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The Leftovers “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” 

Photo Credit: Ben King/HBO

I’ve previously written about how significant the role of denial is in The Leftovers. This show is filled to the brim with characters eager to believe in anything to prop up whatever lies they tell themselves to get through their suffering. Denial does more than offer a way to cope with grief. It also helps conceal guilt.

And in “Crazy Whitefella Thinking,” a sort of capsule episode devoted to Kevin Garvey Sr., we actually get the most poignant glimpse into how guilt can motivate beliefs from a brand new character, Grace (played by acclaimed stage actor Lindsay Duncan), the woman who orchestrated the killing of the local police chief, also named Kevin.

Photo Credit: Ben King/HBO

This week’s theme song sets the tone quickly. Music has always been a main character in The Leftovers. There’s always meaning to the music choices, and I’ve found the rotating theme songs this season to be a really great storytelling device.

The theme song in “Crazy Whitefella Thinking,” “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode, fits neatly into this idea of guilt and the ever related concept of salvation. Last week I suggested that if one random group of women in Australia knew about Kevin’s ability to come back from the dead, why wouldn’t there be more? But what we found out in this episode is that there is no global phenomenon. Grace stumbled onto a random page from Matt’s “Book of Kevin,” a page that Kevin Sr. ripped out just to wrap his money in. There are no other people who have divinely discovered that Kevin is the messiah.

Instead, it’s just that Grace, buried under the guilt of letting her children die, is seeking salvation in any way she can. Her devotion to Christianity failed her by coaxing her into complacency, by assuring her that her children had been raptured. Instead, they died just outside their home with no one looking for them.

Grace has nothing left to rely on, including herself. But she is eager to latch on to something, anything to dig herself out of her guilt. She needs her own “personal Jesus” if you will. Reading about Kevin gives her a shred of hope that she could see her children again and atone for her sins. She is entirely motivated by her guilt, and now not just for the death of her children, but for her role in the death, murder even, of the “wrong” Kevin. So it’s not that there are people around the world who have somehow figured out the second coming of Christ. It’s something much more typical. Just random chance with a dash of convenience. 

Photo Credit: Ben King/HBO

Scott Glenn is just magnificent in his portrayal of Kevin Sr., and the success of this episode relies hugely on his ability to make us connect with character we’ve haven’t spent much time with. The combination of Glenn’s ability to make Kevin Sr. seem completely lucid while doing completely crazy things and the introduction of some smart pieces of backstory that flesh out the Garvey’s father-son relationship make “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” a excellent as piece of The Leftovers overall story arc. But it works amazingly as it’s own contained story, a mini-movie, happening in parallel with things back in Texas. 

What Kevin Sr.’s journey in Australia means for Kevin, who is on his way to Australia, is complicated. I like that this episode started to explore how differently Kevin Sr. and Kevin see themselves, with Kevin Sr. wanting to be acknowledged in Matt’s book and Kevin wanting nothing to do with it. Kevin Sr. basically writes off the entire book because none of it is about him. It isn’t until he talks to Grace that he considers Kevin’s abilities integral to his personal task of stopping the apocalypse.

Photo Credit: Ben King/HBO

The thing about Kevin Sr. is that his mental illness serves as a buffer to overt displays of guilt or of denial. Let me get to the crux of this: technically there’s no reason to believe that Kevin is a savior. His “deaths” can be chocked up to a combination of luck and delusion, and even if they were real, there’s no guarantee that he would be able to come back from the dead again.

Kevin Sr. doesn’t have the luxury of pristine critical thinking. What this means for Kevin is, simply, that his dad is OK with killing him. At the end of the episode, there is suggestion that Kevin Sr. would be willing to kill his own child to get the final song (since Christopher Sunday is dead), because he doesn’t think Kevin can die permanently. It’s absolutely insane. But there’s no reason to think Kevin Sr. is anything other than insane. He believes fully that he is working to stop the apocalypse. He thinks learning the tribal songs will stop a great flood.

But it doesn’t really matter if it’s all real or not. Everyone in The Leftovers is suffering and looking for relief, from their grief, their guilt, their pain. But you can’t change the past. Grace being able to see her children again doesn’t mean she was able to save them. Kevin can’t go back and be a better husband to Laurie. Nora can’t go back and change how she treated her family right before they departed. But what The Leftovers does so well is let us live with these characters and follow them on their journey, even if they’re never going to find what they’re looking for.

The Leftovers airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.

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