The second episode of HBO’s newest series, The Leftovers, continued to probe the power of perception. Throughout the episode we must question Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) and the existence of Dean (Michael Gaston)- the mystery man with the pickup truck who tracks and kills packs of vicious dogs.
Tonight’s episode began similarly to last week’s episode- with a dream. In his dream, Kevin is roused from his sleep by his daughter’s friend, Aimee ( Emily Meade), whispering, “she wants you to see.” Aimee leads him outside where an armed Dean stands waiting for him. Upon seeing Kevin, Dean takes aim and fires at a distorted feminine figure in the distance. Kevin steps forward and finds himself standing in fire and then his dream ends.
When he wakes, he finds his neighbor has started a fire that has gone slightly out of control and burned part of his fence. Kevin may not have burned his feet in this sequence, but he did step on a pair of dentures. The barrier between Kevin and his neighbor’s yard along with the barrier between subconscious and reality go up in smoke.
The burnt imagery continues with a bagel that the police station’s toaster seems to inexplicably consume. Kevin is flummoxed when the bagel never cycles through the toaster and we begin to wonder if he ever put the bagel in the toaster at all. Consequently, Kevin starts to question his mental health.
His dilemma comes full circle at the end of the episode when Kevin dismantles the toaster to find the crisp bagel lodged deep inside the machine. This scene validates Kevin’s sanity. This scene is pertinent because up to this point in the episode, Kevin’s perception is in question all because the police cannot locate Dean or his truck. Viewers find themselves asking, does Dean even exist?
Dean appears again part way through the episode, inviting Kevin to mow down another pack of dogs. As Kevin and Dean talk, Kevin’s daughter, Jill (Margaret Qualley), and her friend, Aimee, pass between the men. Aimee does not acknowledge Dean and Jill sarcastically takes the six pack of beer from Dean, again without addressing him.
It is unclear if Dean is there or if Kevin is in the early stages of a psychological break, especially after Dean’s unregistered truck turns up in Kevin’s driveway. Kevin remains at the door as the girls pass through and a short while later his daughter asks him who was at the door. Kevin’s response- “no one.” Is this a bit of word play? Was there, in fact, no one at the door?Kevin’s retrieval of the bagel in the closing sequence seems to indicate Dean is a real person and our protagonist is sane.
The show plays with the viewers and highlights the significance of perception. Kevin’s sanity may be intact, but if his squad and the mayor think he’s spiraling out of control- his fate is sealed. Such is the case with his father who is locked away in a mental health facility. This is the beauty of The Leftovers.
The Leftovers shows viewers that perception dictates truth, making truth utterly subjective. With that understanding, The Guilty Remnants and Holy Wayne begin to make sense.
Meg Abbott’s (Liv Tyler) connection to the Guilty Remnant becomes clear as does Tom Garvey’s (Chris Zylka) connection to Holy Wayne. Both Meg and Tom suffer and seek truth, but the pain of their personal journeys shape their perception of both organizations as salvation. While the two characters see the best in their respective organizations, the general public regularly abuses and resents The Guilty Remnant and the FBI slaughters most of Holy Wayne’s camp.
These relationships and questions teach viewers that intentions are irrelevant, but perception and reaction are everything.The series provides a poignant portrait of grief, perception, and judgment.
What did you think of tonight’s episode? Is Dean real, or is Kevin experiencing early mental health issues? What do you think is next? Please share your insight and questions in the comment section. For more on The Leftovers, you can read “HBO ‘The Leftovers’: Garvey Family Guides Our Journey Through The Unknown.”