Justin Theroux, Kevin Carroll, Christopher Eccleston, and Jovan Adepo (Photo: HBO)

“The Book Of Kevin” makes a compelling case in favor of artfully misleading trailers. All of the promos for the final season of The Leftovers have leaned heavily on the piece of this remarkably vast story in which Kevin and Nora relocate to Australia. What a relief, then, to see the season premiere pick up exactly where season two left off.

Of course, this is a Leftovers premiere, so it doesn’t quite begin in the present day. “Kevin” begins in the late 1800s, a more recent setting than the prehistoric opening in “Axis Mundi,” but a world that feels just as alien and foreboding. The setting is a small village largely, but not entirely under the influence of a doomsday preacher urging his followers to prepare for the rapture. A young devout family prepares as instructed, going so far as to give away livestock they won’t need anymore. They climb up to the roof because if God is about to whisk you into his arms, the polite thing is to make sure he doesn’t have to stoop. The prophecy doesn’t come to pass, and the family climbs back down the ladder a bit disappointed but with their faith intact.

The thing about predicting the rapture is that you have to nail it the first time. So naturally, this sect goes the way of the Millerites and, more recently, the followers of Harold Camping. Raptures come and go, the ladder gets put up and taken down again, and as the congregation dwindles down, the faithful become targets for ridicule. The faith that was once the family’s guiding principle splits it apart as the husband grows more resentful of his wife’s unwavering faith. She’s banished from her own home and has nothing except her faith to hold onto. Much like Evie Murphy, who the camera settles on after panning over a century into the future.

Jasmin Savoy Brown and Liv Tyler (Photo: HBO)

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Evie’s still camped out in the Miracle Visitor Center after the Guilty Remnant’s infiltration of the Jarden of Eden. Evie goes to Meg and whiteboards her demand to know what happens next. Meg, who’s just fine talking, admit she really has no idea. This time, the parallels between the long ago and far away prologue and the events of the present day are more direct. Just like the woman in the opening montage, Evie has lost her family because she devoted herself to a movement led by someone whose relationship with the movement is more casual than it seems. Meg doesn’t have a plan, not that it matters once a fiber-optic camera snakes its way into the building to take a final inventory. A drone swoops in and Evie watches with awe and horror as a missile comes sailing towards them.

Once again, the Leftovers team outdid itself with an opening so mesmerizing, human, and evocative, it almost seems like they’ve done themselves a disservice by coming so hot out of the gate. But the show is in a really unique creative position, one that essentially gives Damon Lindelof another opportunity to explore the religious and mystical themes he brought to Lost in a show better positioned to capitalize on them. Season one was a mostly faithful adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel and a great version of that. But season two blossomed because being untethered from the book allowed Lindelof and Perrotta to expand the tonal and emotional palette. Now season three can continue on that same path, but within the comforting constraints of a final eight-episode season. What would a 28-episode, premium-cable version of Lost have looked like? Basically like The Leftovers.

Getting back to the Perth-heavy previews, what made season two so phenomenal is that the move to Miracle alleviated the end-times dread that hung over every episode of the first season. Those episodes are compelling and hypnotic in their own way, but their tone was unsustainable. So I was worried that the ending of season two and the frequent references to Australia meant this season would leave Miracle behind as quickly as possible. Kevin was lucky enough to walk home bleeding after the Guilty Remnant breached the town and find his family there waiting for him. No one could blame the Garvey-Durst-Jamisons for high-tailing it out of Miracle forever, but because the town represented promise for them, it would have been disappointing to see the family leave because yet another safe space was violated.

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Justin Theroux and Chris Zylka (Courtesy: HBO)

Instead, The Leftovers remains the most hopeful show about the most somber subject. “Kevin” jumps three years into the future, where “Miracle” has gone back to being Jarden, the former visitor center is now a crater, and there’s no longer a bouncer at the door. Everyone is welcome in Jarden, so the festival-style tent city that sprang up at the gates has since migrated inside. There are only 14 days until the seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure, so everyone’s a bit on edge generally, but also because of the Biblical significance of the number seven. (It appears throughout the Bible in different contexts, but once you get to Revelation there are more sevens than the phone number for a local cab company.)

But in spite of all that, Kevin and his extended family of oddballs have figured out how to start anew in Jarden just as they had before. Kevin is back at the helm of the local police department, flanked by his deputy, Tommy. Nora is back with the DSD and acting as a liaison between the agency and the Jarden Police since the town will be an obvious hotspot for departure-related shenanigans. Matt’s church is flourishing, with help from Michael Murphy, and Mary is still doing well, as is the baby. Laurie has stuck around and started a business of sorts with John Murphy, who is now in a sense the same kind of huckster he once gleefully menaced. Jill is still finding herself but is still in the loop enough to drop in on Tommy’s surprise birthday party. Life isn’t perfect for Kevin—he’s developed some kind of asphyxiation ritual—but at least Ghost Patti is gone, and he’s created a life for himself through sheer will. Jarden doesn’t have to be a miracle. It can just be an imperfect home for an imperfect family.

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Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon (Photo: HBO)

The show hints at the weird, complicated beauty of the life Kevin has created in Jarden just in time to imperil it. Just as Patti stalked Kevin from Mapleton in season two, Dean, Kevin’s “hunting buddy” makes his way to Jarden to share his latest suspicion with Kevin. He believes that dogs, perhaps advanced versions of the ones he and Kevin used to pick off, have achieved human form and infiltrated the highest rungs of the government. The upcoming anniversary, he says, is when they strike. An unhinged Dean later tries to assassinate Kevin, assuming he would only dismiss the theory because he’s one of the sandwich-devouring dog people.

Next, Kevin finds out that the truth of Matt and Mary’s story is far less charming than Matt suggests from the pulpit. Matt is essentially holding his wife and child captive in a small town, fearing something bad will happen to them if they breach the city limits. Matt’s insistence on keeping Mary is one facet of a broader pattern of thoughts and behavior that include the Book of Kevin, the sacred text he’s been working on about the many lives of Kevin Garvey. Naturally, Kevin, who can’t even fake a baptism without telling Michael it doesn’t count, is furious and stomps over to Matt’s church to demand answers.

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What happens next is pretty remarkable. The idea of Matt writing a gospel about Kevin’s life sounds pretty ridiculous, especially within the context of his quasi-abusive relationship with Mary. But once he starts explaining his rationale, with help from John and Michael, Matt sounds downright reasonable. Kevin’s apparent ability to avert death and flit between planes of existence at will seem like the sort of thing you write down if you’re personally there to witness it. Kevin convinces them to give him the elaborate, leather-bound manuscript, the only copy of Matt’s work. Before Kevin can commit to tossing the book into a flaming grill, the camera cuts away to an intriguing sequence that’s either a prologue or an epilogue or something in between. A dove wrangler in what appears to be pastoral Australia reveals herself as an aged Nora Durst and says she’s never heard of anyone named Kevin.

Stray observations

  • For those who, like me, were left a little cold by the ending of Lost, the final scene has to be as exhilarating as it is terrifying. I was reminded of the final scene from “Live Together, Die Alone,” the season two finale. It’s so good it makes you hope the show can nail the execution, but man, I’m still scared.
  • I’m now obsessed with Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” a song I’d never heard until this episode. It’s a beautiful song but the lyrics are absolutely terrifying if you’re not part of the faith that sees this as a triumphant ending. That’s the whole point, of course.
  • No sign of Erika Murphy yet, and barely a mention, though it sounds like she’s alive. But not well, of course. At the very least, it’s clear she doesn’t share John’s sense of optimism about Evie’s fate.
  • Can’t wait to get the story behind the cast on Nora’s arm.
  • Is it possible that Dean just makes really good sandwiches that are irresistable to man and mutt alike?
  • Good call to HBO for airing this episode on Easter Sunday.
  • If you didn’t get a chance to read Sean O’Neal’s excellent pre-air review, or avoided it out of an abundance of caution, you should go ahead and do that. It won’t spoil anything, I promise!

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