President Kevin dresses in white, and in a speech in front of a similarly white-clad Melbourne crowd, he espouses the anti-family policies of the Guilty Remnant — several dead members of which he later encounters. He finds Evie in the afterlife, staying active as an anti-government protester. Meg turns out to be his vice-president, working covertly to sabotage his platform. And Kevin’s old nemesis Patti is back as the Secretary of Defense, working on a plan to destroy the world with missiles on the seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure.
It’s the assassin’s job to kill the president before he can push the button. And it’s the president’s mission to kill and gut the assassin, who has a key sewn into his heart that will unlock the nuclear football.
As with “International Assassin,” this episode doesn’t take itself too seriously. Theroux plays both variations of Kevin Garvey as amusingly befuddled, and increasingly (and profanely) irritated by what people are asking him to do. Like anybody in a dream, he’s sometimes gung-ho about the awesomeness of the adventure he’s found himself thrust into. But at other times he’s jarred by its ridiculousness — like when his head of security tells him he’ll need to insert his genitals into a scanner to confirm his identity.
Yet through all the craziness — and the nail-biting tension of a story about the imminent nuclear annihilation of a place that doesn’t exist — a few meaningful points emerge. The episode builds to a big scene where Patti forces the two Kevins to sit down together and figure out why they keep killing themselves and journeying into this plane of existence. She forces them to read from an “untitled romance novel” she claims they wrote: a book about a good woman who was jilted by a “coward.” In that moment, talking to “himself,” Kevin realizes that he doesn’t want to be in dreamland anymore. He wants to be back with Nora. So he digs into his doppelgänger’s chest, rips the key from his heart, and sends bombs raining down.
If all of that seems too bluntly symbolic, well, so are dreams, quite often. What matters more is how powerfully “The Leftovers” delivers Kevin’s personal revelation, which comes after an hour filled with complicated obstacles and moments of random whimsy. Just like in a dream, Kevin keeps finding himself trapped by the contradictions of this mirror universe. He wants to ask Grace’s children why they’re not wearing shoes, but because they’re in the Guilty Remnant, they don’t believe him when he says, “Someone in your family wants to know.” He wants to give John’s love to Evie, but in her reality her entire family was killed in a drone strike (instead of her), so his message makes her angrier.
In the end, Kevin’s conscious mind trumps his subconscious. When he finally does get to talk with Christopher Sunday, the aborigine asks if he really believes Kevin Sr. can stop the flood with a song. When Kevin Jr. admits that he doesn’t, Chris asks, “Then why are you here?” Even more than the Kevin-to-Kevin chat in the Situation Room, this may be the moment that persuades our hero to stop playing along with nonsense. After he nukes the alternate reality, he wakes up back in Australia to find the floodwaters receded and his dad sitting on the roof — just like the disappointed end-of-the-world-er in this season’s prologue. Together they wonder, “Now what?”
Most likely, what lies ahead in the finale is an effort to find Nora, who may or may not have already “departed” herself. Whatever happens, it’ll undoubtedly unfold in an hour filled with sharp turns that will feel like a complete story in and of itself. And the show is likely to continue to use the metaphors of religious fervor and the end times to examine how we cope with loss.
For 27 episodes now, “The Leftovers” has considered how the world immediately around us is shaped by what we perceive it to be. In the 28th, we’ll see if the characters can believe themselves into a happy ending.
(Don’t) Let the Mystery Be:
• Ann Dowd shows off some decent pipes as Patti belts out her modified version of “The Patty Duke Show” theme, singing, “They’re Keeeevins … identical Kevins, all the waaaay.”
• It’s clever of Lindelof and his credited co-writer Nick Cuse to clarify the stakes for Kevin by opening with a flashback to him and Nora in Mapleton, shortly after they took in the baby Lily. The scene’s well written, well acted and well directed (by Craig Zobel), emphasizing the easy interplay of these two, as they soak in a bathtub together and make “til death do us part” kind of plans. It’s also funny — especially when Kevin says he wants to be stuffed and mounted when he dies, and Nora says that she’s planning to put a fake beard on the corpse because, “I have to have sex with that abomination, I get to dress it up however I want.”
• Incidentally, Zobel, Cuse and Lindelof were the team behind “International Assassin” as well. And Zobel directed Dowd to one of her best big-screen performances in his film “Compliance.”
• Was anybody else waiting to see if Kevin’s vice-president was going to turn out to be Laurie, or Nora? Or if either of them were the assassin’s “inside man?” In both cases, the show made us wait to see who the mystery person was going to be, and in both cases, it was Meg. Maybe this means that neither woman is dead? (Or maybe it means that since Kevin doesn’t know whether or not they’re dead, his subconscious can’t put them in the other world.)
• Using “God Only Knows” and “The End of the World” as needle-drops in this episode may seem a little on the nose given their titles, but the lyrics of both could double as mission statements for “The Leftovers.” Both songs tie the grand mysteries of faith and death to something more down-to-Earth: breaking up with a romantic partner. As I suspect will be even more evident next week, this show has always been about how everyday emotional devastation can feel like an apocalypse.
An earlier version of this article misstated once the name of a character whose children Kevin Garvey needed to find. Her name is Grace, not Faith.