Kevin Garvey - Justin Theroux
Laurie Garvey - Amy Brennerman
Tom Garvey - Chris Zylka
Jill Garvey - Margaret Quilley
Nora Durst - Carrie Coon
Patti Levin - Ann Dowd
Meg Abbott - Liv Tyler
Matt Jamison - Christopher Eccleston
OTHER HEAVEN AND HELL SHOWS
Three years ago, the world was rocked as 2% of the population vanished. One second there, the next second not there. In the small town of Mapleton, plans for a memorial service lead the Chief of Police to voice his disquiet.
To call this opening episode of THE LEFTOVERS a slow-burn affair is similar to comparing a campfire to the Towering Inferno. Whilst things happen, they do not add up to a narrative. This is a snapshot into the lives of some people struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of this disturbing event.
At the centre of this is the Police Chief's family. He himself fears mental illness since his father was put into a care home for the mentally disturbed and some of the strange things that he is seeing make him believe that his mind might be slipping. Since these include a man in a black pick up with the habit of shooting dogs and a deer that might be a statue, those fears would seem to have some grounding. You can forgive him for a certain amount of unravelling, though, as it becomes clear that his wife has joined a cult of white-wearing, non-speaking people who smoke as part of their beliefs and spend their time following people and just watching them. The son is involved with a faith healer called, improbably, Wayne who likes young asian girls and has one in particular whom he considers to be of vital importance. The daughter is adrift and suffering, unable to connect to anything playing the part of a bad girl, despite not being one at heart.
Everyone in THE LEFTOVERS is suffering as a result of the central mystery of what happened to the disappeared, but it is the effects on those left behind that are being examined, rather than the central event itself. We are watching these people's pain and what slight narrative there is (the first memorial service) serves only as a framing device.
Mystery, though, can only be maintained for so long before the audience wanders off, as co-creator Damon Lindelof must know from his experience on LOST. It's fine not trying to trivialise the characters' pain by explaining it, but the cult of the 'ghosts' with their white clothes, cigarettes and wordless watching need some explaining. Not giving us some idea of who they are and what they believe make them creepy, yes, but also turn them into a kind of gimmick. The same can be said of the faith healer, Wayne, whose story may be completely unconnected to the main one.
The acting and characterisation are top notch, with everyone (except Wayne) being completely credible. The tone is hypnotic and the pace hypnotically slow as pieces of the scene are slowly put into place, but without a strong, driving narrative this is just watching a bunch of people be miserable and there's only so much of that an audience will take.Top
Penguin One, Us Zero
The Chief of Police finds his mental state threatened by bagels and his team's inability to find the black pick up truck. Meg finds life in the cult of watchers difficult and faith healer Wayne's compound is raided with murderous intent.
There's a lot of incident in this second episode of the show and more views of the town give a better vision of it, but the story continues to elude. The man with the dog fixation turns out to be real, but what is his agenda. The woman who lost her entire family carries a gun and interviews people who lost loved ones for a special benefit. Meg is required to give away her clothes and chop trees without any explanation in order to gain access to the cult.
The are still no explanations as to the various agendas being played out in the background to this show. In fact, a whole new one is added as a shadowy corporate/government group attacks Wayne's compound with the apparent intent of killing him, but without any background as to why.
The self-conscious TWIN PEAKS surreality is missing that show's leavening of humour. It remains watchable, but the absence of explanations is already making itself felt.Top
Two Boats And A Helicopter
Matt Jamison is Mapleton's minister, but nobody is coming to church any longer and he is about to have the property repossessed. His determination to ensure that those who were taken who were less than saints are exposed as such also gets him into trouble. He is about to have one very bad day.
In a complete change of focus, the show shifts from the Garvey family to the resident priest and his problems. Christopher Ecclestone carries the episode with ease, but this is the kind of thing that he can do with his eyes shut; the wounded and struggling simple man. And boy is he struggling. If there is anything that doesn't go wrong for him in this day then we can't think what it might be. More revelling in one person's misery, then, but not completely negative. There is no telling where the plot is going to go next as it twists and turns, though the twist at the end is somehow completely inevitable.
The supernatural elements are also played up. Pigeons appear to show the reverend the way and his link to events on the day of the Departure is made clear. His uneasy relationship with the Guilty Remnant cult is also made clear.
The show remains hypnotic, but if it is simply going to wallow in people's miseries then it is going to lose viewers at a great rate.Top
BJ And The AC
The baby Jesus goes missing from the town's nativity crib and it seems important that Chief Garvey get it back. In the meantime, Tommy finds that keeping prophet Wayne's pregnant girlfriend is a more difficult prospect that he considered.
The Garveys are a seriously messed up family. Quite apart from the fact that Laurie is committed to the Guilty Remnant cause to the point of letting her family suffer, Kevin is coming apart, his daughter is rebelling against everything to keep her own pain at bay and Tommy, though the most together of them all, is involved in something that he barely understands.
The mystery about the girl and the child that she is carrying deepens as a disturbed man attacks her because of 'what is growing inside her', which suggests that something very bad is going on. Tommy has to run and leave her or end up in prison, but he doesn't run very far and makes decisions about his commitment to the cause.
The show's hypnotic quality continues, though the lack of answers cannot be held at bay forever and there are sections of the meandering storyline that seem very much like filler. The entire baby Jesus plot line serves only to show that Laurie is rebelling (like we didn't know that already) and that Chief Garvey is coming a little unglued (also not breaking news).
Then, right at the end, the Guilty Remnant do something that is completely bizarre and utterly unbelievable, both breathtakingly disturbing in intent and utterly undermining the reality of the show. There is no way that nobody woke up.Top
A member of the Guilty Remnant is stoned to death and Chief Garvey tries to get a curfew imposed. Laurie is taken on a trip to restore her faith and the Feds get involved with the dead woman's body.
There is a focus to this episode that actually makes it the best of the series to date. All of the events revolve around the opening incident, a harrowing attack that is shown in graphic (though not gratuitous) detail and which is very hard to watch. The effect on Laurie and the other members of the Guilty Remnant at least shows that they have some personality left, but the fact that their faith is unexplained and they don't seem to care about anything or anyone makes them impossible to empathise with, even after this attempt to humanise them.
Watching Kevin Garvey's continuing pain is getting a bit repetitive now. The whole issue over his shirts is either meaningful or meaningless, but it it's hard to tell with this show. When everything might be significant or might simply be nonsense, it's hard to keep trying to figure it out.
THE LEFTOVERS continues to exert a pull on the audience, if only because the desire for some sort of explanation cannot be denied, but that desire will eventually fade and die if something of real significance does not come along soon.Top
Nora Durst goes to a convention for those who lost people in the great vanishing. She finds that she is being impersonated and that there might be a solution to her pain after all.
THE LEFTOVERS continues to follow its hurting cast through their pain, but for a moment here there is a sign that there may be something better to come for at least one of them. Nora is broken, possibly more than most since she lost not just one person, but her whole family. She tries to block out the pain by living her life as she did before, but at the same time she goes to extreme lengths to feel something, anything through the numbness. It's a fascinating insight into her character and shows what this programme is all about. There isn't a plot here, beyond the string of events that happen to her, but this is not a show about story. This is a show about people and watching Nora in this one makes up for the total lack of narrative and explanations.
A large part of that is down to Carrie Coons, whose inexpressive face is so expressive. It's a brilliant performance and one that should bring her a lot of recognition. She is magnetic and it's impossible not to watch her. In fact, the intrusion of plot later on in the episode marrs things.Top
Solace For Tired Feet
Kevin's father breaks out of the asylum and causes his family no end of trouble. In the meantime, Tom learns some surprising facts about Wayne's plan.
Sheriff Kevin Garvey has spent the last six episodes of THE LEFTOVERS fearing that he might be losing his mind the way that his father did. Just when things are starting to get a little better, in the shape of his new relationship with Nora Durst, those fears are increased as his father escapes and tries to show him that there is something going on that is bigger than them all, something that involves an old issue of the National Geographic.
Meanwhile, Tom's discovery that Wayne's plan is not all that it appeared to be and that the girl he is supposed to be protecting isn't the only one impregnated by the cult leader makes for some interesting twists, but the split focus of the episode breaks the hypnotic, dreamlike quality somewhat. It will be interesting to see where these plotlines are going, but the interest in the show has been in the people, not the bizarre story they inhabit.Top
Kevin finds himself in an insane situation with Patti, leader of the Guilty Remnant, whilst his daughter Jill breaks into Nora's house to find out if she still has her gun.
Jill's descent into despair moves beyond serious teenage angst into a full blown meltdown as she fixates on Nora's gun as proof that there is still truth in the world or that everything has turned to the worst sort of hell. Exactly why this is remains a mystery, but then the show has made a point of having its characters both complicated and inexplicable. Why do people act the way they do? If you could explain it, would they still be people?
Far more significantly, Kevin has a total blackout and wakes up having kidnapped Patti. Locked into a hostage situation that he didn't create, or at least doesn't remember creating, the situation goes downhill as he struggles to avoid the woman's death without destroying his own life in the process of saving her. Patti has always been a fascinating, detestable creature and this is Ann Dowd's chance to really shine. Despite being tied to a chair and one plastic bag away from oblivion, she is the one in charge of the situation. As a plus, she explains what the purpose of the Guilty Remnant actually is and why they do the things that they do. It makes sense, in a twisted sort of way.
There continues to be absolutely no way to predict which way this show is going to go next.Top
The Garveys At Their Best
Kevin is a home with his wife, preparing for his father's birthday party. Nora is trying to fit a life around her family, whilst beginning to suspect her husband is cheating. Flashback? Dream? Alternate reality?
It's impossible to talk about this episode without spoiling it, so if you're not interested then look away. Otherwise, this flashback to the run-up to the Departure gives an insight into where all the characters were at the point of Departure and therefore how they have been acting since. Nora, almost canonised for having lost all her family, is shown as struggling with them all, trying to get a job and build a life even as the life of a housewife grinds her down and her husband's indifference becomes ever more obvious. Her guilt, then, at their loss is compounded by the fact that she might just have been wishing them gone at the moment that it happened.
Kevin, the confused centre of the show, was confused even then, pursuing a deer that kept getting locked in houses, a symbol of how he is feeling being locked in his relationship with Laurie, something that she is struggling with. Though he takes his responsibilities seriously, he can't help but feel that somehow he was meant for more. Most shocking of all, though, is Laurie. Exactly why she was drawn into the arms of the Guilty Remnant is shown in the very last seconds of the episode and has a hammer-blow impact, putting her actions since into total focus.
We're not usually a fan of flashbacks, usually just a lazy shorthand way of explaining stuff that can't be written into the plot or script any other way. This episode, though, uses the structure to bamboozle (is it a flashback or not), frustrate, enchant and finally shock, all the while informing the characters on display and giving them even more depth, rather than just explaining them away.Top
The Prodigal Son Returns
Kevin gets some help with his dead body problem from an unexpected source and then has an unexpected meeting in a diner's restroom. He returns to Mapleton to find that the Guilty Remnant have carried out their master plan and the townsfolk have finally reacted, risking the lives of all Kevin's family. In the midst of this, his prodigal son returns home.
THE LEFTOVERS has been a quite remarkable show, every bit as infuriating at times as it has been well-written and brilliantly acted. This season finale might be a step down from the shock that rocked the very end of the last episode, but there is so much going on that it really doesn't matter and, more importantly, it all makes sense. The Guilty Remnant's horrible act makes sense in their twisted way of looking at things and the violent reaction from the people of the town makes equal sense on a purely emotional level. The convergence of Kevin and the Holy Wayne in the diner restroom is startling, unexpected and yet totally inkeeping with the rest of the show. Nora's farewell note is heartbreakingly real and beautifully delivered, getting over the fact that it comes in voice over, something that the show hasn't really used to this point and is therefore a bit jarring at first.
The one mis-step is the dream sequence that sees Kevin thrown into an asylum with his father. This appears to be filler, having no real point other than to take the audience on a ride in a (mis)direction that they were not expecting.
No show can be guaranteed a second season these days and a show as opaque as THE LEFTOVERS has wilfully been at times must be at a greater risk than others, so there is a fine line between tying up all the loose ends for closure in case of cancellation and keeping just enough of them flapping about to have a story to follow up on in a second season. The situation at the end of this season finale is ripe with unresolved situations, but there is just enough light being shone through the tunnel to make you think that maybe it's going to be all right after all.
A show like THE LEFTOVERS doesn't come along very often and so it's to be hoped that any second season doesn't mess up what has been transfixing and irritating in equal measure.Top
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