As The Leftovers returns with its second season, we break down what’s weird, what’s mysterious, and what’s simply The Fuck? on this intriguing, frequently puzzling, never dull show. Without further ado, let’s dive into the eighth episode, “International Assassin.”
Points for the trolly promo, which showed exactly two seconds from this actual episode.
What’s confounding: Dream sequence episodes are a lot of fun when they’re handled well and a total slog when they’re handled poorly. The best dream episode ever on TV is Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s [“Restless”](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restless_(Buffy_the_Vampire_Slayer). Luckily, “International Assassin” is the best dream/hallucination/alternate reality episode since “Restless” — and comparing a show to Buffy is the highest praise I can give.
It strikes me that, although the two shows are wildly different, The Leftovers’s fearless penchant for experiment is not unlike Buffy, — “Guest” and “No Room at the Inn” are the spiritual siblings of “The Zeppo” and “Storyteller” — and if they were to do a silent episode or a musical episode, I wouldn’t be opposed. (Kevin would definitely do the Spike-style rock song, and Nora would do the melancholy opera. Tom would reveal himself to be a surprisingly skilled tap dancer).
In talking about The Leftovers, one thing I haven’t really addressed yet is the aesthetic and tone of the show; that intangible quality that gives it its unique flavor. Many shows that consider themselves “gritty” or “dark” go for cold color palates, but The Leftovers has always privileged brightness. This particularly helps in this episode, because they could have easily gone for an American Horror Story style fisheye camera that would have gotten old fast.
But this show’s tone — which expertly balances humor with its darkness; unafraid to take itself too seriously (Virgil: ‘You’re an international assassin.’ Kevin: ‘Are you fucking serious?’) — coupled with its bright color palette, enables the extended dream sequence to work where it might have fallen flat on other shows. It allows Kevin’s purgatory or drug trip or hallucination to possess a quality that is simultaneously hyper-real (no blurry-swirly visuals here) and Lynchian surreal. The clear lighting, the jaunty classical music, the nonchalant way people address the strange “there’s a bird in the lobby!’ — all of it creates an alternate universe that’s at once strange and familiar within the context of the show. My concerns last week about how the writers would handle the plunge into the mystical seem to be unfounded.
This show’s continuity — the extent to which it rewards the vigilant viewer — is nearly unparalleled outside of legacy shows like Buffy and Twin Peaks, another spiritual ancestor. Callbacks abound to earlier chapters in this show’s history: Gladys, Holy Wayne, Neal and his fetish, the guy on the bridge. Even the motifs of fire and water hearken back to the burning of the GR headquarters last season and to this season’s emphasis on water. Vigilant fans can puzzle over “International Assassin” twenty times and still find new easter eggs. I know everyone was pissed at Damon Lindelof’s handling of death and purgatory for the Lost finale, but he’s clearly learned from his mistakes. I think part of what makes it work here, too, is that we only see people who have definitively died, not those who have Departed. It would have given this episode an entirely different spin if the hotel was populated by Departed people, and I’m so glad they were smart enough to omit that.
WTFs to file away for the future:
- Kevin’s closet door says ‘know first who you are, then adorn yourself accordingly.’
- This is the first time we’ve seen Kevin in a suit, and can I just say, Justin Theroux for the next Bond, anyone? I’m sure he can manage a British accent.
- Death as a hotel? Somebody’s been watching this season of American Horror Story.
- An empty ‘get well soon card’ with nothing inside it — I don’t think any other image on this show has quite encapsulated its spirit as much.
For those who remain wary of this show taking the plunge into the realm of the definitively supernatural, it seems that Kevin Senior is tripping balls: who is to say Kevin Junior isn’t, too, in a deathlike state? They did it in Romeo and Juliet.
Kevin is allowed to talk to Patti about anything except North Korea, gun control, abortion, or her ex.
- Holy Wayne in the bathroom: “You know what’s crazy? I feel like I was sitting on the toilet the last time I met you.”
- Patti: “Our polls say our message is confusing.” This show’s sly self-awareness never stops being a thrill.
- Patti on caves and earthquakes: “Our cave collapsed. We can spend all our time digging through the rubble, looking for signs of life, or we can transform.” Hmmm.
The final verdict: This might be the best episode yet: sprawling yet intimate, intelligent yet clearly articulated, symbolic yet straightforward, moving yet filled with funny one-liners, and all-around exquisite. I’m not a Lost viewer, but I know the debates around it; the polarizing opinions about Damon Lindelof; the ire he provoked from its finale. But since I was not personally burned by Lost, my opinion of Lindelof has been reserved thus far.
Season 1 of The Leftovers was ambitious, yet flawed. But Season 2 has me sold. After this episode, consider me a convert: even if he made some questionable decisions during Lost, Damon Lindelof’s clearly that rare writer who listens to his critics. He is on my instant-watch radar for every forthcoming project he’s got a hand in. There’s nothing more to say except that if you’re not watching this show, you are a silly, silly person. Get your act together.