Photo: Paul Schiraldi/HBO
After reading Tom Perotta’s The Leftovers, I thought the best way to add narrative tension to the already-fantastic setup and characters would be to pit the different cults against each other. That’s sort of what’s happening now, but only sort of. I was thinking political intrigue, like a post-Rapture Game of Thrones. What’s actually happening is far more interesting. There is a kind of War of the Cults happening, but it’s more of a hearts-and-minds war. Obviously there are casualties (sorry, Gladys; sorry, numberless feral dogs; sorry, nearly cremated Baby Jesus), but the question is now, as it has always been, one of how the world goes on after a tragedy so vast that it shakes the fundaments of human belief.
The Leftovers is painting the whole spectrum of possible responses. There are people like the Guilty Remnant, who essentially stopped living on October 14 and think everyone else should have, too. There are people who have doubled down on their faith, like Matt Jamison: Try to shake my belief, they seem to say, and I’ll clutch it all the more tightly. There are crass opportunists (like Holy Wayne), people who really want to believe in something but can’t quite swing it (like Tom), and people who turn inward, sometimes self-destructing and sometimes managing to step back from the brink (like Nora). Then you’ve got everyone else, stumbling around in the middle, just trying to make it through: like Jill, like Aimee, like the Mayor, like the Chief.
If this is the case, though — if what we’re meant to see is the full rainbow of human grief and terror and belief — what does it mean that the Chief, our Everyman, is working what might be the most nihilistic angle in the show, and working it so secretly that even he doesn’t know what’s going on? And where the hell is the guy going to go from here?
At the start of the episode, everybody’s got a big night ahead of them. The Chief’s night involves a dead chicken and dinner with his girlfriend and daughter, which goes as well as you’d expect given Jill’s sunny disposition. Afterward, he falls asleep. When he wakes up in unfamiliar surroundings, I expected yet another dream sequence, but it turns out the Chief is very, very awake. And he has been for some time, although he doesn’t remember it: long enough to meet Black Truck Guy at the bar, kidnap Patti with Black Truck Guy and drive her to an abandoned cabin and tape her to a chair. Judging from the official Mapleton PD uniform shirts tacked to nearby trees, it’s not his first trip to the cabin in recent months. As far as Black Truck Guy knows, he and the Chief are buddies. They hang out. Grab some beers. Catch dogs. Abduct cultists. You know, like you do.
The Chief remembers none of this, except in fragments. It would appear that there are actually two Chiefs in that tattooed skin, and one of them has been hiding from the other — and from us. Other Chief wants to kill Patti, and we can’t entirely blame him. But Our Chief doesn’t want to, because he’s essentially a good person. It’s tempting to compare the dogs to the GRs, especially since the Feds did exactly that after Gladys’s death, but it doesn’t quite follow. In the premiere, it was Our Chief who eventually agreed that there was no hope for the feral dogs; they had to be put down, and so, weeping and devastated, he shot them. It was the Other Chief, though, who bet BTG that the dog in the Garvey’s backyard could be rehabilitated. Our Chief will shoot the dogs if he needs to, but wants to save the people; the Other Chief doesn’t think the dogs need to be shot, but thinks the people should be disposed of. People clearly aren’t dogs, but there’s something interesting here: It’s hard to say one is entirely good and the other is entirely evil. The two-Chief thing is the kind of device that could work brilliantly and could completely tank. It feels good so far. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Then there’s Patti herself, who, at the end of the episode, pleads with the Chief to kill her, even absolves him of it. Quotes Yeats at him, for God’s sake: “He Bids His Beloved Be at Peace.” Except the Chief sure isn’t Patti’s beloved, is he? And Patti has one hell of an agenda. Peace seems like it would be a mistake, here.
Patti and the Guilty Remnant
This episode was probably the most sympathetic we’ve ever seen Patti: lovingly laying out clothes for what promises to be the most ghoulish Memorial Day picnic ever, sucking at the inside of a plastic bag as she suffocates, weeping as she argues with the Chief at the end. For the first time, we get a coherent picture of the Guilty Remnant’s philosophy (basically: how dare you move on). All well and good, but I’m with the Chief here. Her speech at the end strikes me as the worst kind of double talk, the kind that almost makes sense until you stop and actually think about it. And don’t tell me Gladys was okay with being stoned to death. I saw Gladys die. I heard her begging for her life. As Patti, Ann Dowd oozes disturbing levels of serenity and satisfaction, even as she dies at her own hand. So RIP, Patti; I’m glad you never bought the house across the street from me, but you were a kick-ass character, repulsive, disturbing, and unforgettable.
Meanwhile, back at the cul-de-sac, Meg goes off the rails when Matt shows up with her face on a flier, and finally, we learn a little bit about her, too. Her mother died on October 13, one day before the disappearances; we don’t know when Laurie learned that the Chief was cheating on her, but (based on his association of his infidelity with her joining the GR) it would seem that it was around the same time. Matt’s right: both of these people were cheated out of their grief, so maybe it makes sense for the two of them to end up living for nothing but grief. After all of her conflict in past episodes, Laurie has clearly found her niche. It’s hard to know what to make of that exchange between her and Patti in the beginning; Patti asks if she’s ready and Laurie says she is, but for what? Laurie’s death, which Patti tells the Chief is on its way? Patti’s own death and Laurie’s ascension to the Great Office Chair of Creepiness? Or were they simply talking about the Memorial Day Picnic of Horror, which from all evidence seems to involve the pictures the GR stole at Christmas, Matt’s church, and a whole bunch of black-market Loved Ones? Whatever it is, Laurie does, indeed, seem ready.
Meg: not so much. Meg wants to go to war, and I wouldn’t be shocked if, in future episodes, she pushes the GR to do just that. She and Patti, by the way, both share a blood-spattered left shoulder in this episode, and I’m willing to bet that if we went back a few episodes, Gladys would, too. Apparently, in the GRs, once you’re stained with actual blood, you suddenly gain the ability to speak.
And then there’s Jill Garvey. Surly, stunned-looking Jill Garvey, who drives away the only truly sympathetic ear she has when she accuses Aimee of getting it on with the Chief. We’ve all wondered; Aimee has been lurking around the house in occasionally skimpy jammies for the entire season, and the Chief is clearly uncomfortable around her. After a moment of stunned silence, Aimee claims she has, but I don’t buy it for a second. I haven’t given Aimee much space here because there’s so much else to cover, and she’s mostly just served as Jill’s own personal Greek chorus, but let’s give Emily Meade all due credit here: She kills that speech. Still snarky, still Aimee — but so wounded and blindsided.
Jill ends up walking in the door of the Guilty Remnant HQ, which, in retrospect, she was being pushed to do from the beginning. The whole GR philosophy is that we cannot possibly move on; Jill, too, cannot possibly move on. She’s been stuck and alone, and now she’s stuck in a crowd. Plus she has her mom again. A person could almost feel happy for her. Almost.
- The news clip Meg is watching on TV before Laurie turns it off is about an empty mass grave, a “miraculous resurrection.” The Leftovers was just renewed for a second season; are we seeing shades of things to come?
- Also in the miraculous-event department, Matt’s wife makes some very deliberate movements as the Meg and Laurie leave the house. Nobody reacts, so it might be nothing, but we’ve never seen her move before.