If you live in New York City and you have sight, you have probably seen the intense advertisements for HBO’s The Leftovers; yes, I’m talking about the shirtless, tattooed man (Justin Theroux) pounding a concrete wall, “We’re still here” and the blurry man (I think once again Justin Theroux) shouting, “Grace period is over”. These posters are only a snippet of the world’s severity in the Leftovers, based on the novel by Tom Perrotta. Now, I haven’t read the book, but just like when I started watching HBO’sGame of Thrones, I now feel the need to read the source of this charged, confounding show.
The pilot opens up all the plot lines by diving in and letting the audience try to figure out who’s who, how they’re connected, and…WTF! Literally most of my thoughts during the episode switched between WTF? And OMG! This is illustrated in the first moments, with the event that sets up the story and the kind of world we are in. To start with the inevitable spoiler (well, I don’t think it’s really a spoiler because of the title and it’s what the whole show is about): A tired woman with a crying newborn is on the phone going about her daily life. She straps the newborn into the car seat, sits at the wheel and then all of a sudden…the crying stops. Camera pans back and we see the newborn is gone, a little boy outside calls for his parents, the woman screams for her baby, cars crash into other cars, panic, 911 calls. Something terrible has happened. 2% of the world’s population has disappeared in an instant.
The show takes place 3 years after this event (known as “Rapture”), and we see in Episode One how intensely society has been affected by it. In the first scene we see after the fact, Theroux’s character, a cop named Kevin Garvey, is jogging and comes to a dog in the street looking at him, presumably one of the strays of the missing people. He tries to coax the dog to come over, “It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you—“ BAM. A shot. Someone we don’t know has shot the dog, and Garvey runs after him screaming, angry and disgusted. This is what the world has become.
Here we have another ensemble show, a la Game of Thrones, with a stellar cast. In addition to Kevin Garvey, there’s his deadened, but seething teenage daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) who still lives with him and his estranged son Tom, who is at a mysterious, religious affiliated community in the desert (Chris Zylka, aka the man screaming in the pool in the advertisements). These three characters are on completely different paths and dealing in their own emotionally stifled way, but all are backed with such emotional depth and tragic inner life that it echoes the feel of our country right after 911. Instead of coming together after their global tragedy, they are separate. The whole world remains divided and isolated in the wake of the Rapture.
Another group of people with a lot of screen-time in the first episode, with no name as of yet, is the political cult of smoking, mute, people dressed in all white (including Amy Brenneman, and led by Ann Dowd). Even in dead silence, they have huge power on screen. Who are they? Guess I’ll have to watch more to find out. I’m also excited (as a Doctor Whofan) for Christopher Eccleston, and what will unfold with Liv Tyler’s character, a stoic bride-to-be, also deadened and bleeding in this world, who makes a very interesting and odd decision by the end of the episode. These performances have much to thank for from the directing of Peter Berg and screenwriting of Damon Lindelof. The look of the world and the way the camera catches it supports these amazingly nuanced performances.
As one of the teenaged Frost twins says about the dead dog they end up finding in Jill’s dad car (played by Charlie and Max Carver, who, ironically, were both wolves on Teen Wolf): “Dogs are just animals, man. They’re not like us, trying to reason it all out and make sense of shit that makes no sense. They see something like that [the mysterious rapture] and they just snap. All bets are off right there, no more chasing sticks, no more licking your own balls, they just go primal, man. Same thing’s going to happen to us, it’s just taking longer.” This quote resonates especially having just witnessed a scene at a high school party where instead of playing “Spin the Bottle” in the traditional sense, they play with an iPhone app which spins through options of hug, burn, f*ck, and choke. At the end of the episode, Kevin Garvey witnesses a pack of stray dogs attacking en masse, and this time, he starts shooting the dogs himself. Things are bleak.
The intrigue, intensity, the engulfing sense of despair, desperation and desensitization make for a truly touching series. Especially with the quick, unexplained random jump-cut flashes into characters’ horrifying memories, the mystery of what happened and what is happening and what is going to happen is ever-present, with chilling performances from all of the cast. I just hope the next episode can live up to the bar set by the pilot! Check out the next episode Sunday at 10PM Easternon HBO.
Contributed exclusively for MONOLODGE by Nikomeh Anderson