Summary: Three years ago, on the day before the Departure the Garvey family is still together and happy. Kevin and Laurie begin to have issues. Kevin cheats on Laurie. Laurie is pregnant with a baby she isn't sure she wants to keep. Jill and Tommy are very close and having a great time at a science fair. Nora is struggling at trying to get a new job while also taking care of her family. The departure occurs and everyone's happiness is gone.
The Good: I have waited this whole season for an episode to make me care about all of these characters and the tragedy they are going through. And just when I think it isn't coming, I watched this episode, and holy hell did this episode satisfy my hopes. I care for the characters and their relationships and I am far more excited for the show now than I ever was before. This is how to do a flashback episode.
I was very happy that the show was smart enough to show us the Garvey family together and happy. It made me care more about wanting to see them reunite in the future. More than that though, it made me care about each individual member of the family by seeing them so happy in the past; now I want nothing more than to see these characters find happiness again, and with this show being what it is I'm not sure if it will happen but I sure as hell will hope.
Another touch about the Garvey family that I liked was that they were shown on the verge of falling apart with Kevin and Laurie's relationship starting to fracture. By showing us this, it makes it much more believable that the family would end up as broken as they are; they were hardly holding it together and the Sudden Departure was ultimately the driving force that split them apart.
I loved that there were some continuation of a plot thread from "Pilot" with the appearance of the deer. Back then I thought the deer was a confusing piece of symbolism, but now that I've seen more of the show I can understand what it represents: it represents Kevin. Kevin saving the deer symbolizes him choosing to save himself instead of others because he is trapped and confused, just like the deer. It's really superb use of symbolism that helps put us more into Kevin's head to understand that he's not happy with his life.
We also got some very important backstory on Laurie and a credible reason for her to join the GR. We see her relationships with Tommy and Jill which are very warm and loving and it makes us wonder why she would leave and join the GR. But then she has the fight scene with Kevin that would definitely hurt her, and then later that day she would watch her unborn child vanish from inside her. That tragedy makes her pain and her decision to leave her family more sensible and heartbreaking. It brings Laurie into a more sympathetic light for the viewers.
The Departure was used expertly in this episode. They told us the date early on and we realized the Sudden Departure would be coming eventually and that gave a layer of tension and suspense to the episode. It was one of the best uses of dramatic irony that I have ever seen. We see the happiness in the characters, something we don't see very often at all in this show, and we don't want it to end.. But it has to end, and it did in a beautifully constructed sequence showcasing the Sudden Departure (see: Best Moment).
It was great to see some appearances from Patti, Kevin Sr., Gladys and Mary before their lives were changed.
The Bad: I won't call anything in this episode bad. Though I do question why it took so long to show this episode. Surely it would have been better to show this earlier to make us care for the characters more throughout the last few episodes.
The Unknown: For once we got an episode filled with answers instead of questions! Though there are still a few things.
When Kevin was sitting outside and smoking, who as the person who asked if he was ready? What was she talking about? Also what was with the manhole explosion?
Best Moment: The moment of the Sudden Departure was spectacular. It was so beautifully shot and the use of music made it feel so emotional even though we knew what was coming. It hurt to see Nora look back at the table and see her family gone and it hurt even more to see the look on Laurie's face that confirmed our fears about what was going to happen to her baby. This was a stunningly good sequence that is one of the most affecting scenes on this show thus far. And on top of that it showed some strong messages. Jill and Tommy's is "even the best moments won't last forever", Kevin's is "a temporary pleasure won't help with your struggles" and both Laurie and Nora's is "don't take anything for granted". This scene had everything you could hope for from a scene in television and is a real master class of filmography.
Character of the Episode: Laurie for finally revealing some possible reasons for joining the GR and for becoming more sympathetic.
Conclusion: I've been asking for an episode like this, and when it finally happened it blew away my expectations. This was an enthralling hour with lots of emotion and storytelling that confirmed to me that this show is something special.