July 1, 2014 - 11:14am
BY AKSHAY SETH
Chloe Gilke: Two percent of the world’s population vanishes, instantaneously and without explanation. It’s not the rapture — unless Gary Busey merits being grouped with the Pope and innocent babies. With HBO’s extensive promotion and all those elaborate trailers, it was pretty clear that “The Leftovers” would be prestige misery porn. You know — parades, underwater screams, Justin Theroux shirtless and punching a wall. But, what I was least expecting from “The Leftovers,” helmed by “Lost” vet Damon Lindelof and novelist Tom Perotta, was a quiet suburban drama. More than the central mystery (which remains inscrutable after one episode), “The Leftovers” is a heartbreakingly familiar tale about a community torn apart by disaster. It was also one of the best pilots I’ve ever seen. I’m particularly amazed at Lindelof’s ability to make viewers feel such strong emotions for new characters. I don’t want to be too hasty with my praise, but after such a stunning pilot, I expect a bright future for “The Leftovers.”
Akshay Seth: While I do think this episode had it’s flaws — the biggest one being not really getting a chance to see Buddy Garrity drop a couple more f-bombs — I agree that Lindelof and Perrotta composed an excellent opening chapter to what looks like 10 hours of theology-tinged depression. The disappearance of two percent of the world’s population is frequently described a rapture-like occurrence throughout the episode, but the biggest takeaway from this premiere was the uncertainty surrounding the events, an uncertainty perfectly encapsulated in a brilliant opening scene and one driving the leftovers to violence and pent-up existential confusion. We start off with Kevin six-pack *ahem* Garvey, whose wife joined the G.R., a weird cigarette-toting cult, after the disappearance and though it’s obvious the police chief has plenty of problems, he’s making moves from the get-go to put the past behind him and move on. Watching that composure slowly deteriorate by the time the end-credits roll and he’s unloading his pistol into a pack of feral dogs was a poignant reminder that a confrontation with the past is finally brewing.
Chloe Gilke: The violent murder of the dog at the beginning of the episode initially seemed like a cheap shock tactic, but the neat thematic resonance quickly justified the violence. A couple of wise teen twins impart the knowledge that the dogs that were unfortunate enough to see their owners depart just snapped, turned wild and dangerous. The same is happening to the leftover humans, just slower. We get a glimpse of the slow disintegration of sleepy Mapleton through the G.R., who are apparently nonviolent, but are quickly growing in numbers and stalking new members. Laurie Garvey (yes, Kevin’s wife) follows potential recruit Meg, eventually pulling her from wedding planning and an overeager fiance and introducing her to the place of refuge. With no dialogue, it’s hard to gather the exact beliefs of the G.R., but Meg should be a seamless introduction to their theology. From what we know so far, cigarettes are a metaphor, members wear only white, and the cult is organized like its own small society. I know you mentioned Buddy Garrity, but I was also distracted by Kathy Geiss of “30 Rock” fame sitting in a cult meeting. More of this, please.
Akshay Seth: OK I know this is stupid, but it’s been bothering me. Seriously ... why would a cop ever need a six-pack? When would he even have time to maintain it? I guess what I’m trying to get at is the people in this series are way too attractive to not be CW props. On the topic of hyper-attractive people, it’s worth mentioning that seemingly, the weakest part of the premiere was the storyline Jill Garvey had to work with. She looks like a genuinely interesting character, unwilling to move on from the disappearance three years ago and still not over the fact that her mother essentially abandoned her, but in this episode, it’s as if the writers just said “teen, of the acting out variety” out loud and drew in her face. The weird BDSM game of spin-a-bottle (or, in this case, spin-an-iphone-app) felt completely out of place and had very little to do with any of the broader thematic questions we got to tackle through some of the other characters. The last scene with her, the twins and the dead dog was intriguing, but had nothing to do with the hour-long Gossip-Girl-esque love triangle (?) we experienced before it. I seriously hope this episode is just a spring-board for her character, like the other members of the cast, to start tackling that decidedly tangled past.
Chloe Gilke: I am never one to complain about gratuitous shirtless men, especially when they’re sporting a back full of tattoos, a stubbly face and a perfectly tailored cop uniform that looks straight out of a Nicholas Sparks movie. (Plus, Kevin is running when he sees the dog get shot. We all know that running makes you immediately look like a CW Dad). I agree that Jill had the weakest material in the episode, although I chalk that up more to her annoying friend Aimee than any fault of her own. Margaret Qualley is doing a fine job with the material she’s given, especially the solemn dog burial scene with the twins. But, like so many cable dramas, the teens seem like halfhearted stereotypes compared to their compelling parents. The other ridiculously handsome Garvey kid, twentysomething Tom, enjoys ignoring his father’s phone calls and working for a holy healer named Wayne. Wayne is intriguing, but I could do without Tom’s schoolboy crush on gummi worm enthusiast Christine.
Akshay Seth: I’m hoping her narrative gets a little stronger in the next few weeks, because though this first episode did a wonderful job of putting us in each different character’s head space, we never really got a unifying plot point to push us into the rest of the series. Like you mentioned, the creepy Wayne guy gave us a maybe-glimpse into what that plot point might be by warning Tom to keep his hands off of Christine, who is meant to play a large role in whatever’s going to go down, but really, all that tells me is Tom has to get emotionally involved. I think the most interesting parts of this episode were the brief little peeks we got at Meg Abbott’s, played by Liv Tyler, life. Lindelof and Perrotta did this wonderful thing where they’d spend three or four minutes setting up Abbott’s transition toward her new life with her fiancee, and just as we’d see her start to leave all that sadness from the disappearance behind, the cult members would pop up and smack her back to her more tortured past. Her never really explaining that ultimate decision to join the cultists and confront that past was incredible poignant and I’m looking forward to see where she goes from here.
Chloe Gilke: I’m interested to see the repercussions of Meg leaving her fiance. She seemed to be showing some hesitance to his clingy romanticism (a wedding isn’t the vows, it’s the pomp and celebration), but it was still a surprise to see her showing up at the G.R. stomping grounds ready to join the cult. There’s a parallel between Meg’s abandonment of her clueless husband and the Garveys’ situation — again, there’s a strain in the relationship that the disappearance may have brought about. The scene previous to Meg joining the chain smoking club, for me, was probably the best of the episode. After a few beers, he stumbles over to the G.R. headquarters, yelling for Laurie. He begs her to return, she stares sadly and silently as her fellow cult members beat up her husband’s pretty face. Having only seen Justin Theroux in some of his campier roles (“Your Highness,” a cinematic masterpiece), I didn’t fully buy his performance until this moment. He’s at once haunted by his past and desperate to get it back.
Akshay Seth: We could go on talking about this extended Garvey family because I think it’s pretty obvious right from the get-go that they’ll be the moral centerpiece of at least this first season, coming to represent a final “coming to terms” with the past mentality, but the smaller characters intrigued me as well. Lucy Warburton, the fuck-you-in-the-face, take-no-shit mayor of Mapleton is by far my favorite character so far, and the dog hunter (dog, the bounty hunter), who only had one line in the entire episode seems like he knows what’s up. I really do hope the series continues to sprawl and be more about the “smaller” residents of this town as opposed to this central unit of the Garvey family.
Chloe Gilke: Aside from those standouts, a handful of other minor characters were intriguing even with relatively little screentime. Nora spoke at Heroes Day, and her story about losing her husband and children was heartbreaking and memorable. Matt, played by Christopher Eccleston of “Doctor Who” fame, is a conspiracy theorist with pamphlets and stories about how the departed weren’t such “heroes” after all. With such a talented cast and such interesting side characters, as intrigued as I am by the Garveys, I hope we don’t have another “True Detective” situation on our hands. It worked for that show, but such a narrow scope would leave out the opportunity for other perspectives on the rapture (or whatever it is). This will hopefully be the last time I bring up “Lost” in any of these recaps, but Lindelof has a great history of exploring diverse characters on that show. I can only hope he’ll continue it with “The Leftovers.”