Friday, January 2, 2015

The Leftovers, Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

On the 14th of October and a woman is having One of Those Days when her crying baby vanishes she understandably panics. Around her we see other evidence of people disappearing, shopping carts rolling without anyone pushing them, people looking for suddenly missing family, cars suddenly missing drivers crashing, the screen goes black as we hear dozens, hundreds of people all calling emergency services about missing people.

Forward three years and a radio recites the number of people who went missing around the world; one voice pointing out that 2% of the world’s population (those who vanished) isn’t technically that many, while another lists the numbers around the world.

Police chief Kevin Garvey is out running when he runs into a dog with tags, he tries to coax it to him when a man shoots it with a rifle. That seemed rather unnecessary. The man drives off, ignoring Kevin’s attempts to question him.

He goes home where the TV helpfully informs us that not only are world religions unwilling to rule on what caused the vanishing, but a scientific commission has also come up with nothing. He dresses in his uniform and goes to tell a woman about her dog being shot (in the conversation we learn his dad was chief before him – and that he “went crazy”). She doesn’t especially care about her dog.

To next character, a woman waking up in large room on a camp bed, surrounded by many other people. She smokes and, for some reason, we cut to a scene of a schoolyard fight. In the bathroom there’s a large sign saying “We Are Living Reminders” signed off with the Guilty Remnant. The group is made up of a large number of people all dressed in white and all chain smoking.  They communicate by writing to each other on notepads. Another sign declares that they smoke to declare their faith.

They’re given assignment and the woman we saw (Laurie Garvey, Kevin Garvey’s wife) is upset she isn’t on the list and demands to go. Go means apparently following a woman, Meg and watching her while smoking. She is getting married and seems to be a little stressed/upset/generally troubled while her fiancĂ© begs Laurie and her fellow GR member to back off which they seem to agree to

But when they drive home, him trying really hard to cheer Meg up, Laurie and Gladys are waiting for them, smoking away. Meg loses her temper and slaps Laurie before being dragged away by her fiancé.

Kevin goes to a meeting with the Mayor Lucy and some other folks planning a big parade since it’s the 3rd anniversary of the disappearances. It’s called “heroes’ day” (the name is not uncontroversial but as the mayor, who is wonderfully blunt, puts it “no-one’s going to come to ‘we don’t know what the fuck happened day’) and includes a speech from Nora Durst since she lost her entire family during the vanishing. The day is meant to be part of grieving and moving on – something, Kevin points out, the Guilty Remnant are not interested in doing. He’s worried the Guilty Remnant will protest the celebration as is their apparent habit with any gathering but the mayor considers it both their right and not a threat or problem. Kevin isn’t willing to buy that, regarding the Guilty Remnant and their relatively sudden appearance and lack of any apparent goals to be sinister. He’s worried they will provoke someone to violence. She refuses to cancel the parade and he stomps out in a snit.

He goes home and stamps around his house, smashing a picture of his family.

On to the next character – to school where all the kids look like standard bored students through the pledge over the tannoy system - but when it turns to a prayer of “mercy and forgiveness and the return of those who’ve left us” a number get out of their seats to kneel and pray. Jill Garvey, Kevin’s daughter, doesn’t join in and has a complete way-too-cool-and-edgy-for-this attitude. Jill continues to be “edgy” in all her PE class (though the teacher does seem to be very selective in what she considers objectionable). We also meet her almost-as-edgy-and-troubled friend Aimee and Adam and Scott Frost, twins who are trying really hard to get their attention.

Poor Aimee also gets to join Jill and her dad Kevin for dinner where it’s clear Jill and Kevin don’t have the best relationship. Aimee tries to play peacekeeper (and seems to respect that Kevin doesn’t have it easy) – and get Jill to come to a party. Kevin also hopes Jill and Aimee won’t go to Heroes’ day.

To the party where Jill has a clear crush on a guy called Nick and a spin-the-phone game leads to him and Aimee having sex – though she does offer to call it off for Jill’s sake. The same game also includes a guy burning himself with a fork and Jill going into a room with a guy called Max where they have awkward small talk in their underwear followed by masturbation and choking. I think I’ve been to better parties… Jill cries during it.

She leaves the party, running into Adam and Scott outside asking for a torch – she checks the boot of her dad’s car for one and finds the dead dog just rammed in there (this is either forgetfulness or daddy telling his edgy daughter that he’s way edgier than she). They decide to bury it and one of the twins shares a rumour that a lot of dogs ran away when the vanishing happened.

The next day Kevin wakes from a nightmare of hitting a deer in the car to find he’s slept in (implied to be the fault of the several pill bottles by his bed), Jill missing (along with the car) and his kitchen completely wrecked.

Parade time and Kevin and Mayor Lucy have another little argument over the GR. The parade happens and we have another character – Pastor Matt Jamison who is angry that people are calling the Departed heroes and the Departure a “Rapture” since he has documented proof that several of the Departed were not nice people; he hands out fliers and rants about the crimes various Departed committed.  Kevin runs into Jill and he asks where she was and she wants to know why he’s carrying around canine corpses.

Speeches happen, commemorations, a statue unveiling and a speech from Nora Durst who lost her husband and two children in the Departure. The GR arrive en masse during Nora’s tearful speech; the signs they carry say “Stop Wasting Your Breath!”. Naturally the crowd is pretty pissed off by this and several of them attack the GR who don’t fight back – Kevin and the police try to pull the crowd off the GR members, managing to form a line between them and the angry crowd.

Afterwards Kevin goes to a bar where we learn for the truly random array of people who Departed (including the Pope and Gary Busey). After sharing Departed stories with a woman, he sees the dog killer driving away. Kevin runs after him raging but too drunk to draw his gun.

He drives to the GR headquarters to speak to Laurie, beating a man who tries to stop him. He sees Laurie (his wife) and begs her to come home – she looks sad and troubled, but doesn’t talk. The boss of the GR tells him to go and the man he beat grabs him from behind and slams him into his car; he leaves. Once he’s gone a taxi pulls up – and Meg gets out. She asks the head if she can stay for a couple of nights – and Patti answers (actually speaking), that she can stay as long as she likes and introduces herself. Laurie is set to take care of her and Patti says she won’t speak again.

Onwards again, a congressman going through several relays and drivers (the last being Tom Garvey, Kevin’s son) who takes a substantial payment from the congressman. He also demands his phone and a blindfold – very clandestine. Tom makes small talk and we see flashbacks of how the events around the vanishing left him; he promises the congressman he won’t feel “burdened” soon, a comment which the congressman seems to find cuttingly insightful.

They reach a secure compound in the middle of nowhere and Congressman is lead to group leader Wayne Gilchrest while Tom spends time with a woman called Christine – and ignored a call from his dad, Kevin. After his meeting with Wayne, the Congressman emerges bright and happy and laughing and declares himself “no longer burdened”.

Tom is asked to stay behind to meet with Wayne. Wayne tells Tom that Christine is super important and Tom’s new job is to protect her because ominous bad stuff is going to happen. Protecting her also involves “keeping his hands off her”. Wayne has been having ominous dreams about his vanished son about something worrisome due to happen on the third anniversary of the disappearance.

Afterwards Tom goes swimming and we see scars on his back. Once he’s underwater he screams. Kevin calls while he’s in the pool, the phone unanswered again.

At the same time Jill, at home, picks the broken glass from her mother’s picture.

Kevin, driving home, stops when he sees a stag in the road. It doesn’t move when he gets out his car and walks to it – and he asks it if it was in his house (destroying his kitchen). A pack of dogs races down the road, catching and killing the stag – followed by the dog killer in his car. He says “they are not our dogs any more” and he shoots the pack – joined by Kevin.

I have to admire the artistry and theme of the pilot. In this first episode we have a lot of moments which are stark with emotional impact – especially the opening scenes with the sudden impact of the vanished followed by the radio reports – both the coolly dismissive summation of just how few 2% is, while we hear the stark and horrifying numbers of just how many 2% of the world’s population is. The background radio and news reports and little things like the prayer in school do a really good job of driving home how overwhelming the vanishing was, how all-encompassing and society changing it was. Even things like the row of empty picture frames in the Guilty Remnant rooms are powerfully effective.

But the pilot does throw out quite a lot at once. A lot of characters, a lot of plotlines and not much connecting anything or telling me where anything is going beyond a sense that everyone is troubled and hurting in some way. But I think that may be the point, the pilot isn’t there to introduce the storylines or even, especially, introduce the characters (though it does) so much as it’s there to drive home the scale and impact of the vanishing.

Then we have the stag and the dogs… which is just a little extra weird on top of what seems to be primarily a human drama.

Also they must be in a state with really awful stalking laws if the Guilty Remnant can get away with what they do.