'The Leftovers': The Power of a Blank Slate

Justin Theroux in The Leftovers Season 1 Episode 4

[This is a review of The Leftovers season 1, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]


The Guilty Remnant is a peculiar force in The Leftovers. Visually, its members are rather strange, dressed all in white and chain-smoking their cigarettes like a roving pack of street toughs. The group is a fascinating contradiction, with its primary characteristics emphasizing the pristine and the soiled. It is a concept that, were it not for how creepy they are with their vow of silence, their fliers practically mocking those who dare question why they were left behind, and their propensity for popping up at inopportune times (really, though, when is it an opportune time for the GR to pop up?), they might even be thought of as downright preposterous.

And yet, the series has largely managed to make them work. Even in the pilot episode, the GR – more specifically, Laurie Garvey's recruitment of Meg – successfully illustrated the unsettling nature of the group, while helping their purpose and their message to slowly build to a place where it could not only made clearer, but it might also make some kind of sense.

The clarification of the group's goal works even better now in the aftermath of last week's terrific 'Two Boats and a Helicopter,' in which Reverend Matt Jamison's loss of his church seemed like a tremendous setback, or another example of the series seemingly pushing everything toward nothingness. In retrospect, however, it might actually have been something of a blessing, the unburdening of a tortured soul.

So, when the GR spend the last few minutes of 'B.J. and the A.C.' doing a little B and E, while a great many residents partake in the Mapleton Holiday Dance, it winds up feeling less like some arbitrary scheme intended to hurt people (even if that will be the community's sentiment toward the group's efforts) and more like a vigorous push for everyone to simply unburden themselves from the pain of memory and to embrace the idea of creating a blank slate.

And so, like the Departure itself, The Leftovers is less concerned with the logistics of the GR's actions than with what the ramifications of the group's actions will be. What was once a semi-passive fringe group has now turned a corner by committing some petty acts, all in the name of pushing people to accept the emptiness of their existence.

Yes, it's all fairly bleak stuff, but somehow The Leftovers manages to inject a little humor into the proceedings to help balance the dreariness of it all. Most of the episode utilizes the framework of Jill having stolen the baby Jesus from Mapleton's manger, and her dad's efforts to recover the doll (or replace it, as the mayor suggests) before the holiday festivities kick off.

But more important than what Jill is up to, or even Tommy having fallen off the Garvey family radar (as well as his odd series of run-ins with a pregnant Christine and her dreams of dead bodies in white that will likely have much more significance down the road), is Kevin's reaction to them. Theroux continues to do great, subtly funny work as both an antihero and an oblivious dad. When he asks, "Jill, did you steal the baby Jesus?" the line is funnier than one might expect, and Theroux manages to convey the idea that even Kevin Garvey sees the humor in the question.

The Guilty Remnant in The Leftovers Season 1 Episode 4

By and large, the episode works to expose the vulnerabilities of its characters, and succeeds for the most part. There's a sense that Kevin, Jill, Aimee, and even Tom all recognize how broken the world and their particular situations are, and decide that it's not only okay to see things as being at least a little funny, it's downright essential.

That bend toward some dark humor helps balance certain heavier moments like Laurie dropping by to serve her husband with divorce papers, which reveals (for the audience anyway) that Tommy came along before Kevin did, and ends with Jill giving her mother an engraved lighter that reads: "Don't forget me." Whatever is going on with Jill, her desire to engage in destructive behavior, and then her inability to see that behavior through to the end, is underlined in that moment and offers a more complete picture of who she was before cataclysmic events set her running halfheartedly down a stereotypical path.

There's even something tragically funny about the genuine moment between Kevin and Nora that gets shattered by Kevin's audible realization of who he's talking to, and their subsequent discussion of having or being a cheating spouse. Kevin and Nora are both confessing something that alters their perception of someone they loved or their perception of the person they believed themselves to be.

In a sense, both are doing what the Remnant wants: relieving themselves of the burden of the past and in the process becoming more of a blank slate. And in the end, that might be the only way anyone is ever ready to move on.

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

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