If there’s one thing we as humans crave — perhaps at times to our detriment — it’s answers. Reasons, methodology, the plan: all of these things that help us better understand our place in a group of people, a community, society, or even the world/universe at large. But as evidenced in the premiere episode of HBO’s The Leftovers, sometimes you just don’t get them. Sometimes strange things like, say, 2% of the world’s population leaving without a trace, just happen without warning or reason or notice. And the rest are left to pick up the pieces and try to make sense of something senseless. But often those answers never come.
Now, it should probably be noted that given that this is a televised take on the Tom Perrotta novel, I, your fair recapper, will be approaching it as a TV show first. If you want book comparisons — probably best to look elsewhere, as I’m sure there will be more than a few of those out there. TV is my bag, baby, and I like to approach it as such.
What does life even mean? In general or in the face of 140,000,000 humans disappearing without any sense of rhyme or reason? Were we once all the children of a proud and pious god and/or creator type? Who, when left to our own devices, have gone feral, resulting in whatever maker-may-be to scoop up the gooduns and leave the rest of us to rot (metaphorically speaking)? Are we no better than the dogs?
That’s the heart of the story playing out in The Leftovers — or at least what can be gleaned from the pilot. So, you know, this is going to be a really light-hearted little number from Damon Lindelof. Would you expect anything less?
In the town of Mapleton, more than 100 people were taken up into the well, whatever-who-knows, and a sweeping layer of dread and unease has replaced the love and happiness once felt by those affected by the disappearance. The kids are blasé — as evidenced by Jill Garvey and her friends’ partying ways and attitudes. Nothing means anything anymore — so what the hell is the point of caring, anyway? Why not choke someone while they jerk off to you? Why not burn yourselves with inanimate objects. Nothing matters — not even upholding some idea of general joy and appreciation for the life you’re leading and those around you. Why pledge allegiance to anything — let alone the “one nation, under good” whose previous claims of being “indivisible” were clearly anything but.
Elsewhere, the struggle between scientific reasoning and religious miraculous thought create an even bigger divide — with factions of “enlightened” folks popping up everywhere with cultish glee. First up, and perhaps most prominent are The Guilty Remnant — GRs for short — who spend their days completely silent, smoking cigarettes and decked out like a bunch of modified wannabe Polyphonic Spree types. Laurie Garvey (Jill’s mother) has joined the group for an unspecified reason and is quite passionate, in her wordless way, about the cause. Elsewhere in the world there’s Matt Jamison (Why yes, that was Christopher Eccelston with a semi-dodgy but still passable American accent) who claims prophecies and visions but may also just be insane. Or Wayne, the terrifyingly calm and commanding faith healer/cult leader who’s taken Tom Garvey (yup, same family) under his unsettling wing. They’re on the brink of waking up the world, though lord knows what that means at this point — but apparently it’s left Buddy Garrity (clear eyes full hearts FOREVER) quite unburdened. Hmmm.
All of this must be a hell of a lot for our main character, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) — the local police chief — to handle. His family has been torn apart, even though they still remain on earth, in the quest for answers and knowledge. While the rest of his family quietly contemplates the how and the why, even three years later, Kevin must soldier on, protecting stray dogs and generally being the upstanding gentleman, even in the wake of all of this.
And to help manage the rest of the town, who are all so obviously, clearly, still hurting from the unknown — I mean, why else would the GRs arrival at the Heroes Day celebration get so intensely volatile so fast? With people’s emotional capacity so fraught and frail with fear (as evidenced by Liv Tyler’s Meg Abbott joining the GRs) while simultaneously desiring a “way things were” that will never be again, this new world is hardly brave, but certainly boisterous enough to ensure that life on earth is far from ordinary, even if every single day feels exactly that.
The lack of control and feeling of power over their own lives has been made all-too-real — and some people can’t handle that. If there is something more out there, waiting for those who deserve it: why not us? Why them? And now that it’s done: what now? If the wild pack of dogs, long thought an urban legend, are real — does that make us the dogs, or them?
What’d you think of The Leftovers‘ premiere? Let’s discuss in the comments.