Damon Lindelof’s previous television show, Lost, was a cultural phenomenon in its prime. Every episode concluded with a jaw-dropping moment and the viewer screaming expletives at the screen. On Lost, cliffhanger endings were simply a part of the storytelling structure. For The Leftovers, “A Most Powerful Adversary” is perhaps the episode that bares the most striking resemblance to Lost given the dooming conclusion. Not just one, but two moments occur in the final minute of the episode that remind of the classic ABC series. It’s important to note that it’s nearly impossible to discuss the episode without getting into spoiler territory, so if you haven’t watched “A Most Powerful Adversary,” you should do so right now. A major character death occurs, but the cliffhanger aspect of the event strangely doesn’t feel like a cheap way to spike ratings but rather a way to keep the ground under the audience shifting. To end any episode on such a point of no return demands attention, but it’s the lead-up in “A Most Powerful Adversary” that adds to the effect.
Like usual, Kevin wakes up cuffed to his bedpost, only Nora isn’t there. She has taken Lily and Mary after Kevin confessed to seeing Patti’s ghost. While it’s a shame the episode was largely without the talent of Carrie Coon, the second season of The Leftovers has excelled in how it shifts the spotlight across its cast. In “A Most Powerful Adversary,” it was Justin Theroux that shined brightly with an engaging double-performance as Kevin, acknowledging (and ignoring) Patti while interacting with those in the physical world around him. There is a constant stress in this juggling act that Theroux skillfully tries to hide, resulting in a moment both heavy and comedic as he yells expletives at Patti (while appearing like he’s swearing at a small kid).
Kevin finally bursts and asks Patti what she wants him to do. She responds with a lengthy and perverse mission out of the next National Treasure movie then laughs in his face. Ann Dowd has capitalized on the surly and sarcastic side of Patti in specter form this season, a middle-finger sort of personality that was largely hidden in Season One.
“A Most Powerful Adversary” also managed to link up the two storylines in Jarden and Mapleton with the surprise arrival of Laurie at the town gates. She’s looking for Tom (who has gone AWOL since becoming holy) and assumed he’d come to Jarden. A collision of frayed emotions, the moment becomes ugly as a cover of The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” heightens the mood. Director (and series regular) Mimi Leder brilliantly jump cuts to Kevin angrily driving in his truck and listening to the original version of the classic song. If the piano cover represented loss and longing, the original represents anger and bitterness.
When Kevin visits Laurie at her hotel, the episode opens up a discourse about seeing dead people. Being a psychiatric professional, Laurie sees it as a mental illness that can be treated. She theorizes that Kevin sees Patti because she shuts his mind off to the existential turmoil surrounding him. Laurie disproves the woman’s existence by the mere fact that Patti is never around at the same. Everything that Patti told Kevin about her past came from years of being Laurie’s patient, with the doctor having told Kevin these same things. Kevin asks Laurie to move in with him and Jill as a means of keeping Patti out, even if that is just another way of “turning it off.”
On the other perspective of Kevin’s predicament is the more supernatural approach by Virgil, Michael’s grandfather. After filling in the gaps of where Kevin was the night he woke up in the quarry (and calling back to the prophetic encounter in “A Matter of Geography”), Virgil breaks it down simply for Kevin. In order to get rid of Patti, he should meet the woman on her own turf. Basically, he has to die and then come back to life. Kevin is reluctant, but he eventually relents in desperation. The clashing schools of thought and coping mechanisms for Kevin in this episode serve as a formidable representation of how The Leftovers balances itself between human and supernatural causation, never leaning too far one way. The Leftovers operates on theories — not on direct confirmation. Patti could be a real manifestation that’s haunting Kevin, but when she tells him to kill himself, is it her or simply Kevin’s own boiled subconscious? The uncertainty is what makes the moment so emotionally jarring.
Kevin drinks the poison and passes away. However, this isn’t the most shocking part, as Virgil takes the epinephrine needle empties it out on the floor. He then takes a pistol and blows his brains out. Michael enters, a sad accomplice to it all, and proceeds to drag away Kevin’s body. While we’ll have to wait until next week to know for sure if Kevin is really dead, it is important to consider that The Leftovers is perhaps the only series that would have the courage to kill off a major character in such a manner. Then again, with The Leftovers, it’s to be expected that the next episode actually won’t provide a simple answer, and that’s what makes the cliffhanger so intriguing.
Dylan Moses Griffin has been a cinephile for as long as he can remember. His favorite film is Taxi Driver, and he reads the works of Roger Ebert like it’s scripture. If you want, he will talk to you for 30 minutes about the chronologically weird/amazing Fast and Furious franchise.