Episodic loglines are one of the more underappreciated art forms in the era of Peak TV. At their best, they have a certain poetic quality as they aim to describe the story without giving away even the slightest hint about the plot. Nothing says “worthwhile episode of television” more strongly than, say, “A shocking revelation redraws the battle lines” or “Circumstances change for everyone, complicating the path forward.” The loglines for each episode of The Leftovers is especially interesting because the show is so odd, esoteric, and dense, it resists any description with a hard character limit.
That said, there are insights, however minor, to be gleaned from episodic descriptions. The one for “Certified” goes like this: “Laurie Garvey, a former therapist, must become one again as she heads to Australia to help Nora and Kevin along their paths.” That’s the exact text, minus the parenthetical actor credits, and it’s actually a pretty tidy description of what happens in “Certified.” But because this is The Leftovers, the episode is so much more than Laurie donning the therapist hat once more to help her friends on their respective Australian adventures. It’s a broader look at a character that came into focus slowly and grew into one of the show’s most fascinating people, and then, quite possibly, committed suicide.
The Leftovers gingerly lends itself to multiple interpretations, and the end of “Certified” will inspire a lot of fan debates, especially if it is actually the last we ever see of Laurie Garvey. So I’m not willing to accept at face value that the final scene of the episode means that Laurie killed herself in the “elegant” way Nora fantasized about, a method Nora said achieved the difficult feat of providing peaceful closure to both the dead and the grieving. But it’s very likely, and feels like a proper end for the character. Laurie started the series unwilling to speak to her own daughter, but has now become the type of mother whose daughter doesn’t hesitate to call just so she can verify her recollection of Today’s Special.
The episode begins with a flashback to a time before the series began in earnest, when Laurie was a therapist trying to keep up with a patient load undoubtedly increased by the Sudden Departure. The Leftovers has gone without cold opens for most of the season, so it’s surprising to see one used to reintroduce us to Laurie and to provide, much like “Orange Sticker” did for Meg, a more concrete explanation for how the character changed relative to the mass disappearance. Laurie, it turns out, ended up treating the woman in the first scene of the pilot, who’s played by Natalie Gold and flitted in and out of the first season, only ever being credited as “Sam’s Mother.” Sam’s mother sits on Laurie’s couch describing her anxiety about the potential of her vanished baby suddenly reappearing at the same spot where he disappeared in the parking lot. What if she isn’t there?
Little does Sam’s mother know that Laurie is dealing with her own sense of loss since the embryo that would have been Laurie and Kevin’s third child vanished in utero. (An especially cruel detail: Laurie literally watched the baby’s image disappear on an ultrasound monitor.) Laurie doesn’t know how to deal with what’s happened any more than her patient, and the weirdos who wear white and smoke all day are at least doing something. She grabs the first white garments she can find at home and joins up with the Guilty Remnant.
Laurie has changed so much since we first met her in season one, it’s really disorienting to be reintroduced to her at the point where she finally broke inside and decided that the Guilty Remnant at least provided a sense of structure and discipline that mostly disappeared after the Sudden Departure. But after the opening credits—set this time to Gravediggaz’ “1-800-Suicide”—the episode returns to present day Laurie, who is trekking across rural Australia in a van with a smudged address written on the back of her hand. The ultimate destination? The Playford estate, where the elder and junior Kevin Garvey have been living since Kevin Jr. and Nora parted ways at the hotel.
The episode, written by Kevin Somerville and Carly Wray, is reminiscent of some of Mad Men’s best experiments with nonlinear storytelling, like “The Other Woman” or “Waldorf Stories.” First, it’s about Laurie’s arrival at the Playford farm and her effort to subtly moderate the campaign to drown Kevin and resurrect him to avert the oncoming Biblical flood. Then, true to the logline, it’s about Laurie’s earlier adventure, in which she helps Nora and Matt track down the mysterious Drs. Eden and Bekker, who went missing after rejecting Nora for their experimental radiation zapping program. And lastly, it’s about Laurie’s presumably final scuba diving trip and a unfussy goodbye to the daughter and husband she once abandoned.
Ultimately, it’s the best hour of television in a season that has been full of high points, including last week’s Matt-centric lion sex boat murder mystery. Amy Brenneman has delivered amazing work throughout the series, but in season two she ceded the spotlight to Carrie Coon and Regina King, and even Liv Tyler to a certain degree. This episode is the tribute the actress and the character both deserve, and it’s replete with beautiful images from director Carl Franklin. This is one of the episodes people will name when they’re talking about how wonderful this show was, and almost none of those fond memories will sound like the episodic logline.
- I don’t want to give short shrift to the rest of the cast. Brenneman was incredible here, but so was Coon, Kevin Carroll, and of course Scott Glenn.
- That final scene between Laurie and Kevin was breathtaking in every way. Man.
- I really loved how the food poisoning scene was executed in a way as to make it genuinely surprising. First Grace retires, then Michael starts acting goofy, and it all goes to hell. Very nicely done.
- I truly hope this isn’t also a goodbye to Nora. We’ve seen her at another time answering to the name Sarah, so she’s not dead, but I hope we get to see her as Nora again.
- Isn’t Liv Tyler still part of the main cast? We haven’t seen any of her yet. I miss Meg for reasons I can’t quite put a finger on.
- I find it fun to write phrases I think might not be duplicated other places. So my hope is that when someone Googles “lion sex boat murder mystery,” this is the only result. But someone else might have stumbled onto that very accurate description of the episode.
- SHOUT IT LOUD AND CLEAR.