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“The Garveys at Their Best” should be a frustrating hour of The Leftovers because it delays the highly anticipated continuation of last week’s episode, but it is a surprisingly captivating installment of the drama that sheds light on some of the characters’ (mostly Kevin, Laurie and Nora) lives pre-Disappearance. Once again the series employs a change in format to tell its story and though it should probably incense us that so many questions were left hanging and while it is a bit cruel to toy with us in such a way, the flashback offer compelling stories that make the entire episode work. We have spent enough time with these characters to enjoy a flashback episode like this, which illuminates some ambiguities and informs so much of who these people are and why they find themselves in the positions/situations they are in.
Having the episode be set in the day before the Disappearance and lead up to the momentous event works wonderfully. We know it is coming, there are various clues and hints that make us suspect that it will happen soon which builds anticipation and suspense. It also gives us so much information about the people of Mapleton, and what they were going through at the time of the event. It makes the present narrative much more rich and adds even more meaning to it and the character’s stories.
The hour doesn’t just confirm some mysteries for us like the fact that Laurie was Patti’s therapist which was hinted at earlier in the season, but it gives us information that we wouldn’t have known which communicates so much about who these people are/were. The fact that Laurie was pregnant and presumably lost the baby in the Disappearance, the fact that Kevin was so deeply unhappy with his life prior to shit hitting the fan, Nora’s dissatisfaction (which mirrors Kevin’s), etc. all provide substantial character information that makes an episode like this worthwhile.
Plus it is just fun to see where all these characters were in the exact moment of the event and each of their personal experiences as well as the mini character cameos in each of the individual stories. Gladys popping up as the dog breeder and the mother who lost the baby in Laurie’s narrative; the couple with the mentally challenged son appearing in Kevin’s’ and Nora interviewing with the mayor, etc. really emphasize the small town setting and the community feel the series enjoys.
Also, it is a total blast seeing these people, whom we seen episode after episode live in such bleakness and sadness, actually appear happy and having fun, even if for a few moments. That party scene is totally against almost everything we have seen on the show, and a noted contrast to the nihilistic party scenes previously shown. Despite it being in the past it feels satisfying that the writers gave these people an opportunity to be happy and enjoy themselves.
However, there are a few moments when the symbolism in the show veers into crazy, on the nose, anvilicious territory. Did we really need to see the literal cracks on the Garvey household? That alone could have been ok, but when it is shown along with the deer getting “trapped” in random buildings, the manhole cover getting blown off, the coffee cup leaking and so on it gets irritating. We get it! These are all variations on the same idea and when they are all featured one on top of the other it becomes clunky and cumbersome. Not that The Leftovers has always been a super subtle show, but this episode pushes it a bit too far.
Regardless of the questionable metaphors and unsubtle symbolism, “The Garveys at Their Best” is another fantastic episode of the show and one that could have easily turned out to be a disappointing placeholder before the anticipated finale. Just one more episode left in what has become one of the most fascinating and unexpectedly engrossing first seasons of television in recent times. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what will happen next. What did you think?