HBO has a bit of a tricky situation on their hands with their new original series, The Leftovers. They’re handling a show with an intriguing and mostly unique theme, and will therefore garner an audience of curiosity. However, based on the profound nature of the show, and the sheer number of characters associated, there’s a lot of back story and character development that is necessary to the story. Since so much of this back story is tied in so closely with the overall mystery and suspense of the show, it’s important to keep it prolonged so as not to reveal too much of the show too quickly. The tricky part comes in maintaining a good balance between the suspense of the show, and providing enough action so that all this backstory doesn’t overpower it and make the show boring. Was last night’s episode of The Leftovers able to accomplish this feat? I’m afraid that they didn’t, and what we wound up with was a lot of mostly nothing going on.
While I don’t argue the fact that all the developments shown last night are somehow germane to the eventual and ultimate direction of the show, the fact that we are so early in the series and so woefully ignorant of what’s really happening, these stories just made the episode seem like a build-up of sheer boredom. Not every episode has to be riddled with sex, action, nudity or thrills, and I’m absolutely in agreement with this. At any rate, the pilot episode gave every indication that these aspects are sooner or later incorporated. Anyone familiar with my previous reviews of practically any show or movie knows that I am a sucker for character-driven plots, and I don’t require wham-bam action to enjoy a story. However, as much as personal stories are essential for a good plot, timing of these stories is just as important.
Quite a bit of time was spent on stories that seemed to go nowhere, including Jill stalking some woman who was interviewing an elderly couple for an insurance claim, as well as Meg coping with her new choice to stay at the speechless cult. Again, I have no doubt that these storylines will be important later on in the series, but for now, they didn’t seem to do anything more than confuse me further. The woman who was being stalked will definitely have an interesting storyline later down the road, but it’s too soon to really get it. The cult house wasn’t particularly confusing, but it didn’t offer any more information than it did last week, and we spent enough time wondering last week what their deal was to really have much more curiosity left.
This isn’t to say that the entire episode was boring or confusing. Quite the contrary, actually. While I did think that the plot lines I just mentioned weren’t very fulfilling because of the lack of context, the rest of the episode was very enjoyable. From last week, we realised that, although Kevin (Justin Theroux) and Lucy (Amanda Warren) were constantly at odds professionally, there was a separate tenderness that hinted at a connection in their personal lives. This week, we found out that Lucy is dating (or married to?) Kevin’s father, who is a patient at a mental health facility. Last week, as Kevin went to inform a woman that her dog had been shot dead, she frowned at his name and asked, “Garvey? I thought you were crazy.” After a brief flashback of a man running naked through someone’s yard as police sirens blared after him, Kevin unconvincingly replied, “That was my dad”. Naturally, I assumed that he was just covering his own ass but, considering where his father lives, there may have been more truth to it than I realised and, rewatching it, I only now notice that it really was an older man. What was most fascinating about the father is, despite his location, he spoke with more lucidity and wisdom than three quarters of the people in Congress society. Even when Kevin, who is beginning to think that he, himself, is unravelling, tries to ask him when he first realised that something was wrong with him, his father responds that contrary to what everyone believes, he hasn’t “lost his shit”. Just as we then began to wonder what exactly he is doing at a mental health institution, he begins a sudden argument with voices that only he hears. Interestingly enough, though this sudden turn is initially designed to show the tentative grasp that he has on reality, he asks Kevin if someone had been to see him, and informs that “they” sent someone to him. This is very likely a reference to the dog shooter, who once again paid a visit to Kevin, asking him to meet him for a go at another pack of dogs. How, then, did the father know this?
In the literary world, there is a term called “magical realism”. It refers to a story in which supernatural events play a subtle part in the plot. Unlike fantasy, which blatantly expresses magic, powers etc, magical realism only really hints at the supernatural in an otherwise completely normal world. We are now beginning to see evidence of magical realism in this series, which isn’t surprising considering the overall theme of the story.
In this same regard, another intriguing aspect of last night’s episode was the continuation of Tom’s involvement with Wayne (Paterson Joseph), the mysterious and slightly intimidating mystic who has the ability to take away people’s sorrow, though we don’t know how he does it, or what exactly it is that he does. After a raid on their clandestine ranch by the FBI, Wayne, Tom (Chris Zylka, who reminds me so much of Alan Ritchson, it drives me crazy) and Christine (Annie Q) manage to flee, with Tom subsequently being ordered by Wayne to keep Christine safe because she is “everything”. Again, we have no idea what this means (see how much this is happening so far?) and it becomes even more confusing when Wayne kisses her full on the mouth. It’s therefore one of two options: either she has some unknown link to the Departure and/or Wayne’s abilities, or she is merely an object of his love and affection. Quite frankly, I really hope that it’s the latter, because the first option rings very “save the cheerleader, save the world”, and we’ve had quite enough of these storylines. Wayne is, so far, the most interesting character of the show, partly due to his mysterious abilities, and partly due to the unknown and indecipherable aspect of his character. While he seems to genuinely want to remove negativity and sorrow from people’s mind and soul (even offering to do it to Tom, who’d earlier killed someone), it is unclear how scrupulous his methods are. In last night’s episode, we saw him kissing a recent corpse on the mouth, stating that the man would never have allowed this had he been alive. Add this to the fact that the FBI accused him of sleeping with all the underage Asian girls at his compound, and we have the most paradoxical character on the show.
Despite my criticism of last night’s slow-paced episode, I’m still interested enough to keep watching. My only hope is not that the writers include more action, but rather that they find a way to make the episodes which don’t include as much action less long-winded.
While it wasn’t a very GIFable episode, some of my favourite moments are after the jump.