Every week Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.
Many spoilers ahead.
One of the valid questions to ask The Leftovers is, “Will the show’s symbolism and larger themes be applicable beyond itself?” Will the show keep its Lost style of supernatural answers close? Or will it turn into something new?
The manufactured 20 inch baby introduction to the disappearance of the baby Jesus in the nativity scene is an incredible and haunting display of the attempts to continue games of standard Mapleton living. From Jill’s remark to her father about replacing Jesus as “cheating,” to the Guilty Remnant cult leader writing “There is no family,” to Tommy talking at his phone at the bus stop begging for a reason to protect Christine for Wayne, establishes a key point that just because characters decide to hold it together, it doesn’t mean things will turn out sane. Laurie wants a divorce. Kevin’s recovery of Jesus was blocked by Matt’s replacement. Tommy receives an automated message. “What is the right answer to that question?” Kevin asks Nora in the school hallway. Answers are only shortcuts to more questions.
However, there are some serious supernatural points that are beginning to cause throwaway lines like, “Just like in your dream” that ruin such indelible images like the manufactured cadavers on the road. What is also a parallel to the manufactured babies is also right here in manufactured people. I mean, that’s a good enough metaphor, just stick with it. The naked fight scene that ends with “I know what’s inside you,” is laughable. It’s hard to believe it’s happening in general, much less with a man naked only from the waist down.
Some things are relatively certain, or we hope to be certain: Nora and Kevin will have sex, and it’s going to be cynical and great.
But there is an overarching symphony that suggests a conductor, so to speak, and it’s happening too soon. Or is it? Is it okay to have a show throw both beginning narratives of characters and divine underpinnings simultaneously?
Take Jill for example: while she is trying to avoid every choice of the sacred and the profane in cult joining or God or shooting Jesus with a nerf gun on fire, she is untouched narratively, and has little character beyond a simple dry teenager who is aggressive with her elbows on the field. But because of Tommy’s burden he becomes a Lancelot upholding his vow to Wayne and Christine, and in a sense he has accepted being damned. Is it okay for the divine to supplement characters?
While I say all this, The Leftovers does an excellent job of displaying memories as gray and muddled things. We assume that Tommy was Kevin’s only to realize Laurie had another relationship before. Doug really did cheat on Nora. Kevin cheated on his wife. Between Matt’s paper and the Guilty Remnant’s theft of photographs, they are hammering down that history is a fool’s errand.
Maybe The Leftovers is striving to measure the limits of what it means to be human, and as characters discover each other they come to understand that those limits are felt now more than ever. From Garvey’s family to the manger, being human is beyond broken.
Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.