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The Leftovers Gets Some Parental Guidance

The Leftovers drifts even further away from Miracle with a story about Laurie and Tom -- and the results are stunning.

A thought: after the blow-it-up-and-start-again (or burn-it-down-and...) season premiere, and then again after the dipping back into old habits of the second episode, this third one may seem like a questionable choice. A whole, nearly self-contained episode about what Laurie and Tom have been up to? If it sounds like the time we took a detour to spend an hour with Father Matt Jamison, you're right. And looking back, that was the episode that made me sit up and pay attention to The Leftovers.

There's a natural tension in the show that probably derives from Damon "LOST" Lindelof and Tom "Little Children" Perrotta -- one of them really likes the wonder and the mystery and the supernatural elements of the show, and the other really wants to know what it's like for people who've been left behind by an unexplainable event. If you've read Perrotta's book, you know he doesn't even bother to address the whys and hows of the event itself. These two approaches seem at odds, but so far, they've been making for a television show unlike any other -- less a sci-fi show with strong characters than a character-driven show with some mild sci-fi elements. And who knows? Lindelof may be the one most interested in those character stories while Perrotta may be using the television medium to explore his genre side. Either way, while it's sometimes as if the show is singing in two different keys at once, it works more often than not. Here are this week's big moments, counting down from least surprising to most.

  1. Publishing Executives Are Portrayed As Marketing-Happy A-holes

    I mean, one half of the main Leftovers creative team is a well-established author. And OF COURSE it's the publishing house that's created a cottage industry of Departure-related books, including Patrick Johansen's What's Next, featured last season in Nora's big episode. The meeting of Laurie's dreams turns into a nightmare when the editors tell her they LOVE her book, and they'd like to change it a lot. In particular, they want to know: what's up with the Guilty Remnant? What do they want? Where did they come from? It's both a dig at the current state of publishing and at viewer/critic complaints about the show's more oblique elements.

  2. Tom Has A Drinking Problem

    We know something is up when he meets Jill at the diner and lurches into someone else's table, right? Frankly, I assumed he was on heroin, but maybe I'm just too cosmopolitan! (I used to live in NEW YORK CITY, guys.) Anyway, Tom's not a full-blown alcoholic, not yet, but who can blame him? Not only did he lose his guru, but he gave away a baby AND has been spending the ensuing months joining Guilty Remnant chapters -- "hives," he calls them -- to lure away doubting (or are they undoubting?) members. That's gotta wear on a person.

  3. Laurie Runs A Halfway Home/Therapy Group For Runaway Guilty Remnants Members

    Also not that surprising! Laurie, after all, was a therapist in her pre-GR days -- Patti was her patient, remember? On the downside: the group she's running is in a commercial office space she can't afford, and while her methods for drawing people back to the world seem effective, she's not really sure what to do once she has them back.

  4. The "Rescued" GR Member Drives Her Family Into A Truck

    We knew this woman's story wouldn't go well. She tries, she does, but when her life becomes "normal" again, she's left more confused and sad than ever. I can imagine some viewers might think, "She should get over it! She should be happy to be with her family again!" To which I would say: (a) that's not how this person's story goes, and in a work of fiction you kind of have to go with what you're given, not what you would do; and (b) if you don't think a Rapture would leave a lot of people irreparably fucked-up and confused, please remember what it was like after 9/11, which would look relatively minor in comparison to this fictional event, and think about how much people changed after that. End of sermon.

  5. Tom And Meg Have Sex In The Hostage Truck

    First of all, the GR has trucks now, and is willing to take hostages. Not good! That means that even in the wake of the Mapleton Inferno (as the old songs of the future will call it), the GR decided to double down and get even meaner. But back to the sex: what is that all about, do we think? If motherhood and birth are the themes of the season, then it's likely Meg tracked Tom down just to impregnate herself with his baby. But why? What's the endgame of the GR? I'm guessing Laurie will end up being the key to answering this. (Note: if Meg's plan is to get pregnant, then I hope she doesn't also plan on doing the most GR thing imaginable, which is to do something horrible to the baby once it's born.)

  6. Breast-Obsessed HBO Shows An Actual Penis

    HBO has long been known as the boobs-whether-they-serve-the-story-or-not network, but they've always seemed a little...phobic when it came to giving equal time to men's parts. Anyway, we see a little of Tom's dick as he's thrown from the GR truck. While it's not the dick you were maybe waiting for, it is nonetheless a dick on HBO.

  7. Laurie Snaps In The Publishing Office

    If Laurie hadn't already heard from plenty of people what a great, put-upon, self-sacrificing guy her ex-husband was, the publishing executive goes and throws Laurie's own story in her face. It's bad enough to have her deeds repeated back to her, but he also (and correctly) points out that Laurie hasn't confronted how she feels about what's happened. It's a devastating moment, as it always is when you watch someone come to a hard realization that's been obvious for everyone else, and it's the moment that gives me the most hope yet for The Leftovers. There are lots of times when the characters talk like real people, yet behave in ways that feel purely written. Nora paying prostitutes to shoot her into unconsciousness, for instance: it's a great visual that must've been irrisistible to write, but which doesn't feel like a thing a person would do, ever. Laurie's moment in the office, and the look on Amy Brenneman's face just before she launches herself at the exec, is the kind of thing that takes the air out of you.

  8. Laurie Runs Down Two GR Members

    Definitely did not see this coming. Laurie may or may not have murdered two human beings -- at the very least, we're looking at broken bones, possibly internal injuries and/or head injuries, no? -- by aiming her car at a pair of GR mopes who refuse to move out of the way. This is surprising on two levels, actually, since not only is it something I didn't see Laurie doing (and now we know why she's hosing her car off at the beginning of the episode), but it's an early indicator that the Guilty Remnant are REALLY not fucking around now with their cult of nihilism. This predates Tom getting handcuffed to a truck and doused with gasoline, by the way (that last detail didn't make the list because Meg never actually set him on fire), and should have been a warning to Laurie and Tom versus the other way around.

  9. Holy Tom

    This is a fantastic moment. Tom springs Laurie from jail after the incident at the publisher's office, and the two of them sit with the realization that all the work they've been doing over these last months just isn't working. Their best, as the saying goes, just isn't good enough. (Which, by the way, should be Dunkin' Donuts' slogan. Have you ever had a deeply satisfying cup of coffee from there?) What they come to understand in that moment is that the other groups -- the GR, Holy Wayne's weirdos, etc. -- are offering something. So Tom returns to the recovery gang and tells them a highly revised story of Holy Wayne's final days. It's a magnetic scene, and Chris Zylka holds your attention by playing a range of emotions, not just "deeply upset." It's also a sly parody, I think, of what happened in the years after Christ's death. In any case, I'm excited to see what Holy Tom does this season. Seems to me he might be a good fit for a place like Miracle, Texas, no?

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