After the shocking final moments of last week’s “A Most Powerful Adversary,” it would only make sense that The Leftovers would further the ambiguity and uncertainty in the next chapter of Kevin’s trip to the other side. Though it should be stated that the ambiguity and uncertainty in discussion here isn’t just how the plot of “International Assassin” unfolds, but an uncertainty about where Damon Lindelof can possibly take the series after an episode like this. Does The Leftovers jump the shark with “International Assassin?” Or does the episode open the show up to a whole new realm of possibilities?
Kevin slides wet and naked out of a bathtub, because dammit, Justin Theroux worked too hard to get in shape for a mere shirtless scene. In the closet are a few different outfits, each with their own predetermined narrative. He picks a suave looking suit and breaks out into an action scene with an unknown assailant, giving clarity to the title “International Assassin.” The hour goes from an action film to a David Lynch piece as Kevin enters the hotel lobby. Everyone in the room is a step detached in their interactions, and a bird flying around indoors adds a level of surreality while director Craig Zobel has the color palette leaning blue to keep each image off-kilter. The TV in Kevin’s room erupts into multiple occurrences of deafening static, eventually revealing a drug-tripping Kevin Garvey Sr. with a cryptic message to his son. To add to the heightened atmosphere, Verdi’s operatic “Via Pensiero” plays repeatedly throughout the episode. If only for one episode, The Leftovers becomes the best recreation of Twin Peaks since the iconic Lynch show ended 25 years ago. The HBO series hurled itself into this other-verse faster than Kevin pushing a kid down a well. Picking up the Twin Peaks ball and running with it, The Leftovers just created its very own “black lodge” with the hotel.
It’s almost surprising that The Leftovers took this long to indulge in the aesthetics of Lynch, as both have a mutual emphasis on ambiguity and unsettling emotions. The Lynch leanings on display are also appropriate given the films that Theroux made with the prolific director. The otherworldly has always existed on the peripheries in The Leftovers, but in “International Assassin,” the physical world and the surreal world truly collide.
What Virgil elaborates to Kevin about Patti’s intentions also holds sway for how to navigate the plotting of “International Assassin” — you can’t be thinking in straight lines, but in spirals, helixes and zig-zags. The story unfolds not by traditional structure between plot points, but through vague notions and supernatural nudgings. All in one hour, Kevin saves a drowning girl, kills Patti Godfather-style, figures out the girl is actually Patti and reluctantly pushes her down a well. Characters from Kevin’s past and present reemerge in this plane of existence with Season One’s Gladys and Holy Wayne repurposed for the assassination plot Kevin acts out. Mary Jamison makes an appearance in the hotel, stoking a lot of conspiracy theories on just what that means in terms of her comatose state.
Ann Dowd, in possibly her final hour on The Leftovers, leaves an unforgettable mark. If this is the end for Patti, it’s only fitting that Dowd’s Compliance director Zobel is the one to see her out. As proven before, he knows when to turn the scene over to Dowd’s command. Once Patti enters the hotel room to meet with Kevin, Dowd dishes out swagger like an NBA athlete. Nobody could take the line “I want to destroy families” and make it a marketable campaign slogan with the charisma that Dowd relishes in. To contrast these heights of confidence, she’s but a shell of her former self in the final minutes. After child Patti is pushed down the well, adult Patti takes her place and beckons Kevin to join her as she passes. Patti crumbles while recounting an appearance she had on Jeopardy in a manner that reveals her life’s biggest regret, and Dowd completely sells the emotion. Kevin holds her in those final moments before drowning her. It’s a moment of acceptance, forgiveness and ultimate catharsis. As the well collapses around him, Kevin awakens in a grave and crawls his way out of the dirt to a completely surprised Michael, who exclaims “Holy shit!” in a moment where the audience and character are in agreement. The Leftovers achieved a new milestone in its obsession with religious allegories, as the series actually resurrected a character. Next week, I’ll start taking bets on the reveal that Kevin’s resurrection took three days.
By the end, “International Assassin” breaks a cardinal rule of the The Leftovers by confirming the supernatural. Throughout these two seasons, one of the series’ greatest strengths has been how it didn’t lean too far one way or the other in the ongoing dichotomy of the supernatural and the physical. In that sense, “International Assassin” was perhaps the show’s most compromised episode. But in the same tune, it was an unforgettable experience to spend an hour in The Leftovers’ version of full tilt supernaturalism. A lot is riding on the final two episodes of the season — how will everyone react to Kevin’s resurrection? Will Liv Tyler ever appear in another episode this season? Where is holy Tom? Will the girls’ disappearances be solved? However, one debate can finally be settled: a miracle did in fact happen in Miracle when Kevin crawled out of the dirt.
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.