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Kevin Garvey is a troubled, troubled man.
He, like so many people in this town, the country, the world, has been significantly affected by the Departure. While The Leftovers has invested a lot of time in exploring how he and his family have dealt with the unprecedented event, “Solace for Tired Feet” delves even deeper into Kevin’s struggles. Following the near-perfect “Guest”, the episode does feel like a step down in quality (the inclusion of Tom in the episode alone will do that), nevertheless there is enough there to engage and captivate viewers. Like “B.J and the A.C” which followed the Matt-centric episode (a standout hour), “Solace” returns to familiar form with a focus on the Garvey family infused with some Mapleton flavor, and yes, even some Tom/Wayne drama.
The whole Tom storyline continues to be the least engaging aspect of the show, but that narrative did provide some bizarre and surprising moments within the hour. (Just how many Asian girls did Wayne impregnate?) However, the focus of that story is Tom, and he is the most bland and uninteresting player of this corner of the world. In just a few minutes, his doppelganger is able to project much more personality than Tom has shown throughout the course of five (?) episodes. It is unclear whether this is a performance issue, or if the character is supposed to be this frustratingly blank slate, removed person; (I suspect the actor is just devoid of any charisma) regardless, it prohibits us from making a much-needed connection with the character. I don’t care for/about him in the slightest, and in a series that is overflowing with compelling personalities (likable or not) this one just drifts into the background.
Wayne, of whom we get just a brief glimpse of, is a much more intriguing character, not only because there is so much mystery and ambiguity surrounding him, but also because we have gotten to see vastly different sides of his personality. He was introduced as this shady, potentially dangerous cult leader with a penchant for underage girls who exploited people’s grief and vulnerability for his own gain; not a good dude. But since then, he has shown tenderness and caring at times, which suggests there is more to this person than the immediate impression. It was surprising to see him seemingly care for people even after his own interests were sated, as he was with Nora. Whether or not his ‘powers’ are real is a mystery I don’t expect the show to clarify, nor should it, but the uncertainty and tension derived from that question is increasingly compelling. Perhaps if he were the focus of this subplot, it would unfold in a more engaging manner.
Over in Mapleton, things begin quite nicely for the beleaguered chief, on his fifth date with Nora that is, until they encounter a pair of GRs stationed in front of Nora’s home, of which Nora disposes of in the most awesome way ever. (Have I mentioned she is the best?) The date isn’t ruined, but the GR’s intrusion does introduce an air of tension as they awkwardly navigate each other’s personal baggage in their conversation. “I don’t know how to talk to you yet,” says Nora. They make quite the charming pair and those brief scenes work tremendously to communicate their dynamic and attraction. Things do take a substantial downturn for Kevin as the episode progresses, with his father’s escape from the psychiatric hospital wreaking havoc on the town and his own mental state.
His father’s reemergence in the town brings on anxieties we have seen Kevin experience before, and a disorienting chain of events make for an effective and engaging narrative. Starting with Kevin’s weird blackout and bizarre dream. It is difficult to say what in his dream informs what actually happened that night but we could make some assumptions (he encountered his dog-killing ‘friend’, probably fought him in order to keep the dog which is now tied up in his backyard, and was bandaged by Aimee.) We can also assume that he took an unknown amount of prescription pills that probably inhibit his ability to retain information. The ambiguity following the incident is fun to explore, like so much in this series; the fact that we don’t know exactly what happened only heightens the tension and drama in a favorable way.
Kevin’s relationship with his father is further explored in intriguing ways. The story follows where the two left off in their last interaction: Kevin facing the idea of a debilitating mental health and his father trying to guide him in a questionable way. What Garvey Sr.’s intentions/goal are is unclear to Kevin and us and again, the show benefits from the hint of something mystical at play while keeping the narrative incredibly grounded and down to earth. Despite the many oddities and mysteries at play, this is not a show that will have a definitive answer to all the questions posed.