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Context is everything. Nine episodes into the season we get to meet our characters the day before the Sudden Departure. I was surprised the writers and showrunners decided to do this considering the way episode eight ended. They broke the climactic pace in order to give us a glimpse into the past. We were able to measure the grief stricken versions of the characters we have grown to know against who they were before 2% of the population disappeared. I thought that the different character entanglements and exposure of Kevin and Laurie’s disintegrating relationship made me look at all the post SD characters differently.

The episode mainly focused on the Garvey family. Like in the pilot episode, the opening shot is of Kevin running, sneak smoking and encountering a wild animal. In the pilot he encounters a wild dog and in this episode he encounters a buck. The animal symbolism in this show has been consistent, and in the animal totem world when a deer presents itself to you it is a call to grace, a path of intuitiveness leading to awakening and newness. The buck in particular is considered to be especially mystical in that the antlers amplify their connection to higher energies. So, from the very first scene, signs are already presenting themselves to Kevin, signs that the universe is speaking to him. I say universe, and what I really mean is: I have no idea what is behind the strange synchronicities that infiltrate Kevin’s life. I just recognize they exist and even as far back as the day before the Sudden Departure he was being drawn into greater awareness.

Since the pilot episode I have felt really sorry for Kevin. I have tried to forgive his hotheadedness by trusting that his anger is justified by what he experienced. Only this episode revealed that Kevin has always been a tortured soul with an underlying darkness, so I only see that these attributes have been intensified by the Sudden Departure. I ended up liking Kevin a whole lot less. His battle in this season so far has been to prove to himself that he is a good man, but Kevin was fighting that battle before the SD. In fact, he seemed okay with the fact that he wasn’t a good man. Kevin was a cheater and a liar. In a speech at his father’s surprise birthday party he emphasizes the importance of family, and I wanted to believe him. However, family isn’t enough for Kevin, or so he believes at this point in his life when his family is all around him, and so he takes what he has for granted.

There were some other symbols worked into this episode that almost felt heavy handed, like the balloon wrapped in the dead buck’s antlers exclaiming It’s a Girl! Then there was the car full of women who stop to ask Kevin if he’s ready. Kevin’s mysteriously leaking My Hero cup. There’s the metronome in the children’s music room that is indicating the persistence of time and measure despite the destruction surrounding it. The trapped animal and the building gas pressure that blows the man hole are all signs of what is to come, and we are well acquainted with Kevin’s brimming anger post SD. Oh, and that crack in the wall of Kevin and Laurie’s beautiful house as symbolic of their relationship issues. The house itself seems so bright and full of life – a crisp contrast to his Garvey Sr.’s house with its wood paneling and dated interior. The stylistic force within the home is obviously Laurie; seems she had an affinity for sparseness and the color white before joining the Guilty Remnant.

Tom and Jill’s relationship seems overly enthusiastic, unrealistic and unsustainable. The fact that they experience the Departure while partaking in a science experiment creating a human circuit of energy to power a light was a beautiful and sad image. The subtext really worked in that scene, but the overly happy Tom and bright and childish Jill interactions felt forced. Perhaps it was done to show that because they experienced this traumatic event together, they will forever associate one another with that loss of human energy – the extinguished light. Tom’s drunken persistence to understand how his biological father could have deserted him seems like another tacked on attempt to explain the daddy issues that Tom has admitted to having. At this point, so little has been done with Tom’s character that even though I can see he is less happy after the Sudden Departure, I still don’t know what I want to know: why is he a follower of Holy Wayne? Is it just because of daddy issues? Perhaps another episode revealing how he got pulled into a cult would reveal more about Tom, the Tom that I want to know about.

Nora’s guilt after the Sudden Departure became palpable after this episode. I felt like I finally understood something about her that I didn’t before. Her life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. She was internally and externally prepared to pretend she didn’t have kids in order to get a job with the future Mayor’s campaign. Nora wanted something for herself and she was done being a stay at home mom with a growing suspicion about her husband’s aloofness. This made Nora more complicated, it made her behavior in “Guest” with paying people to shoot her, seem equal parts a punishment for having wished her family gone and a way to remind her of the pain of their loss to keep them more alive in her memory.

But it’s Laurie’s story that interested me the most. Amy Brenneman has been able to translate a lot about the Laurie post Sudden Departure with facial expressions, body language, and written thoughts, but none of that touches what we learned about Laurie in this episode. Laurie is a therapist! Go figure. I don’t remember this being discussed before and I find it interesting that someone who knows the inner workings of the human mind would wind up in the Guilty Remnant. Laurie seems to be a woman who loves her luxuries, she has a beautiful home and office and listens to a lot of classical music which is all great to measure up against her decision to reject it all and enter a life of non-attachment and silence.

And Patti is one of Laurie’s patients, a victim worn down by her abusive husband, Neil. Now we know what was in that bag she left on his doorstep and where the idea came from. Patti has a feeling that something big is going to happen, something like the end of the world. Patti is so convinced that something is going to happen that she even claims Laurie shares in this feeling. Patti tells Laurie, “there’s something wrong inside you.” And indeed there is. Laurie is pregnant with a baby she hasn’t told Kevin about, a baby she’s not even sure she’s going to keep. The closing of this episode was Laurie’s sonogram paralleled and intercut with Kevin’s infidelity. As Kevin’s casual encounter suddenly departs, so does the baby in Laurie’s womb, right in front of her horrified eyes. She’s obviously been struggling with this decision and she seems to go back and forth. We see her crying while holding one of Gladys’ puppies, a puppy that seems to be an attempt to bring her and Kevin closer again, to give them something to love now that their children are grown. But in a scene that made me think Laurie would have an abortion, Kevin tells her in a low and threatening tone that he doesn’t want a dog, and I know she is equating the puppy with the baby. Laurie’s decision to hear the heart beat seems to be what sways her in those final moments, and it makes the trauma of the disappearance that much more psychologically damaging.

I felt like what happened to Laurie in that moment paired with the professional opinion that forgetting doesn’t work was what drove her to the Guilty Remnant. I found myself wondering if Patti’s intuitive proclamation elevates the woman in Laurie’s approximation, and so she follows her into the GR. Laurie seems to deeply contemplate her Zen daily calendar quote “the foot feels the foot when it feels the ground,” about as deeply as Kevin tries to understand the Nyan cat gif. They are both lost in their current state of being and seeking meaning outside of themselves for a sense of guidance. It’s a tragic misalignment and my sympathy for Laurie surged. I don’t completely understand her choice to join the Guilty Remnant, but I understand more than I did. I have to give the writers and the episode’s director a pat on the back in that regard, because the way that final scene was shot was enough to understand much of what has followed for Kevin and Laurie post Sudden Departure.

All in all I thought the episode was a smart look back in an effort to provide context for these characters we’ve been struggling to understand. If this episode had been the pilot it would have been hard to care about these characters in the same way we do after having followed their journey through loss. The episode also filled in some information like some of the flashes in Kevin’s dreams involving the deer and his surprise at seeing another deer in the pilot episode. We got to find out who Neil is and how Laurie and Patti knew each other before the Guilty Remnant. I feel like Garvey Sr.’s attempt to get his son to awaken to his purpose is directly refuted by what he tells Kevin about purpose in this episode, that it is man’s nature to rebel against the idea that this is all there is, but really, this is all there is and Kevin’s purpose doesn’t exist outside of what he already has. No wonder Kevin is so messed up by all the mixed messages from his dad, his “hero” that has sprung a leak. Kevin is still trying to make sense of all the messages he is receiving, and I for one want to know what it all means and what this is all leading up to. While I felt this episode was a cohesive flashback, I’m concerned about its arrangement in the season. We only have one episode left and a lot of questions. Was this the best use of an episode? I want to say yes, but really I feel like I won’t know for sure until I see the season finale. I’m grateful for the additional character insight, especially Laurie’s story, but I remain speculative until I can view this episode within the entire arc of the season.

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Amanda Lowery lives, writes and studies in Baltimore where she is held hostage by potholes, stray cats and rats that make her watch way too much TV and rhyme unnecessarily. You can find her book reviews and pop culture thoughts at amandasthinkingoutloud.blogspot.com.

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