Posts Tagged ‘the leftovers’

Goodbye, ‘The Leftovers’: How HBO’s Show Went From Good to Canon-Worthy Great

June 5, 2017

Then something wonderful happened. As the first season went on, the show got weirder, wilder, and – no coincidence here – better. And given the way they operate primarily through symbolism, the Guilty Remnant are a great place to begin looking for answers as to how.

For starters, the GR and their leader Patti Levin (the great Ann Dowd) made for antagonists of a sort we’d never seen before. Like an army of proto-Pepes, their modus operandi was trolling: specifically, a deliberate mockery of everything the survivors clung to, right on down to the memories of their missing loved ones themselves. The group’s climactic assault on the town of Mapleton wasn’t a murder spree; it was simply using realistic life-sized dolls to recreate the Departed and spook the squares. The cult pulled a similar trick the following year down in Miracle, Texas, when they threatened to bomb the bridge that led to the miraculously Departure-free town and wound up merely throwing open the gates to the hippie hordes camped outside. They violated the norms of every day life in ways that were simultaneously horrifying and darkly hilarious.

Looking over The Leftovers‘ three seasons, it’s hard not to see shades of the Guilty Remnant’s chain-smoking, white-wearing mischief in the show’s writing staff itself. Simply put, there was no convention of storytelling, external or internal, these folks wouldn’t break if it made for more intense viewing. Most famously, Season Two tossed the balance and setting the show had worked so hard to establish aside – relocating from New York to Texas, reloading the cast with a whole new family, pushing many of the original characters aside for episodes at a time. It also replaced the gloomy original opening credits with jaunty country music and brightly lit family photos that showed disappearing people basically merge with the stars, a sign the show was capable of recognizing its excesses and playfully tweaking itself for them.

I wrote about how The Leftovers got great by going crazy for Rolling Stone. Really going to miss this show. I can only hope that others will pick up the torch and carry on its blend of emotional rigor and balls-out risk-taking. (Too many shows emphasize the latter at the expense of the former.)

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Eight: “The Book of Nora”

June 5, 2017

If your primary interest here is watching Nora navigate her journey to an alternate dimension, traverse the empty globe, track down her surviving family, change her mind when she sees that they’re happy without her and she’d just destroy that hard-earned happiness, turn around, cross the globe again to find the scientist who invented the Departure machine, wait for him to rebuild it, and travel back through, then yeah, you’re getting told rather than shown. You’d have needed, conservatively, an entire episode to see it all. If you really wanted to get the flavor and feeling of this all-new, all-different Leftovers world, you might have asked for an entire season. Maybe each episode could be split between the main branch of reality and, oh I dunno, let’s call it a sideways universe? You get the picture. I’m not here to tell you that following Carrie Coon through a depopulated planet that’s even more emotionally and physically scarred by the Sudden Departure than her own would be boring — it sounds amazing, frankly. But for all kinds of logistical and financial reasons, it clearly wasn’t in the cards.

What is The Leftovers showing us instead? Just Nora, herself, in one of the many sustained closeups that director Mimi Leder uses to drive this episode, the way another show might use action sequences. We stare at her face as she spells out the entire saga. You might expect the telling to break her all over again, but she’s had years to process what she experienced. So perhaps the most extraordinary thing that has ever happened to a human being in history gets boiled down to a story told over a kitchen table between two estranged lovers, in a calm but sad voice, with a placid but sad face. The Leftovers has the confidence in its camera and in its performers to convey the enormity of it all, and Nora’s lonesome acceptance of that enormity, just by watching and listening to Carrie Coon talk.

Tellingly, Nora starts breaking down only when she gets to the most recent development: Kevin’s return to her life forces her to face the fear that kept her away from him all this time, the fear that he wouldn’t believe her. Here’s where “show, don’t tell” comes into play again. As we’ve seen, Nora has long since come to terms with her astonishing journey to another world and back again, in search of a lost family she now chooses to leave behind after years of grief over having that decision taken out of her hands. That’s not really what this conversation is about, for her. It’s about whether she can ever get close to anyone again, or whether her peerless pain has rendered her separate from all of humanity basically forever. To find out, she has to face her fear of rejection by the human she once cared about most. She has to find out if Kevin Garvey believes her.

“I believe you,” he says, through a face so warped by emotion his skin seems to be sloughing off his skull on one side of his face. “You do?” she asks, stunned. “Why wouldn’t I believe you?” he replies. “You’re here.” “I’m here,” she confirms, to herself and to him, her hand in his, both of them smiling through tears.

It’s the final dialogue in the series, and it wouldn’t work nearly as well had we actually watched Nora’s trans-dimensional adventures. Here, we’re put in the same position as Kevin, whose own alternate-reality experiences the show has depicted in lovingly bizarre detail, enhancing the contrast with the finale’s approach to Nora’s. We’re presented with the same information and asked to make the same decision. That, not the trip from world to world, is what The Leftovers wanted to show: a desperate person asking to be believed, and another desperate person believing.

I reviewed the final episode of The Leftovers for Vulture. I’ll miss this show very much.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Seven: “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)”

May 31, 2017

At the beginning of season two, The Leftovers’ theme song made its own sudden departure. The epically morose music by series composer Max Richter vanished, along with its Sistine Chapel–style imagery of people falling away from Earth to the anguish of the loved ones left behind. They were replaced by the jaunty country jangle of Iris DeMent’s “Let the Mystery Be” and a sort of reverse-Polaroid montage of family photos created by inescapable prestige-TV title designers Elastic. As of tonight, the circle is complete. “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother),” the series’ penultimate episode, combines the two opening sequences, using the soundtrack of the former to accompany the imagery of the latter.

Richter has done fine work for The Leftovers as time has gone by, but his original opening theme sounds hilariously dour and overwrought after the black-comic brilliance of seasons two and three. Or maybe I have that backward: Is it the ironically sunny pictures of everyday people smiling as their loved ones vanish and their world comes crashing to an end that’s inappropriate, given the gravity of the situation as conveyed by Richter’s music? It’s a matter of perspective, I suppose. Which makes the use of the original theme song in this context just as predictive as every other opening theme has been during this wild final season. After all, the episode ends with Kevin Garvey, doomsday-cultist president of the United States of America in an alternate dimension, facing down Kevin Garvey, international assassin and the president’s identical twin, with the fate of the entire world at stake. Who ought to win depends on where you’re sitting.

I reviewed the second-to-last episode of The Leftovers ever for Vulture. This show sure seems to be going out on a high note!

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Six: “Certified”

May 22, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

Then we get to the final scene. Laurie has had heart-to-hearts with her husband John, her ex-husband Kevin, and her frenemy Nora, and seems unburdened by it all, though she’s decided not to stick around to see if Kevin is the messiah. (“Is Nora gone?” he asks her as she leaves. “We’re all gone,” she replies, not unkindly.) The whole wide world is open to her, and sure enough she seems to be taking advantage of it. We pick up with Laurie as she rides a boat out into the ocean, wearing scuba gear, and … oh God, scuba gear. That’s my third and final “oh, no” moment: the realization Laurie intends to kill herself, just as Nora described. Then she gets a phone call, from her daughter Jill, with her son Tommy laughing along in the background. They’re calling to clear up an argument about a kids’ show Jill used to watch on a tape salvaged from a garage sale — the old Nickelodeon show Today’s Special about a mannequin who comes to life, that’s got a real earworm of a theme song. Grinning from ear to ear, Laurie clears up the question for her kids, tells them she loves them, and hangs up.
“It’s now or never, miss,” the captain tells her. A storm’s been coming since the day before, as Kevin Sr. pointed out earlier with evident satisfaction, so if she’s going to dive she’d better go before it hits. She puts on her mask and mouthpiece, breathes, breathes, breathes, breathes, breathes, and falls backwards into the sea. The camera just sits there, filming the emptiness she’s left behind. The sound of the storm approaches. The scene cuts to black. Laurie’s love for her children, for her husbands, for Nora, for everyone — it’s all real, and it’s still not enough to stop her. Everyone involved, from Brenneman to episode writers Patrick Somerville and Carly Wray to director Carl Franklin, seems determined to drive both points home. Love is real, and love is not enough. The episode ends as it begins: with a woman giving up.
What an extraordinary show.

Oh yeah, The Leftovers aired last night too, and it was excellent. I reviewed it for Vulture.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Five: “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World”

May 17, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

Okay, here goes. On this week’s episode of The Leftovers, a French naval officer strips naked, blasts old music at full volume to attract the attention of his captain, murders the man, steals his nuclear launch key, seals himself in the missile launch control room of a submarine, and fires a nuke at an uninhabited island in the South Pacific. With commercial flights grounded following the explosion, a quartet of our heroes led by Reverend Matthew Jamison board a relief plane and land in Tasmania, where they board a boat to travel to Melbourne and rescue Kevin Garvey so he can resume his duties as the messiah. This boat happens to be the venue for a massive lion-themed orgy. One of the guests is a former Olympic bronze-medal decathlete who rose from the dead after breaking his neck three years ago and now believes he’s God. If he looks familiar, that’s because he appeared in the hallucinatory afterlife purgatory where Kevin went when he died and came back from the dead. “God” murders a guy by tossing him overboard in the middle of the party; Matt’s the only witness and no one really believes him. Matt is also, apparently, dying. Matt confronts God twice, first getting punched in the gut, then knocking him out with an axe handle and holding him prisoner until, half-convinced he’s got the real deal on his hands (or just too delirious to care), he frees the deity in exchange for being saved from his illness. The cure doesn’t seem to take. When the boat finally docks, police arrive to arrest God because a fishing boat found a floating corpse, which confirms Matt’s story. In the confusion, a splinter faction of the lion orgy frees the actual live lion brought onboard as the guest of honor. The lion promptly kills and eats God as he attempts to flee. Matt turns from the scene toward the camera, looks at his friends, and says, “That’s the guy I was telling you about.” The end.

When you lay it all end-to-end like that, the sheer narrative and tonal audaciousness of The Leftovers is clearer than ever. From the crazy lion orgy boat to the storm-tossed cargo plane to the nuclear submarine commandeered by a madman in his birthday suit, this is a strange trip. But the show’s confidence that it will get to its appointed destination carries you along for the ride — just like Matt’s sheer bloody-minded belief in God, in Kevin, and in himself was enough to drag former skeptic John Murphy, his devoutly Christian son, Michael, and his strictly rationalist wife, Laurie, all the way across the globe. Right down to a willfully goofy title — “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World” — that practically dares you not to take it seriously. This episode is The Leftovers at its boldest and best.

I reviewed this week’s episode of The Leftovers, one of the best the show has ever aired, for Vulture.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Four: “G’Day Melbourne”

May 8, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

This is the way the relationship between Kevin Garvey and Nora Durst ends: not with a whimper, but a bang. A big one, apparently. Sirens-in-the-street big. No-cabs-available big. “All flights have been grounded” big.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we look back on “G’Day Melbourne,” tonight’s episode of The Leftovers, and conclude that not showing us the explosion that brought society to a standstill was the smartest thing it did. In the luxurious confines of their personal hell hotel, neither Kevin nor Nora (nor we in the audience) had any idea it even happened. They were too busy undergoing an emotional apocalypse of their own.

I reviewed this week’s episode of The Leftovers for Vulture. Carrie Coon + Justin Theroux forever.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Three: “Crazy Whitefella Thinking”

May 1, 2017

Like the best science fiction, The Leftovers throws reality out the window for a reason. Its outlandish genre elements give voice to emotions that are present in our everyday lives, but which have an intensity our everyday vocabulary of ideas and events is incapable of adequately expressing. There’s a throwaway bit in “Crazy Whitefella Thinking,” this week’s episode and a wall-to-wall showcase for Scott Glenn at his most wild and weathered, that illustrates this beautifully.

During his conversation with the ill-fated Aboriginal man Christopher Sunday (who will soon die when the titular Crazy Whitefella falls off a roof and lands on him), Kevin Garvey Sr. talks about the tape recorder he’s been carrying around during his long walkabout across Australia. It originally belonged to Kevin Jr., who received it as a Christmas gift from his mother just a month before she died of cancer. After that, the dad explains, his son brought it with him everywhere — Kevin Sr. hugs it to his own chest by way of illustration. Clearly Kevin Jr. saw the tape recorder as a totem of his mother, and brought it with him wherever he went to keep her with him as well.

All of us use these kinds of grieving mechanisms, whether or not we understand them is such. Is it really that big a leap from little Kevin using a tape recorder as a security blanket after his mom’s death to the stranger things people did to deal with the stranger trauma of the Sudden Departure? Kevin’s tape recorder contains shades of Nora Durst hiring sex workers to shoot her in the chest, or Matt Jamison writing a new book of the bible about his weirdly durable brother-in-law, or Kevin Sr. deciding the voices in his head are telling him he’s the only man in the world who can stop the next Great Flood. The Departure and everything that happened afterwards are just everyday loss and coping (or failure to cope) writ large; the metaphor works because there’s no such thing as “everyday loss” to those who experience it.

I reviewed this week’s episode of The Leftovers for Vulture.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Two: “Don’t Be Ridiculous”

April 24, 2017

“Weird” and “like nothing else on television” are two descriptors that need to be purged from the critical vocabulary immediately. Believe me, I’d be first against the wall were that to happen, because quite frankly a lot of stuff on the air these days is weird and isn’t like anything else on television and at a certain point you have to call it like you see it. But simply saying so sells the work short, even before those descriptions are used to, say, lump an empty-calorie sci-fi and/or superhero and/or horror pastiche like Legion together with the trailblazing surrealist exploration of abuse and exploitation that was (and hopefully will be) Twin Peaks. The best “weird” shows aren’t just zany or confusing — they deliberately mess with your head to sneak difficult ideas in there while your guard is down. Shows that truly are “like nothing else on television” are, by definition, doing something so unique that an equally unique description is warranted.

So without further ado, let us discuss “Don’t Be Ridiculous,” tonight’s episode of The Leftovers, which was indeed both weird and like nothing else on television. Let’s talk about the title sequence, which reintroduces the memorable family-photo fade-outs of the previous season but drops the jaunty country-music accompaniment in favor of … the theme song from the cornball ‘80s sitcom Perfect Strangers? Let’s talk about the credits, which list the writers of the episode as … Tha Lonely Donkey Kong & Specialist Contagious? Let’s talk about the first thing we see after this disorientingly goofy stuff draws to a close … Jardin’s resident old hermit plummeting to his death?

What we’ve just witnessed is the proprietary blend of utter emotional devastation and madcap audio-visual trolling that has made The Leftovers what it is.

I reviewed last night’s episode of The Leftovers, which was both mercilessly funny and also just merciless, for Vulture.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode One: “The Book of Kevin”

April 18, 2017

Comedy, tragedy, horror, symbolism: The Leftovers fires them at you one after the other and doesn’t much care whether you’re able to field them. To find another show this confidently manic in its creativity you’d have to turn to Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope — minus its emotional ambiguity and gorgeous European pomp and camp, perhaps, but with a relentless focus on grief, trauma, and all-American God and guns and self-improvement schemes that make for a pretty fair trade. For Lindelof (co-writing with Patrick Somerville), a creator who once seemed debilitatingly preoccupied by the reactions of his audience, this show is an absolute breakthrough. For director Mimi Leder, it’s a showcase for a steady hand and keen eye that keep all the disparate parts working as a powerful, often beautiful whole. For its very lucky viewers, it’s a sign from television heaven that rumors of Peak TV’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. That crazy frisson you feel while watching the best shows, where you start each episode having no clue what will happen, but every confidence that it will somehow feel right? The Leftovers is one of the chosen few that can give it to you.

I can’t say enough good things about the season premiere of The Leftovers, which I’m covering for Vulture this season.

A Guide to All “The Leftovers”‘ Theories About the Departure

April 15, 2017

We’ll never know what caused the Sudden Departure, the instantaneous disappearance of 2 percent of the world’s population at the center of HBO’s critically acclaimed drama The Leftovers. Series co-creator Damon Lindelof has said so, repeatedly, and if anyone knows the danger of promising answers he’s in no position to deliver, it’s the guy who did Lost. It’s a smart move, too. By taking “What happened?” off the table, it leaves the show free to explore a far more open-ended and rewarding question: “What happens next?”

But here’s the thing. We in the audience may know that the Sudden Departure will always be an unsolved mystery, but the people in the world of the show itself sure don’t. Much of The Leftovers is driven by the theories, belief systems, religious doctrines, mystical mumbo-jumbo, and out-and-out nihilism embraced by its various characters to explain the world-changing event and give life meaning afterward. Below, you’ll find the major schools of thought through which the people of The Leftovers attempt to understand their weird world.

I wrote about all the ways in which characters in the world of The Leftovers have attempted to understand and explain the Sudden Departure and give meaning to life on Earth afterwards for Vulture.

A “Leftovers” Refresher: Every Last Thing to Remember for the Final Season

April 13, 2017

Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux)
Kevin is the handsome, brooding, handsome, mentally ill, handsome, dead and resurrected, and last but not least, handsome patriarch of the fractious Garvey family. Kevin served as the chief of police in the sleepy New York suburb of Mapleton, a job he inherited along with a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia from his father, Kevin Sr. (Scott Glenn, whose character is currently holed up in Australia). Kevin’s “is it real, is it supernatural, or is it a hallucination?” visions and misadventures have driven much of the show’s action.

At the moment of the Departure, Kevin was cheating on his wife Laurie in an impulsive one-afternoon stand; his lover disappeared from their motel bed. During season one, the increasingly unstable family man and a local gun nut named Dean graduate from shooting stray dogs to kidnapping Patti Levin (Ann Dowd), the local leader of the Guilty Remnant cult. When she kills herself in front of him, he covers up her death, comes clean months later, and is told not to sweat it by the government, which in The Leftovers’ world has very little problem at all with the murder of cult members. This is cause for concern, since all three members of the family Kevin had before the Sudden Departure have done time in cults themselves: His ex-wife, Laurie, joined the Guilty Remnant and eventually helped recruit their daughter, Jill, while his adopted son, Tommy, took up with the British healer and harem-keeper known as Holy Wayne.

By the start of season two, all three have left their cults, but only Jill remains with Kevin. They’re joined by Lily, the infant daughter of Holy Wayne and one of his many ersatz wives, a young woman named Christine, left on the family doorstep by Tommy. Together with his new girlfriend Nora Durst, whose loss during the Sudden Departure was catastrophic, they move to the town of Jarden (see above). While there, his dissociative sleepwalking episodes lead him to attempt suicide in the same water where three local teens disappear that very night. Guilt-ridden and cracking up, he’s also literally haunted by Patti, who is either a hallucination or an actual ghost. (The Leftovers isn’t big on answering such questions.)

In order to purge himself of Patti, Kevin poisons himself with the help of a local shaman (more on him later) and travels to a purgatorial “other place” — a luxury hotel where, in the guise of an international assassin, he stalks and kills an alternate version of Patti who’s running for president. He then learns that her “real” self in this world is a little girl, whom he pushes down a well before falling in himself to finish the job. Once resurrected in the real world, he winds up getting shot by the father of the disappeared girl (again, more on him later), travels back to the hotel purgatory, and escapes by singing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” at karaoke. Season two ends with Kevin and his whole big crazy extended family reunited.

I wrote a cheat sheet for The Leftovers Season Three, which starts this Sunday, for Vulture, where I’ll be covering the show all season.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Ten: “I Live Here Now”

December 7, 2015

Foremost among those achievements: the fucking acting. By the time he hit that first chorus in “Homeward Bound,” the Simon & Garfunkel song that enabled Kevin Garvey’s escape from his return to the afterlife after getting gutshot by John Murphy, Justin Theroux had already paid off two seasons of work with just a minute of facial expressions and passable Paul Simon. His portrayal of Kevin has long been an inversion of his archetypal tall dark and handsome good looks; unlike Jon Hamm, whose transitions between Don Draper’s strong, suave side and his insecure, guilt-ridden shadow were distinct and dramatic, Theroux always plays Kevin as guy with a godlike body, an incandescent stare, and the loosest of grips on both his emotions and reality itself. Here he really got to crack, not in his usual freak-out mode but as a man so moved by the meaning of the song he’s singing he can barely get the words out without breaking down in tears. It’s somehow both restrained and totally vulnerable, a bravura combination. The scene is for him what “The Suitcase” was for Hamm on Mad Men or what “Crawl Space” was for Bryan Cranston on Breaking Bad. Shot in a series of tight, spotlight-illuminated closeups by Leder, it gives you nothing but a face and a voice, and gets more out of them than you could have imagined.

I reviewed the extraordinary season finale of The Leftovers for Decider.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Nine: “Ten Thirteen”

December 2, 2015

But the most entertaining thing about this mightily entertaining episode (if you find dark shit entertaining, which, if you don’t, why are you watching this show) is simply its context in the series. This season, The Leftovers has proven itself to be a carnival ride through humanity’s grimmest emotions. A new family of main characters, a sudden switch to old ones we’d all but forgotten, seamless shifts backward through time to events we thought we’d seen the last of, an entire episode taking place in a hallucinated dreamworld, in-depth grappling with cult deprogramming and reprogramming, one-on-one conversations as intense as any action sequence—each new installment has the potential to do something entirely different than its predecessors. In an era where prestige drama has a tendency to be consistent from episode to episode, perhaps to a fault, The Leftovers mixes it up while remaining true to its core thematic and emotional obsessions each time. It’s impressive, risk-taking work—doubly so given Lindelof’s oft-stated preoccupation with the reactions of his audience. What will happen in the finale next week, then? To paraphrase Megan, I’m guessing it’s gonna be pretty fucking amazing, what they’re gonna do.

I reviewed the penultimate episode of The Leftovers Season Two for Decider.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Eight: “International Assassin”

November 23, 2015

What does it all mean?

I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean: that we’ve now been given all the tools we need to determine if Kevin’s visions are the product of the supernatural or psychosis. I believe co-creator Damon Lindelof when he insists this show will never deliver The Answers to the Great Departure, and I believe that studied agnosticism extends way on down the line to every seemingly supernatural happening on the show. Maybe Kevin really did mystically travel to the other side, where he underwent a series of trials and defeated his adversary, bringing himself back to life. Or maybe he’s a schizophrenic who drank poison provided by a suicidal pederast, had a hallucinatory paranoiac nightmare while he was out in which he processed his grief and guilt and trauma, and woke up before he suffocated. The results are the same either way. What difference does it make?

I reviewed last night’s extremely divisive episode of The Leftovers for Decider. I thought it was a hoot! Funny, creepy, and very bold. It’s only infuriating if you’re determined to read it in a certain way. Everything you like about the show was still there under the surface.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Seven: “A Most Powerful Adversary”

November 16, 2015

And then there’s the sorcerer himself. “Who are you?” Kevin asks Virgil, awestruck. “I’m just someone who once had an adversary of his own,” the man replies by way of self-description. “One that made me do terrible things. And for those things I was shot in the chest, in the belly”—and here’s where it gets unpleasant—“and in that foul machinery below the waist, which transgressed the laws of man.” At this point it’s not hard to guess why John shot him, though the identity of the victim isn’t clear until Kevin brings up the shooting himself. “I hurt him,” Virgil says, referring to John. “I hurt him a long time ago. And then he hurt me back, and he freed me.” Now we have our explanation for John Murphy’s anti-magic vigilantism: If your abuser claimed he was cured of his desire to molest children by an otherworldly encounter with his supernatural adversary on the other side, you’d be pretty fed up with the miracle shit, too. Combining the old man’s mysticism with the all too real horror of pedophilia is dark fantasy at its grimmest, a conception of the genre in which magic isn’t simply a deus ex machina, but a force in human affairs with as powerful an impact and as complex a moral cost as sex and violence.

I reviewed last night’s episode of The Leftovers for Decider.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Six: “Lens”

November 9, 2015

At times it can be difficult to get on the exact emotional wavelength of some of these characters, because they inhabit a world with one major difference from our own: the Sudden Departure, and the indisputably supernatural event it represents. This doesn’t necessarily mean the involvement of God, or any kind of deity or demon or magic or religion whatsoever, mind you—a physical phenomenon beyond the reach of current science serves just as well. Whatever it was, it happened, and it’s been impossible to explain nonetheless. This can make the unyielding skepticism of characters like John, who insists there are no miracles in Miracle, difficult to swallow. (Nora, at least, has a self-evident psychological need to see the Departure as both random and one-time-only; perhaps we’ll eventually get a similarly illuminating backstory for her vigilante neighbor.)

But an episode like this helps illustrate the continuity between skeptics and believers, between those who think they may have played a role in sparing people from it Departure and those who fear they’re to blame for it: Each approach offers its proponents a sense of control amid the chaos. Nora rejects the concept of lensing or the possibility of further Departures to stave off guilt and fear, the only way she can keep going. Perhaps for John, fighting for a world without miracles is a small price to pay for a world without curses as well.

Yet a sense of safety is also why the townsfolk have embraced the eccentrics who slaughter goats or wear bridal gowns every day simply because that’s what they did on the day Jarden was spared, or why people are paying $500 per milliliter for the town’s water: Belief offers them emotional protection against the terror that it could happen again. On the flipside, Erika blames herself for her daughter’s disappearance for basically the same reason the town gives Jerry the goatslayer credit for preventing the disappearances: Knowing the cause makes the effect less frightening, whether that effect is good or bad. You don’t need to have experienced the Sudden Departure to recognize the universal tendency of human beings to look for heroes and villains, and, if no one else fits the bill, to self-destructively settle on themselves.

I reviewed this week’s The Leftovers for Decider.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Five: “No Room at the Inn”

November 3, 2015

The Leftovers gives you a lot to chew on with no guarantee you’ll like the taste, and “No Room at the Inn,” last night’s episode, was even more of a mouthful than most. It focused on Rev. Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), who last season was the star of what was, for my money, one of the worst episodes of prestige television ever aired. This new spotlight ep strings together a series of trials and tribulations in which Matt drops his phone in a toilet, learns his brain-dead wife is pregnant with a baby whose conception no one will believe she consented to, gets his head bashed in and his hand stomped on by a mugger who steals his ID bracelet and sabotages his car, pushes a wheelchair for over five miles in the Texas sun, loses a fight with a man in a wedding tuxedo, gets detained, gets thrown out of town, is forced to knock a stranger unconscious with an oar for cash, nearly drowns in a flash flood, loses his wife’s wheelchair, gets smuggled back into town in the trunk of a car, gives up his recovered bracelet to the son of the guy who mugged him after the guy dies in a car wreck the kid somehow survives, and voluntarily has himself locked up full-frontally nude in a pillory—and just in case you didn’t get what’s going on, says his favorite book in the Bible is Job. By rights this shouldn’t be any more successful than the first go-round. Instead it winds up being one of the series’ finest hours to date.

I reviewed this week’s very strong, very demanding The Leftovers for Decider.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Four: “Orange Sticker”

October 26, 2015

At the end of the episode, Nora handcuffs herself to Kevin. It’s her attempt to provide security for his sleepwalking, and to ensure that she never wakes up to an empty bed again. But given what we’ve learned of their quiet desperation, it reads like the jail sentence it probably is. Thus The Leftovers reduces another moment of human connection to illusion and panic. This kind of thing makes it a hard show to watch, and a harder show to turn away from.

I reviewed the latest episode of The Leftovers for Decider.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Three: “Off Ramp”

October 19, 2015

The persecution of cults by the government has stealthily become the series’ most disturbing theme: Seen both as dangerous and, just as importantly,repulsive, these fringe movements are treated like free targets for government agents and pissed-off citizens alike. The thing is, though, that they are both dangerous and repulsive. Holy Wayne was a creep and a kook, irrespective of the inexplicable coincidences surrounding him. The Guilty Remnant are unforgivably cruel to the grieving and physically abusive to their own members. Laurie and Tommy are now peddling pure snake oil. The Leftovers doesn’t give them a pass, or act like their crimes are mere doctrinal disputes. It does, however, force us to examine who we consider a part of our tribe, the tribe of American society, and what we consider acceptable losses among those we cast out. That’s gutsy, and I’m grateful, because hey, someone’s gotta do it.

I reviewed last night’s The Leftovers, another strong one, for Decider.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Two: “A Matter of Geography”

October 12, 2015

Judging from the season premiere’s largely positive reception, The Leftovers was smart to roll out the welcome wagon for a family full of new characters in a Texas town far, far away (after first introducing us to cavepeople a long time ago). So it took the show a curious kind of confidence to cut away from the newly established setting and take us back to where it all began at the first chance it got.

Returning to the New York suburban setting and climactic time frame of its Season One finale before slowly catching up to the events of the episode that preceded it, the appropriately titled “A Matter of Geography” was all over the map. That’s a good thing. Compared to the first season’s sophomore ep, which was when the series’ intriguing premise hit the prestige-TV-by-numbers pavement, there’s almost nothing formulaic about this one. It continuously went bigger, brighter, stranger, and further than expected.

I reviewed The Leftovers’ (mostly) strong second episode for Decider.