The Leftovers, S1E9 – The Garveys at their Best

Don’t be fooled by the modern interior of the Garvey home: what looks like an alternate version of the pilot is really the few hours before the Departure. It’s October 13, the day before. Laurie Garvey speaks and Jill is a happy teenager. Tommy, however, confronts his biological father and is arrested. That’s news – Kevin and Tommy aren’t father and son. This episode goes some way towards understanding the Garveys and others. It also answers the question of Where were you when…?

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In a nice twist, we learn that Laurie is a psychiatrist and has Patti as her first client this morning. Patti is afraid that something terrible is about to happen. Laurie is convinced it’s all about Patti’s abusive husband Neal, and she suggests that Patti dump her troubles in a paper bag with Neal’s name on it and put it on his front porch. Both things will happen.

But, to use Patti’s words, a bag of doo-doo won’t stop the world from ending. Something’s wrong. Kevin Garvey is after a deer that has wreaked havoc in a school room. (Note that the teacher is the woman with whom Nora Durst’s husband has an affair.) Chief of Police Garvey Sr wants to put the animal down, but his son convinces him that, for the moment, tranquilizer darts are the better solution.

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Nora Durst applies for the job of campaign manager for Councilwoman Warburton, who wants to become Mayor of Mapleton. Judging from that episode alone, you would think it’s normal American TV fare, if it wasn’t for the sense of foreboding that gets heightened by Patti’s confession. There is also some suspense in the expectation about when and how some of the minor characters will turn up. Gladys is breeding dogs and will maybe sell one to Laurie. Matt’s wife is still alive and well. Other than that, an hour-long episode for a Mapleton that has its standard problems and hails the Chief of Police for Man of the Year is barely enough.

There is the moment when Kevin Sr tells Junior that he should stop worrying – this is it, and it does not get any better or different. That’s exactly the opposite what Dad will tell Junior when he hands him the National Geographic.

Some of the scenes feel rushed in. Matt, for instance, comes out of the doctor’s examination room, tells his wife he does not have cancer and that he wants to get drunk, and maybe she should drive. Kevin Jr goes on his runs, but indulges a smoke and then a breath mint. He is dissatisfied with his marriage, but we never cleary understand why.

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It’s the last few minutes that blow this mediocre episode out of the water. It’s October 14, and we get to see the major characters in the very moment when the departure takes place. Tommy and Jill’s moment is weak and badly handled. Nora Durst has her back turned on her family and swears and curses because her son has spilt juice over her cellphone, and then the room is far too quiet. Kevin Jr has a fling with the woman who runs over the wayward deer, and while they roll around in the motel bed, she disappears from right under him. No wonder Kevin is confused and damaged.

Laurie Garvey’s moment is the strongest by far. She has guessed, maybe even feared, for some time that she is pregnant, but has kept it a secret. She is at her obstetrician’s when she sees the outlines of her kid on the ultrasound screen. It’s enough that we only see Laurie’s face. We hear the heartbeat. Then nothing.

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Episode nine is something of a near miss. Those characters that were able to thrive on strong writing kept on being interesting, but two of the weaker ones, Tommy and Jill, had such a weak scene that it feels like a missed opportunity to add something interesting to their storylines. The ending takes a risk: it could have been the season’s beginning or its ending, but it takes guts to place it at the end of the penultimate episode. There is one more episode to go, and I wonder what’s in store there. I expect we get to see the GR’s big event, and maybe Wayne will meet his fate. Let’s see.

The Leftovers, S1E4 – B.J. and the A.C.

Episode 3 raised the stakes for Fater Jamison losing his church to the GR, didn’t it? I was almost sure that whatever would come after that episode wouldn’t match the clerical odyssey, but even judged on its own, this episode was a qualified disappointment.

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It’s December, and someone steals the little plastic baby Jesus from the nativity display. I felt slightly sorry for Kevin Garvey because it looked like it was his turn for an odyssey. He has to find the doll or buy a new one with cash from Mayor Warburton while making sure the GR don’t cause any ruckus during the local Christmas dance. His car goes dead on him (an electrical malfunction that could well be from Lost), and he has to use Dean the dog-shooter’s truck still parked in the Garvey driveway. Kevin, in desperate need of some success, wants to find the original doll. Whodunnit?

The usual suspects must include the Guilty Remnant. Garvey tries to come to an agreement with a mute Patti because the holidays are the time when people want to blow off steam and be with their families. Patti, smirking, cruelly stabs back by writing that “there are no families.” Wow. The GR come across as seemingly peaceful, but relentless in their presence. Here, Patti is downright cruel to Garvey, and such cruelty is new. If it is the new M-O. for the GR, watch out Mapleton, you have a problem.

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Tommy and Christine are definitely not suspects, trying to find their way past the authorities and eventually back to Mapleton. We see them again in what looks like a hospital admissions room or cafeteria, where an all too naked guy throws a tantrum in front of Christine, yelling about why she appears in his dreams: “You walk over the dead. They are all in white.” I half feared that this referred to the GR being dead and walking among the living. Bad flashback to the ending of Lost – remember? This is what lazy writing will do. The twist was cheap then, and it would be cheap now. It’s only in the second hospital that we learn that – damn you, Wayne – Christine is pregnant. Does he feel that the world owes him a child? Without appearing in this episode, Wayne has become even more despicable. (And no, I won’t let him off by mentioning immaculate conception.)

Tommy thinks about running away, leaving Christine on her own. While he waits for the bus home, there is a random visit from two GR members who hand him a leaflet that says: “Everything that matters about you is inside.” He opens the leaflet and stares at a white page. That scene is raw and well-played, but it ends in a technically unclean way: Tommy sees the bus pull up, but wishes that Wayne would call for instructions. The phone rings, and it’s a taped ad, asking if you have lost someone. It’s unclear if that is from the GR or maybe even the insurance company Nora Durst works for. Shame, because it’s such a tense moment. I felt for Tommy, which is a first, but I also wanted to know who was behind the ad.

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Tommy returns to Christine, shoeless and with a bull’s eye on his forehead. It’s weird enough that he seems to start his own cult, but it’s superweird that he makes an underage pregnant girl walk barefoot through the snow. The next scene with them should be a punch in the stomach, but it’s merely puzzling and slightly eerie: The bus that Tommy and Christine are on jolts to a halt because a blue shipping container is blocking the road, its doors burst open, and shrouded human bodies scattered all over the street. It’s here that Christine walks among the dead who are all in white. I should have felt jolted by that scene because it’s the first hint at where some of the disappeared might have disappeared to: They are dead, but at least their mortal coils are still around and can be examined, buried, and said goodbye to. Instead, that scene felt like put there for lack of anything else to do with the storyline. It was out of rhythm with anything else in this episode and lacked any serious build-up.

Jill Garvey is a suspect. Christmas prank from the troubled teenage fraction – why not? When her dad flat out asks her if she took the doll, we get the impression that she is innocent. We even pity her a little later. The scene starts when Garvey comes home and finds Laurie and Meg on his front porch. I guessed immediately why Laurie was there – Kevin must have thought this was some attempt at smoothing things over. Poor fool. Megan reads Laurie’s letter, and you immediately know she is asking for a divorce. Jill looks and listens until they see her. That scene is well-played, but it’s so darned hackneyed. A divorce? Is that supposed the emotional twist of the episode? Didn’t work for me. Its a weak plot-point, and although Amy Brenneman’s face is a marvel, she cannot save that scene. It gets worse: Jill gives Mom her Christmas present – a zippo lighter. It’s so utterly forseeable: divorce, pregnancy, a zippo lighter. Even the scene where Laurie retrieves the lighter from a storm drain is so unimaginative is deeply mediocre afternoon drama TV.

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Turns out Jill stole the baby, and you probably guessed that as well. That she refuses to give it a mock sea burial does not make her the smartest teenagers, just the least silly. Jill, please smarten up. It’s okay to have Aimee as a goofy friend, but if you are dumb enough to make the twins deliver the baby to your doorstep when your dad is still home, you also need smarter friends.

Ah, almost forgot the dance. Garvey can finally present the found-again baby to the community, if only to luke-warm applause. Out in the hallway, he meets Nora Durst taking a break from dancing. It’s an intriguing scene between two strong characters who haven’t met before. Nora somehow feels compelled to tell Garvey that her husband cheated on her. Garvey retaliates by admitting that he cheated on his wife. In-between the need for confession and the subconscious flirtation, there is something happening here, but these two are not yet sure what to do with their mutual frankness.

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Outside the town hall, the GR line up on the edge of the town hall grounds so as not to trespass. Garvey has some of them arrested anyway, but when he sees Patti’s smirk again, he realises that Laurie and a lot of the other GR are not even here, so the real stuff is happening elsewhere: They break into people’s homes and take all the photographs they can find, leaving behind empty frames and fridge magnets. Breaking and entering is bad enough, but they steal people’s memories, their keepsakes, their mementos. The memory of the disappeared among them will fade. That, to my mind, is unforgivable. Talk about Patti being cruel.

This episode could have ended well at least for Garvey, but he finds Father Jamison at the nativity with a spare baby Jesus, so on the way home, Garvey throws the doll out of the car window. That’s symptomatic for a lot of what happened in this episode: no-one is really at a new point of the storyline, and even the scenes themselves weren’t interesting. With the exception of the Garvey-Durst flirt, evey supposed highlight lacked impact. Shoddy writing, bad editing, no pace, no rhythm, no build-up, no payoff. Next episode can only get better.

The Leftovers, S1E2 – Penguin One, Us Zero

Welcome to episode two of The Leftovers. We know now that the Amy Brenneman character is Laurie Garvey, a member of the Guilty Remnants and, more importantly, Kevin’s wife. To Kevin, that’s another form of loss, hardly better than a disappearance. And we also know that Meg Abbott has joined the Guilty Remnants, at least provisionally.

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An organisation called AFFEC has some inside skinny on Wayne, and our worst fears are confirmed: he has lost a kid, has recruited his mainly young followers in shopping malls and on campuses and claims to be able to hug the pain out of people, but needs to recharge his batteries by using teenage girls of preferably Asian descent. What a bastard. He is wanted for statutory rape in another state. No wonder that the AFFEC raids Wayne’s retreat by shooting on sight. It’s a bloodbath, although Wayne, Tom Garvey and his latest victim Christine are able to escape. I don’t think the AFFEC are a governmental organisation, so who are they? A special force to deal with the paranoid aftermath of October 14?

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We get to see the intro to the series, which looks like a modern version of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. That intro gives the whole disappearance issue a religious streak which, for some of the characters, is precisely wrong, but at least the segment looks haunting, if only because of the slighty weird nudity.

Kevin Garvey might see people who aren’t really there and ask stray deer if they broke into his home, so it’s hardly surprising that we see him on a shrink’s sofa. That shrink is not really worth his money, so Garvey does not tell him about his latest dream: he is woken in his bed by a half-naked Aimee, his daughter’s best friend, who leads him outside into the wintry woods, where the dog-shooter has upgraded his game and now shoots at little children. Then Garvey discovers that his feet are on fire. He wakes. Captain, you have more problems than you might realize. Get a new shrink. (There is also a toy penguin in the shrink’s practice, but that doesn’t fully explain the episode’s title. Maybe it means that rage wins every time against any other feeling.)

We also learn more about Nora Durst. Jill and Aimee discover that she has a gun in her purse and uses her sad popularity to get free coffee. The two teens follow Nora to a house where she is ringing the bell. She works for an insurance company and has to conduct interviews on camera so that the leftover people qualify for “departure benefit”. There is an abyss of pain in that seemingly simple scene where Nora is interviewing that elderly couple whose son has disappeared. Nora (Carrie Coon) is intriguing: she could have left Mapleton, but is still around, and even conducts interviews that must bring back the pain of her own family’s disappearance. Why is she still doing this? I want to know more.

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This episode is full of surprises. The first surprise is that we get to see Kevin Garvey Sr., former police captain until his meltdown and now an inmate of the psychiatric ward, played by Scott Glenn. He insists he is sane, but hears a voice from someone who isn’t there, telling his son that help is on the way. I’m sure Junior will keep that in mind. Another surprise is that the Mayor (Amanda Warren) is his girlfriend. The surprise is not that she is much younger than he is, but that the Mayor still visits the ward so she can see her boyfriend, the former police captain. You would think that a political high-flyer would choose her partner more carefully, if only for PR reasons, but no. That Mayor Lucy Warburton doesn’t care if anyone sees does make her rather more sympathetic in my eyes.

Next surprise: The dog-shooter’s car turns up in Garvey’s driveway. Then the dog-shooter turns up on Garvey’s doorstep with a six-pack, wanting to be Garvey’s friend and stating that they are doing God’s work. Garvey sends him away, but is relieved when he realises that Jill can see the shooter, too. You realize life is brittle when your sanity depends on the existence of two bagels.

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I might have lost count of all the surprises, but there are lot of them. Another good episode, but I am expecting somewhat more. Three moments that stand out: Tom refuses to be hugged by Wayne who has just killed, kissed and licked a guy (in that order) who looks like his former bodyguard, and Wayne’s reply that Tom is “all suffering and no salvation.” Did Wayne shoot him? Garvey almost slips on the false teeth of his neighbour’s missing brother, and I surprised myself by thinking that it is somehow very touching that people disappear, but may leave their false teeth behind. And the Mayor tells Garvey Jr. that she never should have told him “to watch the fucking Wire” when she sees his elaborate info-boards about the Guilty Remnants. Shieeeet – HBO, I even know what y’all are talking ’bout.

The Leftovers, S1E1 – Pilot

One fine October day, two percent of the world’s population disappear. There are no warnings, no explanations. One moment, people go about their daily business, and the next second, beds, chairs and cradles are suddenly empty, orphaned shopping trollies trundle downhill in the parking lot, and driverless cars cut into oncoming traffic. This is the starting point of HBO’s new series The Leftovers. Everything else follows from there.

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Three years later, no-one is the wiser, but society has changed profoundly. Everybody is looking for answers: politicians instrumentalize the disappearances, cults have sprung up, scientists are bewildered. Was it an act of God? If so, what did God intend? Can we know what that intention is? Some people try to rationalize the event by repeating that two percent are not that much, at least compared to an epidemic, and while this is mathematically true, it is still almost a lie. People are missing. They are gone. Where the hell are they? Fuck math. The numbers aren’t the point – not knowing is.

Ironically, we see life now through the eyes of the Garvey family from Mapleton, who haven’t lost anyone, except maybe each other. We meet Kevin Garvey, captain of the local police force, played by Justin Theroux, an actor who is really good at playing unstable. The police have their work cut out for them: the Mayor has declared that the third anniversary of the disappearance is called Heroes Day, with a meeting in the town park and the unveiling of a statue, but some people are against that meeting because some of the disappeared were said to be idiots, not heroes. Garvey is also against the meeting because he can foresee clashes between townsfolk who want to mourn their losses, and the cult of the Guilty Remnants.

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The GR are a piece of work. They dress in white, never speak and constantly smoke as a proclamation of their faith, which seems to consist of feeling guilty and humble. The picture frames at their headquarters are eerily empty. Their only activity seems to be silently standing in your driveway, smoking, as a means of recruiting you. In this pilot episode, they are trying to get at Meg Abbott (Liv Tyler), without much initial success.
The storyline of the daughter, Jill Garvey, is not exactly a disappointment, but she does the usual teenage stuff: staying out too long and going slightly too far with the wrong boys. Tom Garvey, on the other hand, is trapped as the left hand of a slick, violent cult leader called Wayne (Paterson Joseph). This is an intriguing storyline. Wayne has a reputation of being able to “take your pain away,” whatever that means. We have yet to see how he does that, but even an out-of-state Congressman comes to see him and feels unburdened afterwards. Tom Garvey starts out as the driver for Wayne’s, erm, customers, but gets, erm, promoted to being Christine’s bodyguard because she is very important to Wayne. Christine is a 13-year-old teenager. Wayne is a creep, and I don’t care what his method is, he is a phoney, and nothing healthy can come from him. The fact that Christine loves him makes him even creepier.

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I could criticize the series for introducing not just one, but two cults, but at least they differ vastly from each other. The GR are essentially humble and repentant, while Wayne is a rapist and abuser. Both seem to have their origins in October 14.

These are trying, painful times. Watch how Nora Durst is holding her speech on Heroes Day. She has lost her husband and her two kids. That’s 75 percent – don’t even think about talking to her about how two percent are almost nothing. And then the GR interrupt Heroes Day – they can be outspoken if they want. There is a bloody scuffle, and the GR lose because they seem to renounce violence. Somewhere in the throng, there is Christopher Eccleston telling people that this wasn’t a rapture, and distributing leaflets about a woman who deserved to disappear because she beat her kids. Is he talking about someone we already know? There are many open questions, but this is a pilot, and so the answers must wait.
I am impressed with the pilot. I am mainly cast-driven, and there are a lot of names in this series that are on my wish list: Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman (more of her next time), Ann Dowd, Paterson Joseph. One other plus is the list of celebrity disappearances on the TV in the pub where Garvey drinks his beer. Who would want to live in a world without Bonnie Raitt? How am I ever going to listen to Nick of Time without thinking she has left this world? And I like that bartender – he is the only one who is still able to quip about the disappearance.
There are two weak spots in these 72 minutes: Meg Abbott is mainly just sad without knowing why, and I really need something more here than just Liv Tyler looking sad. The second is Jill Garvey’s storyline, which, at the moment, is not much more than generic teenage drama.

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The pilot ends with Garvey changing his mind. I like the roughness of the scene, and there is the underlying thought that just when you think you are trying to protect and to serve one way, you might just as well do the opposite and still do your job. And protect you must, because the opposite is unthinkable to you. The mourners on Heroes Day, the GR, everyone who has lost anyone has some kind of point, according to you. How do you stay just and neutral? How don’t you let your personal worries get in the way of the law, or in the way of justice? Here, in Mapleton, as anywhere else, protection or justice is hard to come by, and sometimes both, or all, sides need protection. Another homepage has called this series post-apocalyptic. That’s true in a way – it’s just that you can’t see the devastation. There are no smouldering ruins, no conspirators, no trials, no nuclear fallout, no peace treaty. It’s been three years, and nobody is anywhere near getting better in any way.