It all began with a nod. An unspoken acknowledgement passed from the Guilty Remnant’s leader Patti to the emotionless victim of the episode’s central conflict – the stoning. From there we follow Gladys (Marceline Hugot) through her daily acts of vandalism and inhumanity until we meet up with her in time for her abduction and horribly violent death.
The stoning scene was hard to watch, as it was meant to be. I have no doubt Lindelof and Perrotta intended to evoke high emotions from viewers, but the stoning served as more than a jolt for the audience – it was a catalyst for things that are yet to come. I’d like to purpose a theory that this murder served an alarming and yet unknown purpose bearing implications that perhaps the Guilty Remnant is engaging in its own cultish martyrdom.
Death is a Doorway to Emotion
I like to think we can all agree that this is a universal truth. It’s certainly a truth within the dystopian world of The Leftovers. So even when the unemotional Gladys is being stoned to death, we see her established countenance of indifference crumble as she faces the end of her life. She begs for mercy. She breaks her silence in her last moment of life and clings to her humanity. Her own death has reconnected her to the emotions she has committed to burying in light of the Guilty Remnant’s cause.
Laurie is the one who finds the body, which in itself turns out to be entire subplot of the episode, but in the immediate aftermath of finding Gladys, Laurie deconstructs into an emotional spasm of panic. I mean, I get it. You’re in a cult where people are being stoned to death while duct taped to trees – I would freak out too. However, I think it is ultimately Meg who sends Laurie into an emotional tailspin with her hardened emotionless response in which she says, “Are you surprised? We want them to remember something they want to forget. They weren’t just going to leave us alone, right? It was only a matter of time.” Meg then takes a cigarette and lights it; it’s a significant act in completing her initiation. Meg claims that while she should be scared, she isn’t. Laurie watches Meg disassociate from her emotions and this is when Laurie begins to unravel. I think she is reminded of her own initial fervor in undertaking the Guilty Remnant’s cause, but is conflicted with the very real confrontation with death and the sudden flood of emotions that has unleashed.
I think the most important scene in this episode is the artfully manipulative diner conversation between Patti and Laurie. In this scene, we learn that Gladys had a son who died over in Yemen. Even though Gladys was in the Guilty Remnant when she learned the news she still experienced the emotional backlash of losing her child. Gladys began questioning her commitment, became distracted and started to feel again. She initially mourned in private, but then she began acting out in public. It took Patti’s interference to set Gladys back on her path within the Guilty Remnant. Patti took Gladys to the same place she takes Laurie and probably similarly mind fucked her as well. Because that is Patti’s motivation, even though for an instant we think she might be good at heart, all she is doing is delivering a warning to Laurie. Laurie’s panic attack was an emotional reaction in public, a symptom of a weakness within her. A weakness that Patti identifies as doubt and doubt is fire, and fire will devour you until you are ash.
It becomes apparent in this diner scene that the Guilty Remnant is all about deadening oneself to an emotionally significant existence. What is disturbingly hypocritical is that Patti seems full of emotion. She may only be acting out in an effort to further manipulate Laurie, or maybe she uses these little “vacations” as her release. Whatever the reason, Patti seems just as unhinged as Kevin, but she hides it better. We see her crying and rocking back and forth as she writes the name “Neil” on a doggy bag. She also mentions a “session” in which Laurie advised her to do something back before everything “changed.” Was this some type of therapy session, or support group? I got the impression that this was referencing something from before the Sudden Departure, but maybe I’m wrong. Whatever it was that Laurie advised Patti to do it ultimately leads to her shitting in a bag and leaving it on Neil’s doorstep. This is Patti’s last act before she turns the radio off and ends her vacation day. Patti obviously has some anger issues to go right along with her manipulative and controlling attributes which makes her one of the most dangerous people on the show.
Is it Easier to Stay Silent?
Kevin and Reverend Jamison take a car ride to the morgue so the Reverend can pray for Gladys’ soul. On the way the Reverend tells a biblical story about Jesus telling his disciples, “compare me to something and tell me what I am like.” Tom tells Jesus he is unable to articulate what his great teacher is like, and Jesus tells Tom that he is not his teacher and that Tom has become intoxicated from the bubbling spring he has tended. Jesus then takes Tom aside and reveals to him three sayings. Upon Tom’s return he is asked by the rest of the disciples to reveal what Jesus shared with him, but he refuses and says that if he were to tell them what Jesus spoke to him they would pick up rocks and stone him and fire would come from the rocks and devour them.
Kevin, like me, needs an interpretation of this parable. The Reverend tells him that it means it is easier to stay silent than to speak the truth. And the truth is that killing the members of the Guilty Remnant doesn’t matter, because they don’t care – they’re already dead. I see where he’s coming from, but I think the Reverend is blissfully naïve about what is really happening within the Guilty Remnant. If Gladys was in fact a martyr who gave Patti that knowing nod agreeing to her own sacrifice to set off an emotional disruption and reminder to those who are trying to move past the Sudden Departure, then these are not people remaining silent because emotional truth is hard – they are something else entirely.
I think the Reverend gets a taste of this when Amy Brenneman completes her episode of a spectacular silent performance by blowing the whistle in his face to drown out the useless drone of his plea to the Guilty Remnant. He thinks he can awaken them to their humanity by getting them to speak about their emotions, but this only goes to show his ignorance of how deep the principles of the cult run within its members. I’m not entirely sure what is going on with the Guilty Remnant and what the bigger design is behind their movement other than their rejection of everything about the material world and the human condition. But it was this episode in particular that reeled me in and makes me want to know more about the GR.
Other Notable Happenings:
- Kevin really needs to buy new shirts. During the course of the episode we play witness to yet another puzzle centered around whether Chief Garvey is going crazy. Kevin’s white shirts have gone missing and the mystery ultimately leads to the Chief’s drunken abuse of power when he basically robs the dry cleaner and forces the owner to give him eight white shirts. Now Kevin has solved his own mystery. Only these weren’t bagels hidden in the back of a toaster waiting to be found. This was a violation of his position of power and a victimization of the business owner and the people the white shirts actually belong to in an effort to alleviate his own growing paranoia about his mental state. Speaking of paranoia, the alarm system is symbolic of his internal distress.
- We don’t know if Kevin is actually speaking to the federal agent he’s been trying to get a hold of or if he is hallucinating. I mean, the man offers to eliminate Mapleton’s “infestation” of the Guilty Remnant. This could be a projection of Kevin’s darkest desires. Just like the existence of the dog-killer was heavily in question at first, we’re left to wonder about this as well.
- The hunt for the body is another element in the show that raises some serious questions about the larger government system in this dystopian world that seems to be rapidly devolving. Gladys’ body ultimately ends up in the possession of the government agency ATFEC. She is among many dead bodies. Perhaps this is the same agency transporting the truck of bodies that were spilled all over the highway in last week’s episode. There is obviously something much bigger going on than just the happenings in Mapleton, but Kevin actively mutes the television report that talks about it. The cremation of the body is hugely ironic considering Patti’s story about the seeds of doubt being a devouring fire that burns one to ash. This would mean that according to the Guilty Remnant the whole societal system is diseased with fear and doubt, and that appears to be true.
- The fire imagery has stayed consistent with every episode. In this episode Jill plays with fire, Patti tells the story about the devouring fire of doubt, the Reverend’s parable involves fire and the body is cremated.
Ultimately, I thought this episode was successful in implicating that the Guilty Remnant is the show’s main antagonist. Brenneman’s performance was definitely impressive considering she doesn’t speak. And though I am glad that Kevin finally broke down and cried, his one-note anger and the continual quest to determine whether or not he is crazy is becoming a tad tiresome. It’s hard to know whether to be on his side. I’m hoping we discover more depth with a possible romantic entanglement with Nora. And while Lindelof and Perrotta continue to build this dystopian reality, we are now half way into the season and I am curious as to the direction in which all this is headed. This is not a happy viewing experience, and yet I keep going back for more in order to understand the Guilty Remnant and to hopefully find out what happened to the departed. Plus I like dark and disturbing dystopian stuff. But I find it hard to stand behind Kevin and watch him descend into madness – where is my hero in this story? Who am I supposed to really care about?
Amanda Lowery lives, writes and studies in Baltimore where she is held hostage by potholes, stray cats and rats that make her watch way too much TV and rhyme unnecessarily. You can find her book reviews and pop culture thoughts at amandasthinkingoutloud.blogspot.com.