HBO’s The Leftovers has always been a ballsy show. It’s narratively experimental, with bottle episodes following characters down psychological rabbit holes. It’s featured scenes like female-on-male rape and dog-shooting and pushing children into wells. But Season 3’s premiere “The Book of Kevin” takes this risky dynamic to the next level with the bloody resolution of an intriguing plot line from Season 1. “We’re definitely interested in the idea of the dog,” showrunner Damon Lindelof recently told Inverse.
By skipping three full years into the future, The Leftovers Season 3 is pressing the reset button to an even greater extent than Season 2 did with its change of location. It’s almost disconcerting to see Kevin cracking jokes, Laurie and John Murphy happily married, and Tommy as a dutiful son following in Kevin’s policeman footsteps. But, of course, because this is The Leftovers, things get weird fast when Dean the dog shooter returns. Kevin’s past is coming back to bite him in the ass, literally.
In one of the show’s most comical scenes to date, Dean explains to Kevin how he thinks canines have morphed into humans in order to take over the world. “That’s how they get their finger on the button,” he explains. “Paw,” Kevin corrects with a straight face. “That’s how they get their paw on the button.”
Although Kevin tells Dean that this is delusional, intriguingly, the show invites the viewer to make a connection with Kevin’s afterlife experience in “International Assassin.” When he tells Dean his experience isn’t real, the scene cuts to Kevin pushing the child version of Patti Levin into the well in Season 2’s “International Assassin.”
In a jarring sequence later in the episode, an enraged Dean starts shooting at Kevin and Tommy as they drive. Tommy is forced to blow Dean’s head off in order to prevent him from killing Kevin. After, Kevin tells Tommy he should talk to a psychologist. “I was just doing my job when I killed someone; it still fucked me up,” he says as he flashes to killing Senator Levin in “International Assassin.” His headspace is clearly still in that purgatory realm. But unlike Dean, he’s not interested in convincing other people that it’s real. He’s vague about it to Tommy, and he’s accusatory when Michael shares it with Matt (“You told him about the hotel?” he says in anger).
The Leftovers might be moving on from the Guilty Remnant and Kevin’s nighttime wanderings and the bizarre dog shooting plotline might now be dead and buried, but the psychological scars from earlier seasons remain. As a visible signifier of this, Kevin and Tommy still smoke cigarettes while meditating over the guilt of taking a life. The GR might be gone, but its ideas linger.
The way the dog sequence transitions from hilarious to horrific is the perfect example of the ability of The Leftovers to skate between absurdist humor and darkness.
The Leftovers airs on Sunday nights on HBO.