Last week’s “Cairo” really felt like a penultimate episode for The Leftovers, both due to the heavy amounts of symbolism and its game-changing final moments, and now we know why. “The Garveys At Their Best,” our second-t0-last venture into Mapleton (for 2014 at least – the show finally earned a sophomore season order from HBO), turns back time to October 13th, the day before the Sudden Departure, then reveals more of the event itself.
As such, the hour shows us the Garveys and other residents of Mapleton like we’ve never seen them before (read: happy). At least at first, “The Garveys At Their Best” paints a picture of a relatively average, and certainly bearable, existence for everyone in town. Kevin and Laurie are still married; Jill is a brace-faced, David Guetta-loving teenager whose biggest problem is working on her science fair project; Tommy is still in touch with his parents; and the Guilty Remnant isn’t even a twinkle in Patti’s eye. Business as usual.
It’s only as the episode progresses that we begin to see cracks in the mask. For one, Kevin is unhappy in his marriage to Laurie. He at one point tells his father (still the venerated chief of police) that, “I think there’s something wrong with me.” As hard as he tries to make himself buy into the idea that he’s happy, Kevin simply isn’t. Something’s not right. He asks, “Why isn’t it enough?” Kevin Sr.’s reply is just to nut up and accept normality: “You have no greater purpose, because it is enough.” (Boy, the Sudden Departure certainly changed his tune.) That’s not enough for Kevin, though. He wants more. His tattoo-adorned back is evidence enough of that – this guy was once a free spirit with a full tank and real ambitions, and settling down has made him feel like a bird in a cage.
At the very least, he wants to be a hero, like his father. Perhaps that’s why he became a cop. At the very least, it’s definitely why he wants to tranquilize the deer rampaging through town and release it back into the wild instead of simply killing it. Of course he needs to save that deer – Kevin identifies strongly with the beast, feeling just as out of place in his marriage as that majestic creature does inside a kindergarten. To simply blow its brains out would be to subliminally suggest to himself that the marriage can’t be fixed, that he can’t be fixed. It would be to admit defeat.