Every time “The Leftovers” takes one step forward and gives us an engaging, well-written episode focusing on a single character, it chooses to spend the next episode taking three steps backwards, leaving us viewers with an hour of needless obfuscation. Last night’s episode, “Solace for Tired Feet,” was no exception and, with three episodes left until the season’s end, it’s unclear whether “The Leftovers” will be anything more than a testament to narrative incoherence.
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Nora’s back this episode but, unfortunately, her screen time is brief, and spent mainly as an accessory to Kevin’s story line. Yes, we’re back to the Garveys and their family drama that seems to go nowhere. But first, an interlude with the teenagers of Mapleton, who continue to act more like a forty-year-old’s idea of the kids these days rather than actual teens. In the world of “The Leftovers,” every under-eighteen is a nihilist, and no one apparently has exams to study for, homework to finish, or college applications to complete.
The teenagers amuse themselves by locking one another in an abandoned refrigerator that has a very long, overwritten note on it explaining that someone disappeared inside of it on October 14th three years ago. To commemorate this, Mapleton’s teenagers have decided to lock each other in it to see who can last the longest without suffocating. Jill announces that she can win, which she does, but not without almost dying. Luckily, a mysterious older man in a bathrobe swoops in, freeing her. It’s her grandfather, Kevin Garvey, Sr., played by Scott Glenn. Turns out he’s just escaped from his psychiatric care.
Kevin the younger, meanwhile, is ending his fifth date with Nora, who proposes that he come over and, well, you know. Two GR members, one of whom is Meg, are waiting outside her house and, while Kevin tries to yell at them to get them to go away, Nora takes the more direct approach and sprays them with a garden hose. They leave and Kevin is very impressed, which makes sense because Nora is easily the best character on this show, and Carrie Coon plays her beautifully. Unfortunately for Nora, both of them stumble and fail at talking to each other about their personal experiences with the GR and the disappeared, and no sex happens.
The show remembers that Tommy Garvey is still somewhere out there, wandering the country with Christine, and so we cut to Gary, Indiana, birthplace of Michael Jackson and current hideout for Tom and an eight months pregnant Christine. Tom can’t do anything right, as evidenced by the soup he fails at making for a sick Christine and the medicines he fails at buying in the pharmacy, but he’s contacted by Wayne for the first time in months and asked to leave some of his money beneath a certain mail box. Wayne, by the way, doesn’t seem to be in that New York apartment he hugged Nora in last week, and continues to be a creep when he asks Tom if he’s slept with Christine. Ugh.
Most of the episode is devoted to Kevin chasing after Kevin, Sr., and it’s a testament to how poorly this series is sometimes filmed and written that they thought it would be a good idea to go full-on daddy issues and make Kevin both the namesake of and heir to the Mapleton police chief job previously held by his father. It’s obvious that this is supposed to be some kind of mysterious, disarming narrative move, but as Kevin’s dream sequence this episode proves, just because you cast an actor who’s worked with David Lynch does not make your series any kind of inheritor to Lynch’s supreme balance of weirdness and watchability.
Kevin’s dream sequence involves him killing a dog trapped in a mail box as urged on by the mysterious dog man and Tom turning his back to Kevin and closing the door. We get it, we get it. The next morning, it turns out that there is a dog in Kevin’s backyard. Jill’s friend Aimee asks Kevin if he forgot that he brought it home, then mentions that she helped bandage his hand. Again: ugh.
“Don’t Save Them”
Kevin’s father shows up while Kevin’s at work but Jill, who at last appears to be doing homework, lets him in. He asks her for $200, which she doesn’t have, but they chat about Kevin’s worrisome amount of tranquilizers (seriously, it’s a lot). He also ends up breaking into the local public library and having an altercation with another police officer. Kevin, by the way, freaks out during a GR protest of the SAVE THEM signs that have been going up around Mapleton, and has the first of two slow-motion-running-set-to-choral-music sequences in this episode. It’s ridiculous.
In Indiana, Tom sees some other bedraggled guy pick up the money he has hidden in an envelope by order of Wayne, and follows him to a seedy motel. It turns out that this guy is also protecting a pregnant Asian teenage girl, and both sets thought that they were the only one. This doesn’t make that much sense, though – in the glimpses that we’ve seen of Holy Wayne’s pre-raid compound, it seemed as though everyone hung out with one another and it was pretty obvious that Wayne was involved with the gaggle of teenage girls he kept around. Leanne’s reaction to realizing that she’s not the only one, and her child isn’t chosen, is pretty heartbreaking, but also a little unsurprising.
Kevin is pretty sure that Matt has something to do with his father after finding the peanut butter jar filled with money and that note from episode three. So, did Kevin Garvey, Sr. write that note for Matt? It seems likely, and it might have already been explained, but that whole sequence was a little unclear. Anyway, Kevin goes to Matt’s and it turns out that it’s Matt that has been printing the SAVE THEM posters. Boring. Also, why is Matt only used peripherally now, post-episode three?
Back to Indiana. Tom’s equivalent is doing coke and talking about what it was like to be hugged by Wayne, which Tom never experienced. Leanne, meanwhile, has a gun and starts shooting at the two of them while crying, “He said it would be my baby, he promised me, he said it’s the one, the only one.” She mostly misses. There’s something irritating to how the show is using Wayne’s very real abuse of these young girls as a background plot point, as opposed to an experience to be explored and taken seriously in its own right. Where’s Christine’s episode?
Matt drops Kevin’s father off at a diner, where Kevin is waiting for him. It turns out that he was in the library because the voices in his head told him to look for the May 1972 issue of “National Geographic.” There’s a bear on the front, but it’s not clear what the significance is. Is this Kevin’s birth month and year, maybe? Then there’s the second slow-motion sequence, in which Kevin and his father fight. Kevin’s father is taken back to his care facilities, and Kevin goes over to Nora’s house, where they successfully consummate their affair.
Meg tells Laurie this news, but Laurie doesn’t care. Back at the Garveys’, Kevin returns home the next morning and spots the same “National Geographic” issue on the counter. Visibly shaken, he asks where it came from. “I ordered it for Grandpa,” Jill tells him. Without explaining anything, Kevin throws it away.
Just before the episode ends, we see Tom, who’s returning to his own hideout spot. Christine is in the bathtub, and she’s given birth by herself. Crying, she holds up her baby, and tells Tom, “It’s a girl.”