The Leftovers Season 3, Episode 3 Recap: "Crazy Whitefella Thinking"

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
Can Damon Lindelof only tell one story? It’s a question I keep asking myself as the final season of The Leftovers moves ahead, and the Lost similarities become less of an obvious homage and more of an apology. Lindelof was famously derided for his decision to veer the latter series — which he co-created with J.J. Abrams — away from its science fiction elements to instead tell the story of a burdened man’s struggle with faith. The Leftovers, to his credit, never toed the genre line; it is firmly and outwardly devotional, and always has been. But, as with Lost, expanding the geography of the show’s central story — moving it away from Mapleton, as Lost moved from the island — opens a worldly discourse that both strengthens its thesis and exposes its holes.
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Lindelof clearly struggles with — or is, at least, very interested in people who struggle with — faith and its many forms. “Crazy Whitefella Talking,” like last week, hones in on a single character, this time Kevin Garvey, Sr., The Leftovers’ mystical centerpiece. As the “crazy” father of Kevin, Jr., he’s always been a tricky one to place. Are the voices he claims to hear really there, or did the Sudden Departure zap his cognizance of the world around him? It’s a question you could ask of almost everyone on the show, but is best represented in Kevin, Sr., who was institutionalized after the event. Television and literature have trained us to believe it’s the “insane” characters who are usually the most with it, and the neuro-typicals who are misguided, but in a show where the limitations of the physical world are so amorphous, that rubric is similarly tested. “Crazy Whitefella Talking” literally calls forward the question in its title, but even as Kevin, Sr.’s travels culminate into the presentation of something reasonable, they still glide along with the suggestion of coincidence. Is this a hero’s trek towards sacred meaning, or a madman’s journey to an empty absolution?
“Crazy Whitefella Talking” is set almost entirely in Australia (another Lost callback), with a few phone conversations that flash us over to Texas. With his precious National Geographic in hand and a recorded conversation with his son as a child in his ear buds, Kevin, Sr. is travailing the outback on a quest to recreate indigenous songs that might prevent a second Great Flood, which he believes will occur on the 7th anniversary of the Great Departure. The episode opens with him recording and attempting to emulate an aborigine weather dance, but he is apprehended by police for this illegal replication.
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What follows is an Odyssey-esque trip to different remote locations and run-ins with a collection of oddball characters, most notably a man named Christopher Sunday, a mystic of some sort who has his own sacred rain song that Kevin wants the words to. Christopher agrees to offer up his song in exchange for Kevin fixing his roof, to which he obliges — but, as fateful circumstance would have it, Kevin falls from a ladder and crushes Christopher below him, accidentally killing him in the process, a cosmic retribution that means he’ll never learn the song he so desperately seeks. He winds up on the road, hitchhiking, when he comes across a man in a field who douses himself in gasoline and holds a match. Kevin attempts to intervene, and the man pauses to ask what seems like a critical question — “Would you kill a baby if it cured cancer?” — before striking the match and erupting in flames.
On the next step of his survival man quest for gospel truth, Kevin is bitten by a snake, passes out at the foot of a mysterious mid-field crucifix, sees a dog, and wakes up days later in a house he doesn’t recognize. He examines the house, finds a photo album (in a freezer) that shows what appears to be a happy family of children and a man and woman. Then, Kevin, Sr. looks outside and sees a smattering of people building something. A boat, he realizes. Like he’s arrived right where fate intended.
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It’s here that another element of the episode snaps into focus. We learned in his conversation with Christopher that Kevin, Sr., is in Australia because he’s following a path set in motion by old recordings his son made as a child: a tape from their trip to Niagara Falls. On the ride home, Kevin, Jr., asked his father to sing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Through a series of events that, for whatever reason, were kicked off by an encounter with a holy chicken, Kevin, Sr., has interpreted the song to be a sign about the coming Great Flood. But it also brings forward an interesting power dynamic between father and son, one that crystalizes in the episode’s final moments. Kevin, Sr., appears to be jealous of his son’s second coming, even saying aloud to Matt — who sends him a copy of the Bible sequel he’s working on — that it’s not Kevin, Jr.’s journey who matters, but his own.
And then he meets Grace. She’s the woman who saved him from the wilderness and his snakebite. She found pages from Matt’s Good Book in Kevin’s hand, about a sheriff with the same name who can do miraculous things. She misinterprets it to be about a local sheriff, who she killed at the end of the last episode (and we see happen again here, from a different point of view) as she looked for answers — answers that might reveal why the Great Departure happened, why she cruelly lost her family in what she believed to be the Rapture but was instead an accident of confusion (her husband did disappear, but her children perished in the outback as they walked by foot to find her). She has, in a short time, experienced the exaltation of faith and then the cruel reality of its negligence.
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“God doesn’t care about me,” Grace laments. “It’s all just a story I’ve told myself. It’s just a stupid, silly story.”
It’s not silly, Kevin, Sr. tells her. “You just got the wrong Kevin.”
It’s not immediately apparent which Kevin he’s referring to here. The look on his face — a sort of glowing pride — could go either way. Is he the Kevin she’s looking for, or his son? And is this, once again, Lindelof’s return to the well of Lost’s daddy issues, where a father’s apparent holy role is more as gatekeeper to his son’s destiny than a champion for his own?
Other observations:
— Apparently the Perfect Strangers theme song from last week isn’t this season’s main opener. Here, the credits play to the tune of Richard Cheese’s “Personal Jesus,” a song that’s also been performed by Depeche Mode and Johnny Cash. Will it change again next week?
— There’s something really funny about Kevin, Sr., editing Matt’s Bible with a red pen and the word “fuck.”
— The episode seems to span the length of the two earlier episodes. In his first conversation with Matt on the phone, it’s made clear that Kevin, Jr., hasn’t yet learned that Matt’s working on a book about him. Later, we see Kevin, Sr., witness the end of last week’s events.
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