By Jared Jones
It’s a testament to The Leftovers – or perhaps the skills of Mimi Leder, who directed last night’s episode, “Gladys” — that the show can still make me feel bad for a person who refused to help a fallen stranger when she is brutally stoned to death mere moments after doing so. Karmatic comeuppance* is my jam, yo, and toss in the somewhat Biblical twofer that Gladys a.k.a Cathy Geiss from 30 Rock met her demise via a good old fashioned stoning, and you’d typically have my bell ringing louder than a morbidly obese opsophagos at a Long John Silvers (Author’s note: Dennis Miller has been crashing at my place all week and sometimes hijacks my computer. I am sorry.).
Rather than fill me with the sardonic joy of Daria on a two-day pleasure cruise through Transylvania (God damn you, Dennis!), however, last night’s opening sequence somehow made me, an emotionless drone of a human that the Guilty Remnant would probably aspire to be, feel something. I don’t know if it was guilt or sorrow or plain anger, but it was something and I honestly resent The Leftovers for making me feel it.
Gladys’ untimely death, horrific as it may have been, was arguably the high point of the season in terms of levity for HBO’s The Leftovers, a show so goddamn dark and depressing that I often find myself wandering through a Hot Topic in search for a pick-me-up in the days after watching it. At the center of all this gloom and doom lies Sheriff Kevin Garvey, who in addition to dealing with an awol wife and a rebellious daughter ripped straight out of a sitcom starring Charlie Sheen, now has to deal with uproarious/murderous townsfolk, secretive “Feds” attempting to eliminate the GR entirely, and either incompetent or plain deceitful dry cleaners.
Even his name sounds depressing. Garvey. As in “Garvey, go fish that dead baby out of the river, will you?”
Beyond our initial reaction/revulsion, the mystery over who killed Gladys Geiss should serve as a compelling turn of events, I suppose. Except that, as Liv Tyler‘s character stated after discovering her body, it was only “a matter of time” before one of the cultists wound up dead. The Guilty Remnant has given us less than zero reasons to care about whether its members live or die, and even less insight into what exactly the cult’s endgame is. Other than “to feel nothing”, which I assume is a classic Lindelofian nod to the masochists like myself who actually watch this show. In either case, watching Gladys’ body engulfed by flames at the episode’s end did not register nearly as much as it probably should have. Bitch be dead. Nothing to see here, folks.
Actually, given the GR’s “feel nothing” agenda, it would be no stretch of the imagination to declare that Gladys was just as likely killed by some of her fellow GR members than by the angered townsfolk whose family photos the GR stole in last week’s episode. Pattis interaction with Gladys in the opening scene of the episode, in addition to her well-documented pattern of underhandedness, only reinforce this theory.
But back to Sheriff Garvey: Retriever of Waterlogged Dead Children. You see, ol’ Garvey is hoping that the people of Mapleton don’t declare an open season on the members of the GR, with his wife/soon to be ex-wife being one of them and all, so he tries to impose a curfew, to which the townspeople declare a unanimous “But, ‘Merica!” and overrule him. This upsets Kevin, who has himself fallen into such a deep depression that he completely forgets what to do when a pretty lady (Carrie Coon/”Nora Durst”) is obviously flirting with him at the dry cleaners. Or when his daughter’s pretty friend (Emily Meade/”Aimee”) entices him with the promises of pancakes in her smallest nighty.
Kevin’s game is undeniably weak, ye, which might be why his wife left him in the first place. Too soon? That was probably too soon.
Here’s my problem with The Leftovers, a show I have until now attempted to recap with 100% earnesty and seriousness: I don’t see how all the pieces are coming together, or more importantly, why they are. As with Lost, a show that will forever be used as a barometer for Lindelof’s works to come after it, I don’t know whether to place any emotional or intellectual investment in things like the ambiguity of the GR’s cause, or the absence of Kevin’s shirts, or the significance of Kevin’s repeated “Stop Short” moments in his car**, or just write them off as another Lindelofian thing that will be hinted at repeatedly but never actually resolved. My masochism has its limits, and Lindelof has pushed me beyond them before only to punish me for my loyalty. I should probably be praising his sadism, now that I think about it.
And just like with Lost, The Leftovers is too busy creating new mysteries to even attempt and resolve the old ones that have been compelling the narrative thus far. Old ones like: What is driving Liv Tyler’s character? Why are the GR members allowed to take “a day off?” Who is Dean the Dog Killer, and what is his place within Mapleton? How can Laurie be so empathetic one moment and unfeeling the next? How many times must we see Kevin violently jarred from his sleep to understand that he is not sleeping well? I call this American Horror Story Syndrome, and after a certain point, no amount of “Oh Shit!” moments can possibly do the buildup justice.
If this is all sounding incredibly cynical, it’s only because that’s precisely the mood that The Leftovers seems to want to extract from its audience (“We *are* the
99% Guilty Remnant!”). But as with every episode of the show thus far, “Gladys” was not without its fair share of well-captured moments. From Reverend Matt’s story about wanting to “bring the GR back to life” to the heartbreaking moment between Kevin and his daughter, there’s no denying The Leftovers ability to captivate when it needs to. If everything else about the show wasn’t wrapped in such obvious allegory and simultaneously confounding plotting, it’d be much a less tasking viewing experience.
By episode’s end, Laurie, Kevin, and the audience have been put through the emotional ringer. The former resisted the temptation to give into useless “emotion” and likely propelled herself into Gladys’ no. 2 position with the Guilt Remnant for doing so (no idea if she was actually involved in Gladys’ death, though). The latter has finally accepted that his wife is never coming back, and likely stole a bunch of people’s shirts because he is an occasionally (often) drunk asshole.
And yet, I am still intrigued. And yet, out of some diluted sense of loyalty, I still want to know what will happen to this group of mostly unsympathetic a-holes. Once again, I must give daps to The Leftovers for making me care whose particular a-hole it is and why it’s farting (to loosely borrow a phrase from a much smarter man than myself), despite their blatant insistence that I shouldn’t. It breeds the kind of masochistic viewing tendencies that I thought only reality television could.
*New band name, called it.
**For those keeping track, those have happened as Kevin was saying “God Damn it!” and “funeral” so far.