Review: Liv Tyler makes a terrifying impression on this week's 'Leftovers'
A review of tonight's "The Leftovers" coming up just as soon as my mom's in space...
"You are the most relentless person I've ever known. When you have a cause, there's no stopping you." -Jane
I'm not sure which is the more surprising aspect of "Ten Thirteen" (the title refers to the date on which it climaxes, which is also the anniversary of when Meg's mother Jane died): that Evie and her friends are not only still alive, but members of Meg's militant Guilty Remnant offshoot; or that the show stealthily turned Liv Tyler as Meg into a terrifying big bad when we weren't paying attention.
Let's take Meg first, since so many parts of this episode — all of its best parts, in fact — are told from her point of view. There were certainly hints late last year — particularly in her response to the incident that Matt very foolishly(*) reminds her of when they reunite at the camp outside Jarden — that Meg was just using the Remnant as an outlet to vent her rage at the world. And her only prior appearance this season involved her raping Tommy (more on that in a bit) and threatening to set him on fire, just to send a message to Laurie. So it doesn't feel like a twist out of left field to have her be so villainous. And her plot against Jarden gives season 2 a satisfying bit of symmetry against season 1, which also climaxed with a Guilty Remnant stunt with tragic consequences.
(*) I fear this will be yet another example of Matt suffering greatly for trying to play Good Samaritan, since you could see the evil gears in Meg's mind turning once he brought up that incident.
Still, even with the memory of her last encounter with Tommy relatively fresh in my mind, I wasn't prepared for the full and monstrous fury of Meg that was unleashed in this episode.
Liv Tyler's never struck me as a bad actress, but nor has she ever had a role that's allowed her to seem so incredibly, monstrously alive as she is in this episode. When Meg smiled upon learning that the Garveys had relocated to Jarden, it was such a disturbing sight that my notes for the scene read, "NEVER LET LIV TYLER SMILE AGAIN, SHOW. PLEASE." Tyler tore into Meg's vengeful insanity with all her might, and it was a wonder to behold, especially since I didn't imagine she had it in her. This is absolutely a woman who could toss a dummy grenade into a school bus filled with screaming, petrified children just because she can, and one with the willpower and plain meanness to try to ruin the one place on Earth that was left untouched by the Sudden Departure, just because she's resentful that anyone, anywhere, could still feel safe.
Season 1 suggested Meg had been a perfectly normal woman whose life began to unravel when the Sudden Departure robbed her of the opportunity to properly mourn her mother's death, but "Ten Thirteen" reveals things to be more complicated than that. Our first glimpse of Meg is her snorting cocaine just to get through a lunch with said mother (played by the great Betty Buckley), and even when she and her husband make a pilgrimage to Jarden in the early months of Miracle National Park's existence, there's something off about her. The Guilty Remnant may have pushed her over the edge, but there was already something dark and resentful brewing inside her, just as there was in Patti back when she was just Laurie's patient.
Tyler was so potent, in fact, and Meg's break from traditional Guilty Remnant doctrine yet another great example of the series functioning as allegory for the early days of so many religions from our reality, that it was kind of a drag when Tommy got folded into things. I knew it was coming, because Laurie's appearances in recent episodes alluded to their falling-out and his involvement with Meg, and on some level Tommy is a necessary tool to bring all of the show's characters to Jarden at the same time, as well as to be the audience's surrogate for the discovery of Evie and her friends in that Airstream trailer. But he's always been a fuzzily-designed character, and he seemed particularly bland and confused when placed next to this electric and focused new incarnation of Meg. We know he feels lost, but how much of a sap do you have to be to not only follow the woman who raped you and nearly set you on fire, but want to stay with her after you see her order an innocent man be stoned to death?
As to the rape, Damon Lindelof described that scene from "Off Ramp" to me as "non-consensual sex," adding, "I think that what the audience decides to call what happens between Meg and Tom, I have no control over what they call it. And I don’t think that the show is particularly interested in how it gets defined." Which is fair. And Tommy is so damaged, and exists in such a strange and fractured world, that I can understand his interpretation of that incident being different than if he were a healthier individual living on our planet. Still, hearing him repeatedly ask Meg "Why'd you fuck me?" just seemed more of a distraction from the scene than seemed worth the bother, even if Meg's eventual, gender-flipped explanation — "I wanted to get you pregnant" — lent an additional layer of insanity to both that scene and her character as a whole. This felt like tricky territory the show was entering back in "Off Ramp," when Tommy switched from protesting to participating midway through the experience, and it seemed even trickier and unsettling — and perhaps not entirely in the way intended — here.
As for Evie and her friends not only still being alive, but as tools in Meg's plan (presumably, as Jarden residents, they can get the trailer past the barricade), that's also something that the show's not cheating at. As many of you have observed, there was a very weird, almost calculated, dissonance between how the girls behaved in the premiere when other people were around versus how they acted when it was just the three of them. When they're at the lake, for instance, they're laughing and mock flirting with the scientist, but as soon as they get in the car to drive home, they're silent and stone-faced — in hindsight, very Remnant-like demeanor. (I'm still not sure where their naked run through the woods fits in, but perhaps that will be explained in the finale.) The season has always left their disappearance ambiguous: even when Patti told Kevin that the girls Departed, we couldn't necessarily believe it, because Patti could have been a hallucination, and even if she was really a ghost, she's someone with a long history of screwing with Kevin and others.
As with Meg's heel turn, the show has been very quietly building a lot of story arcs and pushing them towards each other while we weren't paying attention. The POV structure of this season meant we were almost always focusing on the micro view of this world rather than the macro, but think of all the things that have to be dealt with in the finale: Meg's plot (which, based on her comments to Matt, seems to involve knocking down the barriers to enter the town), the town's discovery that the girls didn't Depart (and whether Kevin gets into trouble over his hand print before that discovery is made), Kevin's "resurrection" and whether he's really rid of Patti's voice in his head, Kevin and Nora's estrangement and the complications caused by Laurie's arrival, the fractures in the Murphy marriage and how John and Erika will react to learning of Virgil's death, whether Matt will cross the border into Jarden again, and more. That is a lot, and more than it seemed at any individual point in the season when we were just following Kevin, or Matt, or Erika and Nora.
With so much plot to deal with — on a show where plot has tended to play second fiddle to the emotional experience — will there be time for some kind of drawing room-style explanation scene where Evie and/or Meg lay out all the details of their master plan?
Or will the show agree with the Guilty Remnant leader who told Meg that explanations are useless?
Some other thoughts:
* Songs this week include Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel's "White Lines (Don't Do It)," the old African American spiritual "Wade in the Water," Sturgill Simpson's cover of When In Rome's "The Promise," and Olivia Newton-John's "Magic." I've never been a fan of that last song, but I have to admit that hearing it play as Meg walked through the camp was, indeed, magic.
* Isaac mentions that it's been about two years since the Sudden Departure when Meg comes to see him, which means that flashback takes place about two years before the show's current events, as we're approaching the fourth anniversary. So his psychic business wasn't particularly new when John and his goon squad shut it down. Perhaps John (who may have still been in prison at this point for shooting Virgil) simply waited until it got too big to ignore.
* Also, it's interesting that the same episode that reveals Evie's disappearance to be of the more earthbound variety would seemingly confirm the existence of Isaac's psychic abilities. There's always going to be some ambiguity there, but him mentioning the walnut incident in detail was much more specific than the sort of cold read that phony psychics in our world do, or even that we saw Holy Wayne do with Nora in "Guest." It's not completely impossible that he could have learned about the walnuts in the salad some other way, but that scene seemed to be pointing to Isaac as yet another example of the supernatural continuing to exist in the world well after the Sudden Departure.
* Edward is already up on the pillar — and, thus, has already experienced Virgil's "cure" — when Meg first comes to Jarden.
* Meg's ringtone sounds like the chirp that's been driving John Murphy to distraction.
* In the book, Meg's last name is Lomax. I'm not sure if it was ever mentioned on the show before, but here it turns out to be Abbott, which is reminscent of Liv Tyler's role in 1997's "Inventing the Abbotts."
The finale (hopefully just season, but you never know) is next week. I should have both a review and another long chat with Damon Lindelof posting that night.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org