‘The Leftovers’: Justin Theroux on His Character’s Fate, the Series’ Future …

23 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

, the episode’s recurring musical motif. With the fire alarm going off, Kevin slips down to the hotel lobby in order to learn who sent him the flowers. There’s fireman (the Jarden FD?) and a tweety bird loose (Erika’s miracle birds?), so if this isn’t Kevin’s subconscious’ stew, it’s.

Justin Theroux has a unique gift: When Kevin Garvey is completely clueless about what is real or imagined, the actor can transform his face into one of boyish befuddlement, as if his brain is about 12 seconds slower than his eyes. The unexpected move — which saw the HBO drama’s top-billed actor out cold after downing a Mason jar full of poison — sent shockwaves through the Twittersphere, with fans and critics alike debating just how dead (or not) Theroux’s character, Kevin Garvey, was.Some of the best television series of the past 25 years have given us at least one mind-scrambler episode: a slice of brazenly surreal storytelling that dazzles, confuses, amuses or — ideally, when all the pots on the weirdo stove are really cooking — accomplishes all three at the same time. “The Sopranos” did it in “Funhouse,” the episode peppered with Tony’s food-poison fever dreams. “Mad Men” did it when Roger Sterling took that freaky LSD trip in Season 5. “Twin Peaks” did it a bunch.Each week following episodes of season two of The Leftovers, Sophie Gilbert and Spencer Kornhaber will discuss new characters, old visitors, and whether smoking really is the best way to express profound nihilism. But the plot twist also raised another question: Why in the world of serialized television are so many characters dying unconvincing deaths these days?

Following the buzzy demises of Jon Snow (Game of Thrones) and Glenn Rhee in (The Walking Dead) — whose fates still remain more open to interpretation than sealed — it appeared as though The Leftovers was just the latest drama to attempt the ruse. Creator Damon Lindelof had joked on “Talking Dead” that he had “no tolerance for ambiguity” — and indeed, “International Assassin” (penned by Lindelof and Nick Cuse) dove straight into solving the mystery of our leading man’s fate.

No one missed the foreshadowing, right? “Make like Jesus,” a security guard in dreamland/the afterlife told our international assassin before asking whether he’d Neosporin-ed a wound. It’s also the place where Kevin lands after drinking poison at the end of last week’s episode, and from which he eventually escapes, re-emerging from his grave as living proof of a Miracle miracle.

Kevin woke to find himself in a hotel that serves as a purgatory — where Virgil is the concierge and Patti Levin’s husband, Neil, is a hotel guest. (So, too, is Mary Jamison, whom Kevin glimpses in a long hallway shot as she’s getting a “Get Well” bouquet of balloons.) In this netherworld, Patti Levin (Ann Dowd) is running for President, Gladys is her chief of staff, Holy Wayne works for the Secret Service — and Kevin’s only hope of escape is to assassinate her. Shutting down comparisons to the other series’ deaths, the actor points out that his character’s actions were entirely in line with both the present narrative and the DNA of the enigmatic series. “It wasn’t, ‘Oh, this will really mess with people.’ I don’t think that was the intention when Damon and Tom wrote it,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter of the surprising scene. “It was one of those deaths that was on point story-wise. The expletive that the ordinarily chaste Michael blurts out puts the perfect punctuation mark on this head trip, saying what many viewers have probably been thinking the entire time they were watching it. He gets these instructions in a clandestine meeting with Virgil — who also warns him not to drink the water, lest he be trapped in Hotel Hell(ish) forever — as well as an exchange transmitted over the TV with his father, Kevin Sr., who tells him to “take her to the well.” Our titular assassin succeeds at his first “Godfather”-inspired effort (the gun was hidden in the bathroom), but when he’s still trapped in Hotel Not-Quite-Hell, he realizes he has to follow his father’s plan. It wasn’t just some random killing for the sake of killing — it was a guy who really was trying to get his life in order and rid himself of this massive mental anguish.” Needless to say, his death (spoiler alert!) wasn’t a permanent one.

Turns out Patti — make that the inner child version of her, as Kevin sees her — is still roaming the halls with Neil, so Kevin takes her to Miracle’s famous well. (“It’s a conduit between the living and the spirit world,” reads the brochure, where visitors go to throw in “whatever they want to unburden themselves of.”) But first he must pass yet another hurdle: a face-off with “The Leftovers’” version of the mythological ferryman Charon, ever at his post by the river Styx — the barrier between the dead and the living. “None of this real,” says Kevin, as he struggles to fight him off. That’s from the Greek philosopher Epictetus, and after Kevin’s rebirth, his hotel wardrobe offers him four options: a rabbinical or clerical vest of some sort, a white GR uniform, a stylish suit, or his Mapleton PD jacket. While the vast majority of this Sunday’s hourlong installment took place in what’s best described as an alternate reality, the final seconds of “International Assassin” flashes back to Earth, where Kevin is seen gasping for air as he climbs out of his freshly-dug grave. He opts for the sleek James Bond number, and wearing it seems to determine his path: A hotel employee almost immediately knocks to deliver flowers to a Mr.

And then he has two heartbreaking exchanges: first with the child Patti, who asks if “she talks too much,” and then with the now-adult Patti, broken at the bottom of the well, who recounts her winning tour on “Jeopardy!” She’d gone on the game show in an effort to earn enough money to leave Neil — but ultimately lost her courage. “I’m scared, Kevin,” she confesses. It felt like a dream in that it took the recognizable world, stirred in some nonsense—killer flower deliverers, fire alarms, talking Guilty Remnant members—and remixed it all.

Suddenly, it’s a Bourne film, and the two men bounce each other off the walls until Kevin slams the man’s head into the bathroom counter and renders him dead. Collectively, it’s also a homage to ’70s cinema, with nods subtle and explicit to “The Godfather” (Kevin flat-out acknowledges that the gun-in-the-toilet routine was ripped from Francis Ford Coppola); “All the President’s Men” (that secret parking garage meeting with Virgil); and “A Clockwork Orange,” which uses Beethoven to underline its violence the same way this episode uses Verdi’s “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” to accent the brutal confusion of Kevin Garvey. One thing of note is that none of the characters we know to have Departed appeared in the hotel; everyone was legitimately dead or presumed dead or in a vegetative state or going on vision quests in Australia. Or is it Harvey? (It’s never been more clear that the all-white ensembles of the Guilty Remnant share something in common with the clothes donned by Stanley Kubrick’s droogs.) There’s also obvious connective tissue between this episode and “Lost,” and not just because it was written by a Lindelof and a Cuse.

And in no dream I’ve ever had did the internal logic remain as consistent, unchanging, as it did here (think: the rules about drinking the water, or the plan for killing Patti). The fact that Kevin is thrust into the role of international assassin reminds me of “The Economist,” the Season 4 “Lost” episode in which Sayid, in a post-plane-crash future, works as an assassin for Benjamin Linus. When we were doing the first season, we had the book, but that took lots of departures and went down different roads that the book didn’t mine as deeply. It’s notable, too, that when prompted by that Epictetus quote on his room’s door — “Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly” — Kevin bypasses the police uniform in the closet, choosing the black-and-white suit that seals his assassin path. There’s fireman (the Jarden FD?) and a tweety bird loose (Erika’s miracle birds?), so if this isn’t Kevin’s subconscious’ stew, it’s The Leftovers’.

Variety talked with the episode’s director, Craig Zobel, about the challenges in reviving Kevin, Lindelof’s approach to the afterlife (“Lost”) and what’s next. “The Leftovers” is the first time you’ve ever directed episodic television, and Lindelof hands you two pivotal episodes: “Lens” with that fantastic scene with Carrie Coons and Regina King, and tonight’s game-changer. More important, though, this episode thrusts us into an alternate timeline that imagines its characters in completely different roles, something at which “Lost” always excelled.

Thematically, it almost resembles the season 6 episode of The Sopranos, “Join the Club,” where Tony coma-dreams he’s a traveling salesman at some purgatory resort while he drifts in between life and death after he was shot by Uncle Junior. There was real suspense about the question of whether Kevin would shoot the woman identified as Senator Levin, about whether the noose-holding man on the bridge would let him pass, and about what would go down in the final encounter in the well. He’s Kevin’s guide through this hell (See: Dante’s Inferno), and though he pretends not to know Kevin in order to keep up appearances, he arranges a secret meeting in the garage. Maybe TV has recently offered a more eloquently subtle illustration of the lasting scars of childhood abuse and how they remanifest in adult relationships. There’s been several examples lately of TV shows killing off major characters ambiguously, most notably in Thrones and Walking Dead, as if to tease the audience.

The way little Patti notes that her daddy tells her she talks too much, especially given how much Patti has run her mouth in Kevin’s ear all season, is hilarious, until it completely breaks your heart. Perhaps the most important thing this episode does, though, is circle back to this season’s first mind-scrambler: the scene with the primitive pregnant woman and the earthquake. The idea of Patti as a politician selling nihilism as a national policy is hilarious but also disturbing, particularly in a week when we’ve seen real-life presidential candidates come very close to campaigning against the very notion of human compassion.

It was definitely a little bit more of a, “Let’s take our time and make sure we get this right.” He was actively writing episode 8 when I was shooting 6. During the meeting, he’s to excuse himself to go to the bathroom, find the gun that’s been hidden for him in the toilet, and assassinate her. “Like The Godfather?” Kevin asks. The general shape of the episode never changed, but I get in the sense in the writing room there were a lot of drafts, a lot of different ideas on how to handle this afterlife world. It’s been hinted before that the deepest, darkest secret Kevin harbors is that that he hated his old life with Laurie and that he doesn’t truly want to find contentment with Nora.

That Kevin said he smokes to remember, just like the GR, is yet more evidence for Patti’s assertion that he’s more like her than he’d want to believe. Or, it could be that Kevin drank some poison, his heart stopped for a minute (or a couple minutes or twenty minutes, whatever) and that’s just the dream he had during that time.

I know it was important for him to get it right — (his attitude was) I know it’s going to be kind of scary, but we’re going to figure out how to make it great. She’s more Barzini, bound to play tricks on Kevin. “You’ve got to stop thinking in such straight lines,” Virgil counsels. “She thinks in spirals and helixes and zigzags and circles.” A pair of white SUVs roll into the garage, and a team of white-clothed smokers tumble out. Same went for this episode—but this time, the taunting, comical orchestration was from Nabucco, an opera about the Biblical tale of the Jews’ oppression by Babylon.

Kevin returns to his hotel room, and changes into the fresh suit that he never ordered from dry-cleaning — stepping over the untouched corpse of his would-be assassin. After he pushes little Patti down the well in Jardin — Justin Theroux is conflicted perfection in that scene, by the way — Kevin is only freed after he jumps in and provides comfort to Patti, as opposed to blindly following orders to kill. It’s a show about loss, but really about the emotions that surround loss and how they’re different for different people and how that comes out differently. When Virgil’s guidance doesn’t work, Kevin elects to change course and follows his dad’s advice, which does exactly what was promised. • Virgil is definitely dead for good.

The fire alarm begins to shriek again, but Kevin’s hotel-room neighbors, the girl who almost drowned and her ornery father, are unconcerned, convinced it’s another false alarm. Gilbert: Michael’s response, “Holy shit,” seems fair (also apt, given that Kevin just crawled out of earth that apparently has miraculous properties). We had many conversations about understanding what would be the wrong way to do it, assuming the audience knew this, assuming they would understand this when they wouldn’t.

Like you, I was rapt during this episode, although I think I’m more veering toward the conclusion that it was some kind of purgatorial experience rather than a hallucination (not that it couldn’t be both, of course). Before Kevin can approach her, however, he’s thrust back into Bourneworld when a white-tuxedoed agent puts a gun to his head and pulls him into an elevator after a struggle. He’s handcuffed, pummeled, strapped to a lie-detector machine run by Senator Levin’s No. 2, Gladys, and tortured with eye-ball blasts of Windex when he answers incorrectly. For another, there were people there who Kevin had nothing to do with—the weeping priest in the elevator, the nurse speaking in a foreign language in the parking garage, the hooded prisoner in the cop’s uniform. Don’t worry, it’s all part of the vetting process, she says. “We just have to make sure you belong here.” He convinces her only when he gives the GR’s rote response for why he smokes: to remember that the world ended.

Literally and figuratively, to go into that hotel — or into some form of purgatory — and revisit all these old characters that died in the first season… Then when I read the Patti (Ann Dowd) arc, I was gutted because, for all intents and purposes, it looks like she does die. Only time will tell what boons Kevin has to bestow, if any (with John Murphy on his case, he’s going to need them), but wherever he was, he decisively confronted not only Patti, but also his own existential crisis following the Departure. Live from an identical hotel room in Perth, Australia, the Chief is sky-high on some hallucinogenic called God’s Tongue, but he’s got important news.

He’s drunk the Kool-Aid, so to speak, which, in this case, is water. (Aside: The Godfather reference, combined with the water paranoia, makes me think of actor Sterling Hayden. For the past two seasons Patti’s been a fearless, sassy provocateur and a thorn in Kevin’s side, significantly more so after her death, when she appeared to become a manifestation of his conscience and his doubts. But in the flashback episode from season one, we saw Patti before the Departure, a shadow of herself, riddled with insecurity and anxiety that something terrible was about to happen. It’s the interaction that you were hinting at in the beginning of the season when you said, “I can’t give away what does happen, but Damon really did something miraculous with that character that is far beyond just a device to torture my character. Now, having met Patti’s worm of a husband and her much-younger self, it seems that she was abused all her life in one way or another: thrown down stairs, told she was fat, stupid, that she talked too much.

The Guilty Remnant’s enforced silence apparently comes from Patti’s experience on Jeopardy!, when her fellow contestant impressed her in the green room by refusing to talk to her before the taping, showing her the power of not saying a single word. It’s weird because when me and Ann would talk about it, we’d always talk about it as some sort of love story, and we would think of our scenes as love scenes.

There’s so much more to think about: Kevin senior’s deux ex television moment and his admission that he was tripping on “God’s tongue,” the mysterious South African man who gave Kevin the choice to jump rather than “cross over” the bridge to Jarden, the water, Mary. It’s in the script, “The minute you kill Patti, you’ll be able to come back.” And so there’s the scene where I kill her once thinking it’s her, and it’s not. And then to add to that the Neil of it all, who’s constantly telling her to shut up, that she’s stupid, that she’s such a cunt, all that stuff — it’s such a beautiful unfolding of Patti, an unwrapping where you really get to see where all her damage came from.

When you get a script that good, you don’t want to color outside of the lines too much — so we were just trying to respect the material and play it straight. That was a difficult day just because Patti dies (I think) and it was also difficult because we were sitting in a bunch of water on the rocks all banged up. There’s so many little references to whatever is above ground, and also references to Dante, of course, with Virgil (Steven Williams) being my guide. With two more episodes left in the season, what does this all means for Kevin, now that he’s presumably been able to move past his psychotic break, if you will?

In time, we’re able to get them orbiting closer and closer, and then there’s this super, white hot, supernova moment, where I felt enormously satisfied. I was like, “Oh my god, what a great way to end the season.” I say this because in viewing the season, you could think, “Oh, this is very disjointed.

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