The Leftovers – 1×05 “Gladys”


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*Note* This episode of The Leftovers aired 17 days before this episode review was posted. I’m currently working my way through summer shows I’ve been behind on for the past month, and writing about the episodes that really make a strong impression on me. I’m basically working at my own pace, so a lot of these will be posted weeks after their original airings. 

“It’s easier to stay silent than to speak truth… I want to bring them back to life.”

A confession: My reaction to the announcement that Justin Theroux would lead the cast of HBO’s new drama, The Leftovers, could simply be chalked up to a confused “HUH?” The guy who guest-starred as a worldly love-interest for Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation? The guy who co-wrote Tropic Thunder? What the hell?

Oops. Big oops. Turns out that Theroux is not only an extremely capable dramatic actor, but I have a sincerely hard time imagining anyone else inhabiting the role of Kevin Garvey on this utterly compelling and upsetting show. For the past five weeks, Theroux has masterfully handled the many emotional pendulum swings that plague Chief Garvey, and he is truly excellent at carrying so much of the weight on a series as complicated as this one.

Time and time again, Garvey has switched emotional courses throughout an hour of The Leftovers – getting (sometimes rightfully) angry at the damaged citizens of Mapleton, appearing entirely bewildered by the actions of those around him, while also finding the time to occasionally having his own mental breakdowns – and somehow, the guy who wrote the atrocious Iron Man 2 is able to navigate the role with an astounding amount of humanity, gravity, and humor (in a show largely devoid of it). I love The Leftovers, and I will fully admit to being completely floored by how impressive Theroux’s work has been so far.

Switching gears, I will also readily admit that I cannot recall a single television scene in the past five years that has upset me more than Gladys being stoned to death in the cold open this week. I was immediately struck by the opening shot – in which the wall and doorway of Patti’s office frame Gladys in a dark, coffin-like box – and had a feeling this episode might focus on her. But good god… The execution of the entire abduction sequence was so unflinchingly violent that I absolutely don’t blame the many people who swore off the series after this episode. This series has been an exercise in long, drawn-out torture, but has remained among my favorite shows because of how compelling the rest of the material has been. The ensuing events after Gladys’ death were strong enough that I ultimately still have faith in where the show is taking us as an audience – that being said, I was literally shaking as the opening credits rolled, and I have zero desire to ever see something that gruesome and disturbing again.

Like I said though, the developments that arose from the execution of a Guilty Remnant member were extremely compelling, and many of the show’s conventions were unexpectedly flipped on their heads. Apathetic Jill actually breaks down in front of Kevin at the thought of her mother dying, Patti actually complies with the Chief’s demands and “takes the day off” with Laurie in plainclothes (all while speaking, no less), the Mayor sides with Kevin (despite the townsfolk actively defying him), Meg firmly cements herself among the Remnant, and Garvey finally loses it on his Quest for the Missing White Shirts (cruelly taking out his anger on the dry cleaner). I appreciated the reduced role Jill took for this episode – the previous episodes’ repeated focus on her antics had grown a little repetitive, and I find most of the other characters vastly more intriguing, so it ended up being a welcome change of pace. (*Same goes for the complete lack of Tommy this week. Until we find out more about Wayne and his endgame, I have very little interest in watching him on the run.)

For me, the last couple of notes that closed out the episode proved to be among the show’s more chilling developments. Garvey’s conversation with the ATFEC agent – in which the agent encourages him to “eliminate the infestation” that is the Guilty Remnant – did not go in the direction I originally expected, and suddenly provided us with a little more context for the immediate raid on Wayne’s compound that occurred in Episode 2. The fact that Kevin opts out of this immoral shortcut (again, the stunned look on Theroux’s face was brilliant) to a “peaceful” and “happier” town is expected – and is thus effectively undercut by his subsequent immoral shortcut of robbing the dry cleaner of eight white shirts that belong to other people.

Additionally, Pastor Matt’s speech on the lawn of Guilty Remnant HQ was heartbreakingly moving and sweet – the Matt-centric third episode of the series did a great job of showing us the guy’s flaws, while establishing his inherent goodness – which only made Laurie’s aggressive whistle-blowing hurt more. Yeah, I fell into the stupid trap of thinking that she might be joining them for the eloquent prayer for Gladys, and watching the pure fury in Amy Brenneman’s eyes as she kept blowing the whistle made me wonder (for the millionth time) why I watch a show that makes me feel so damn depressed every week.

Luckily, The Leftovers answers that question for me every week. The pain that these characters experience is so brilliantly realized and human, and there’s no way I won’t be tuning in for the foreseeable future.

What Else?

  • Nice and funny touch for Laurie to pick up the “Non-Smoking Room” sign in her hotel room.
  • More rabid dogs plague Garvey this week. Their owner’s claim that “They’re actually nice” seems pretty unlikely.
  • I’ll admit to being fairly confused by Patti’s speech to Laurie in the diner. Even if I didn’t understand a lot of what she was talking about, damn it, Ann Dowd is truly one of the most remarkable and versatile actresses on TV currently. She’s pretty terrifying in this show, and I found myself hoping that she would go back to scrawling on paper after hearing her hysterical voice.
  • Couldn’t stop laughing at the liquor store cashier’s mispronunciation of “inebriated.” Weird, but hilarious comedic note. Garvey’s perplexed reaction was pitch-perfect.
  • The closing sequence of Gladys’ cremation was marvelously executed, both from a visual and musical standpoint. Max Richter’s score throughout the series has been hitting the right tone about 50% of the time (even as a fan of the guy, a lot of these cues belong on a different show), but the closing music as Gladys’ body enters the furnace was on point. The framing of her body along the conveyor belt in front of the dozens of other bodies was ridiculously eerie and overall, that sequence ended the whole episode on incredibly strong note.

What Did You Think?

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