[This is a review of The Leftovers season 1, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
Although much of the violence seen on The Leftovers has been relegated to Dean and his “Not our dogs anymore” campaign, there’ve been a few instances where fisticuffs were employed and rocks have been thrown – especially in the series’ stellar episode ‘Two Boats and a Helicopter,’ which had rather blunt and effective depictions of both. But in ‘Gladys,’ the titular, bespectacled member of the Guilty Remnant is handed a lengthy, gruesome, and incredibly graphic death by stoning that gives further indication of just how broken and divided the world of the show really is.
Director Mimi Leder lingers on the violence, so that it becomes unbearable to watch and so that the audience is made to feel for what is ostensibly an unlikable character, given her actions during the day prior to her death. The sound of rocks hitting the victim’s skull, and the blood pooling at her feet become the only resonant noises, until Gladys finally has no other choice but to break her vow of silence and plead with her unseen assailants to spare her life.
In addition to the visceral unpleasantness, the scene is packed with historical and religious implications, and how the nihilism of the Guilty Remnant is being revisited upon them.
The Leftovers could have cut to the discovery of Gladys’ body (complete with Dean running through the scene) and then filled in the blanks regarding her cause of death. It certainly would have saved everyone the displeasure of watching her die in such a grisly manner.
For that matter, Gladys could have been killed in a myriad of ways, if the point of the episode boiled down to one person being killed. But despite being titled after a single character, ‘Gladys’ is really about the people of Mapleton and, to a certain degree, the world around them. As such, Gladys’ method of execution becomes significant because the act of stoning itself is often times enacted by members of the same community.
Throughout the episode, Leder is particularly interested in the idea of community, and of the individuals who normally go unnoticed in the background. She frequently pulls people into focus, visually directing the audience’s attention to the world at large, and the world beyond the troubles of the Garvey family.
It begins with Gladys ignoring the pleas of a dying old man, but it continues when Leder focuses on things like a television news report of another ATFEC raid on yet another cult that sprang up in the aftermath of the Departure, or the cheerleaders in the school hallway when Jill mistakenly thinks the rumors of what happened to a member of the Guilty Remnant are about her mother.
It even happens when Laurie is in the emergency room following a panic attack and she’s situated next to a groaning man with a compound fracture. But perhaps the most troubling instance is when Leder draws the audience’s attention to Gladys’ body falling from the tree she was taped to, while two cops respond with a chuckle.
The episode even takes a brief moment to shed some light on what’s going on in the rest of the world when ATFEC Agent Kilaney offers to eliminate Mapelton’s cult “infestation.” Not only is the Guilty Remnant in other locations (as we found out in ‘B.J. and the A.C.‘), but there are also numerous other cults that’ve popped up (beyond the barefoot bull’s-eye cult and Wayne’s huggy movement) and all have been put on the government’s naughty list.
Shedding some light on the goings-on outside Mapleton actually makes the inner workings of the Mapleton GR seem more interesting and personal, especially Patti’s short excursion with Laurie. The more Patti is seen and allowed to break her vows, the more it seems like the Guilty Remnant takes on an even creepier corporate identity, one where recruitment and retention are priority number one and the lives of its members are a distant second. When Laurie seems to be on the verge of backing out, Patti is tasked with responding like a certain Comcast customer service agent whose insane retention tactics went viral not too long ago.
The violence of the episode winds up testing the convictions of more than just Laurie in one way or another. And ‘Gladys’ manages to become another strong offering that echoes some of the emotional weight of ‘Two Boats and a Helicopter,’ while thankfully not shying away from providing a few much-needed moments of levity. Reverend Jamison’s response to Kevin’s dropping of an F-bomb is one particularly enjoyable light moment, as is Kevin’s ongoing flirtation with Nora Durst.
Like the event at the heart of the series itself, the question of who killed Gladys will seemingly go unanswered, as the government perfunctorily cremates her remains, while the concerned parties are basically told (either verbally or by whistle) to forget about it and move on. As Jamison and Laurie dig their heels in with regard to their respective groups, the two Garveys still in the same house have a breakthrough in their relationship.
This is a community (and a world) torn apart by a universal catastrophe, one where every attempt to unite is answered with the creation of another ideological or emotional schism, or through acts of aggression that leave one person dead and another with several white shirts that are presumably not his.
What ‘Gladys’ reveals is that the world of The Leftovers is essentially a festering wound, and it’s never going to heal because the characters can’t stop picking at it.
The Leftovers continues next Sunday with ‘Guest’ @10pm on HBO.