When we were last with Chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) he was relieving his mounting aggression by killing a wild pack of dogs roaming the streets of Mapleton. The rumor is that the dogs were all witnesses to the Sudden Departure and so they have become unhinged; wild and untamable – primal. All of Mapleton’s citizens seem to be teetering on the edge of a similar becoming. Once again we are provided a glimpse into the lives of these people left in a world that has just experienced an inexplicable event. The focus of this show is how these characters are coping, how would the human race go on in the wake of the unknown? Isn’t that what we do all day every day with death looming as our ultimate unknown destination? Yeah, things are getting metaphysical here.
Tom’s Noble Mission and Holy Wayne
The episode opens with a discussion about Wayne Henry Gilchrest Jr., aka Holy Wayne. Viewers get to learn from these two investigators the narrative of Holy Wayne’s recent past. He claims to be a healer, able to relieve people of their sorrow and their burden, but he has a weakness for young Asian girls and is on the run from the law. I found this scene interesting, because the guy calling the shots, about to order a raid on Holy Wayne’s ranch out in Nevada, speaks all of his lines while eating an apple. Whether this was in the script or a decision made by the director, I am not sure, but what I am sure of is the registered effect. To these two investigators sitting in a secluded room calling the shots, Wayne’s crimes of statutory rape and the cult following his magic hugs don’t matter enough to even merit speaking about them without a mouthful of the forbidden fruit; the fruit of knowledge.
Then we cut to the raid at the ranch where innocent people are being shot and Christine (Annie Q) almost bites the dust. That man with his apple seems so far away from Tom Garvey (Chris Zylka) and his mission to protect Christine. It is this mission, bestowed upon him by Holy Wayne that leads him to kill the agent on the brink of shooting Christine. Whatever burden Tom was carrying before is likely to be magnified by this action. We see it when Tom and Christine arrive at their rendezvous spot and find the clerk dead and no Holy Wayne. Tom tries to call his father. But of course Holy Wayne shows up and we learn something new about Tom. When Wayne offers himself to Tom, opening his arms for one of those magic hugs – Tom refuses. He chooses to hold on to what he has done. He doesn’t want to forget. This made me wonder if he has ever consented to the unburdening, or if it is just this particular offer that he turns down. And in a scene that echoes last week’s underwater scream, we see Tom let out an audible scream of frustration, of pain, of feeling like he is lost on a path he was once so sure of, but has corroded over time.
I’m interested in Tom and his journey to come with Christine, and to find out why she is so important. I also can’t wait to find out more of how Tom became a follower of Holy Wayne. His internal struggle with accepting what he has done and trying to balance that with his disintegrating belief in Holy Wayne should make for good character drama.
Chief Garvey’s About to Break
We catch up with the Chief in the midst of another weird ass dream. In the dream Kevin is woken up by Aimee and led to a place where the dog shooter waits in the woods to kill a member of the Guilty Remnant, Kevin looks down to find his feet are on fire. Then he wakes up to find his fence on fire. His neighbors are burning one of their departed’s clothes. It’s interesting to note that Kevin isn’t wearing any shoes and on his way back inside he steps on false teeth. Teeth. Obviously, this means something, because it’s Damon Lindelof and the guy must think in layers. Because these are false teeth it made me think of putting on appearances, which becomes a significant theme in this episode as Kevin’s sanity comes into question.
Kevin visits a psychologist who suggests that perhaps the man with the gun doesn’t really exist. Kevin is the only one who has seen him. Kevin is obviously agitated by this, and the fact that his father has been committed doesn’t lend him much credibility. I love the scene in the doctor’s office as Kevin stares at the inflatable penguin and finally asks about it. The doctor says he uses it with his younger patients to help them with aggression. Kevin has some serious aggression issues, only he just shot dogs to deal with it as opposed to hitting an inflatable penguin. The penguin is another symbolic representation in the world of animal totems; it is the penguin that is symbolic of order in the chaos. The penguin also has to do with adaptability and flexibility in remaining centered. This is Kevin’s biggest struggle in this episode.
He’s got the crazy dad thing happening, the dog shooting, the guy in the truck that no one can identify, the truck showing up in his driveway and a family that is falling apart. He’s dealing with a lot of shit right now. I love that I feel the most for Kevin, and yet he wasn’t impacted by the Sudden Departure directly. He’s just trying to hold down the fort while his son joins a cult, his wife joins whatever the hell the Guilty Remnant is and his daughter flirts with hedonism while also possibly cultivating some nihilistic tendencies.
Jill and the Mysterious Nora Durst
During a chance encounter at a coffee shop, Jill sees that Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) carries a gun with her. Jill tells Aimee what she saw and the two gossip about the possible purpose of the gun. Nora is the ultimate grief stricken woman by Mapleton’s standards, having lost her husband and two children. So the girls decide to follow her to see if she what she is up to.
It is here that we discover that Nora has a job dealing with making sure people get “departure benefit” money, which requires a bizarre questionnaire to be answered by the family. This is an interesting occupation considering what Nora must be going through. But we’ve yet to be exposed to her real grief. Nora seems to hold her composure in public. However, I found it interesting that she purposely pushed the coffee cup off the table and drew attention to herself. She seemed to be waiting for and gauging the young barista’s reaction to her ‘accident.’ Perhaps she craves the attention now that she is alone.
Jill and Aimee hijack a hybrid and follow Nora around. Aimee even digs in Nora’s car and finds CDs of children’s music and old jellybeans probably meant for Nora’s departed children that have grown stale over the years. While Kevin’s neighbor is burning his departed brother’s belongings, Nora seems to be holding onto to tokens of her children.
Meanwhile, Over at the Guilty Remnant
We find out that Kevin has made dissecting the GR a personal and professional project. He takes the missing people reports seriously and provides a family with closure when someone suddenly disappears into the internal ranks of the GR. Meg Abbott (Liv Tyler) has now been living among the GR for several weeks. She and Laurie are still engaged in an intriguing initiation process. Patti (Ann Dowd) thinks that Laurie (Amy Brenneman) is losing their new recruit. Meg hasn’t quite managed to give up all of her former life; she clings to emotional material items and hasn’t hardened herself emotionally for her journey forward in the GR. She is at a critical point in recruitment where the GR either gets to keep her or she leaves it all behind. Like many other people, Meg has been deeply impacted by the Sudden Departure. We aren’t sure exactly what happened, but I think she may have lost her mother, as it is a blouse that belongs to her mother that Meg ultimately surrenders to Laurie. Meg asks Laurie if she remembers how hard the process of letting go of the past was during her recruitment. Laurie reveals to Meg that Kevin, who Meg met early in the episode, is her husband. Laurie writes to Meg the message “I remember,” and something clicked in my mind concerning the GR. They are the living reminders – it is their job to remember everything.
I think my main question is – what is the GR’s main mission, or is it run by a crazy person like Holy Wayne who had an idea and ran with it while collecting followers? It seems in this world created by Tom Perrotta’s novel is one flush with visionaries that establish their own sense of meaning in the chaos among those remaining after the Sudden Departure. And many people are trying to find the group that best matches what they are feeling internally. This is a fascinating playground for examining human psychology and social behavior.
Meg surrenders the last of her personal belongings and the last scene of this episode is of her with the axe in the woods, chopping down the tree that symbolizes her former self. She is severing the bond that the tree has with its roots and the whole system of trees within forest ecology. She is isolating herself. I’m really interested in finding out more about Meg’s motivation as we get to know her better. This week’s episode provided only a glimpse. What I am looking for among these members of the GR is their universal pain. What is it about the way some people experience the Sudden Departure that makes them turn to the GR. Is it just that they no longer find meaning in their former mode of existence and don’t think anyone should try to get back to business as usual? I know the purpose of the GR that Perrotta wrote about in his novel, but most things change in the process of adaptation, so I am riveted in watching this unfold.
Also – did anyone else notice that Laurie’s hair is a whole lot prettier than in the pilot? It’s tame and darker. I don’t know if that was a change made due to suggestions made after the pilot or if it will later be explained. She looks a whole lot better though, which could also be her character’s evolution.
Kevin Garvey Hangs by a Thread
Though Kevin’s actions increasingly resemble his father’s lapse into madness, he knows that the mystery gun man is real. It’s even proven when Jill and Aimee come home and interact with him while he stands on the Garvey’s doorstep. The man with no name tells Kevin that there is another pack of dogs they can go kill, which translates to little kids beating the shit out an inflatable penguin. Shooting the dogs is the release of all that internal aggression we see building in Kevin’s character throughout his day.
Kevin also finds he has to break the news to Meg’s fiancé that she is staying with the GR. Kevin tells him that she is still in the early stages of recruitment and he could probably get her to come home. But his anger at Meg for leaving him for the GR seems to trump all other possible scenarios of her coming back home and resuming a life she was obviously unhappy with. This is another missed opportunity for Kevin to communicate with someone about his own wife’s decision to leave him and their family for the GR. He keeps it on the inside and projects the chief of police façade. False teeth.
Kevin’s visit with his father, Kevin Garvey Sr., was interesting. We find out that Garvey Sr. and the Mayor have or had a very close and possibly intimate relationship. We also find out more about his madness which appears to be his ability to hear voices. Whose voices? The departed? Angels? Who knows! But one thing we do know for certain is that Garvey Sr. doesn’t want to see his son go down a similar path, and so he tells him what to tell the psychologist, and emphasizes that if Kevin wants to keep what he has left he needs to compartmentalize all the weird shit that’s happening to him. Again the false teeth come into play, putting on appearances. The voices tell Garvey, Sr. that Kevin is going to be visited by three ghosts. Oh, wait, that’s another story. The voices have a message for Kevin that somebody is being sent to him to help him. We’re left to wonder if it’s the mysterious dog shooting man, or perhaps Aimee or maybe it’s someone who hasn’t come into the picture yet. If it is the dog killing man, then perhaps the help is the way to release some of the primal aggression building up in Kevin.
In a show based on the premise that all the leftover people after the Sudden Departure are left without closure, the first two episodes provide us with very specific examples of closure and how important it becomes in the world they now live in. Last week, Jill and the twins buried the dog they found in the trunk. They finished a task and lay to rest a dog that belonged to one of the departed. It was something that seemed natural to them to do as human beings. It was probably cathartic.
In this episode, we see Kevin lose his shit over the bagels that seemed to disappear into thin air. It isn’t until the end of the episode after visiting his Father that Kevin returns to the kitchen hell bent with the intention to find out what happened to his breakfast. He unscrews the back of the toaster and finds his bagel in there. Kevin needed this closure with the bagels, because it is essentially the only mystery he is capable of solving at this point. With the looming mystery of the Sudden Departure and the psychological aftermath on the Leftovers, this act that could be viewed as obsessive felt more like desperate diligence. Kevin was able to find some small slice of charred peace.
I thought this episode did a much better job of moving through the different storylines than the pilot. The pilot seemed to overreach, an attempt to get everyone’s story in motion while providing an episode arc. With only 10 episodes in the season there is a very full story to tell, and I can say I am interested in this dark exploration of the psychological and societal effects that the unknown have on our lives as human beings with a finite existence. Things are getting weird. But I like weird. I also thought the opening was interesting and suggestive in a spiritual way that also nailed the looks of grief on the faces of the humans losing their loved ones. Sometimes it hard to just let the Departure exist and focus on the impact it had on these characters, but it doesn’t take me long to feel pulled into their world and watching for anything that might have meaning.
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.