‘The Leftovers’ recap, Episode 4: Who had the most miserable Christmas?


Kevin Garvey, driving late into the night for some mysterious reason. (Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

It’s Christmas in Mapleton — hooray? No, this town is in permanent Grinch mode. Instead of lights, presents and delicious treats, these people get loads of criminal activity, including theft, breaking and entering, and almost-arson. And some mysterious dead bodies. Welcome to “The Leftovers.”

So, let’s discuss. Who had the most miserable Christmas?

Kevin Garvey

As if this show couldn’t be any creepier, the episode starts out in a doll-making factory. Dolls, like clowns, are terrifying if you see them in the “getting ready” stages. These are no exception, except we’re seeing it for a very specific purpose: One of those dolls is going to serve as baby Jesus in the Nativity scene in town.

Soon, the baby Jesus disappears from the scene. Another Sudden Departure? No, just a bunch of punk teenagers who like messing with Kevin Garvey, the angriest police chief around. At first, Kevin refuses to take Disappearing Jesus seriously because he’s got more pressing matters at hand: There’s a holiday dance coming up. He just wants everything to be merry, but he knows that the Guilty Remnant cult likes to mess with big groups of people who are just trying to a) heal from the Departure or b) have a good time.

So, Kevin pulls in Patti, the leader of the G.R., and offers her water, coffee and Drano, if she likes. He would really prefer her to take the third offer, but Patti — thanks to that whole “vow of silence” thing — doesn’t say a word. Kevin warns Patti that he’s going to arrest her people if they even think about going near the high school, where the dance will take place. He begs her to make her cult take a break. “It’s the holidays,” he tells her. “People want to spend some time with their families.” To this, Patti smirks and writes down a message: “There is no FAMILY.” In case he misses the point, she hands him a photo of his estranged wife, Laurie. Kevin shoots daggers at her, but Patti just leaves.

That’s when Kevin first hears the news that baby Jesus has disappeared from the Nativity scene. At first he’s all, “Do I look like I care?” Then it’s apparent that he should care, because the town is buzzing about what happened. First his daughter, Jill, and her friend Aimee (who is apparently just living at the Garvey residence now) pressure him to find it. Kevin, annoyed, tells them he’ll just buy a new one at the store and replace it. “That’s cheating,” Jill points out. Teenagers, right? But her words leave a mark: When Mayor Lucy tells Kevin that it’s about time he look semi-competent in his job and just replace the stupid doll, Kevin can’t bring himself to just buy a new one at the store. He’s going to solve a mystery.

Kevin may be an absentee dad, but he’s got enough cop sensibilities to sniff out the fact that Jill was a little too interested in the case. After pulling over Jill’s friends — those random twins who are apparently supposed to be the comic relief because they’re so clueless — and they claim to have no idea, he’s still determined to find out. However, Kevin’s sidetracked by an unpleasant surprise waiting for him when he gets home.

That would be Laurie, along with her G.R. sidekick, Meg, who’s still in training G.R. stages and allowed to talk. Laurie still has not spoken one word on this show and the streak continues as she has Meg explain what she’s doing there: Giving Kevin divorce papers, also known as the worst Christmas present ever. Kevin understandably flips out, even while Meg tries to read him a letter Laurie wrote, because she didn’t think to just leave the papers at the door. How thoughtful! Throughout the letter, we learn a couple things. First, Kevin is Tom’s stepfather — Tom’s biological father apparently took off long ago. Also, despite the fact that Kevin was a good husband (maybe even a great one), Laurie thinks she’s too “broken” to live a normal life, so she’s sticking with the cult.

When Kevin starts screaming at his wife to explain herself further — and that he won’t sign a thing until she speaks up — Jill takes that opportunity to come home. Kevin immediately clams up, while Jill stares at the scene, and walks over to the Christmas tree where she had placed a small present. She hands it to her mother and walks out of the room.

Meg and Laurie take off, and Laurie opens the present: A cigarette lighter (since the G.R. folks have to smoke nonstop) engraved with the message “Don’t Forget Me.” Heartbreaking cry for help from a daughter to her mother, right? Yeah, but the G.R. members can’t keep personal items, since they don’t believe in family. Meg promises she won’t tell anyone if Laurie keeps it, but Laurie drops the lighter down a sewer. Still, she looks like she’s about to burst into tears.

The whole “family” theme continues later — really trying to bring everything full circle — when the G.R. members ensure everyone has a horrible Christmas while sneaking into people’s houses and stealing their family pictures, leaving the frames empty. Apparently, because the G.R. lost faith with the Sudden Departure, they want everyone to be equally sad.

Unfortunately, Kevin misses the opportunity to arrest them all because he’s at the dance along with the rest of the town: Someone left the baby Jesus doll on his doorstep, and he wants to show off his case-solving skills. No one at the dance seems to really care, though, and Kevin walks out somewhat dejected.

Not all hope is lost, though, as he runs into none other than Nora Durst, the woman who lost her entire family in the Departure. She’s slumped down by the lockers outside the dance, but brightens slightly when Kevin walks up. “What’s up with the baby?” she asks of the doll. That sets off a few minutes of flirtation — seriously, there are smiles and everything. Nora says she went to this high school, and Kevin says he doesn’t recognize her. “That’s because you’re much older than I am,” she deadpans. Whoa, is that another grin? It’s actually tough to recognize Kevin when he’s not dour and scowling.

Oops, the conversation quickly veers into sadness: Nora says she just learned that before he disappeared, her husband, Doug, cheated on her. (Her unhelpful brother Matt let that detail slip last week.) Kevin offers the tidbit that he once cheated on his wife. He doesn’t elaborate, and one more mystery piles up.

Outside the dance, Kevin notices the G.R. members have indeed assembled to ruin everyone’s evening; but five yards off school property, so he technically can’t arrest them. You know what? He doesn’t care. He orders his team to arrest everyone in sight, as it’s their word against the cops about who was trespassing where. Unfortunately, that means he misses all the G.R. people breaking into houses, including Laurie, who takes a break from thievery to try to recover Jill’s lighter in the sewer after all — but she can’t quite reach it.

Anyway, Kevin finally goes to the Nativity scene to replace the baby Jesus doll, and who should be there but Reverend Matt? He had an extra Jesus doll lying around, so replaced it himself — making Kevin’s entire day pretty much worthless. Driving home, he throws the doll out of the car on to the side of the road.

Jill Garvey

So how did the baby Jesus mysteriously disappear, anyway? Well, Kevin’s cop instincts were correct: Jill did steal the doll. She and her friends have a great time making it pretend to smoke, and toward the end of the night, Jill decides to get rid of the doll once and for all.

Egged on by her cheering friends, Jill douses the doll in gasoline and ties it to a board, which she sends out on the river. Plus, she lights a Nerf gun on fire and is about to shoot the makeshift rocket at the doll. But Aimee isn’t pleased by this plan, pointing out that Kevin’s been going crazy looking for the doll. Why does Jill want to make her dad’s life harder?

Maybe it’s that question lingering, or the thought that setting a doll on fire isn’t going to solve any of her problems. She sets down the Nerf gun, to the disappointment of all her friends. The twins later return the doll to Kevin’s doorstep.

That, combined with witnessing her parents’ marriage as it continues to fall apart. Not a great Christmas.

Tom Garvey

Tom wins the prize for “most disturbing Christmas,” that’s for sure. If you’ll remember, Tom and Christine have been on the run ever since the FBI started going after the leader of their cult, Holy Wayne, for statutory rape charges.

Wayne told Tom to protect Christine, but neither of them likely accounted for a half-naked man attacking Christine in Texas, trying to strangle her as he screams “I know what’s inside you! I know what’s inside you!” Tom beats the guy up and then drags Christine to the hospital, where we find out that the crazy man knew something: Because Christine is actually pregnant with Wayne’s baby.

So that’s a twist. In the exam room, a very suspicious doctor takes one look at an extremely young, pregnant Christine, whose stomach is bruised from being attacked; and Tom, whose knuckles are scraped up from the interaction. The doctor puts two and two together incorrectly, but it doesn’t matter — Tom is forced to take off quickly as security chases him through the hospital.

Fed up with this whole bizarre situation, Tom heads to the bus stop, clutching the smiley face flip phone that Wayne gave him a couple episodes ago — and promised he would call when it was time for the three of them to meet again. Tom wills the phone to ring, or he’s out of there. Finally, the phone rings just as the bus pulls up, but it’s just an automated voice rambling about the Departure.

Tom starts laughing hysterically — like, the way someone does before they go insane — and he comes up with a new plan: Join a new cult. Well, sort of. He paints a bullseye on his forehead and takes off his shoes, heading back to the hospital convincing Christine to do the same — according to some of the other Barefoot members, it’s so the “creator” can eventually find them. Okay then! Christine, because she is basically a child, agrees to this.

Later, the two are on a bus heading to some other mysterious destination when the bus screeches to a halt and everyone falls out of their seats. What caused the stop?

Oh, you know. Dead bodies, spilled out across the highway. Apparently falling out of a storage locker. Or fake dead bodies? They all have tags on them that say “LOVED ONES” and the bodies are all covered in white sheets.

Not quite too sure what’s going on there, but all that matters is while everyone else looks understandably upset at coming across bodies across the hallway, Christine looks thrilled. “They’re all in white,” she says, eyes shining. “It’s just like the dream.”

That clears up nothing, except to confirm: That is one horrifying Christmas.

PREVIOUS RECAPS

Episode 3: The most interesting character? Not one of the main ones

Episode 2: Only two breakdowns, and that’s impressive

Episode 1: After a Sudden Departure, things are grim

Emily Yahr covers pop culture and entertainment for the Post. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyYahr.
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Emily Yahr · July 20