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.

Demurely Wilde

There used to be a time, in the late ’80s and early ’90s when I thought that Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry could only be booked as an ensemble. These days, both of them seem to have done well enough on their own. Laurie appears to have become more of a star, mainly thanks to his wonderful Gregory House, M.D. (Admittedly, the series wouldn’t work without him.) Fry, on the other hand, is less visible but does more different things, a small part in a movie here, writing novels there, and voicing interplanetary repositories of knowledge in between, all of which seem to fit him quite neatly.

We watched Wilde yesterday, a film for which I had fairly high expectations. Unfortunately, for me the high point of the film was seeing a teensy, pixie-ish Orlando “Not an elf yet” Bloom playing a rent boy, wearing a bowler hat twice his size. No, that’s not quite true. (Well, the bit about the bowler hat is.) Wilde isn’t a bad film: the acting’s quite good, as is to be expected with such a distinguished cast, and it’s handsomely made. But it’s basically a run-of-the-mill, all too earnest (the pun is accidental) period drama, the only difference being that the tasteful sex scenes are between men. There’s a German word that can’t really be translated – betulich – that fits the film, in my opinion. It roughly means “staid”, “respectable”, “well-meaning”. Is this what a Wilde biopic, or indeed any film, should be?

The problem mainly lies with the script. The characters are clear-cut from the beginning and remain static throughout. Oscar is sweet, witty, but too much of a doe-eyed romantic when it comes to beautiful young men. Bosie is a shallow, callous narcissist. Oscar’s wife Constance is hard done by, but loyal. The closest the film comes to character development is when one of the protagonists grows a moustache.

And while I didn’t watch the film for hot, sweaty man-on-man action, is it too much to ask that the homoerotic scenes are actually erotic? The sex scenes are entirely too coy. (There is one ironic camera pan from a Wilde coupling to the window drapes swaying in the wind, although that was perhaps the only glint of visual wit in the film.) As a result of the movie’s consistent respectability, there’s no sense of outrage at the late Victorian homophobia and hypocrisy, just a passive acceptance of Oscar’s inevitable fate, reinforced by the film’s score working hard to make it clear that we’re watching something tragic.

Oscar Wilde, looking stylishly bored

Finally, the film succeeded most in making me think that Oscar Wilde, for all his sparkling wit, may have been a sad bore. A nice guy, surely, and very sweet, but in the end faintly pathetic and faintly boring. Like one of his aphorisms on yet another souvenir mug sold cheaply.