A review of tonight's "The Leftovers" coming up just as soon as I listen to a little Hall & Oates...
"But there can't be any doubt, Laurie. Because doubt is fire. And fire is gonna burn you up, until you are but ash." -Patti
Episode 3 of "The Leftovers" was the one most critics cited as the moment where they went all-in with the show, and the reaction from many of you suggested the same. Doing a single-POV story every week — especially one with as narrow a focus as "Two Boats and a Helicopter" — isn't an easy thing to pull off, nor does it seem like what Lindelof and Perrotta want to do, given the size and scope of the broken world they're depicting. But "Gladys" does a very effective job of splitting the difference between the tunnel vision of episode 3 and the broader ensemble pieces we've gotten in the other installments. It's a bigger episode featuring most of the cast (save Tommy and Christine, wherever they may be right now), but the entire story and every bit of emotional conflict spills out of the single awful act of Gladys(*) from the Guilty Remnant being stoned to death.
(*) Though both characters are silent, what a 180-degree turn Gladys was for Marceline Hugot after her work as Kathy Geiss on "30 Rock."
As Meg points out to Laurie, the GR had to expect something like this eventually. You can't make people this angry this consistently without risking violent consequences. Such a Biblical punishment (albeit one that is still used by some cultures today) seems fitting, given how the Departure has essentially rebooted organized religion in the show's world, leading to all these new and conflicting faiths popping up in a hurry, and often upsetting the established order as much as the early Christians angered the Romans.
Yet it's Meg the neophyte who takes Gladys' gruesome death in stride — and uses it as the reason to go all-in with the GR and start wearing white(**) — while it sorely tests Laurie's faith.
(**) This also means that this corner of the show will for the moment be entirely silent. Interestingly, in the book, GR rules allow Laurie to talk to Meg during her initiation, but Lindelof and Perrotta told me they liked the power of Amy Brenneman's silent performance so much that they decided to abandon that idea.
We still don't know much about the origins of the Remnant, nor about the sincerity — or even identities — of the group's founders. But in giving Patti a day off from her vows of silence and austerity — and in Patti offering the same break to Laurie — we get a sense of the level of commitment their warped cause requires, and we also get hints of a shared history between them. (Is it possible, for instance, that one was the other's therapist pre-Departure?) To us and to the rest of Mapleton, the Remnant members are the villains of the series, and Patti is their smug leader. But to Laurie, to Meg, to the late Gladys, and to all the other silent chain-smokers in white, this cause is very real, and the only thing that's felt like home since the world turned upside down.
Ann Dowd, like Brenneman, does so much with silence that Patti talking usually isn't necessary. Here, though, it not only gave us some backstory on her relationship with the late Gladys, it gave us a sense of who Patti was before she took charge of the Mapleton chapter of the GR, and of how that person still lives inside the GR facade, in the same way that Laurie still sometimes longs for her family. The diner scene was a great duet between two of the show's best actors, and it set up the incredibly powerful climactic scene where Matt brings some of his followers to the GR compound to pray for Gladys' soul. Because we know Laurie is so on edge, her sprint for the door seems like it could be the moment where she renounces her new faith and wraps her arms around her old life. Instead, she very loudly — in the only way she can be loud while sticking to the strange tenets of the GR — affirms her belief in the cause and denounces Matt and any other representative of the way things were before the Departure.
Gladys' death also has ripple effects on the rest of the Garvey family, and on Mapleton as a whole. We see Jill break down when she briefly assumes Kevin has come to tell her something bad about her mother — "She wouldn't have cried for me," she says through bitter tears as she calms down — and we see Kevin doing what he can to protect the Remnant, both out of a basic sense of duty and a desire to protect Laurie. But we also continue to see signs that Kevin is at best a black-out drunk, at worst mentally ill like his father. I wish his after-hours invasion of the dry cleaner in search of his shirts had played a bit more ambiguously — that it could have just been 8 random white shirts the clerk gives him to get this dangerous man out of his store, rather than the 8 shirts Kevin hasn't been able to find (UPDATE: Enough of you are convinced that the dry cleaner did, in fact, just hand him 8 random shirts that I may just have misread the scene, but the fact that Kevin seemed okay with the shirts is what swayed me at the time I watched) — but even something like the call from the AFTEC(***) agent feels like the sort of thing that could be mostly happening inside Kevin's head.
(***) In "The Leftovers" universe, the ATF has been replaced by an agency for Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, Explosions and Cults.
Maybe the feds really would have cleared out the Remnant if Kevin had asked them to, or maybe that's just something he wishes would happen, especially now that he's decided to go ahead with the divorce and let go of any hope of Laurie coming back to him. Like a lot of "The Leftovers," it's ambiguous, and dark, and the sort of thing I feel completely riveted by even as I'm wondering why I want to sit through such a painful show. Laurie joins, and stays with, the Guilty Remnant because she doesn't want to feel anymore, but those of us who have committed to "The Leftovers" have done so because the show offers its feelings up at full blast, no matter how bleak and desperate they may be.
Some other thoughts:
* Like the phone call from AFTEC, the burning of Gladys' body could be read multiple ways, from being another sign of a broken and dysfunctional world where one bureaucracy doesn't know what another one needs it to do, or a sign that the feds really don't want to bother investigating the murder of anyone associated with this troublesome cult.
* Michael Gaston's character (who is credited as Dean) continues to be more than just a hallucination, here popping up to both help find Glady's body and to cause trouble for Kevin at the town council meeting where Lucy and the council members hang Kevin out to dry over the curfew issue.
* Before Kevin assaults the dry cleaner, he gets another chance to interact with Nora Durst, and there's now a flirtatious edge to their conversation.
* Because the Remnant compound has paper covering all the reflective surfaces, Laurie's motel bathroom appears to be the first real look she's had at her reflection in quite some time.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: I'll be on vacation for the next week and if there is a review of episode 6, it'll be a day or two late.