recap

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Eight – Cairo

the leftovers episode 8

Colton Royle

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.

I want you to understand: spoilers.

Where do I start?

So if irony is the case where the viewer knows more than the characters, what is the opposite of that called? I’ll start there, because if once was bad enough, Kevin’s lapse of memory is awfully convenient for set pieces. But hey, the guardian angel character knows what happened right? Just in case the viewer is confused?

It’s like that moment when Jill and Aimee argue over whether Aimee had sex with Jill’s dad, and a whole bunch of sarcasm is used, and you still end up not knowing whether it actually happened. Even the twins afterward have a hard time proving or disproving it.

So here’s the problem: just because you use gaps in memory and divine coincidence and sarcasm to fill the cracks of plot with glue does not mean that anything is intact.

How about Liv Tyler? That opening shot with her beating the living tar out of Matt Jamison and her cussing the living daylights out of our ears was probably the nicest part of the episode. That was after the toneless introduction of Kevin and Patti arranging a table and room respectively. Great directorial transitions between the two, excellent lighting, beautiful music, and nothing to show for it. Sure you could claim some kind of parallels, but in hindsight it seems to be some bookend to her death in Kevin’s arms.

Yes, I’m aware also of the parallels between the knife in both Jill’s and Kevin’s hands, but I just care so little. It’s episode eight and Jill is still playing detective. I could say that Jill began the classic adulthood stage of paranoia, in which we all fit the massive amounts of information from Wikipedia into little stories we call our lives. I could say that, whether through divine assistance, or through radical will, Patti was not going to leave that cabin. I could say that perhaps Aimee has some serious family issues like Nora, considering we haven’t seen any of her family and we haven’t seen her leave Kevin and Jill’s house, and she got all shaky and hurt whenever Jill pushed her about “moving on.” But I’m not, because I am tired.

I definitely think this show is for somebody, like that somebody who watched Synecdoche, New York five times in a row and drooled on a clipboard. At least in this episode there were some interesting visual displays: zooming in on both Jill and Kevin’s faces, for example. But I am way too tired of being tugged around by plot. The plot is heavy and the characters are light and they all bow down to the mighty conflict. It’s like that aggressive coworker that explains their whole predicament only to push you verbally to say, “Okay, I’ll help you.”

I think The Leftovers is trying to create an overarching and powerful plot, while at the same time building the story on sand in order to prove that plots are futile, and I think they failed. It’s not like they didn’t work their asses off, it’s just that they didn’t commit to either. You’ve got Nora’s run-in with Wayne, Tommy’s highway stop with the bodies in which the view is “just like his dream.” Kevin’s father is telling him that his “services are needed.”

Yet Gladys gets murdered and we’re told that Patti and the gang killed her. And you realize that any dramatic emotion you had over Gladys was kind of bullshit, and you wonder why you bothered picking up the show in the first place. Or maybe that was their whole point?

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.

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Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Seven – Solace for Tired Feet

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Colton Royle

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.

Spoilers for Tired Feet

This show is constantly going to push you to wonder if it is worth your time. I don’t mean that in some grocery store aisle kind of way where you have some leftover (haha) cash and you can’t decide between Snickers and 3 Musketeers. What I mean is that the show in and of itself (yeah, I’m using that well-worn phrase) relies on you to provide its interpretation. Let me explain.

It’s not like we weren’t aware of how much the show brings up classic examples of religion only to shoot it down. Matt Jamison’s explanation getting trampled on by Kevin is just another example, but now they seem to trample on their own created religions. Wayne’s Asian franchises brings up the awkward chain of people in history that have claimed to be related to divinity, yet just like the factory scene from a couple episodes back, the one where they put together babies only to have one used as the baby Jesus, all of it is produced in assembly line ways. Wayne’s total awareness and Tom Garvey’s lack of awareness has us all awash with religious insecurity and bullet holes next to our twiddling thumbs.

Great metaphors and symbols for our modern times, right? Except that The Leftovers as a show has been created with little subtlety or regard for tone. Take the first scene in which we hear the all-male chorus chime in during the Guilty Remnant protest while Kevin gives up and turns away from pursuing his father. The easy question to ask is, “How did his father even escape?” but the real question is, “What is the purpose of the music and slowed footage?” The final shot of the three main women in the cult looking at Kevin had me baffled with what I was supposed to take away from that moment. Are we sad that he lost his father? Are we confident that Kevin is crazy and these ladies know it? Is all of it futile? The show never reveals its cards, expects you to play, but doesn’t even bother to explain the rules.

But hey, Nora and Kevin DID IT and boy was that great.

But let’s start to wrap this series up: this show is bad. Christine’s solo water birth notwithstanding, it’s going to take some incredible work to bring all of this back together. Who exactly is receiving the “solace” and who has the “tired feet?” Is it okay to realize only now the extent of Kevin’s medicinal addictions? Is it okay to show Jill a note that we don’t get to see, and then use it as dramatic collateral for a moment with a 1972 issue of National Geographic?

We’re all working too hard. Let’s use something simple. Liv Tyler comes in all hot and bothered by Nora and Kevin’s sexcapade, and she’s writing to Laurie that the dirty deed is being done, and Laurie writes back, “so?” And that is like EXACTLY how I feel. If the wife (ex-wife) doesn’t care, I sure as hell will not care. And she’s known him for years, and I’ve known him for like, what, seven weeks?

And all the while the show is encouraging you to build thematic structures of your own, and yea that’s a cool concept for middle school kids playing Minecraft, but it isn’t very inspiring here.

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Six – Guest

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Colton Royle

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.

Spoilers and such.

We get to see another possibly religious event collide with a secular result in this episode of The Leftovers, an episode with Nora kissing dead doppelgangers and stopping conspiracy theorists from taking her name and Wayne sucking the grief out of her AND Nora wanting to be shot in the chest with a gun while wearing a bulletproof vest AND seeing Kevin at the exact same time in court for the exact same reason, a divorce, AND featuring a question on the departed insurance form that gets a 100% response of “yes” until she is cured by Wayne.

All this roundabout summary is to say that The Leftovers is using a pretty big hammer all the time. Would Nora really kiss a constructed cadaver? Oh, she’s on a drug that’s “going to be FDA approved by October.” Many of the characters’ actions, like Jill’s Nerf fire arrow event and Kevin’s dog shooting, seem to be based on the words, “F#$% it.” If you were to really ask me to find the difference between Jill and Kevin, I would say apathy vs. depression. If you were to really ask me to find the difference between Nora and Kevin, I couldn’t tell you. Yet they create shamwow moments and claim it is character, and that’s textbook hitting the carnival hammer really hard. Kevin yells at dry cleaners. Jill steals Jesus. Preacher beats stealer. If The Leftovers wanted to satirize conventional plot, they can’t have this many signature moments and claim it is still coincidence. At some point, we know it’s a show, fellas.

And this review ends up being even more incoherent than the show. Remember when Nora held a dead grenade in her hands? Remember what was written on it? I sure as hell don’t. The sense of value when it comes to scenes is so frayed (what is more relevant, Wayne’s “I don’t give a shit comment,” or her healing Nora?). If it all matters it becomes paranoia. If none of it matters it’s irrelevant. “So, hey man, what’s your story?”

If it is a show attempting to explain modern living in this way, I think it’s going to ultimately fail. You can’t pull the rug out from somebody who wasn’t standing on it to begin with. And if you split the fan base into categories, are you really achieving anything different from Lost? I’m not looking for answers here, I mean I named my series Postmodern Rapture because I’m that guy. But what about questions? “If they get you to ask the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.”

And oh my God Nora and Kevin, just do it already. Put a couple intense scenes around their moments and it feels like Kevin should be pulling Nora’s hair in a game of tag at recess. Kevin says, “I’m a mess” and we’re all nodding our heads, but all for different reasons. I thought of “a hot mess express,” in case you were wondering.

But like, woah man, Wayne “heals” Nora into buying the right groceries, and she replaces the paper towels. It’s a great image, the towel stuff, but it kind of gets lost in the gray. Small tool-like style choices get marred by some “major” plot developments. Nora was compelling when she tipped the coffee cup and broke it because at least it was a small detail that had much larger ramifications, not to mention mystery. Here we have some pretty incredible events (spiritual healing, identity theft, WANTING TO GET SHOT IN THE CHEST WITH LOUD MUSIC ON) that are yes, mysterious, but ultimately boring.

You want to see fun suburban mayhem? Give it a shot.

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Five – Gladys

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Colton Royle

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.

Spoilers on this ride.

Alright, so another episode that starts violently and leaves the rest of our time this week in a slow grind. Gladys’s stoning could be viewed in religious terms with Matt Jamison’s of the Jesus and Thomas conversation. And there is some interesting play between fire, burning, Gladys’s cremation, and the conversation between Laurie and the Guilty Remnant leader over burning in reference to doubt. It’s more ambiguity, and that could be cool, someday.

But is anyone really surprised at the character shifts in this episode? Laurie doubles down in the cult, right after doubting everything, and this after divorce papers are presented. Matt tries harder to invade people’s lives. Liv Tyler decides to join, for real. And Kevin cries into a pillow after yet another existential night episode. It’s not like we weren’t prepared for this.

What we really weren’t prepared for was an offer for Kevin told over the phone to remove the Guilty Remnant from the face of the Earth. Kevin doesn’t talk much, but we can barely hear the other line. A show cannot have both sides of the call with neither making sense, and it played like a bad take. Don’t try good storytelling by making key information obscure.

Kind of like having someone writing, “Neill” on a “doggy bag” and placing it in front of a house without any foreshadowing or directorial stunt pilot maneuvers. I supposed we’re meant to wait until the big reveal episode some time later when we go, “Wow, I had no idea that was Neill,” but just leaving fragments of a story like batons to be picked up later is not a good way to write. In fact, whether it involves way-too-quick flashes in a psychologist session with Kevin, horrifically slow panic attacks with Laurie,  fire nerf gun peer pressures with Jill, or paper bags, most directorial moves on The Leftovers feels intense without earning it. People say things like that all the time, but I mean it: it’s literally impossible to feel their sadness. The people are gone, and it’s been three years.

Okay, so, real quick, more parallels to lack of family ties. Nora and Matt are obviously not having it. Kevin and Laurie getting a divorce, Liv Tyler belongs to no one, Jill will not hug her father while he is in post-drinking sad times. Gladys had no family to mourn for her violent death. Tommy’s phone got broke… I GET IT.

One thing I do enjoy is the occasional dark humor. Last time it was the twins’ funny Jesus drop off, while the alarm this time going off right when he got the phone call for the agent in Washington was a nice touch.

Maybe I’m missing the point, But when I see a sneak peek of the next episode and it involves Nora holding an armed grenade in public, I feel as though someone else missed it.

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.