Everything is at stake for Kevin Garvey in “Cairo,” The Leftovers‘ most eventful and dramatic installment to date, as well as undoubtedly one of its best. The Damon Lindelof we know and love from Lost came out to play in last week’s “Solace for Tired Feet,” an episode that updated us on the situations of most of the main players. So, in typical Leftovers fashion, “Cairo” is a much more restrained hour, centering only on Kevin and Jill’s journeys, but it still features plenty of Lindelofian storytelling by way of evocative imagery, enigmatic dialogue and a mounting sense of psychological instability.
Throughout the season, Kevin’s battle for control of his mind has taken center stage. We’ve seen that the mysterious Dean appears to exist separately as a flesh-and-blood individual in reality (shouting out during the town meeting, and showing up at the site of Gladys’ death) and in Kevin’s mind (as “a guardian angel,” or so he puts it in this episode). When I say Kevin is battling for control, he’s not the only the one who wants to warp it. Dean is steadily pushing him in one direction, while his batty father Kevin Sr. is pushing him in a slightly different one, pressuring him to “accept” the May 1972 issue of National Geographic. Then, in “Cairo,” Patti becomes another figure with incredible amounts of influence over Kevin, manipulating and tormenting him throughout the hour.
What’s really driving Kevin, though? It’s not one person, to be sure, but something much larger and harder to pin down. It was implied in previous installments that the plethora of pills Kevin was taking had led to him going on nighttime excursions he then had no recollection of – so his flushing of those medications seemed to indicate that he was embarking on a road to recovery. Instead, it turns out that those pills were the only things keeping him even semi-grounded in reality. This week, instead of going out to fetch a dog with Dean, Kevin assaults and kidnaps Patti, his ostensible arch-nemesis in Mapleton (for every shred of order he attempts to maintain, she initiates a new demonstration designed to fan the flames of chaos). It’s the most shocking thing to happen on The Leftovers yet – and from a show that’s featured graphic stonings and dreams of hellfire, that’s saying something.
In “Cairo,” lines are really drawn in a way that The Leftovers had avoided up until this point. Patti transforms from a quiet rabble-rouser into a full-blooded villain (complete with Joker quotes – “You’re all ready, all you need is just a little push“). Jill finally cuts herself adrift from Aimee after a confrontation between the two over the latter’s flirtatious relationship with Kevin (which could have been sexual – with the way they leave things, the extent of what was going on between Aimee and Kevin remains unclear), and she ends up falling into the arms of the Guilty Remnant. And Kevin arrives at a crossroads, wherein his still unknown purposes as perceived by Kevin Sr., Dean and Patti destroy any possibility of him being able to morally hide behind his position of power as Mapleton’s police chief.