Through three seasons of The Leftovers, the series mysteriously returns to a May 1972 issue of National Geographic magazine. It was first mentioned in the first season, when Kevin Sr. offered his son a copy and insisted that he accept. “May, 1972. They were very specific,” Kevin Sr. told his son about the magazine that he destroyed a library to find, that he traveled a long way to get, and that his granddaughter, Jill, also ordered on the Internet. “It had to be this one. I need you to take it … you need to accept it.”
Why that particular issue? Here are the major stories from that issue:
— Yellowstone’s Hundredth Birthday
— Cairo, Troubled Capital Of The Arab World
— Living In A Japanese Village
— The Spider That Lives Underwater
— Have Excavations On The Island Of Thera Solved The Riddle Of The Minoans
Four of the five stories have resurfaced on The Leftovers in some form since then.
First of all, the Minoan riddle is an interesting one. It refers to what happened to the once flourishing Minoan culture on Crete, which completely disappeared around 1450 BC. There was some speculation that a volcano on the island of Thera had spread enough ash onto Crete to wipe out their civilization, but archeologist later ruled that out by determining that the Minoans existed in Crete long after the volcano erupted. Some people assume that they were wiped out by invading forces. Other theories suggest the Minoan civilization had simply exceeded its environmental carrying capacity and died off. Like the Departed in The Leftovers, nobody really knows what exactly happened that caused them all to disappear, and that mystery may continue on The Leftovers.
As for the Spider Underwater?
That’s an ill and pregnant Christine mumbling something incoherently while she was sick about a “spider that lives underwater,” the connection became clear (and the Minoan riddle likely moot).
Both Christine and National Geographic were referring to the diving bell spider, which lives its entire life under water and breathes air in bubbles that it traps. This could have been a reference to Holy Wayne, who basically lives his life underground.
Also, in the first season, there’s an episode with the title, “Solace for Tired Feet,” a phrase used on page 593 of that National Geographic.
Meanwhile, in that episode during a dream sequence, someone on a walkie talkie clearly says “Cairo,” which is a reference to another of the title stories from the issue. Moreover, the next week’s episode is called “Cairo,” and takes place in Cairo New York. In that episode, there’s a shot straight out of the National Geographic.
Cairo, NY is, of course, where Patti killed herself. In that scene, there’s also another connection to the National Geographic magazine in the wall behind her.
In the second season, you can also see in the blood on the wall after Virgil kills himself the exact same symbols from the National Geographic magazine. They refer to an island of Japan, Futagamijima.
This is also in Virgil’s home.
It should also be noted that, according to showrunner Damon Lindelof himself, the issue deals heavily with Yellowstone National Park, which foreshadowed the existence of Miracle National Park in Jardin, Texas.
The meaning of the National Geographic? Again, from Lindelof:
We picked that issue of National Geographic as a text that was going to have a very specific meaning for Kevin Senior. He had been told by these voices he can hear that this issue of National Geographic is important. But when he presented that text to his son, who is not hearing voices — at least at the time that it’s presented to him — that seems like the most ridiculous thing in the world. We wanted to look at it from both ways.
It is worth noting that Kevin, sr., is still carrying that National Geographic around with him in season three.
For what it’s worth, we also learn in the third episode of season three, “Crazy Whitefella Thinking,” that Kevin was 8 years old in at least part of 1981, which very well means he could have been born in May 1972 (since in that case he wouldn’t have turned 9 until May 1981).