'The Leftovers' Recap: LIke Fathers, LIke Sons

Sex, schizophrenia, and the supernatural bring the Garvey family together in a fine, fast-paced episode

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Paul Schiraldi/HBO
Margaret Qualley on 'The Leftovers.'
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All due respect to do-it-yourself bathtub baby deliveries, trigger-happy pregnant women, teens asphyxiating in abandoned refrigerators, and schizophrenic grandpas assaulting police officers. But as far as reasons to watch The Leftovers go, waiting for Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon to go at each other like beasts in heat onscreen is the one to beat.

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So it's to the credit of tonight's episode that so many things that weren't the bare asses of these two extremely attractive people made just as much of an impression. Directed with mounting intensity by Mimi Leder (who also helmed the gut-wrenching "Gladys" two weeks ago), "Solace for Tired Feet" gave multiple storylines a sudden push for that "we've just crested the hill and begun the free fall" feeling familiar to fans of tightly plotted ensemble dramas. If you were worried The Leftovers was gonna be nothing but one big wallow, you can probably put those concerns to bed.

Speaking of which! Putting prurient interests aside, the now-physical relationship between Chief Kevin Garvey and local survivor-celebrity Nora Durst deserves top billing. After all, it's the softest plot thread in the show's narrative tapestry, a rare display of human connection and kindness that's not undermined by grief and guilt, or corrupted by attempts to harness those emotions to some grand ideological purpose. You want these two crazy mixed-up kids to fall for each other, because after what they've been through, they deserve it.

The show fuels our attachment to their attachment several times. Nora's given the episode's most purely cathartic moment when she turns the garden hose on the Guilty Remnant, in particular Liv Tyler's sanctimonious new convert Maggie. (Maggie is rejected a second time when she narcs on the tryst to Kevin's ex-wife Laurie, who seems just as turned off by her nosing around as we are.) And after an episode spent hiding or denying his mental deterioration, Kevin reveals his fear that he's following in his schizophrenic father's footsteps as part of pillow talk. Their actual sex may have been edited in an arrhythmic fashion that suggested Kevin viewed it as some kind of out-of-body experience, but afterwards, he's comfortable enough with Nora to share his darkest secret. Forget Kevin Sr.'s cryptic messages – that intimacy and ability to connect with someone once more is the sign Kevin Jr. should pay attention to.

The diverging fortunes of Kevin's family are intriguing to track, too. Jill still feels a bit too much like she stepped off the screen at a movie theater where Twilight was playing, a la Jeff Daniels in The Purple Rose of Cairo. But the good sense she displayed in calling her dad before inviting her violent, escaped mental-patient grandfather into the house was a rewarding step away from sullen-teen cliché, on both her part and the show's. Some of the traditional teen stuff was really right on, by the way – the two twin bros wrestling around while their female friends sit there unimpressed rang almost too true.

The subplot involving Jill's brother, Tom, surprised as well, for perhaps the first time. His rendezvous with faith-healer Holy Wayne's other pregnant young Asian-American/scruffy white bro combo was darkly funny from beginning to end. Unexpected details like the other dude's thick Irish brogue and coke habit kept things lively, while the chaotic filming of the other girl's shooting rampage kept them deadly, too. It's not clear how much we're supposed to make of the parallels between Tom's story and his dad's – their wounded left hands, the mailboxes that played prominent roles in Tom's real-life nightmare and Kevin's dream-world one – but they're there, and just shy enough of heavy-handed to be intriguing instead of annoying. And don't overlook the healer himself: After his appearance last week, in which his contact with Nora both humanized him and lent credence to his claims, this time he's a shadowy, sweaty figure clad only in underwear who keeps his face turned away from the camera. The contrast is striking and sinister.

That leaves Kevin Sr., and his messages from the voices in his head. The most far-out aspect of the show this side of the Sudden Departure itself, the former Chief's potentially supernatural insights are dangerous ground for The Leftovers to tread, since science-fantasy shenanigans could easily overwhelm its observations of human beings dealing with human-being shit. But tonight's episode handled it deftly, using Kevin Sr. to tie its separate strands together. He rescues Jill from the refrigerator and does battle with the dog that Kevin Jr. brought home during a blackout. His portents and prophecies echo the is-he-or-isn't-he mysticism of Holy Wayne that his grandson Tom is grappling with right up until the final shot of Christine and her bouncing baby girl. His return gives his son a reason to vent about the pain his illness has caused him: As far as Kevin Jr. sees it, his dad abandoned him for Departure-induced insanity at the exact same time his wife did, and that's hard to forgive. When he's on the run, the hunt leads our hero to Rev. Matt via that jar of cash Kevin Sr. stashed for him – a reminder that the Reverend may have murdered a guy in a casino parking lot a few weeks back, and a reason to check in on the Rev's ongoing campaign to teach the Guilty Remnant (paraphrasing the good book here) "troll not, lest ye be trolled."

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But really, two scenes between the two Kevin Garveys say all that needs to be said about the skill of this episode. First, the son loses the father when they run into a Guilty Remnant protest – is there a better metaphor for how so many people must feel about what the cults and the chaos that sprang up in the Departure's wake are doing? Second, when the son "accepts the purpose" the father relays to him by reaching to pick up the magical issue of National Geographic, the camera cuts away before he makes contact, trusting us to make the connection ourselves. And as that post-coital conversation between Nora and Kevin made clear, a little trust goes a long way.

Previously: Conventional Wisdom