A Conversation about The Leftovers

The Leftovers, the new show from HBO by Damon Lindelof (Lost), was one of the most anticipated shows of this summer season. The show about the consequences in a small town of the disappearance of 2% of the population debuted last Monday, did it fulfill our expectations? Let’s have a chat about it!

J. First things first: that felt like a really long episode. One hour and ten minutes that kept revolving around one single event (the unveiling of a statute in honor of those lost in the rapture and the demonstration by a cult of smoking mutes) that wasn’t as climatic as promised didn’t do any favors to the opening of this series. Perhaps because, in an attempt of making everything extremely mysterious, The Leftovers didn’t offer us any motivations behind the creation of this ridiculous intriguing cult nor the hatred from the rest of the town towards them. In fact, the whole we-prefer-to-smoke-than-to-talk plot struck me as a cheap way of making explicit something implicit in, for me the best sequence of the pilot, the teenage party in which we see them playing an extreme version of spin the bottle: three years after the incident the world has turned more nihilistic, existentialist, due to this new burden, the acknowledgement, more real than ever, of the fact that you can disappear, cease to exist, in any moment. Good stories show, don’t tell.

T.H.Q. Almost every time an episode is constructed around a single scene this feeling of heaviness appears, even more when this scene turns out to be disappointing because of its predictable content. There’s only one point that makes it worth it: the presence of The Guilty Remnant. Although we don’t know much about the intricacies behind this organization, it is unquestionable the visual force the scenes that features them posses. The image of Laurie Garvey (Amy Brenneman) observing Meg Abbott (Liv Tyler) while she smokes with her partner is an iconography maker. The same way the Black Smoke in Lost or the Observers in Fringe crystalized the show’s essence, this scene captures and transforms the existentialism that every sequence of The Leftovers breaths into a television icon (a new one in that pantheon every seriephile loves). However, not all the inventions of this series are as fresh, we can also find some avoidable clichés: the deer in the middle of the road, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) breaking the family portrait, his daughter (Margaret Qualley) reconstructing it, his other son (Chris Zylka) screaming under the water for unknown reasons (in what seems to be a second cult)… How many times have we seen similar situations?

J. Talking about Chris Zylka’s character, Tom Garvey’s scene (let’s not discuss the hot Asian chicks in bikini essential for the cult leader…) is the perfect example of The Leftovers‘ failure: we don’t really know yet what’s going on with him to present us with a slow motion, heavily dramatized screaming session in the pool. The fact that we can’t hear his cry reflects how little we care about it. The same happens with Liv Tyler’s character who changes too fast/too soon in the course of one episode: from planning her wedding to joining The Guilty Remnant, with, again, zero explained motivation. Even the starting point of the show, the disappearance, comes too late in the game with already too many shows dealing, metaphorically, with the dangers of the post 9/11. But let’s focus now on the good parts: acting is strong (specially from the newcomer Qualley), the teen characters look as properly fucked up as we could expect in this nihilistic universe, and the use of flashbacks, not as analogies as in Lindelof’s Lost but as brief and shocking footnotes of a novel that gives us (finally) some understanding of these characters, is refreshing.

T.H.Q. The episode, running longer than one hour, doesn’t know how to take advantage of its extension and puts, as you say, characters we don’t care about in extreme situations: Tom Garvey in the pool, the stray dogs… and also the teenagers. It is true that they reflect indirectly what The Guilty Remnants turn into an icon, but was that tear, while she chokes his party companion, necessary?, and the love triangle? Again we run into situations that, although valuable, miss the mark due to a precipitated narrative. Meanwhile, Liv Tyler’s character turns out to be more empathic to the audience exactly because of how little we know about her. Unlike the Garveys (victims of their nihilistic context and a mother that abandoned them to join a cult), she promises us some depth of character, layers, in a past relation with The Guilty Remnant that we still can’t catch a glimpse of. That’s the reason why her changes are questions to ask and not forced movements that we don’t relate to. Although it’s very possible The Leftovers won’t make us enjoy within a temporal labyrinth of conspiracies and cliffhangers as Lost did, it can go a step forward in the portrayal of the melancholic state of the contemporary being, a feeling of loss over what we never had: the control of our lives.

J. and The Homecoming Queen.

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