Every Tuesday Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. Since two episodes have already aired, episode one is covered today, episode two will be covered on Monday, and we’ll be caught up by Tuesday. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.
We all remember the 1990s and Kirk Cameron, but it’s a new decade, and The Leftovers, an HBO series based on the novel of the same name by Tom Perotta, hopes to avoid any religious dogma while presenting moral aspirations of its very own. The story mostly follows the Garvey family in the suburban and affluent Mapleton, and it has been three years after a rapture-like disappearance of two percent of the world population by unknown causes. “Gary fuckin’ Busey,” a bartender says before turning the volume down, an almost overused reminder in the first episode that there was no motivation or criteria. Mapleton remembers October 14 as “Hero’s Day” and holds a parade to honor the ones that have gone. It is a world of letters with no signatures, and little to no hope of anything near redemption.
The following contains spoilers.
And yet, even with Kevin Garney, police officer and existential night runner, as he punches a photograph of his wife on the wall, even with the students burying a dog and lamenting, “I’m sorry you had to go through this,” and the stale parallels in that, the story is already heading towards some Stephen King style good vs. evil conflict a la The Stand and Under the Dome. Not one but three cults have emerged from the mess of disappearances, each with their own reasoning for the event. The Garney family itself is as fractured as the town, with the father coping with his own wife, in a twist, not as one of those vanished, but a member of the silent-and-chain-smoking-and-traveling-in-pairs Guilty Remnants. Kevin’s son Tom attempts a relationship with a young Asian woman who is under the watchful eye of Wayne, a leader for the second cult, as he holds his eyes open just a little too wide and intimidates with knife moves. And the daughter, who floats in anti-paranoia for as long as possible, gets high on-campus and elbows girls in field hockey.
I myself am stumped by my reactions: do I want a supernatural show to commit to a linear progression of understanding? Because I seem also to enjoy, only slightly, the sheer noise of responses, the entropy of anger. Even the parallel structure with Kevin Garney and his run-in with the dog killer, from hatred for killing animals, to his changeover to shooting the dogs with a gun of his own, the symbolism oversaturated, at least was somewhat intriguing. They showed a lot and told a little, which is a good start, but it will face difficulties in tone and therefore audience if it is continued. “They’re not our dogs anymore,” the hunter says, and while that is true for the town of Mapleton, so far, it is also a question in the air for the entire show. Who will The Leftovers belong to?
Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.