“Go to the truck and close your eyes… cause I need to talk to the other guy.”
By the climax of “Cairo,” I can’t say I was quite as shocked by the revelation of the Guilty Remnant’s motivation as Max Richter’s soaring score evidently wanted me to be.
After all, what has made The Leftovers so special to me is the fact that it hasn’t ended every episode with some obnoxious cliffhanger that’s meant to elicit an “Oh my god, what does it all mean??” reaction. Moreover, the overall handling of the Remnant’s antics – including the stalking, stealing pictures, keeping data on citizens, etc. – has been executed so well throughout this season that I didn’t have a particularly hard time getting the gist of what they’re going for. So no, I didn’t watch this episode’s final monologue with the same sort of wide-eyed, open-mouthed horror like Garvey did at this “new” information.
Instead, my wide-eyed, open-mouthed horror was reserved for the clear fact that Ann Dowd was triumphantly delivering her final number for this unrelentingly miserable show. The firework display of deluded passion was spectacularly delivered, but I also couldn’t help myself mourning the fact that The Leftovers was about to sacrifice one of its best actors (albeit a remarkably skilled woman who is already doing incredibly complex work elsewhere on TV) and leave a lot of the Guilty Remnant’s weight on the shoulders of Laurie Garvey – one of the show’s most oblique characters (and sometimes to a fault). Amy Brenneman has still managed to do fantastic work with the material she’s been given all season – I know plenty will disagree with that statement, but I can’t stress enough how many emotions that woman has been able to convey with a simple flicker at the edges of her mouth – but I’m still not sure that she has the gravitas or showmanship to make her quite as compelling as Dowd made Patti over these eight episodes.
As for the rest of “Cairo,” I would say that although the whole didn’t equal the sum of its parts, good lord, many of those parts were incredibly strong. From the first heavenly-lit shot of the episode, the formal style of the show felt significantly more dreamlike than previous chapters (foreshadowing Garvey’s impending slips of reality) and the deft cross-cutting between Patti and Garvey’s respective preparations was beautifully done. All of which led to a silent scream of excitement when the show’s atrociously tone-deaf credits concluded with Michelle Maclaren’s name plastered under “Directed by.” I’m a huge fan of the work Maclaren delivered on some of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones’ best episodes, and she really made her stylistic touches felt throughout the hour – whether in the form of quiet, reality-questioning camera movements, or the constant ethereal quality lent to each frame by various beacons of light directed at the camera. As she made clear in Breaking Bad’s train robbery episode, Maclaren is a master of tension and seeing how the writing of Patti’s final monologue was occasionally grating to me, I would attribute the majority of the scene’s effectiveness to its direction. It’s not exactly an academic observation, but simply put: Michelle Maclaren is a rock star.
Moreover, the hour’s stylishly shaky grip on reality was instrumental to an episode in which we learn a little more about the origin of Michael Gaston’s ghost/guardian angel, Dean (the fun and frustrating caveat being that we basically learn just how little we’ve learned about him). The series’ early episodes toyed around with whether or not the man was purely a figment of Garvey’s imagination, and although later episodes made it clear that other citizens of Mapleton could see him, “Cairo” did a nice job of adding more texture and mystery to the man’s motivations. Dean’s disbelief at Garvey’s lapsed memory of the previous night added a welcome touch of humor, but the subsequent devil-on-the-shoulder speech to the unstable police chief was truly menacing. And yet, that still didn’t compare to the brief verbal encounters between Dean and Patti in the cabin – which were an absolute delight to watch and crackled with utterly anarchic energy.
Like I said before, the various pieces of this episode didn’t coalesce as well as I have come to expect from The Leftovers. That said, there were some really strong and memorable moments, and it’s going to take me a while to shake that final image of Garvey helplessly clutching Patti’s bloody body.
- The one aspect of The Leftovers that never fails to irritate me on a weekly basis has proved to be Liv Tyler’s presence as Meg. Obviously, the writers thought she would be a good audience-surrogate for an introduction to the Guilty Remnant, but Tyler has yet to bring anything to the table beyond being a constant petulant brat. From a writing standpoint, I find it amusing and entertaining that Meg is incapable of even being a decent GR member –breaking her vow of silence to beat the crap out of poor, decent Pastor Matt was a nice illustration of her complete hypocrisy and inability to recognize that Matt was using basic GR tactics against her. But somehow, her likability managed to plunge even further and hit rock bottom with her “fuck”-ridden tirade to Laurie about Nora Durst. Let’s just say I found it hard to not relate to Laurie’s icy slap and exasperated “SHH!”
- That being said: Laurie’s reaction to Nora’s dig about Jill? GODDAMN. Nicely done, Amy Brenneman.
- I love the hell out of Pastor Matt. He’s a weird guy, and it’s hard to pinpoint his motivations occasionally, but his earnest sweetness is pretty infectious and is the closest thing we have to a positivity lifeline for the show.
- Also starting to lose interest in Jill’s various internal crises… The material involving Amy this week was brutal and strong, but I felt like we missed a few beats that would’ve given some real weight to the image of her crossing the threshold of Guilty Remnant HQ.