While the first hour of The Leftovers was a portrait of grief and confusion for a population whose ranks has disappeared (by 2%), “Penguin One, Us Zero” really amped things up in the supernatural department. This idea of “more mystery, and how!” was initially a worrisome thought, because the show seemed more powerful without it. But this second hour improved over the first, setting up plenty of conflict — both internal and external — to keep The Leftovers from going stale. Hit the jump for how I promise not to use any more puns (maybe).
The meta-theme of The Leftovers so far seems to be finding one’s place in the world — an existential crisis made very real and pertinent in the wake of The Sudden Departure. Regardless of where those who were taken went (to somewhere blissful, or to an alien holding cell), the question remains for those left behind: why not us? And because not us, what now?
The pilot answered that question through the lens of the Garveys: showing disaffection (Jill), anger (Kevin), the desire for meaning in hope (Tom) and in despair (Laurie). “Penguin One, Us Zero” expanded on each of these, particularly Kevin, in regards to place. For him, he’s stepping into his father’s shoes in more than one way: the job as Chief of Police is his, but so is a crackling in his mind. Is he losing it, like his father who resides in a care facility, or are they both vessels by which something other — something connected to the Departure — is trying to communicate? It’s left Kevin on the outs with everyone, none of whom either believe him (his co-workers) or care (his family).
There was a little more time spent, and a little more explanation of, the cult (“not a cult!”) that Laurie has joined, known as The Remnant. They wish to be reminders of the departed, but their personal motivations aren’t known. And why were they targeting Meg, and why is she going along with them? These are questions the show needs to answer, but it also knows that when it does, it will lose steam (which it cannot afford to at this point). But the problem is, the overwhelming amount of mystery occasionally becomes farce because of the show’s dedication to its own solemnity.
It’s also a problem with how seriously the series takes Holy Wayne, and Tom’s connection to him. The raid on the compound showed that the government has zero patience when it comes to these cults and holy men, especially those who have weapons and possible sex charges against them. That is an interesting take on the proliferation of cults, but Wayne kissing the dead point man (“he would never let me do that in life”) and asking Tom if he’ll allow him to “suck the poison” out of him can’t really be meant to be observed without some hint of comedic beat, right?
The opposite problem is true with Jill, who — along with friend Aimee — sulks around and stalks a woman named Nora Durst, who has lost her entire family, getting the help school friends Adam and Scott Frost and their Prius to do so. What happens with Jill, and particularly Aimee, plays like comic relief, but it’s not particularly funny. Their teenaged disillusion is turned to 11, without introspection or finesse. The only moment that resonated at all was when Aimee, who stole Nora’s bag of jellybeans from her car, ate one and said it was stale. “They were probably for her kids,” Jill points out, suggesting the beans had been in there for several years since the disappearance. For a moment Jill looks a little sick, but is it because she understands the meaning of her actions, or because she realized those were just really stale jellies?
It almost doesn’t matter. The Leftovers still has a lot to overcome in terms of tone and pacing, and while it has provided a great premise, the execution has been lacking. We’re supposed to get immersed with the Garveys, but there hasn’t really been a reason to yet. The show exists only in the every-propelling present (three weeks pass just between the first and second episode), but no one is looking back in a way that explains things for viewers, which is important since the past clearly weighs so heavily on every single character. There’s only so long that the show can continue to make us want to know more, because the desire will end. Before we can search for this show’s place in our personal TV canon, we need a why.
Episode Rating: B-ish
Musings and Miscellanea:
— My reaction to this show confuses me. I don’t necessarily like it, but it sticks with me throughout the week (a rarity).
— There needs to be more of Holy Wayne, if only to showcase Paterson Joseph, who is awesome (Peep Show fans, unite!)
— Unintentionally funny moments: Meg’s attempts at chopping that tree, the amount of paper wasted by the Remnant, and:
— The funniest thing that has ever happened on the show was when Kevin’s bagels disappeared. (I was waiting for the announcement: “2% of all bagels have disappeared worldwide!!”) And then it literally became a plot point that was probably meant to be metaphorical about how the people aren’t really gone, they’re just stuck somewhere getting burned up. Or something. We need more drills.
— After all of the disbelief regarding “the Mystery Man,” you would think Kevin would ask his daughter to comment on and reassure him that this man is indeed real. At least, his truck and his beer are. And his hatred of dogs.
— So happy that Meg said to Laurie, “your husband is the hot cop? What are you doing here?” Amen, sis!
— Why is Aimee so obsessed with moisturizer? Did it stop production after 2% of the population left? Is there a moisturizer shortage? Or do you just get really dry and then turn to dust / disappear? (/sarcasm)
— Perfect Strangers playing in the background during the conversation between the Kevins made me like the show just that much more. (/genuine)
— So Christine is somehow “special” to Wayne, because she has powers. Why did Tom freak out? Because he killed someone, then gets stuck with a dead car and a magical girl?
— Apparently when people go to the cult, they don’t bother telling anybody. Kevin seems to find a lot of missing persons there.
— The questions for departure benefits really were bizarre, and it would be interesting to to know what the connection is.