The Leftovers S03E03: Crazy Whitefella Thinking
Director: Mimi Leder
Starring: Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston
Writer: Damon Lindelof & Tom Spezialy
A review by Michael Walls-Kelly
I have to sing to make it stop.
Sure, why not? Of all the ideas and theories and prophecies we’ve seen in 22 episodes and seven in-show years, Kevin Garvey Sr. (Scott Glenn) having to pull together the different songs and rituals of the Indigenous Australians to stop a world-ending flood makes about as much sense as any other.
Crazy Whitefella Thinking is structurally a very common episode of The Leftovers. Each season so far has had an episode devoted to Nora (Carrie Coon) or, more similarly, to Matt (Christopher Eccleston) which gives us a glimpse into their lives or their faith or their grief. Kevin (Justin Theroux) gets a few episodes like this per season as well, but his story is usually so intertwined with the overarching story of the season that it feels less standalone. Kevin Sr.’s episode is much closer to the type of showcase Matt gets because it involves an awful lot of of biblical suffering, a lot of personal faith and a sliver of hope at the end.
We knew Kevin Sr. was in Australia. He was headed there at the end of the first season, we caught a glimpse of him there when Kevin saw him in the afterlife in the second season and we caught up to him when he saw a group of women drowning a police chief last episode. We pick up earlier than that, getting a better look at what Kevin Sr.’s quest has been.
We know he’s been hearing voices and, in the story he lays out for Christopher Sunday — a name that rivals Lost’s Christian Shephard when it comes to on-the-nose allegory — he was sent to Australia by them and led on a journey that involved an acid trip and a magic chicken named Tony. The story is a long, exposition-filled monologue by Scott Glenn and the show is lucky that he’s a real “aww shucks” kind of natural actor or it might come off more like catching up with a background character than a no-bullshit type guy laying his cards out.
Kevin Sr. believes that the seventh anniversary of the Departure will bring a flood and he’ll have to sing to stop the rain. There are a lot of things going on in this idea that make it really interesting. Besides the obvious biblical allusions the show introduced a cassette tape of a trip to Niagara Falls that Kevin Sr. and Kevin Jr. too when Junior was just a kid. That’s where the idea came from, and we hear snippets of the tape over certain scenes. It’s a great way to keep Kevin in an episode that only uses two of the regular actors. What’s also interesting is that Kevin Sr. has been collecting the different songs and rituals of the different Indigenous Australian groups, hoping to find the song he has to sing to stop the rain. That’s what brings him to Christopher Sunday. That’s what causes him to fall off Sunday’s roof and accidentally kill the poor guy.
There’s an interesting aspect of appropriation and creeping whiteness throughout the episode. We see Kevin Sr. get arrested for recording an Indigenous ritual, which is stealing. He’s on a watchlist, his picture up at government offices. He’s practically the definition of a white man stomping through a culture, thinking he knows what’s right for them. I mean, it’s not exactly subtle, the name of the episode is Crazy Whitefella Thinking.
But I think it’s equally important that Kevin Sr. goes through a hell of a lot of trials and tribulations. He’s arrested, basically chased by the authorities, falls off a roof, is kicked out of the ambulance, walking alone through the outback, bitten by a snake and finally shot with a tranquilizer gun. He brings up the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac early on, but he’s much more of a Job character, which is kind of honing in on Matt’s territory. Speaking of Matt, Kevin Sr. has been communicating with him but his pigheadedness even manages to piss of the priest. In their final phone conversation Matt tells him to go fuck himself, which is uncharacteristic even of a man who almost beat a dude to death for stealing his casino winnings. (If you don’t know what that means, watch season one, Matt episodes are amazing.)
Kevin Sr. also brings up something interesting in an earlier phone conversation with Matt. They’re discussing Matt writing a new gospel about Kevin and Kevin Sr. is annoyed. “I’m not part of Kevin Jr’s story, he’s part of mine” he says angrily. It brings up a lot of interesting things about perspective and characters. In the story itself it’s interesting, because both Kevins clearly have gifts. Both Kevins hear voices and they managed to communicate to each other when Kevin Jr. was in the afterlife, but as far as we know Kevin Jr. was the only one who has died and come back… twice, even. He’s obviously the person you’d write a gospel about. But everyone is the centre of their own story, nobody wants to be fifth business. But the tapes Kevin Sr. is listening to have two voices on them and his voice is the only one he thinks truly matters. So we’ll see how that plays out.
The end of the episode brings us up to date with the end of the previous episode. Kevin Sr. is rescued from his snake bite and brought into a farmhouse where, that night, he comes upon a group of women drowning a man. The next morning the person who lives there, the apparent leader of that group, explains what has happened.
It’s a gripping monologue, sold completely by Lindsay Duncan as Grace. She tells her story about the Departure, how she was stuck in the city the day of and saw the checkout girl at a grocery store vanish right in front of her. She was able to return home a day later and her entire family was gone. A while later she got a call that they found the remains of her five kids. When their father vanished they had assumed their mother had too and they walked to get help, getting lost in the outback and dying. Her complete belief in their Departure kept her from even looking for them, just like her total belief that the police chief named Kevin they had drowned the night before was the police chief named Kevin mentioned in the gospel Kevin Sr. carried with him.
It’s a gasp-worthy monologue that The Leftovers is still capable of from time to time. The Departure itself is such an interesting device for storytelling with limitless possibilities that this tragic tale of misunderstanding comes off as fresh, even three seasons in. It helps that Duncan sells it completely, helped along by the Mimi Leder’s direction. The entire episode is a trade-off between wide open vistas and tight shots of Scott Glenn’s face, and that final scene knows keep it close, cutting between Glenn and Duncan and just letting them do what they do.
When Kevin Sr. tells her she just had the wrong Kevin at the end his face tells the whole story. It’s nice to have Scott Glenn back into the fold.
Keep watching! While Crazy Whitefella Thinking was maybe a step down from the first two episodes that’s only because it was more of a recap than they were. It wasn’t unnecessary either. Scott Glenn hasn’t gotten nearly as much to do on the series as Justin Theroux or Carrie Coon so it was nice to spend some time with him. It was also gorgeous to look at and I’m excited to see how much of the rest of the series — which is sadly only five more episodes — takes place in Australia.