After last week’s crushing final minutes, The Leftovers decides to give us a flashback episode, showing where our characters were during the Departure.
It never even occurred to me how badly The Leftovers needed this episode.
That’s not to say that The Leftovers‘ first season hasn’t been powerful (it has) nor to say that this season has been bad (it isn’t; in fact, it’s quite a good, confident first season), but it is to say that this flashback absolutely needed to happen before the end of the first season.
See, by now, we know a lot about where these characters were, both physically and emotionally, during the days before the Departure. But it’s to The Leftovers‘ credit that it becomes what fellow TV critic Todd VanDerWerff calls a slow motion tragedy. We know that this day will only end badly (we have eight episodes of proof that show how miserable these people are), but it’s a testament to the show that, although we know the ending, we still want to watch it unfold. We still feel the loss that they feel.
And the show places the flashback perfectly too, as the penultimate episode of the first season. We spent eight weeks learning bits about these characters and how much the world has changed that it’s such a wonderful reminder to see that these characters were once happy. Or in the case of the Garvey family, almost happy (except Jill; she’s a carefree 14-year-old).
Naturally, to show this, it is the Garvey family that is mostly showcased this week (and Nora, perhaps a future member of the Garvey family? Am I shipping that a little too hard?). And though the episode wants to focus on Kevin Garvey’s suburban midlife crisis, I’m much more interested in Laurie and Tommy, who are already at the cracks of having small meltdowns, and the Departure confirms their worst fears. For Laurie, it’s her fragile marriage with Kevin. For Tommy, it’s his relationships with his bio dad and his dad Kevin. These two aren’t good at “pretending” like Garvey is, like the rest of the characters were. So it’s fitting that they were perhaps the two most acceptable to revolutionary clubs.
The most heartbreaking backstory is awarded to Nora, who just wants a day (or month) of not being a mom to focus on herself. The irony of the situation feels familiar (and Nora was also a really familiar character until the events after the Departure unfold), but it’s nonetheless sad.
Shiny Happy People
This week’s flashback mainly revolves around then-chief of police Grandpa Garvey’s Mapleton Man of the Year party — the day before the infamous 14th. The Garveys and the town are throwing Grandpa a big old party at their swanky house (thanks to Laurie’s income) to celebrate what a good and honest man he was — before he went insane, that is. And while everyone looks super happy dancing around, it’s all a bit of a show.
Let’s just break down the big four stories in this episode: Garvey, Laurie, Tommy and Nora.
Take Garvey, the biggest pretender of them all. The biggest through-line in the episode is Garvey and that damn deer. Remember the deer that tore up Garvey’s house in the pilot? Well, another deer did the same thing all around town only days before the Sudden Departure. As Garvey secretly smokes, he spots the deer in the woods, around town and finally tearing it up at the school. Deer symbolism is in for television lately, so naturally the deer represents Garvey’s feeling of being trapped.
Trapped in a marriage, in this job, in this suburban life, but mainly one without a purpose. Garvey recites a poem his father once told him. It goes a little like this: “A man said to the universe, ‘Sir, I exist.'” And then the universe tells him how he could care less that he exists. A lot of people think the world owes them something, a purpose, and Garvey believes, on some level, that he is owed one. Why isn’t this life enough? Well, nothing is enough for Garvey. Three years later, he’s called upon for having a purpose, but he rejects it.
Garvey also wants to find the deer and let it go, but as we see when the deer is hit by a car, the universe does not care what Garvey wants. So he goes to a motel room with the stranger to have sex. We already saw that in the pilot he is having sex with a woman who vanishes, but here we can understand that it’s an act of defiance to do so.
As Garvey rebels, Laurie’s just trying to deal. It is so fitting that Laurie is a therapist for some reason. And it’s another Lost moment when her patient is none other than Guilty Remnant leader Patti. Patti is predicting the end, actually always predicting the end due to the damage her abusive husband has inflicted upon her. But one thing remains clear about these two: they can see through the bullshit other people put up. Patti recognizes Laurie is another lost soul, even if Laurie hasn’t yet.
Laurie is dealing with the news, as we later learn, that she is pregnant, just as her marriage is failing. So she wants a puppy, but really she wants a child and it’s so saddening to see her at her ultrasound. Because you know that child was going to disappear and you know that’s what put Laurie over the edge.
Her son Tommy’s story is a bit more ambiguous, but it’s most definitely tied into his complicated relationship with his fathers. Learning he’s the adopted son of Kevin Garvey, Tommy is already a bit of a mess, getting drunk outside his bio dad’s house and pleading to talk. And he’s already upset that his father is pretending like he never had a wife and son, and he’s confused as to why he has to pretend. But the final image of him and Jill, holding hands in a circle with people who have disappeared, may have just pushed Tommy over the edge.
Elsewhere, we learn that Nora has been looking upon her pre-Departure days with nostalgia goggles because, as we suspected, it wasn’t the perfect life. Her children may love her, but her husband is distant as he has an affair and she feels unfulfilled as a stay-at-home mother. So much so that she interviews for a campaign job in Lucy’s run as Mayor. Nora’s desperate to learn if she has this job that she snaps at her family, turns around and pivots back to learn that they are gone. We knew it would happen, but it’s still heartbreaking to realize Nora couldn’t even have a chance at having it all.
– Matt and his wife were at the doctor checking up on a cancer scare before their car accident. It looks like Matt may have been drinking…
– I missed Meg this week. But if I recall, her story had her mother dying during Chief Garvey’s celebration, so I’m not sure she would have been too much fun in this episode. Also, I missed the Frost twins and Aimee.
– I did not miss whatever is going on with Holy Wayne, sitting plot device Christine or Stranger Dean. I would very much like to never see them again after this season.
– Blink and You Miss Them: it was bittersweet seeing Gladys alive and well. (In my mind, Patti murdered her, even if Patti believes Gladys wanted that. No one screams for mercy and still wants to die. But the Internet may disagree with me.) Also, we see the older couple with the son with autism whom Nora interviewed earlier in the season. We also see the infamous baby and woman from the pilot in her car.
– Male Objectification Corner: Justin Theroux is a very beautiful man. And one ripped father!
– I’ve seen Chris Zylka, who plays Tommy, play teenaged love interests for so long that I just automatically assume that when he’s on screen with a youngish looking girl, he’s her love interest. I saw him on The Secret Circle and Twisted do pretty much the same thing. It’s weird because this guy looks like he’s in his mid to late 20s. This is a long way of saying that my brain is hardwired to see him as an inappropriately-aged love interest. So imagine how high my ick factor was when he was on screen with the very young looking Margaret Qualley, who plays Jill. The two are brother and sister on the show and my mind went there, so I want confirmation that I’m just sick or that there was some inappropriate flirting. Also, thank heavens Chris Zylka is finally not being cast as a teenager. He’s so much more interesting here.
– Garvey confirms my fears in this episode that he’s just never been a dog person. He doesn’t want a dog and he doesn’t want another daughter (probably).
The Leftovers airs Sundays at 10pm on HBO.
(Image courtesy of HBO)