Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Leftovers. Season 1, Episode 10: The Prodigal Son Returns

Opening montage of everything being awful – Kevin is smoking by Patti’s corpse. Jill smokes in the Guilty Remnant headquarters, joined by Laurie. She tries to convince Jill to go because, as Megan keeps trying to remind her, something big is due to happen with the GR. Jill just writes back “Talk” and when Laurie refuses to, Jill changes into the white clothes of the GR. Laurie isn’t thrilled. The GR head out, along with a little montage with their activities to date.

They go out and place dressed replicas of the Departed around town – including Nora’s entire Departed family around her breakfast table. Whatever the power of Wayne’s mystic hugs, Nora collapses with a scream at the sight.

To Christine and Tom are still on the run with the baby. Christine realises Wayne isn’t coming for them but Tom promises to stay with her, find a job and help look after her and the baby. But when they stop to change the baby, Christine appears to have run off and abandoned her daughter.

Over to Kevin by Patti’s corpse and he calls Rev. Mat who arrives to be so comforting for Kevin, assuring him he’s a good person and totally downplaying the whole kidnapping/beating part of Kevin’s abduction and imprisonment of Patti. He helps Kevin dispose of the body but insists he read a Bible passage while doing so  - even acknowledging that neither Kevin nor Patti are Christian believers. If there’s a chance to foist his religion on someone, Matt’s willing to do just about anything

Including delivering Kevin to a mental hospital. Kevin is dragged into the building protesting while Matt shouts useless apologies. I’m sure there’s a more of a procedure behind being committed in American than “a vicar dumped you on the doorstep and we maced you”. While imprisoned in a cell, a National Geographic is pushed through the door – the same issue his dad wanted – with a note telling him to stop talking to himself.

They eventually let him into the TV room to talk to his dad. Who is not reassuring – saying they belong there because they’re both bad men. Kevin also joins his dad in hallucinating people – the same people apparently – seeing the dead Patti. Dead!Patti and Kevin’s dad argue with Dead!Patti wanting to get Kevin out and his dad (who really really needs a name) wants him to stay. She hugs him, kisses him then screams at him to wake the fuck up

And he does, not in the mental institution – but in a car with Matt. Damn it Leftovers for a second you were almost advancing some interesting plot! Instead they go to a fast food restaurant because hiding bodies makes Matt hungry… oooookay… is it just me or is Matt getting steadily creepier?

Matt wants to know all what Patti said while alive so he can continue his attempts to convert them by any means – and Kevin tells him about how she said he “understood”. Which he elaborates to mean how he understands why they stayed behind when everyone else Departed which leads to him describing how he was sleeping with another woman when the Departure happened (the underlying suggestion being that Kevin wasn’t Departed because he isn’t a good person – harking back to his dream!dad). Kevin tearfully recounts his experiences after the Departure and how grateful his family was to see him – even as he had being trying to escape them before.

He goes to the bathroom to compose himself – and finds Wayne in one of the toilet stalls with a terrible stomach wound. Wayne stops him going to get help, he knows he’s dying and begs Kevin to stay and make a wish – Wayne has started to doubt himself, he doesn’t know if he’s a fraud or not and begs Kevin to make a wish before Wayne dies to prove it. He manages to gasp “granted” just before he dies.

An armed police team charges in afterwards, taking Wayne’s body and handcuffing Kevin; the officer questioning him seems very concerned whether Wayne touched him (which Kevin denies – and indicates some believe in Wayne’s woo-woo). Kevin being a policeman means he’s quickly released and he and Matt head home.

And home they find chaos – including an enraged, gun wielding woman chasing down Guilty Remnant members after their latest stunt. They hear chaos and fighting all round and find two injured GR members, one Megan, tied to a post. The only explanation she’ll offer is “we made them remember”.

There are riots through town with mobs hunting down and beating GR members. Kevin walks past a shellshocked Lucy who can only say “you were right.” The GR cul-de-sac is on fire and people are gathered around the flames burning the replicas the GR spread around. Kevin tries to organise help but it’s hard because everyone is so pissed off at the GR, no-one wants to help.

He stop a man attacking Laurie who is screaming and as he tries to pull her away she screams “Jill” and points at the burning building. Kevin runs into the building, past the corpses and the dying until he finds Jill and carries her out, apparently unharmed.

To Nora who, after spending time with the replicas, writes a letter to Kevin about what she’s lost and can’t endure any more. She says she’s broken, beyond repair and she took a short cut that didn’t work and how she plans to leave.

As she narrates her letter, Tom comes home to Laurie who holds his hand and Kevin and Jill are joined by the dog he released, it comes to Kevin.

Nora goes to deliver her letter to Kevin and finds Christine and Wayne’s baby on the porch outside his house.

And so ends season 1 of The Leftovers and it did some things incredibly well – mainly the depiction of the pain and suffering and the enormity of the feelings felt by the characters. Nora, Kevin, Jill – so many all truly conveyed how hurt they are in an incredibly moving and powerful manner. The acting, the music, the setting, the lots of minor background events, everything drove home just how devastating the Departure was for everyone.

But this show almost makes me uncomfortable with it. I sometimes think we have montages of random actions of conversations that are supposed to be super indicative of how everyone is suffering – and sometimes it works (as said above) but too often it feels extraneous or just plain random – especially since the fact that everyone is super-duper-in-pain has not only been well-established but it is the only thing that HAS been established. It is the be all and end all of this entire series – everyone is hurting, let’s see this again and again and again. And few people are doing anything EXCEPT hurting. In some ways the excellent music choices and scenes and acting make it worse – it almost feels like some kind of sadistic voyeurism as episode after episode I am presented with an hour of people in terrible terrible pain – and not much else BUT their terrible terrible pain.

Because that’s all this show has – pain. Not even dealing with pain or growing through pain. The plot is random and contains lots of hints of odd things (like the dogs, the deer, presumably important hallucinations, birds altering luck in a casino) but none of it comes close to going anywhere – they’re just random sprinkles scattered over the top of a big cake of pain. Wayne and his cult and his woo-woo could have been something but instead turned into Tom’s pain and more general commentary on pain and short cuts for dealing with it

Even the Guilty Remnant could be an interesting indication of some greater plot – but beyond the fact they’re trolling anyone we never get a why or purpose out of it. Which is bizarre because Patti even sells the GR as a way of giving people purpose – but it’s doesn’t. It forces people to remember but there’s no WHY behind that – it’s just something they do. That isn’t a purpose, it’s a tactic. And, again, it ends up being another vehicle through which we can see more pain through Megan and Kevin and Laurie and Jill. I also think that there’s a huge hole in the world building that the GR was so completely spared legal consequence for their actions

Which leaves me generally not looking forward to another season. There’s hints of a plot behind it, but no indication that plot or this world is going to be developed – and a second season of wallowing in everyone’s suffering doesn’t sound fun or interesting or productive or able to convey anything at all.

Other elements I’m not all happy with – I kind of hate Rev Matt. I think I hate him more because I think we’re supposed to see him as a good guy – but I see him as a troll in his own way almost as much as the GR. He inserts his faith repeatedly where it is not needed, welcomed or wanted and he has an arrogance that matches the GR’s and their antics. But while I think I’m expected to see the GR as annoying trolls, I think I’m supposed to see Matt as a nice guy trying to save them.

I’m also thoroughly tired of the epic Manpain in this show – it really is something of an epitome of the issue with Kevin – and even Tom, lashing out with rage and fury all because of their pain.

Diversitywise we’re on shaky ground; there are regular POC characters but in relatively small roles – mainly Kevin’s fellow police and background GR members. Of actual characters we had Lucy -who was a terribly wasted opportunity – since she seemed to be the one person getting over the Departure and getting on with things and would have been an excellent counterpoint to everyone imploding. Christine who was a walking incubator and fetish object – she was there because Tom wanted to have sex with her and Wayne had had sex with her – even her situation was all about Tom’s pain and then she vanishes. And Wayne – magical woo-woo dispenser who is hunted (by the authorities?) then dies. Most of this off screen while we watch Tom and Kevin implode.

One episode was clearly designated the LGBT token episode, 1 almost-seen kiss and another man dishing out a few stereotypes for his Departed spouse; so maybe 2 minutes inclusion all season. That’s not even worth a Token cookie, that’s a Sleepy Hollow level of half-assed tokenism right there.

We have a disabled character – Matt’s wife. She exists to be a source of angst and grief.

The season has had a number of white female characters – who are primarily defined by loss (in Laurie and Nora’s case – loss of children in particular) but then everyone on this show is defined by loss so I can’t say we’re especially singling out women for it. What is noteworthy is that the GR members we follow are all women – there are male GR but only ever in the background. The main GR: Patti, Gladys, Megan, Laurie even Jill briefly are all female. Is it to try and make attacks against them seem more shocking? Or is it a continuation of the flip side of Manpain – the men rage in their pain and the women, what, just collapse? Lose the will to live?

My ending conclusion is that it started well, but fell off. The diversity is poor and while it still has a lot of potential, I’m not looking forward to season 2.