‘The Leftovers’: Asking Unanswerable Questions

Published 10 months ago by

Justin Theroux in The Leftovers Season 1 Episode 2 The Leftovers: Asking Unanswerable Questions

[This is a review of The Leftovers season 1, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.] 


In the second episode, The Leftovers continues to lay the groundwork for the series by elaborating more on the characters as they are now, and by focusing on smaller questions asked amongst the seemingly innocuous minutia of their daily lives. After last week’s introduction to the folks of Mapleton and the circumstances of the world around them, ‘Penguin One, Us Zero’ moves along at a remarkably similar pace, demonstrating just how many potentially interconnected threads there are while giving hints as to where they may be headed.

This is an episode where the disappearance of a bagel is met with the same kind of trepidation as the mysterious and unsettlingly friendly appearance of Dean the Dog Shooter (Michael Gaston) and the potential trouble his truck causes when it’s found at Kevin Garvey’s house. There’s even a nice moment when show leads you to think Dean may be a figment of Kevin’s troubled subconscious – right up until he hands over a six pack of beer to Jill. That moment of doubt and uncertainty is mirrored when Kevin finds himself pulling off the back of a toaster in search of the potentially departed bagel.

The confluence of these small, innocuous incidents with larger events that have the potential to dramatically alter the course of each character helps drive the notion of ultimately what kind of story the show is looking to deal with. The post-Departure world is now a place where the unthinkable is possible, and even though those who remain are now three years out of a cataclysmic event, they’re still understandably shaken – or in some cases, compelled to go along with it – when confronted by the questionable occurrences.

But there’s also some nice character elements being tossed in with the lingering notion of so many people disappearing and the continual, upsetting growth of groups like the Guilty Remnant and events like Wayne’s compound being raided by the FBI. The fact that the show can balance something like Tom killing a federal agent to save the highly prized Christine with the weirdly humorous way Kevin repeatedly talks down to Dennis, and then segue into Jill and Aimee’s daylong excursion to stalk Nora Durst with the Frost twins and their Prius seems to bode well for The Leftovers, as it advances its exploration of this specific microcosm.

For the most part, the episode does what it can to keep things relatively simple from a presentation standpoint, even though the goings-on are evolving into anything but. Like the pilot, Peter Berg directed ‘Penguin One, Us Zero,’ so the storytelling beats remain largely the same, as does the visual style. This time out, though, there’s more of an intimate feeling in the staging; it’s less like being on the outside looking in and more like the reverse. This is shown in things like the way Dennis seems particularly attuned to his boss’ mental state and his willingness to cover for what he likely perceives as stress-related confusion. But that also helps express what happened with Kevin Sr. (Scott Glenn) without going into exacting detail about the night he lost his mind.

Chris Zylka in The Leftovers Season 1 Episode 2 The Leftovers: Asking Unanswerable Questions

The same goes for the other characters, whose storylines get a little more screen time this go round. The aforementioned Nora Durst remains a curiosity for Jill and Aimee, while others regard her more as a pitiable object to be treated with kid gloves. Her taped questionnaire regarding an elderly couple’s departure benefit for their son is another example of how the show balances two complex sensations, as the palpable grief and frustration of the parents is met with an underlying sentiment that Nora was getting some kind of emotional fulfillment by asking the uncomfortable questions and observing the reactions of her respondents.

Meanwhile, Meg and Laurie’s pairing offers a closer glimpse inside the Guilty Remnant that’s not so much about the group’s inner workings as it is about what’s necessary to give up in order to become a part of it. Laurie puts Meg through a Mr. Miyagi-like routine that involves taking items from her luggage and having her attempt to chop down a tree – all while communicating through scribbles and facial expressions. And speaking of expressions, Brenneman does fine work in a short scene where she and Meg seem to bond over “hot cop” Kevin, and Meg begins to understand the idea of what it means to be part of the G.R. and to leave everything else behind.

For only its second episode, The Leftovers sets the table for larger arcs and events that seem to be on the horizon with regard to Gaston’s character and his coincidental association with Kevin Sr.’s delusional warnings to his son. It’s the same with Wayne and whatever he’s cooking up that requires Tom to go on a prolonged road trip with Christine. What’s so compelling so far is that despite the sizable plot-driven elements brewing in the background, the smaller, more personal and intimate moments resonate and linger as strongly (if not more so) than the persistent questions about the past or the future.

In the end, keeping the characters focused on each other helps make it that much easier for those enjoying what they’ve seen so far to do the same.

The Leftovers continues next Sunday with ‘Two Boats and a Helicopter’ @10pm on HBO.

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    • …and you work for?

      • ?

      • Not HBO as you’re implying. Isn’t it shocking? A show viewed by 1.5 million people and at least one person likes it? CRAZY! It’s so crazy, it causes people to ask stupid questions.

    • Yes…the opening credits are interesting. It’s like a beautifully painted 3-D mural of society’s misdeeds/poor behavior that has led to rapture.

      I’m on the fence about this show. It is slow which normally isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but unless it quickens the pace a bit, reveals a bit more in the next few episodes, I fear I’ll lose interest. There’s only so much deciphering and prophesying I can tolerate while watching a television show.

      What the heck was with Jill’s honking the Prius horn while Aimee was pilfering through Nora’s car, looking for hand cream? There was an evil glee expression on Jill’s face the entire time. Is it retribution for Aimee shagging in the first episode the guy she (Jill) had a thing for? Was it just a move to feel something – anything – besides pain? Maybe she’s hoping Nora will shoot her and put her out of her misery…? See? Questions. Lots o’questions.

  1. I personally was bored to death with this episode. There’s just nothing that’s interesting in it to me. 55 minutes of people walking around and talking and brooding, then a guy gets his bagel out of a toaster and liz Tyler cuts down a tree

    • Reminds one of Lost…55 minutes of people wandering around a forest talking and brooding, then a guy steals everyones property and someone tries to cut open a hatch.

      It also reminds me of The Wire. 55 minutes of people wandering around a poor low rent neighborhood talking and brooding, then a guy steals drugs and someone tries to cut open a drug addicts boyfriend.

      And it also reminds me of Iron Man 3, 55 minutes of a man wandering around talking and brooding and then makes a suit of iron out of a toaster and a guy tries to cut down 55 Iron Man suits.

      Isn’t that basically the plot of every show on the planet basically after a while?


    • Yeah, I am just not digging the show. I just don’t get that same “feel” that I did when I read the novel. The novel kind of dives in deeper into things and this feel more like TWD in which people do things that don’t make sense. I will give it another 2 episodes but just expected more out of this series

  2. Haven’t seen it yet but from what I’m reading on here, people are disappointed with it being so slow-moving.

    I normally give up on shows like that (Agents Of SHIELD being the last one) but it reminds me of Falling Skies too. I saw season 1 online a few months back and it was so slow I almost gave up on it and around midway through season 2, it finally started to get interesting.

    • The modern age should has had a crushing blow to attention spans. Everyone wants immediate action now.

      I blame Atari.

      • I dunno, I like slow burners and have argued a lot with friends because of it (recently because a friend thinks GOT is “too slow and boring” and she could “barely get to season 2″) but with Falling Skies, it seemed like they added in some action for the sake of keeping some viewers awake and the talky bits that could’ve meant something just turned out to be boring and meaningless.

        The characters were one dimensional until they finally reached Charleston and we had them coming up against the “utopia” that Professor Manchester had established but even that was ruined by sudden spurts of action again that continued through season 3.

        I just feel Falling Skies spent more time in the early seasons on the wrong things and could’ve showed the human conflicts that would arise in that situation but felt it necessary to put gunfights and aliens in just in case US viewers switched off and caused the show to be cancelled before its time.

        In other words, if you’re trying to insinuate that I have a short attention span then you’re completely wrong and should apologise profusely for labeling me in such a way without knowing a damn thing about me.

        • This coming from the dude who has been disrespectful about me several times. If you need an apology so badly here it is.

          I am so very sorry you are upset about being mislabeled *if* that was indeed what I was trying to do.

  3. This show’s premise is another take on a very common theme right now (some catastrophe befalling mankind and how the survivors deal with it). The religious overtones of the subject matter gives the show an air of some larger mystery that has the potential to either pay off well or be completely unsatisfying. That might be what is making some viewers hesitant to get behind another story that is an enigma wrapped up in a mystery that may end up revealing more nothing.