The Leftovers, S1E10 – The Prodigal Son Returns

You know you are in the country of ending seasons when the soundtrack starts to be inventive. This is why we hear Nina Simone’s Ne me quitte pas when Kevin, with Matt Jamison’s help, ties up loose ends in Cairo. There is something very spooky in the cleric’s practicality: “I have shovels in my trunk.” Another quitter is Christine, who leaves Tommy to find the baby in a public lavatory. Jill quits her former life by joining her mother and the smoky ranks of the GR.

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These are powerful scenes, but they are all upstaged by the Guilty Remnants’ final project. Nora Durst gets up, brushes her teeth and goes down for breakfast, only to find her family united at the breakfast table again. But wait – no. These are the departeds’ hollow imitations with dead masks modelled after the stolen photos and dressed in their own clothes stolen by the GR. These are puppets that spark a tiny glimmer of hope that your beloved ones have returned, and then you realize how grotesque these fucking puppets look.

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So the season’s finale is a very good one for a long time. Kevin Garvey dreams one last dream, maybe the most disquieting one, involving a certain National Geographic, Patti, and his dad. There is a conversation between Kevin and Matt where Matt’s questions are as revealing as Kevin’s answers. It’s clear that just because you don’t believe, you can still feel entirely guilty. Or you can believe and still go wrong.

And then, of course, there is the meeting between Kevin and Wayne in the men’s lavatory of a roadside diner. With his guts hanging out and only minutes left to live, Wayne fears he might have been a fraud, and wants Kevin to wish for something. If Kevin gets his wish, Wayne has been a real healer, like a twisted djinn. We can only guess what Kevin wishes for, but Wayne seems convinced he can grant him that wish. Then Wayne crosses the bridge.

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Kevin and Matt return to a Mapleton in turmoil. People want to hurt the GR and to burn those grotesque puppets. Megan is badly beaten up and tied to a lamppost; people with guns run through the streets, mad with anger and grief. The GR headquarters are aflame, and the fire brigade and the police are not in a hurry to help them. Kevin looks on as a couple throw their son’s eerie avatar into the fire. Just imagine: you are angry enough to throw that puppet in the flames, but you still watch your beloved one’s likeness melt.

Then Laurie appears, her voice hoarse from disuse, and yells her daughter’s name because she is in the burning house. That scene and her rescue are over the top, and they didn’t involve me the way they could or should have. Nora’s goodbye letter is touching, but then the ending comes around and twists the plot in a weird direction. Nora is on her way out of Mapleton when she finds Wayne’s and Christine’s baby on the Garveys’ front porch. Kevin and Jill look on with their soot-covered faces. Is this what Kevin wished for?

The longer I think about it, the less I like it. Give a despairing woman a baby and she finds new meaning in her life? Really? I cannot believe that this is Kevin’s wish. This is an abysmal ending to an otherwise pretty decent final episode.

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There were plotlines I could never warm up to. Christine and Tommy are uninteresting and could be cut. Jill should be better written. All three roles need better acting. There is only one episode that really stinks, the one with the baby Jesus, mainly because the weak plot and the bad editing screw up things. There are scenes from the pilot that remain unexplained, for instance Tommy’s vision of someone jumping from a rooftop. I also would like to know why Garvey Sr. went loopy. But I guess it’s better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.

Oh, but the good things. I like the cast. Ann Dowd. Carrie Coon. Amy Brenneman. This series has a lot of strong women. Justin Theroux. Scott Glenn. Christopher Eccleston. The quiet, threatening presence of Dean (Michael Gaston), who thinks he is one of the good people. Aimee’s forward comments on the Garveys’ family life, played by Emily Meade. The GR are annoying and creepy and cruel on a good day, and they need to be kept in check, but apart from those whistles, they have always been interesting to watch. A special mention goes to Max Richter, who composed the score. If you’ve seen Waltz with Bashir, you know what he is capable of.

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I am glad I watched the series, but it didn’t leave me gasping from one week to the next. I am not big on symbolism – when Kevin Garvey pours a gallon of water over himself, I don’t think of baptism -, but the series works without it, too.

I’ve heard that the Departure will never be explained. That’s just as well, but it’s also a risk. The series cannot rely on a denouément of the main event, so it must invent and re-invent things for those people who are still around – and it is, after all, a series about the ones left behind. The lack of a return to the main event is a freedom only sure-handed screenwriters can handle, and I don’t know how much they can rely on Perrotta’s book. For instance, what is in store for season two? More sadness and sense of loss? I doubt that this will work, so they have to think of something. Will the GR still exist? If not, is there another collective way of dealing with the Departure?

Well, why not? If the departure has taught me one thing, it’s that there is no closure. Fuck closure. There are ways of dealing with stuff, and ways of not dealing with stuff, and it’s no matter if it’s October 14 or March 9 or any other day. You change either way. Apparently, the latter way prevails, because parts of Mapleton are aflame. In a way, everybody is worse off than during the departure. I wanna know where they go from there.

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, S1E8 – Cairo

This episode is all about Patti. The screen lights up when Ann Dowd is in the frame, and everything else in Cairo takes a backseat. It starts with intercutting scenes of Kevin setting the table for a nice dinner, and Patti placing clothes on the floor of the otherwise empty church floor. We’re not told what her ritual means, but nothing good or simple can come from it. I thought that these were clothes from the raid, but let’s see.

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Kevin’s dinner is for Jill and Aimee, and with Nora as their guest. What should be a nice evening quickly turns into Jill’s inquisition about why Nora would carry a gun, but, oh surprise, Nora’s handbag is devoid of all firearms. There is also the plotline about Megan beating up Father Matt, then apologizing to him. He knows that Megan’s Mom died the day before the departure, so “her grief was hijacked.” Jill falls out with Aimee and breaks into Nora’s home and finds the gun, realizing that life probably won’t get any better, and Kevin finds his missing shirts hanging from the trees near a hut in the woods, but the real center this time is Patti.

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The evening ends with Garvey’s dream that turns out to be real. It’s morning, he is in the woods near Cairo, NY, with Dean awaiting his Kevin’s orders. Turns out that the dog in Kevin’s backyard is from a bet he made with Dean: if Kevin can civilize the dog, Dean gets a dollar, if not, Dean gets to shoot the animal. If you think this is bad, think about this: Patti is in a nearby hut, tied to a chair. This is real. This has happened, and it’s still happening. Kevin, as his evil alter ego, has beaten and abducted her, much to Dean’s delight, and to his own horror. The chief of police hides the leader of the Guilty Remnant in a cabin, against her will, and against his own will, too, if you can believe it.

It’s spellbinding how Patti seems to have a few tricks up her sleeve. Somehow, she’s still in charge because if he sets her free, she will report him to the real authorities: “You will have to finish what you started here, my friend.” She drives a wedge between Kevin and Dean and is so successful that Dean tries to suffocate her, but paradoxically, Kevin saves her life. Which makes Dean leave, disappointed in Kevin’s lack of decisive leadership.

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So now it’s only the abductor, Mapleton Chief of Police and undiagnosed schizophrenic Kevin Garvey Jr, and the abductee, Patti, leader of the Guilty Remnant, who is holding the upper hand, in a cabin in the woods. What a set-up. Patti has the right words for it: “It’s a pickle. Can’t let me go, won’t let me die.” Then she explains the philosophy of the GR: shed everything that’s unnecessary and focus on the vanishing, pure and simple. It’s beautiful and sickening at the same time, not least because it makes Garvey realize that the GR have killed Gladys. Which means that Laurie might have been part of the lynch mob as well. When Patti starts quoting from a W. B. Yeats poem, you know that things won’t end well. Kevin’s decision to cut Patti loose is somehow inevitable – there isn’t anything else he could have done.

But it’s Patti’s suicide that got to me. I never liked her – who would? But there was something to her that made me look and listen. Ann Down has a commanding presence. While watching, I was surprised, even somewhat overwhelmed by her death. Afterwards, I found it confusing: what does her death prove? How does it help the GR and their cause? Is everything prepared to an extent that even Patti doesn’t have to be there? What the frack have the GR planned?

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Megan and Laurie receive a trailer-load of something wrapped in plastic that the GR place in the church among the empty clothes. Those packets look too light to be bodies, but what the hell are they, and what are they for?

This episode had me glued to the screen as long as Patti was there. The rest was unspectacular, and Tommy and Christine were not greatly missed. Jill joining the GR did not have a great impact because Jill is simply underwritten and badly cast. I am eager to learn what Kevin will do in his large, empty house now that Jill and Aimee have gone and even the dog has been cut loose and vanished in the night. Maybe his episodes will increase. But most of all, the series will have to make up for losing Ann Down. We’ll see.

 

The Leftovers, S1E7 – Solace for tired Feet

The US has shown the last episode of S1 a few days ago, while the UK has just aired the pilot. While it’s not the hottest thing on TV, this series gets decent ratings. That is as it should be. To dislike it because Lost had its serious flaws is just moronic – Leftovers is its own thing. With only one true stinker (episode 4), things seem to look up now.

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This is a complex and mostly worthwhile ensemble episode. It’s heavy on plot, but doesn’t fall apart. The editing is a maze, but the people in the cutting room knew what they were doing. It took me a second to understand the beginning: Someone is plastering the walls of Mapleton with Gladys posters featuring the slogan “Save Them.” Which seems to mean “kill them”. Disgusting. Are those the same guys who killed Gladys?

There is a fridge in the woods in which a certain Paul Glouski departed during a prank. Now Jill and Aimee and their gang use it as a dare: whoever can stay in there the longest wins. Jill breaks the record and almost faints, but is saved from suffocation by her grandfather, Kevin Garvey Sr, who must have escaped the psych ward. Turns out he checked in there after burning down the town library. Now he seems to be harder to find than the B.J.

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Aah, Scott Glenn. Remember him as Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs? Or as the priest in The Virgin Suicides? He makes even crap like Vertical Limit shine.

Tommy has to take care of a feverish, pregnant Christine. She mutters something about a bridge, which is either too ominous or not ominous enough, I don’t know which. That scene is greatly improved by Wayne’s phone call, but the great cult leader has no great plan, no revelation. Wayne just needs money. And he is still convinced that great things are afoot. Maybe they will involve a bridge.

Nora and Garvey are on their fourth date and are finally ready to fornicate, but find Megan and another GR in front of Nora’s house. Garvey threatens them verbally, but Nora has a better idea. I like the rapport they have with each other: “I don’t know how to talk to you yet.” Amidst all this crazyness of lost ones and wild dogs and cults, they approach each other carefully, timidly.

Back home, Garvey answers Jill’s questions about Grandpa and lets slip that she has seen him, and now his son has to catch him. First port of call is the Mayor, who has dumped the crazy old geezer. Then we see Garvey segue into a dream, and again, Dean wants Garvey to kill a dog – this time, the animal is trapped in a mailbox, and there is a dead Laurie in the back of Dean’s truck. Garvey just cannot shoot the dog this time. He wakes with a bite wound on his hand and a ferocious dog in the backyard. Aimee seems to know what has happened during the night even if Garvey doesn’t. Spooky stuff.

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Garvey has to investigate the library his dad broke into – again. He beat up a deputy, used the library computer and wanted to borrow 200 dollars to get something for his son. Pop quiz: who do you think is more sane at this point – Garvey Sr or Garvey Jr?

Tommy delivers the money to a designated mailbox, but waits to see who will pick it up. Meanwhile, Grandpa turns up at the Garveys’, but only Jill is home. Ske asks why he knew that she was trapped in a fridge in the woods. He says he didn’t know. He wants to borrow 200 dollars and asks for tranquilizers for the dog, but Garvey, alerted by Jill, comes home. The scene where he handcuffs himself with that old routine is strangely touching because it’s right and wrong at the same time.

In the police car, the Garveys run into a silent GR protest against the killing of Gladys, and Grandpa gets out of the car and escapes. Garvey knocks down some protesters during his pursuit, Patti among them, and is stared down by her and Meg and, of course, Laurie.

Meanwhile, Tommy sees a stranger take the 3’000 dollars and follows him, and he discovers another very young, very pregnant woman of Asian background called Liane and her protector. How many unique special pregnant girls does an abusive cult leader need? What is his plan?

Back at the Garveys’, Aimee wants to talk about what Kevin remembers about the night they got the dog. He refuses to discuss this and goes to the backyard to feed the dog only to find out that someone has dug up the jar with the money. Remember that jar? Father Jamison dug it up, and now we get to see that it is empty except for a leaflet about a corrupt judge and a note from Grandpa that Jamison deserves that money. Which prompts Garvey to see the holy man.

There are people at Matt’s, printing posters of Gladys. So it’s them, and their plea to save the GR has a spiritual background, not a cynical one. Matt isn’t there, but Garvey finds out that he is out there somewhere with Garvey Sr.

Liane’s minder tries to bond with Tommy over a coupla lines of coke and reminiscing about the night of the raid, when Liane charges into the room with a gun, trying to make Tommy lead her to Christine, then she breaks down and tells Tommy that Wayne is some kind of bridge.

Then there is a meeting in a diner of father and son. Senior brings him a National Gegraphic mag from May 1972 which is supposed to be crucial, some kind of message. This, Dad says, is Kevin’s invitation, his purpose, his mission. Junior dismisses it all as humbug because of his daddy issues. Well – if your dad hears voices, how would you react? And thus ends Grandpa’s day out.

A disillusioned Garvey goes and does what any man would do in order to anchor his life in the here and now: he goes and has wonderful sex with Nora. That doesn’t seem to faze Laurie too much, and for once, chief Garvey is cheerful in the morning – until he sees the National Geographic on his kitchen counter.

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Meanwhile and somewhere else, Tommy gets another phone call from Wayne the Bridge, but decides to smash the phone. That is very sane and very dangerous. Back at their hideout, Christine has given birth on her own. It’s a girl. But of course.

The Leftovers, S1E6 – Guest

Rejoice, my dearly beloveds, for this is a Nora Durst episode. And it is a good one, a very good one indeed. Ok, I confess: it’s my favourite episode so far.

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She conducts an interview, then parks across the road from a schoolyard. She goes shopping for kids’ food and replaces the old, still full boxes past their sell-by date with the new ones. Then she sits in the kitchen, hoping against hope for her family to return.

We only learn later that the teacher we see in the schoolyard is the woman her husband had an affair with. It gets worse: Nora calls a hooker, puts on a bulletproof vest, places a mattress on the floor and then hands the hooker her gun, telling her to shoot her in the chest. That’s slightly scarier to me than assisted suicide. It means that not feeling too much is the problem, but feeling too little.

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She meets Garvey at the courthouse, and you know what’s coming, don’t you? They’re both there for the same reason: divorce. That scene is weird, crude and sweet all at once.

Then Nora has to go to New York for a DROP conference (stands for Departure Related Occupations and Practices). There seem to be no GRs, but a lot of protesters who demand answers. There is that chilling scene where one guy hands her a hand grenade. Can you believe her reaction?

Her nametag is gone, and she has to make do with one that says “guest”. She wants to find out the thief and follows a woman into the ladies’ room only to find out something about herself. Still missing the tag and cajoled into a party by a young cocky bastard and other DROP people, she drinks and takes a pill and starts dancing on the sofa. That might lead her into trouble, but it’s way better than getting shot into her Kevlar-protected sternum. Turns out that the young cocky bastard is in the profitable business of building life-size imitations of the departed for 40’000 $ apiece. Business is good. He asks Nora for a kiss. She says yes, then kisses the guy’s imitation. I didn’t see that one coming. It looks very tender, but is veeeery creepy. I like that about this episode: most scenes mean two or three things at the same time.

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Bad news next morning. She gets thrown out of the hotel because “Nora Durst” has smashed the big mirror behind the bar. She insists it wasn’t her. Security won’t listen to her: “No offence, but who would want to be you?” (I was reminded of the Kevin Finnerty scenes from the Sopranos) Finally, they find the fake Nora Durst on a panel, raving about how the DROP is a smoke-screen to insinuate progress while the questionnaires are sent to incinerators. The benefit payments are supposed to shut people up. That woman is one of the more determined protesters, and maybe she has a point. It depends on what you, the viewer, think, but the doubt she spreads is hard to shake off.

Later, the real Nora Durst finds herself in the bar the fake Nora trashed and is pissed off at the author of a book that is everywhere at the conference. A tall creep called Casper, excellently played by Tom Noonan, asks her if she wants to go on forever feeling such rage and despair. She answers yes, but is intrigued. Casper leads her into a room where there is a curtained doorway which it costs 1’000 $ to go through in order to know what happened when the author was walking through it. Nora pays.

Hello, Wayne. Are you the real deal, going to take Nora’s pain away from her? Yes, you are. You already seem to guess that the gunshots bring Nora a similar kind of pain as when her family departed. And what is new is that you seem to guess that your own death is upon you soon.

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Either Nora has helped herself by visiting Wayne, or Wayne really has helped Nora. She goes about her life, and there is a change about her, in her face. I’m not a rom-com guy, but her asking Garvey out really put a decent end to a great episode. It will probably get messy soon enough, but for now, Nora Durst’s life is looking up.

The Leftovers, S1E5 – Gladys

Last episode’s end with those unlawful entries into people’s homes have shown us a more aggressive Guilty Remnant. This episode seems to continue that new note as Gladys, the pudgy older woman with blonde hair and glasses, and another woman step over an old man lying helplessly on the pavement and refuse to help him. They paint all the newspaper dispensers white, not making any new friends that way, of course, but it comes as a shock that the Gladys of the title gets abducted by a small, anonymous group, taped to a tree and stoned to death. She begs for her life with the first and last words we ever hear from her. That scene is outrageously violent and almost unbearable to watch.

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I am not entirely sure it’s a good idea to try and pick up a bad episode with such a violent teaser, but let’s see further. Kevin Garvey, poor guy, has quite different problems: the burglar alarm is off, and some of his white shirts are missing. Was it that deer again? His working day starts of course with Patti’s plea to help with Gladys’ murder. I didn’t expect Megan to tell Laurie that this, well, was to be expected. Laurie seems to have an anxiety attack and flashbacks about Gladys’ death. That’s odd – she wasn’t there, was she? I don’t like what that short scene implies. Sooner rather than later, the series will have to come clean about some of its unexplained snippets.

Against Garvey’s wishes, the FBI gets involved in the murder inquiry. He stakes out the GR headquarters to make sure Laurie is safe, but Laurie and Patti are not there – they’re in a motel, in a non-smoking room. Patti treats them to a day off: normal clothes, breakfast and conversation. Laurie seems on the verge of talking. This is one powerful scene, people: Amy Brenneman and Ann Dowd are a pleasure to watch here. Just wait for the “doubt is fire” speech. (I have a soft spot for Amy Brenneman ever since Heat, and I really, really liked Ann Dowd in Compliance.) Their storyline suffers somewhat because Patti seems to dump her own feces in a doggy bag on the front porch of a certain Neil.

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And then my third favourite character stumbles into Kevin Garvey at the drycleaners. Garvey wants to pick up his white shirts without a ticket, and who does he meet there but Nora Durst: “They turn up once you stop looking for them.” Is there another flirt in the air?

Garvey cross-examines Father Jamison. That doesn’t make much sense at first, but remember that during his odyssey, he got a stone to his head while trying to help a GR, who then bought his church from under him. Still, he cannot have done it, can he? We’ve seen him bash a man’s head in, but he would have acted alone if it had been him, don’t you agree? He says he was with his study group and then makes an astonishing request: he would like to see Gladys’ body and pray for her. Garvey says no, then he gets yanked out of the room into another room where he has to explain the 8pm curfew to the community. People don’t accept that they should be locked up because of the GR, first of all Dean. The council is unanimously against the curfew, so Garvey gathers the GR and gives them whistles. Bad idea, Kev.

Then he brings Father Jamison to Gladys’ mortal coil because this is the closest thing to a funeral she is going to get. On the way, Jamison quotes from the Bible and remarks that “killing these people is pointless. They don’t care because they’re already dead.” He wants to bring them back to life. And if that scene didn’t feature angelic choirs on its soundtrack, it would have been one of the strongest moments so far.

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Back at the morgue, the body has already been shipped to the FBI in Virginia to Agent Kilaney. The body is sort of lost in the system, and Agent Kilaney offers to eliminate the infestation. Come again? Yes, he means the GR – all of them. Is that guy for real? Did he take part in Gladys’ murder? He cannot be FBI. Is he ATFEC? If so – who are they?

And Father Jamison steals the next scene, informing us about his swearing habits. Well done, Matt, but I am not sure you should stand in the GR front yard and talk about Gladys and try to recruit members for your church. Laurie comes out and whistles as loudly as she can. Father, you’re in trouble.

An inebriated Kevin Garvey wants to get back his white shirts and harasses the Indian proprietor of the drycleaner’s. That man is clearly afraid of him, and now Garvey is sort of sorry. Back home, he tells Jill that he and Mum are getting a divorce. This is the only moment where Jill seems to be herself.

The episode ends at the ATFEC processing center, and it is exactly what you think it means: an assembly line crematorium, where we see Gladys go up in flames, so maybe what Tommy and Christine have come across last time we saw them was a container of dead people. It has nothing to do with the disappeared. I feel slightly disappointed, which means that some hints at the mistery of where they are or what happened to them wouldn’t come amiss.

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, S1E3 – Two Boats and a Helicopter

First of all, I thank my fellow blogger and altogether excellent friend who explained this episode’s title to me. This title and the one from last episode remind me of Lost with its polar bears and planes and boats and other means of transportation, and I am sure a helicopter is in there somewhere. It’s my own personal joke that some of the disappeared have boarded an Oceanic flight and have crash-landed on a strange island. Which is not a complete coincidence, because Lost as well as this series are master-minded by Damon Lindelof. Lost was co-created by him, whereas Leftovers has its origins in Tom Perrotta’s book of the same name.

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Perrotta is also the novelist behind Little Children and Election, so he might know how to combine the personal with the political, two aspects of existence that keep on crashing into each other in The Leftovers. (This is a good place to tell you that I haven’t read Perrotta’s novel and will only talk about the TV series episode for episode. I don’t know more than you. There are spoilers, but fewer than in other blogs.)

Fans of Christopher Eccleston have reason to rejoice, because this episode is mainly about his character Matt Jamison. We’ve already seen him handing out leaflets at Heroes Day, and he and Nora Durst seem to be friends.

My impression that he is a man of the cloth are confirmed in this episode. He is a dedicated Episcopalian priest, his wife Mary got severely hurt in the car crash from the pilot episode and is now in a waking coma. The pews in his church are far from full. His take on the disappearance is that it was not a rapture: some of the disappeared were bad people, and he feels he must distinguish the sinners from the good people by printing leaflets about the crimes of the former, and people need to know. Some of them feel compelled to punch him, and some will. Observe the pit boss at the casino – he has Matt’s whole appearance figured out in two seconds.

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Matt is broke personally, and his church is threatened with foreclosure. To him, that might be the same thing. Nora Durst is willing to help him on condition that he stop printing his leaflets. He replies by telling her that her husband Doug had an affair. Some people are better off not knowing everything about their loved ones, but there you go. Nora seems… relieved.

Matt lies down to sleep beside his unresponsive wife when he has an idea from above how to get money to save his church. He drives to Kevin Garvey’s house, where Garvey Sr. has buried a jar some time ago with a wad of money for Matt (which hints at another, older story). It’s interesting that he sees Laurie sitting on a swing in the backyard of the place she once called home; apparently she’s there for old times’ sake, but asks Matt to not tell anyone. That might work because Matt is not supposed to be there either. He takes the cash to the casino, where he keeps winning. I could go on about the plot, but that’s a thing that I will leave to the viewer to discover. Let me just say that it is a terrible thing to see a man’s dedication turn into hate.

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If I remember correctly, Lost often dedicated one whole episode to one of the main characters. This third episode works the same. I have to say I quite like it, if only because I don’t have to remember at which point we’ve left this or that character. There are a few characters who can carry the series on their own, and I hope we get to see a whole episode about Nora Durst or about Laurie Garvey. My guess is that there will be a point at which we get to know more about what happened on that fateful October 14 – a metaphorical hatch buried in the ground, if you like. But not yet. Let the characters evolve. For now, following Father Jamison on his odyssey has been the series’ highlight. I’d like more of that, please.

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.