This week, The Leftovers flashed back to the time just before the Sudden Departure, and showed us what was going on with our characters just before two percent of the population disappeared. It turns out that there was still already of desperation going around.
Up until the very end, this was the least supernatural episode of The Leftovers, but it shows that for most of our characters—especially the Garvey family—the troubles didn't start with the Departure. For Kevin, especially, pre-Departure life just feels like a less intense version of post-Departure life. He can't wrap his head around the simple surreality of Nyan Cat and when a deer breaks into the school (much as a deer will break into his house post-Departure), it feels very familiar. Strangers say odd, cryptic things to him out of the blue. And while he and Laurie are living in the same house, there's a distance between them.
Nora, whom we've seen pining over her family all season, was once a woman trying to unyoke herself—and her identity—from her family. I suppose that we're supposed to get a sense of "Be careful what you wish for" here; Nora wants to pretend that she doesn't have a family in order to work on Lucy Warburton's mayoral campaign and then finds herself without one entirely. But I'm struck by how much more vibrant Nora is now than she was back then, how dark and funny she is. What she has endured is a tragedy, but that tragedy has tempered the blade of her personality.
Some characters are strikingly unchanged by the Departure, however. Tommy has always been unwilling to accept how fierce and loving a father he has in Kevin in the favor of ruminating on his abandonment by his biological father. Tommy never needed Holy Wayne's unburdening; he just needed to let Kevin be his father.
But it becomes clear how the Departure transformed many of the other characters' lives. Ironically, it was once Laurie's job to listen to Patti speak, and after the Departure, Patti's internalized sense of doom makes her seem like a prophet. Gladys was once an upscale dog breeder (and none of the dogs were crazy). Perhaps the most hilarious moment, a nod to the show's love of punishing Matt, is that, just before the Departure, Matt learned that he didn't have cancer. He and Mary were in the car heading off to celebrate when Matt's life went completely off the rails.
It's Laurie who has the biggest revelation of the episode, however. If this episode is about how little Kevin actually changed, it's also about the big moment in Laurie's life that changed everything. All season, it has seemed that the Garvey family didn't lose anyone directly to the Departure, but Laurie lost a possibility. When she could see the fetus inside her, it felt like she had finally made a decision about keeping the pregnancy. Then, in an instant, the pregnancy is over. Patti's sense of doom, Megan's mother's death, Laurie's vanished pregnancy—it's clear why these women were attracted to a purposeful meditation on the Departure instead of trying to pretend it never happened.
I don't usually give much thought to what caused the Departure, but it is interesting to see what happens in the moments before these particular people disappear. Laurie was dealing with her ambivalence toward her pregnancy. Kevin had a regrettable moment with a soon-to-be Departed woman. Nora was frustrated with her family. There is almost a sense that these people (and in one case a fetus) might have been somehow willed away.
After the high emotional drama of the last few episodes, this week's episode felt like a tension dip, but that was probably the point. Now, the sense of desperation and unease is pulsing, feeling like it is pushing out against the walls. But really it has always been there, lurking not so far beneath the surface.