The Leftovers s2 ep 4

imageBack to Jarden this week, and it’s still the night that Evie disappeared, only this time we’re in the Garvey house; an earthquake hits, Nora realises Kevin is missing and Evie is gone and is suddenly confronted with the terrible, unbearable possibility that the Departure happened again.

It’s worth noting that The Leftovers cast in general is terrific but Carrie Coon’s portrayal of Nora, facing, in that moment, the abyss of unimaginable pain and grief that would be going through that loss again, is astonishing. Unbearable, unfathomable devastation radiates from every cell of her being, and, even afterwards, when she realises that Kevin has not gone, the damage lingers, infecting everything she does and feels.

She’s right to be terrified, though. Kevin may not have Departed, but he’s far from safe, whether the danger is coming from the frighteningly unstable John, the increasingly troubling townsfolk or Kevin himself.

Do we need Patti around as a sort of Evil Jiminy Cricket, keeping Kevin and the audience in on those dangers? I’m undecided on that. It’s certainly a useful, satisfyingly unnerving way to provide some speedy answers – especially since poor Damon “Lost” Lindelof has had to put up with so much (unjustified, in my view) criticism in the past for “letting the mystery be” – and it does mean hanging on to the incredible Ann Dowd for a lot longer than the end of season one might have suggested. But I’m not sure how much more pain the Garveys can handle: I’d really like the story to cut Kevin a break before he destroys himself and Nora with him, and being haunted by the Rickrolling ghost of his nemesis is not going to help with that.

Not that it’s meant to, of course. Dowd and Justin Theroux’s scenes together are powerful, ominous and unsettling, much like everything else about The Leftovers. This is a programme where the sense of doom hanging over everything is so strong that even miracles – Mary’s brief awakening, the Miracle town itself – seem sinister and scary. Which is as it should be. “Orange Sticker” was another superb episode of a show I cannot praise highly enough, but nobody’s watching it for the LOLZ, are they?


The Leftovers s2 ep 3

imageHaving previously checked in on the rest of the Garveys, this week’s Leftovers focusses on Laurie and Tom, who turn out to be running some sort of guerilla cult deprogramming team out of an office building.

Their scheme is simple, if dangerous: Tom infiltrates chapters of the Guilty Remnant, persuades one member to leave with him each time and brings that person to Laurie and her Remnants Anonymous group to be rehabilitated.

It’s a plan so fraught with peril on a number of levels, however, it’s practically a suicide mission. Yes, Tom is initially successful in extracting a number of people, but – never mind the danger of getting caught – he’s also just out of a cult himself and visibly vulnerable to the lure of the “answers” they provide, whether their currency is hugs or cigarettes, casual clothes or white pyjamas. On one view, it’s surprising that Laurie is prepared to risk her son’s precarious mental health like this, but then Laurie herself is profoundly damaged too, and clearly desperate to atone for what she did last season, whether it’s through her confessional book, her letter to Jill or her Remnant Rescue programme.

Without getting into too much of the detail, then, Tom is, of course, rumbled by the Remnant, Laurie’s counselling sessions aren’t as successful as she thinks, and, eventually, rather than a cure, it seems like everybody’s just going to be swapping one cult for another.

Even by Leftovers’ standards, it’s a startlingly dark, quiet yet brutal episode. The dialogue and music are relatively sparse, with much of the episode soundtracked by an insistent, fantastically effective drum solo. There are a number of deeply upsetting scenes, which are both sensitively handled and completely devastating. And the ending is as bleak and tragic, albeit in a different way, as the beginning. “Off Ramp” is difficult and harrowing to watch, but, if you can put yourself through it, it’s also incredibly powerful, terrific tv.

The Leftovers s2 ep 2

imageAfter last week’s jump into the heart of a new story, this week’s Leftovers was a much more straightforward return to the tail end of the old one, as we headed back to the end of last season to find out What Kevin (and, to a lesser extent, Nora and Jill) Did Next.

For those who like their answers, there were a lot of them: characters confessed things to each other, we found out who knew what and when, and a couple of hugely significant loose ends were tied up – in as much as anything can be tied up on this show – in a way that might have been somewhat pat (Lois the ATFEC lady and Jill the formerly troubled teen both seemed bizarrely relaxed about some crazy stuff) but worked well enough within the storyline to be forgiven. After all, as Kevin’s dad pointed out, “the laws of f*****g nature seem a bit upside down of late;” I suppose that three years after 2% of the world’s population has vanished without trace or explanation, the people left behind inevitably become slightly harder to shock.

For those of us who like their questions, meanwhile, there was a whole host of them to be going on with: WTF happened to Evie and the lake? How/Why did Kevin get there? And is REDACTED going to be as annoying in death as s/he was in life?

Because this is one of the smartest shows on TV, meanwhile, there was also a skilful, seamless, segue back into the events of last week, some pertinent, compassionate subtext on migration, the usual unnerving atmosphere and a little bit of black humour to leaven the mix. Less startling but more accessible than last week’s, “A Matter of Geography” wasn’t the best The Leftovers can do, but it was still very good indeed.

The Leftovers s2 ep 1

The Leftovers has always refused to be easily categorised or even easily followed – before I watched this new season-opener, I was saying to Jed I’d deliberately put it off till the weekend because it required too much concentration to be school night tv. Season 1 was brave, provocative and defiantly, uncompromisingly slow to get where it wanted to go and tell the story it wanted to tell. Having got there, however, (and rewarded the small band of viewers who stuck with it with some of the best tv of the year in the process), season 2 seems determined to go somewhere entirely different, in just as unsettling and challenging a way.

On one view, the current trend towards “anthology” tv shows like True Detective or American Horror Story, where a different cast tell a different story each season (either to keep things fresh, secure big-time movie actors for limited time tv projects or manipulate Emmy categories, depending on your point of view) makes this a good time for changing things up in sophomore seasons, even for non-anthology tv. But it still takes a special kind of confidence and courage, especially in a show that already demands a lot of attention and commitment from its audience, to essentially start all over again, both story and character-wise, and expect them to stay with you.

The jaunty, but unnervingly apt new titles and opening theme – “Some say once you’re gone, you’re gone forever; some say you’ll never come back” – are in themselves statements of intent. I’ve heard that some people gave up on The Leftovers because they thought “it’ll never explain what happened.” Of course it won’t. Nor should it. The whole point – at least of season 1 – was the not knowing, and how that affected people. As the new song says, “Think I’ll just let the mystery be.” And the new season, based on this first ep, seems to be saying “and introduce a completely new side of it, while I’m here.”

We start, bizarrely, what looks like thousands of years ago, with a loincloth-clad woman having a very difficult night. There’s no dialogue, only music and cries or screams for this first, extremely tense, deeply upsetting vignette; a story within a story, the exact meaning of which may be straightforward (this is a place where earthquakes have always been common!) or more symbolic (babies, chosen ones, miracles, what have you), who knows. That will be up to each individual viewer to interpret for themselves.

Once the cavewoman’s tale is told, we slide into modern times and the town of “Miracle, Texas. Pop: 9,261. Departures: Zero.” While the rest of the world is wounded and bewildered by its losses, Miracle is supremely smug about its lack thereof; as well as the religious/commercial aspect (modern-day pilgrims being bussed in, looking to buy miracles of their own), I was struck by the joyful schadenfreude of the school choir singing about how their purity of heart had saved them from the pain of the Departure.

But it’s clear from the second we get there that Miracle isn’t actually as pure or as joyful as all that; something very, very sinister is going on and the terrible, palpable feeling that “something bad is going to happen,” if I can quote local clairvoyant Isaac, is unshakeable throughout the entire ep.

We focus initially on an affectionate, apparently happy African-American family – Nurse Kira, Fire chief John and their teenage kids – but, even in their daily lives, there are a number of quick, sometimes mundane, nonetheless unsettling little touches that kept this viewer at least in a perpetual state of fear and tension. The Tell-Tale Heart-like chirping cricket, the father who can never wake up on his own, the naked running (there’s a lot of random nudity for what is an entirely sex-free episode) through the woods…. it’s all so disquieting that we spend every single scene waiting for catastrophe, whether it ultimately materialises or not, and the fact it takes a good forty minutes for anyone we recognise from last season to show up just adds to the atmosphere of profound unease.

I could be sitting here for days trying to unpick the layers of religious and philosophical symbolism packed into the ep, but I doubt I’d manage the half of it. I’m still trying to work out whether I actually enjoyed it or not, never mind what it all means. It was intriguing, certainly. Mesmerising, frightening and – I keep coming back to this – very brave. This ep won’t win The Leftovers any new fans, but will it repel some of the old ones? Maybe some. But I’ll be back on the edge of my seat next week, and we’ll see where we go from there.

Public Service Announcement 47 of 2015: The Leftovers

A quick reminder for UK fans of Damon Lindelof’s latest US drama The Leftovers: the show returns to Sky Atlantic for its second season this Monday (5th) at 10pm – ie just one day after its US return, so well done Sky Atlantic. Season one wasn’t for everyone, of course, and, in fairness, I can see why its slow pace and deeply melancholy tone turned some people off. I thought it was absolutely terrific, though, so I’ll be watching and reviewing each ep and doing my best not to ponder my own mortality / throw myself from a great height as I go.

The Leftovers s1 ep 10

imageWe begin with Kevin, still in Cairo, calling for help from an unexpected source, which leads (in a week peppered with them) to a completely bizarre yet sort of funny dream sequence. The writers of this show have a macabre sense of humour, further evidenced by an even more bizarre (non-dream-sequence) encounter Kevin has at a rest stop on the way home.

The Chief – a stunning performance from Justin Theroux, by the way – isn’t the only Prodigal Son on the road, meanwhile; Tommy and Christine and the baby are travelling too, with an air of impending doom hanging over them from the second we see them.

On the sliding scale of impending doom, however, both Kevin and Tommy fall some way below what is about to befall Mapleton and its residents at the hands of both the Guilty Remnant and themselves. I thought we’d already seen the worst the Remnant could do to the townsfolk, but I was clearly deluded: this week, they do something so incredibly, horrendously, repugnantly cruel that it leaves Nora in pieces and me aghast. The consequences, meanwhile, bear out Kevin’s warnings all those weeks ago as…. well, that would be telling. Suffice to say that, after last week’s disappointing (for me, anyway) extended flashback episode, “The Prodigal Son Returns” takes us back to the present-day for a finale as shocking, painful and explosive as it is brilliant.

I thought this was absolutely magnificent: an incredible end to what has been a fiercely intelligent, brave and powerful first season, exploring the unfathomable pain of loss and the terrible pain people can inflict on each other in trying to cope with it. It’s definitely a niche taste but since episode 1, The Leftovers has utterly captivated me with its combination of compassion, wit and stunning imagery; just as one would expect from showrunner Damon Lindelof, there are echoes of Lost in its style and religious texts in its story-telling, but the combination is like nothing else on tv. I can’t wait to see what season 2 brings.

The Leftovers s1 ep 9

imageTaking us back to the few days leading up to the Departure, “The Garveys At Their Best” starts off as a chance for us to see Kevin, Laurie, Nora and everyone else in what seem to be happier, saner times before slowly peeling back the layers to reveal deep unease and discontent brewing underneath. Yes, everything seems perfect at first glance but, even before the Departure, as the episode wears on it becomes clear to us that everything isn’t. And then, everything goes to hell in a handcart.

For those perpetually searching for answers in their tv shows, there are masses of them: where Kevin was on the day, what Laurie’s secret was (the most powerful part of the episode for me), what was going on with Tommy …. and so on and so forth. Just about every Mapleton resident we’ve met is woven skilfully into what is a beautifully-plotted, gorgeously shot and wonderfully-acted backstory; there’s no denying the intelligence and craftsmanship that has gone into this episode. It’s unfortunate then that most of it is so epically boring.

I absolutely love The Leftovers and I enjoy a few judicious flashbacks here and there to fill in the backstory, but a whole episode spent in the past at this stage is a whole episode wasted, as far as I’m concerned: I want to know what’s going to happen to the characters we know now, not spend ages hanging out with the characters they used to be. I enjoyed the last 15 minutes or so, I appreciate why they chose to tell this part of the story this way, I can even admire the courage and skill behind it, but I’d rather they didn’t do it again. Back to the future for the finale next week, please.