May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
August 22, 2014
Two of the show’s greatest Lindelofian mysteries have been resolved in the last few episodes of The Leftovers, but the now 3 1/2 year distance from the Departure itself indicates there is more to come. For those unfamiliar with classic Dispensationalism (see below for handy chart) – this is the span of time marked for peace during the seven year tribulation following the rapture. The remaining 3 1/2 years are full of literal hell on earth, and the show was just renewed for a second season. In the meantime, we now know:
First, Chief Garvey has been plagued all along by nocturnal fugue states that involve capturing angry dogs, assaulting and/or kidnapping people, and nailing his fresh laundry to trees. This explains his issue with the local dry cleaners, the pets appearing in his backyard, and his odd relationship with Dean. It also explains the sporadic drama of his character, prone at times to angry outbursts and a general anxiety that makes his role as Police Chief a bit tenuous.I am sure we will find out more about why he enters these dissociative states (Ambien?). He feels guilty about the way he treated his wife. He feels impotent as a father. Perhaps this is the beginning of some kind of redemptive arc for his character. But at least, for now, his laundry problem has been solved.
Second, the Guilty Remnant is not some kind of Gnostic sect (which is a relief, as the common assumption that they were some kind of Gnostic sect is made difficult by the fact that what actual entails “Gnosticism” is a very open historical question). Rather, it is a cult of memory designed to ensure that the world does not simply go back to business as usual after losing 2% of its population. Even if they need to martyr themselves to keep fresh the wound of loss, so be it. This resolve has all the essence of a Lindelof screenwriting gambit, which layers a MacGuffin in a enough weird little details that it begins to feel gravely mysterious.
And with these resolutions, the fundamental flaws of the show remain apparent. I am going to just quote Andy Greenwald at length from Grantland, because there is no use trying to top this for clarity:
But recognizable human emotion isn’t enough to make exceptional television. Plausible human behavior has to go along with it. And here is where The Leftovers falters. I would find Ann Dowd spellbinding if she were delivering the Sermon on the Mount or if she were delivering pizzas. But not even an actor of her caliber could sell me on the line of metaphysical hooey showrunners Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta were offering here. The Kevin/Patti argument about “understanding what happened” was fraught with feeling but utterly bereft of context. What were they actually talking about? An event that will never be explained? Or behavior that continues to be inexplicable? Again and again, The Leftovers reaches for ideas on the highest shelf but only ends up knocking things over. When the show requires poetry, it either falls back on impassioned profanity — I’m no prude, but the language on The Leftovers is out of control; saying “f***” a lot signifies anger, sure, but also lazy writing — or it just lifts language wholesale in hopes of some borrowed profundity. Patti quoting Yeats was proof that she’s well read, but not of much else. It’s a move I would expect from Jill or Aimee — teenagers always put fancy things on their yearbook page to imply depth — but not from putative grown-ups. Messiness is fine, but this was just clumsy.
And to push a little harder, the show is particularly clumsy about apocalypse. I am willing for the sake of argument to agree that The Leftovers fits the apocalyptic genre, but with two significant caveats:
So if The Leftovers is to be considered an apocalypse, it is a weak one. It is missing a lot of the pieces that makes the apocalyptic genre something that has thrived through the ages, despite its alienating imagery and hard words for the ruling classes. And that is a problem with a weak apocalypse: it is hard for it to distinguish itself from melodrama. This, in itself, does not make The Leftovers deficient. This, plus Greenwald’s criticism above… that gets us a bit closer.
For comparison, a relatively strong apocalypse, from which The Leftovers mythos derives. Chief Garvey and crew are now right in the middle, at the feet of the Danielic statue. Next up, the abomination of desolation: