[For “A Most Powerful Adversary”or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
A Most Powerful Adversary Nora gives Kevin and Jill some news; Laurie makes a rash decision; Kevin explores his options.
“A Most Powerful Adversary” wins the award for the most misleading TV summary ever. None of those three tiny phrases give us any indication of the shitstorm to come. But it’s a comin’… in spades. This episode is all about Kevin and the delusions that reign within his brain. It opens as he awakens in his usual handcuffed-to-the-bed state to find that Nora is gone. She packed a suitcase, took the baby and Mary, then vamoosed. He shouldn’t have told Nora about the voices, Patti reminds him. Isn’t it just like an imaginary friend to say “I told you so,”? Then Jill enters and asks where everybody is and what’s going on. Kevin asks her to get the bolt cutters so he can unhandcuff himself. Jill leaves and then brings back an envelope from Nora. She asks what he did. Kevin won’t say so she reads the letter. All it says is, “Mary and the baby are with me. Don’t call.” Pissed off Jill then leaves abruptly to the hollow tones of Kevin’s, “I’m gonna fix this,” the screen door slams and Patti tells him it’s gonna be a hard day.
Jill goes to the church and tells Michael everything about her dad and grandfather, their voices and sleepwalking, etc. Michael says he talks to someone who’s not there too… Then she asks if God is the one telling him they can fool around but not fuck. He says it’s just that he doesn’t want to because he doesn’t know if he loves her. Then Pissed off Jill is on the move again, storming out of the church.
Kevin goes to the hardware store to see if they can help him cut the leftover wristbit of the handcuffs but then he screws it up by yelling at Patti to “shut the fuck up!” She doesn’t stop her incessant yammering, though, no matter what he says. Michael comes up beside the truck where Kevin’s “talking to Patti” and gets in the front seat. Michael tells Kevin he knows about Patti and says his grandfather, Virgil can help Kevin get rid of her. Michael then directs him to the same spot in the woods where Erika went in the last episode, Virgil’s trailer with the bird-breeding cage nearby.
Virgil comes out to the truck and says for Kevin to come inside, but just him; Patti and Michael aren’t invited. Once inside Kevin finds out he was in this trailer with Virgil the night of the earthquake when the girls went missing during is blackout. Virgil tells Kevin he has to die to face Patti on her turf and defeat her. Kevin says he doesn’t understand and Virgil says, “You understood last time,” thus explaining why Kevin jumped off the cliff that night. Patti’s turf is the land of the dead. Virgil tells him what they have in common is “a most powerful adversary,” and says he vanquished his when John shot him. Virgil’s adversary had “made him do terrible things” (to little boys?) so he’d fought him in death and won, after which Virgil was reborn.
He says he can temporarily kill Kevin. Then Pissed-off-Kevin storms out. Virgil shouts after him, “Come back when you’re ready,” but at that point Kevin’s already screaming his way through the woods for Patti. He confronts her and says she lied to him. She didn’t mention how he’d gone to Virgil’s trailer that night when he blacked out. Patti says so what and then slaps him when he says Virgil knows how to get rid of her. She’s not scared to battle him, Patti says, “Let’s go,” she pronounces, like a drunk at a bar egging on for a beatdown.
Kevin keeps calling Nora but when his phone finally rings it’s not Nora calling but Laurie who’s waiting for him at Miracle’s entrance gate. Kevin talks to her through a chain link fence. It’s been so long since he’s seen her that he’s surprised to see she’s even talking. Laurie says she needs to talk to Tommy. Kevin says Tommy isn’t there and why would she think he was there? She says because Tommy’s in touch with Jill. Kevin asks if Tommy’s OK and she says he’s fine. But Laurie senses that Kevin’s not OK and leaves, ignoring his screams for her not to go. She pisses him off even more than he already was – a possibility that was impossible only moments before.
Kevin then goes to the fire house and asks John for help cutting off the leftover handcuff bit on his wrist. While there he gives his handprint. The fire fighters are taking them as part of the investigation into the missing girls. There was a mysterious handprint on the car – Kevin’s. It turns out the firehouse bolt cutters are missing and they can’t help him with his handcuff but he’s already given his handprint at that point, thus royally fucking himself. Back in his truck Patti points out that he went in there to get free and instead got caught. The only time she ever felt free was when she killed herself, she continues. That’s what free is – dead.
In the next scene Kevin goes home to find Jill waiting. She tells him to get it together and fix this. It’s the second time he’s screwing up his family… her family too. Kevin then goes to Laurie’s hotel and tells her all about Patti. They smoke together. His secret smoking was a source of contention in their marriage so – comedic irony. Then Laurie, who’s a shrink, tells Kevin that Patti wants to stay away from her because she can prove Patti doesn’t exist by testing her with things only Laurie and Patti would know. She tells Kevin what he’s seeing isn’t real, using her shrink chops big time. He’s having a psychotic break, just like his father.
Laurie gives him the story of what she and Tommy did. She explains that after trauma people’s delusions relieve them of emotional pain by making the world seem understandable again when their reality is unbearable because it hurts so much. Laurie tells Kevin he needs medication. He asks if she changed her last name and she says no. Her last name is still Garvey and he could bring her into Miracle, passing as his wife. Kevin wants her to come home with him, “You said I need help. So, help,” he says. So, Laurie goes home with him. He gives her the guest bed where Mary was sleeping.
Then Nora calls but won’t tell him where she is. He tells her there’s a way he can get better but he needs to know she’ll believe him when he says Patti’s gone. Nora says she’ll believe him. He asks if she’ll come back and Nora says she’d like that. Then Jill walks in and sees Laurie so, yet again it’s time for Pissed-off-Jill. She screams for her dad to tell her what’s going on but Kevin just peeled out of the driveway in his pickup. He goes straight to the trailer in the woods where Michael is “just leaving,” and says God be with you to Kevin on the way out. Once inside Virgil gives him poison to stop his heart and explains that he’ll shoot his heart with epinephrine after a few minutes to revive him. Kevin asks if he’s done this before and he gives the example of the guy up on the pillar in the town square as a “success story,” Uh Oh.
Kevin is about to drink the poison when he stops and asks Patti if she wants him to do this or not. She says she does. Kevin then tells her how Laurie said he’s psychotic like his dad. His father told him he vanquished his own voices by finally doing what they told him. Thus, Kevin drinks the poison right as Patti screams, “Kevin stop!” then he’s dead on the floor with scary white death drooling out the corner of his mouth. Virgil fills the needle with epinephrine but drops it on the floor. Instead of picking it up to inject the needle into Kevin, Virgil picks up a gun and eats it, shooting himself without hesitation. Michael enters right then and shakes his head at his dead grandfather’s body then pulls Kevin across the linoleum. It’s unclear where Michael’s taking him but it’s definitely farther away from the epinephrine, not closer. Virgil’s suicide is unexpected for a number of reasons, timing for one, but also because it was he who told Kevin, “Life is precious,” earlier in the episode when Kevin told him he didn’t really want to die.
It’s fascinating how The Leftovers probes into the power of belief especially as a salve within the agony of trauma. Kevin will do anything at all, even die, in order to avoid the possibility that he could have a mental weakness. He’d also rather believe his father’s delusions than face the fact that his father was actually sick. It’s a veritable shitstorm of magical thinking that kills Kevin in this episode. He simply can’t hear Laurie, even though he goes to her for help and seemingly wants more when he brings her home. During his phonecall with Nora we don’t know if he’s going to get rid of Patti via medication, as Laurie suggests, or via Virgil’s death route. We only know he thinks he’ll succeed at extricating Patti. This keeps us clutching to the hope that Kevin will take the sane route. Thus, we’re engaged in our own brand of magical thinking throughout the episode too. Kevin’s dead as of the end of “A Most Powerful Adversary” but still we cling to the hope that somehow he’s going to be OK. The Leftovers does that to us. It wraps us in beautiful, hopeful delusions… before ripping them out from underneath.