[This is a review of The Leftovers season 2, episode 9. There will be SPOILERS.]
It is interesting the way The Leftovers works to disprove its own version of heightened reality by constructing a compelling layer of doubt in the season’s penultimate, Meg-centric episode, ‘Ten Thirteen’. It’s also impressive the way this is accomplished by once again utilizing the same storytelling device that has been such a blessing to the series and helped position Damon Lindelof’s once-divisive show about grief and despondency into hands down one of the best shows on television at the moment.
It might seem like following up last week’s trippy, dream-like journey into the underworld with a more or less straightforward offering focused on Meg would be a mistake. After all, this is a character who at best filled a supplementary role in the series throughout season 1, and has only appeared once this season, in a perplexing scene depicting an assault on Tom of a sexual and physically violent nature. And yet, by simply switching the perspective from Kevin Garvey’s resurrection to the little seen Meg, The Leftovers actually pauses, takes a deep breath and successfully builds a surprisingly strong sense of tension, as it turns the corner on the season finale.
The act of stopping for a moment and entering into a digressive story of Meg’s pre and post-Departure existence does more than give the season a chance to halt the narrative’s forward momentum and gather up certain threads that have been dangling since the season premiere. It is also a chance for the series to re-write the character without doing a complete overhaul. The benefit here being viewers don’t know that much about Meg or her history, so when the episode drops in a past series of events that seem conveniently crafted for the purpose of the episode it’s not entirely preposterous, nor should it necessarily be received pessimistically.
The initial drop into Meg’s pre-Departure life actually does a lot to define what is otherwise a tertiary character, especially as she becomes the catalyst for the events leading up to the season finale. The episode drops in on Meg at lunch with her mother, but is sure to emphasize her trips to the bathroom to do bumps of coke, presumably to help her get through the passive aggressive conversations about money and marriage that are so often fodder for these kinds of seemingly pedestrian exchanges. This is the sort of thing that might feel like a bit of engineering, as Meg’s casual drug use in public – to help with something as banal as a meal with her mother – defines her in a way that isn’t necessarily contrary to what the audience already knows, but is a pointed reveal that certainly makes her subversive actions within the Guilty Remnant and the violent way she met with Tom seem like less of a stretch.
It’s a clever way to craft a new narrative around Meg, one that is strengthened by her mother’s death that same afternoon, the day before the Sudden Departure – 10/13, or ‘Ten Thirteen,’ if you like. As The Leftovers is prone to doing – and is apparently comfortable doing, since it’s been taking and landing big swings all season long – the episode follows up Meg’s coke-fueled lunch with her mother, and the woman’s subsequent death, with a trip to Jarden. The trip takes place before Meg joined ranks with the Guilty Remnant, which means that throughout all of season 1, there was a character who had already stepped foot inside the season 2 setting of Miracle National Park and deemed it false. It’s not really of any consequence one way or another that she never mentioned it – perhaps it’s a good thing she was in the GR, then, and her dialogue was limited – as the real importance of Meg’s journey there lies in how it influences her actions in this specific episode. But still, it is interesting to think that if Jarden was such a thorn in her side, why wasn’t it brought up before now? Those are the risks that are run when a previously established character’s background or a past event is designed to enhance more recent developments.
Regardless of how engineered certain aspects of Meg’s story feel, the way in which the episode comes together posits an interesting season finale that may well see the Garveys reunited in Jarden under not-so-great circumstances. Tom has been as much of a missing piece of the puzzle as Meg – and to a certain extent Laurie – this season. The difference being both Chris Zylka and Amy Brenneman had more prominent roles in season 1, so their characters – Laurie’s mostly silent performance notwithstanding – are more established and therefore offer a considerable amount of texture to the proceedings. Tom’s split from his mother is explained quickly and his aversion to the fallacious hugging narrative they’ve created to “help” others draws a parallel to Meg’s distaste for Jarden and desire to put an end to the supposed false promises of Miracle National Park.
All of that brings the episode full circle to the idea that the show is following the supposed miracle of Kevin’s resurrection with an episode that demonstrates the series’ willingness to embrace skepticism and perhaps even cynicism with the reveal of Evie and the other girls who disappeared at the start of the season. Finding Evie in cahoots with Meg is the nuclear equivalent to the minor incendiary device that is finding out Meg once had a casual cocaine habit. Nevertheless, both revelations make you say, “Oh, you are not at all the person I thought you were,” which makes for an intriguing set of circumstances yet to be uncovered when season 2 comes to close next week.
The Leftovers will end season 2 next Sunday with ‘I Live Here Now’ @9pm on HBO.
Photos: Felicia Graham and Van Redin/HBO