perfect suburban life, so the deer may have represented him. Then again, everyone was sort of trapped in their own way, so maybe the deer symbolized everyone.
Also, while the revelation of Laurie's departed fetus was horrifying in the best possible way, it also made Laurie's reasons for being in the GR much less complex than I imagined and ruined the interesting dynamic of the central family not being close to any of the Departed. And there has been some speculation that the connection between everyone who disappeared involves someone regretting their existence (the baby at the laundromat, Nora's family, the child of a failing marriage, the mistress of a married man), but I hope that this is simply a recurring theme that is only meant to demonstrate the characters' survivors' guilt. If it was an actual mystical explanation, that would be a little over-the-top. That being said, I can forgive this show for beating us over the head with metaphors and succumbing to occasional melodrama if every episode is as psychologically shrewd and emotionally gut-wrenching as this one.