So I realize that my opinion is not a popular one, but I really enjoyed HBO’s new series The Leftovers. While somewhat confusing, I thought it was a great pilot. There were several twists and turns, unanswered questions, and a small reveal that easily set the landscape for an interesting new show.
At the start of the hour, a distracted mother is at the laundromat with her crying baby. While on the phone, she straps her screaming child into the car-seat. The camera slowly zooms in on the baby, there’s a quick moment of peace like he sees something in the sky. He screams again and then silence. The mother turns around and her baby is gone, just gone. She gets out, looks around the car, searches the parking lot, then panicked, she starts screaming. A young boy nearby is yelling for his father while an abandoned shopping cart aimlessly rolls into a parked car. A speeding car, now driverless, slams into another car in the intersection down the street. Where did everybody go?
The show then jumps three years to Mapleton, New York where we learn that 2% of the world’s population, 140 million people, vanished on October 14th. The rest of the world is in this frightening purgatory, unsure of what happened or what it all means. On a similar note, I found myself asking throughout the episode, “what if it happens again?” Because of that paranoia, the pilot reminded me of ABC’s short lived (and greatly missed) series FlashForward, only if it was darker and sexier. FlashForward follows a global blackout in which the entire world loses consciousness for 137 seconds. During those seconds, people see what appears to be a vision of their own life approximately six months in the future. The similarities lie in the pandemonium the blackouts cause and the global uncertainty and confusion. However unlike FlashForward, The Leftovers isn’t trying to explain why those people vanished. It’s more like a character study on grief.
Backing up to this purgatory situation… I found the religious undertones extremely interesting throughout the episode. Several times, characters asked why God did this or why He chose the people He chose. For example, Gary Busey? Really? The Book of Matthew describes a similar event in which “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” Recent Christian theology believes that this is the Rapture. It’s the first real occasion that the believers on Earth will rise to meet Jesus in the sky. It’s also the beginning of the Second Coming, which is a seven-year period where the “leftovers” are stuck in a type of purgatory. During this time there are wars, plagues, then the emergence of the anti-Christ before 1,000 years of peace under Christ’s renewed rule. If this is the case, things are just getting interesting in the fictional world of The Leftovers.
The viewers are immersed into this world through the eyes of one family. Let’s meet the Garveys.
Papa Kevin Garvey, played by Justin Theroux (Jennifer Aniston, you are one lucky woman), is all kinds of messed up. As the police chief, he’s trying to find order in the chaos while dealing with the town’s most complicated citizens. He’s very apprehensive and hostile towards the town cult, Guilty Remnants (or GR). He’s trying his best with his teenage daughter but they both seem so plagued by grief and anger they can barely function. To make matters worse, it seems like Garvey has several hidden issues of his own.
In the beginning of the episode, Garvey is out for a run when he crosses paths with a dog. As he beckons the dog to come closer, the dog is shot by a neighbor who then speeds away. Garvey puts the dead dog in his trunk and gets ready for the day ahead. On his way to work, he stops by the address on the dog’s collar. While walking up the sidewalk he sees a buck stoically standing in the garden. The owner doesn’t want the dog, she says it disappeared with her husband three years ago. Garvey throws the collar in the trunk with the dog’s corpse and gets a call informing him he’s late for the meeting with the mayor to discuss Heroes Day. Later, Garvey is obviously dreaming (I say obviously because he’s driving in the dream and his daughter was last seen with his car) when he hits the buck. When he awakes, it is to a phone call saying that he’s late for the Heroes Day parade. As he’s leaving for the parade he finds that his kitchen is destroyed. Garvey doesn’t mention it to anyone at the parade. (Side note: The kitchen is traditionally perceived as the mother’s area within the home.) At the end of the episode, he once again almost runs over the buck but is able to stop. He gets out and they share a moment. “Were you in my house last night?” he asks the buck. A pack of dogs come running and begin tearing the buck to pieces. The shooter from earlier in the episode arrives, “Am I awake?” Garvey asks him. “You are now, aren’t you?” and they both empty their guns into the pack of wild dogs.
I’ve gone back and forth on this quite a bit. I think the dog was real. I think anything with the buck was a dream. Whenever he saw the buck, there was some type of lapse in time or miscommunication about when he needed to be somewhere. A few of my friends took the episode as all real but I feel like whenever a character has to ask “Am I awake?” he’s probably not. There’s really nothing I love more than an unreliable narrator (see Hannibal or Homeland). It adds an extra layer to the show’s complexity. Furthermore, towards the end of the episode when asked “where were you when it happened?” Garvey has a quick flashback to hot-and-heavy sex with someone who may or may not be his wife. If it isn’t his wife, who at this point we assume is one of the millions that have vanished, is his relentless guilt leading him on a dangerous downward spiral? Is the buck a symbol of his failed marriage?
I’ll be honest, The Leftovers had me at “From the creator of Friday Night Lights” but I never thought I’d see Dillon-alum Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland) as a congressman in the premiere episode. Congressman Witten pays Tom Garvey (Kevin Garney’s son, we learn this after he repeatedly ignores his father’s phone calls) to drive him to an undisclosed location to meet a mysterious holy-man named Wayne. When Tom (Chris Zylka) drops the politician off at a ranch (where FNL creator himself, Peter Berg, is one of the guards) it’s clear that they’re not in Mapleton, New York. The pool at the ranch is surrounded by young, bikini-clad Asian girls. We meet one of them, Christine, who seems to have a small crush on Tom. It’s clear that Wayne’s not a huge fan of their friendship and requests that Tom stay the night so he and Wayne can have a special meeting. Later, Wayne enters Tom’s room carrying a knife. He warns Tom to keep his hands off Christine and then shares his own dream in which he believes something bad is coming. “The grace period is over, Tom,” says Wayne. “Time to go to work.”
The teenage daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) is angry. During field hockey practice, she responds to basic rough play with a hard elbow throw, inevitably breaking the girl’s nose. Her coach let’s her off with a warning but not before asking if things are okay at home after what happened to her mother. Later, Jill and her friend Aimee convince Garvey to give them his car so they can go to a party. This is where things get interesting. At the party, they play a sadistic game of Spin the Bottle that includes options like Hug, Burn, Choke, and F—. Teenagers in a normal circumstance have little regard for their own mortality, post-October 14th they have even less. Why should they be concerned about consequences if God has supposedly already made His decisions? Jill gets stuck with Choke. She lays in bed with her partner, choking him as he masturbates while subtle tears fall down her face and Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” plays over the scene.
Later, Jill is trying to leave the party when she discovers the dead dog in the trunk (leading me to believe that this one part is real). With the help of some guys from earlier in the episode, she buries the dog. We learn that most pets have lost it, they don’t know how to deal with this type of disruption and have gone wild. One of the guys points out that the “same thing is going to happen to us. It’s just taking longer.”
Throughout the episode we are allowed to assume that the mother vanished on October 14th. It’s revealed towards the end of the episode that the matriarch of the Garvey family is actually Laurie (Amy Brenneman), an active member of GR. This means that she chose to leave her family and let’s face it, that’s so much worse. The GR aim to serve as living reminders of God’s power and that His judgement is upon us. They have taken a vow of silence, smoke a lot of cigarettes, and wear all white. They watch silently from a distance and protest any attempts to move past the events of October 14th. They are openly resented by the rest of the population.
We see Laurie in action as she stalks Meg (Liv Tyler) until Meg eventually retreats to the GR house like it’s a safe haven. I’ve gathered that Meg is a major character in the books, which I intend to read after Bittersweet, but she wasn’t very important for the pilot.
What did you think of The Leftovers? Was it too confusing? Were there not enough answers? Say we don’t find out why those people vanished, would you still watch? In other words, are the chaotic lives of these characters enough to bring you back every week? Let us know because we’ll be watching (but not in a creepy way like the GR).