'The Leftovers': The Truth Is an Awful Thing

[This is a review of The Leftovers season 1, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.] 


Aside from the mystery of what happened three years ago on October 14 – which, it has been said many times over, will not be answered – The Leftovers has presented its audience with several lingering questions to mull over. Questions like: What's up with Laurie and the Guilty Remnant? What's the deal with Holy Wayne and his magical embrace? And certainly, what is going on with the elder Garvey's true state of mind – i.e., is he really being given information with a purpose, or is it just the ramblings of an unwell mind?

And while it seems as though either one or both of these as-yet unsolved mysteries could soon deliver something concrete about the true nature of the post-Departure world, the question is: How much would the story benefit from such a disclosure?

Anyone who has been following the series for the past seven weeks, or is otherwise familiar with Damon Lindelof's body of work – not to mention the sometimes-vague, elusive nature of Tom Perrotta's text from which the series is derived – knows that The Leftovers has built its world and its core narrative largely on the principle that from ambiguity, a wealth of potential storylines will spring.

This has been true, for the most part, as evidenced by Kevin Garvey's stuttering descent into madness, and especially in the two stand-out episodes 'Two Boats and a Helicopter' and last week's phenomenal 'Guest.'

The success of the single-perspective episodes demonstrates that while The Leftovers is great at organizing its ingredients and telling the audience cake is on the way, that treat is so far best delivered one small slice at a time. So far, the larger ensemble episodes sometimes come across as Lindelof saying, "Here, eat all the cake!" and as a result, are sometimes overwhelming. Which is why it is the smaller elements – the morsels – of the larger, more inclusive episodes that typically contain all the savoriness that is gobbled up in affecting departures like 'Guest.'

Take for example, 'B.J. and the A.C.,' which had some artful moments like the wordless construction of the baby doll, and some moments of much-needed humor, like when Kevin asks Jill if she stole the baby Jesus. Those tiny crumbs helped lift the episode up, and make the larger questions of what was going on with Kevin and the rest of the world seem a little more memorable.

In 'Solace for Tired Feet,' however, the focus is on questions of greater importance to the overall narrative. And here, they come through with great force and immediacy – which may wind up being a point of some concern (the focus on the questions, not the questions themselves), depending on what the series does or does not do with them.

While that issue will remain on the backburner for now (which is where the show seems to like it), for an episode that starts out with a modern-day retelling of a "Very Special Episode" of Punky Brewster - in which Jill nearly suffocates in an old refrigerator - it winds up creating an interesting parallel between Kevin and Tom's truth-seeking storylines. And though it holds everything together rather well, it doesn't necessarily deliver as an emotionally impactful episode as the series has in the past.

Annie Q and Chris Zylka in The Leftovers Season 1 Episode 7

Some of that might have to do with Tom. In the grand scheme of things, Tom is quite literally the odd man out. Because of his geographical distance from everything that is going on in Mapleton, there is such a disconnect with his character that it is sometimes difficult to be fully invested in his thread – which, at this point, is essentially a B-plot to Holy Wayne's C-plot. So having his search for some answers about Wayne correspond in certain ways with Kevin's handling of his father, and the search for answers about veracity of the voices Kevin Sr. cannot turn off, helps to loop Tom back into main thread a little bit.

To its credit, 'Solace for Tired Feet' goes to great lengths to draw correlations in the two primary stories it's telling. Along with Kevin and Tom having their left hand injured, both of them find a greater distrust in the things they had relied upon (not necessarily believed in, but certainly relied upon) to center themselves in their uncertainty.

Tom discovers that Wayne is setting up franchises by impregnating (possibly) underage Asian girls and telling them that they're "the chosen one," while the reliability of Kevin's mind – one that was under the influence of some pretty serious stabilizers – once more comes into question when he saves a "not our dogs anymore" dog, which is a pretty standard metaphor for his conflicted feelings toward Kevin Sr. and his confinement to a mental hospital.

Questions are still abound with regard to the information that is/is not contained in old issue of National Geographic, or what will become of Christine and her baby, now that Tom has peeked behind the curtain of Wayne's baby making empire. Those questions are handled in such a way that The Leftovers clearly wants the audience to be interested in their answers – whether they are coming or not.

So what happens when the underlying message of 'Solace for Tired Feet' seems to be: answers to big, powerful questions always seem to end in disappointment for those asking them?

The Leftovers continues next Sunday with 'Cairo' @10pm on HBO.

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