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July 7, 2014 - 10:08pm

'The Leftovers' RECAP: New show already maturing after two epsidoes



Akshay Seth: After a strong but slightly scattered start last week, "The Leftovers" came back this Sunday with a more focused episode, gearing itself around four distinct plot lines all involving members of the Garvey family. First, we saw Police Chief Six-Pack Garvey trying to convince his colleagues that the bald dog killer isn't something he made up in his head as an excuse to kill dogs/cope with the trauma of seeing his wife and son join different cults after his disappearance. Second, we got a little bit of a peek into the inner workings of the group Tom Garvey decided to join, all culminating in a decidedly disappointing portrayal of the creepy shirtless Wayne, or who I like to call Hugs for Rape. Jill Garvey becomes the person through whom we get a better look at Nora, the woman who lost her entire family in the disappearance. And as you mentioned last week, it's quickly becoming apparent that with a large handgun in her purse and a quest to find the commonalities between victims, she will be one of the most interesting characters in the series. The weakest parts of this week's episode were the parts involving Laurie Garvey and the G.R's latest recruit Meg. We get some insight into the demands of cutting down a tree (which will now be part of the Daily Arts application) coupled with some weird messages about showing perseverance but other than that, we didn't get much of a look what makes this cult tick.

Chloe Gilke: This week, Kevin had an existential crisis after his bagel disappeared. I'm usually not one for jokes involving bagels (breakfast is a very serious matter), but the bagel was a cool way of introducing Kevin's self-doubt and waning sanity. His colleagues aren't convinced that the chaw-chewing dog killer is real, and think that Kevin might be going the way of his dad (that is, completely bonkers). Though the dog killer left his truck at Kevin's and refuses to reveal his name, the man is very real to Kevin, and he's frustrated that Lucy won't take his problems seriously. That, and his bagel appeared to be raptured straight from the toaster oven. It's still unclear whether the dog killer is a hallucination or just a sketchy guy, but at least we got some closure with the bagel. A sort of happy ending - maybe things aren't really as crazy as they seem, and there's a reason for every disappearance. Nothing sinister there. The bagel was just stuck in the oven. He pulled it out of the machine and clutched the thing, probably aware of its narrative symbolism.

Akshay Seth: I hope he didn't eat it, but knowing Kevin on a personal level, I can say he probably did. It's interesting how many people I've spoken to who are convinced the chaw dog guy is just a random hallucination floating around in the police chief's head. To me, that final scene in which he hands beer to Jill (ie the first time he's specifically acknowledged by a character other than Kevin) was a little bit of a confirmation that, if not real, there's at least some reminder this character is defined by a certain ambiguity found throughout the episode. Kevin's encounter with his father — who clearly reminds him that his sanity is fully intact — hints at a possibility that dog chaw might be the key to the police chief's existential doubts. And if not that, some magical entity who will literally guide him to the truth. In any case, it's this duality that wins out, making the show as interesting as it is, and ultimately the most elegant explanation of the bagel fiasco. The question of whether or not the bagel ever existed is tertiary, shoved squarely aside by the much more intriguing lengths Kevin was willing to go to prove that it exists. It might be a little heavy-handed but I hope it's some foreshadowing about what's likely to happen to his relationship with chaw dog.

Chloe Gilke: Speaking of Jill, I enjoyed her storyline much more this week. She's still caught up in her Typical Teen Debauchery, but this time,Jill served as our window into Nora Durst's life. After spying a huge gun ("not one of those lady ones") in her purse at a coffee shop, Jill and Aimee decide she's worth investigating. They stalk Nora's car, following her to her insurance job and sneaking into the vehicle while she's working. (Pretty next-level reckless activity, considering the woman has a gun.) Nora's car is a gold mine of sad relics from her past life, including Chipmunks CDs and jelly beans she probably doesn't have the heart to toss away. Since Aimee is the actual worst, she steals the jelly beans and needs Jill to tell her that those were probably for her raptured kids. We also get a glimpse at Nora's insurance job, where she asks families of the departed a bunch of difficult questions. It's sad that Nora, who lost everything, has to face the same loss and despair every day at work. Maybe playing the detached questioner is an escape from her car full of candy and children's music, but either way, I'm excited to learn more about her character - especially why she has that gun, and who she's planning to use it on.

Akshay Seth: This is a shot way in the dark, but I saw that little bit of information about not having access to medical records as an indication that maybe Nora doesn't really work for an insurance company and is just looking for an excuse to learn more about people who disappeared during the rapture. Her featured appearance in the parade last episode signaled a need to move on and an unwillingness to determine why the disappearance occurred, but that coffee shop scene where she purposely knocked over a cup of coffee tells me this is a much more layered personality. "The Leftovers" has been orchestrating lot of these character explorations by pairing people off with members of the Garvey family and seeing how they react to one another: Kevin with dog chaw, Laurie with Jill, Christine with Tom and in this case, Jill with Nora. Seeing how Jill, like Nora, seems to be unconvinced by the way everyone in Mapleton wants to move on without any answers, this pairing tells me there's going to be an inevitable confrontation that'll stick Jill and Nora together for the long haul. And I'm really hoping it happens because what better way to explore one of the most mysterious people on the show than through the eyes of teenage angst?

Chloe Gilke: The slow parsing of information about the GR can be frustrating, but we saw some good development for Meg this week. She's still in the orientation phase, where members can apparently still speak and wear colors other than white. This liminal membership is especially difficult, because the withdrawal is so prolonged. She can't just graduate to cigarettes and dry erase boards, but has to chop away at impossibly large trees, suffer blisters and throw away her possessions piece by piece. I don't blame Meg for ditching Laurie's shadow and going by herself to hack at the tree - the GR's initiation rituals are banal rules practically meant to be broken. As Meg steps up, passive Laurie seems less interesting by the minute. I can deal with not knowing the exact philosophy of the GR, but Laurie's sulky "I remember" message isn't enough to create any real intrigue. Sort of like Chaw Dog, she only exists in other people's subplots - to introduce Meg and be Kevin's sad backstory. With such a diverse cast of female characters, I'd hate for Laurie to be shoved into the "boring, joykill wife" stereotype.

Akshay Seth: I still think there's plenty of time left for us to see her become more than just someone used to introduce or shade in other peoples' stories, though I disagree a little bit with your assertion that she's the most wooden character on the show. Right now, the only bits of real information we have about her are A. she left her family because she felt morally obligated to join the G.R. and B. her husband was cheating on her before she left. Those two things lead me to believe she might have left because she found out about Kevin's infidelity and just lost faith in her commitment to her family. But what's most interesting about her interaction with Meg is the implication that she herself went through this grueling initiation process before joining the cult. To me, it's an indication that though she throws out all this flowery, nostalgic language about missing her husband and family, she won't go back to them. And that suggestion is enough to paint her, like everyone else in the G.R. as fascinatingly obstinate people. But I completely agree there's much more we can be seeing them doing on screen and hopefully, we'll see that happen in the next few weeks.

Chloe Gilke: This episode did a good job of filling in the details of the show's other resident cult. The FBI is after Holy Wayne and his followers (he may have the ability to heal with a hug, but he apparently needs to "recharge his batteries" with underage girls). At the beginning of the episode, a cop grabbed Christine, and Tom shot the agent to protect his love. We still don't know much about Christine, but she's much more important than just being the object of affection for Tom and Holy Wayne. Tom may have saved her out of romantic intent, but when Wayne said "this girl is everything," there's the implication that she's got some sort of higher power. She's so important that Wayne gave Tom the keys to her getaway car. But the car wouldn't start, and Tom realized that he's just another of the dumb college kids that Wayne enlists as followers. (Also, it was probably just really frustrating that Wayne gave him a car that wouldn't even start.) I'm excited to see where their story goes from here, and especially eager to see how Holy Wayne can continue screwing Tom over from afar.

Akshay Seth: And there was that really great piece of dialogue where Holy (Perpetually Shirtless) Wayne said something along the lines of "I can't figure you out. You're all suffering without any salvation" to Tom, which is a clear reference to the "dumb college kid" 's checkered and still mysterious past. We'll see what that means as the narrative moves forward and provides more insight into the events leading up to the disappearance, but I'm hoping beyond hope Holy (Perpetually Shirtless) Wayne turns out to be more than just some weirdo rapist who takes advantage of Asian women. The only clue we have that Christine might be of actual significance to Wayne's grander schemes is how in the chaotic opening sequence of this episode, it became clear very quickly that Wayne had a virtual cult-full of similar women he probably slept with on multiple occasions, so what is it about this particular woman that he's so drawn to? Probably the most artistically relevant scene from this entire episode was when Wayne snapped an iPhone in half with his hands jk, but it's finally confirmation that Tom has no direct link to his past/family any more, which is exciting because it makes room for his dynamic with Christine to evolve beyond the realm of gummy worms. And indirectly, an opportunity for the writers to actually flesh out Christine as more than just an object of desire, as you said. We'll see next week.