We had barely started our Lost group watch when I knew that – at least I personally – had no choice but to follow it up with Damon Lindelof’s next series project, HBO’s The Leftovers. Premiering back in 2014, the drama is based on Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name, and he and Lindelof ran the show together. Over its three seasons, The Leftovers became one of the most critically acclaimed shows of the decade, but many reviewers and fans weren’t on board right away. This show asks a lot and it takes a lot, but it also has plenty to give.
Knowing that our Twitter crew had no problem getting existential for that island show, it seemed like they’d be up for this too. And thus, the #Oct14th marathon was born – a first watch for some and a rewatch for others. Just as we did for Lost, we’ll be breaking down the show season-by-season. Your core recappers will be me, Kim, Rachel, and Shannon, and for Season One, we’re also joined by fabulous guest-blogger Morgan. So join us as we visit Mapleton, New York, three years after the Departure. And spoilers abound below, so take care if you’re behind! –Sage
- Favorite Episode?
Kim: It’s a little bit funny because when I tried to watch The Leftovers as it aired in 2014 (bitch please, I’m a Lost stan. Of COURSE I wanted to watch his new show in real time), “Two Boats and a Helicopter” was the episode that made me nope out of the series. Well. I really don’t know what 2014 Kim was thinking because 2021 Kim is declaring “Two Boats and a Helicopter” her favorite episode of Season One. Now, don’t get me wrong. The episode is an intense, white-knuckled, wild ride of impending DOOM. I literally slid down to the FLOOR when Matt strolled into that Casino like Lucas trying to save Empire Records, ready to play all of his money on ROULETTE. (At least Lucas played craps!) I was rocking back and forth as he just kept LETTING THE BETS RIDE, ultimately winning what he needed to buy the church (and then some!) on one of the Lost numbers because Damon Lindelof is that bitch. And just! The episode doesn’t stop after that, not until the final gut punch of Matt missing the bank deadline by THREE DAYS (just like Jesus) because he tried to help a member of the fucking GR only to then find out that the fucking GR bought his church from him. Like I said! A wild ride of impending DOOM.
Sage aptly compared the episode to Uncut Gems, pressure-cooked down to fifty-three minutes and even MORE depressing. And just like how Uncut Gems would have 100% not worked without the genius performance of Adam Sandler, “Two Boats and a Helicopter” absolutely would not have worked without Christopher Eccleston’s brilliant performance (slightly questionable accent aside) anchoring the episode. I’ll talk more about Matt later, so I’ll just say this: the incredible script for this episode isn’t the reason I ended up on the floor. It was all Christopher Eccleston and the gravitas he brings to this role. He is raw and real and desperate and oh-so-very human in this episode that you can’t help but feel like you’re right there with him every step of the way. After two episodes feeling like the characters are keeping the audience a bit at arm’s length, Matt Jamison grabs you in this one and just…doesn’t let go.
Rachel: I am such a sucker for Matt Jamison. The sad tale of woe that is “Two Boats and a Helicopter” is a darkly comedic cascade of close calls and bad luck for our town priest. He is so steadfast in his faith that he is on the right path, but the world around him is crumbling. Christopher Eccleston gives such a nuanced performance that despite his dreadful decision making and ability to make pretty much everyone want to punch him in the face (which they do a lot!), you WANT Matt to succeed, rooting for him to save his Church, be able to take care of his wife, and just be happy! Laying there in the dark, stifling tears of a mixed rage and despair, we see a glimmer of hope in the shining light on Job, inspiring Matt to set a course to do just that. After all, Love Will Keep Us Together, right? Alas it is not to be. We all felt in our bones the ground fall out from beneath Matt as we learn that three days have passed and the GR now owns his beloved house of worship. Take Me to Church!
Shannon: As much as I love the interconnectedness of all the bigger ensemble pieces, it’s the smaller, character specific ones episodes I’m responding to the most. And none so much as “Two Boats and a Helicopter.” I haven’t stopped thinking about it since we watched it; the stunning performance by Christopher Eccleston, the tension of the gambling scene, the inevitability of Matt getting attacked for his winnings and the shock of him waking up three days after he lost his church to the Guilty Remnant. It’s a beautiful, sad, thoughtful and well-crafted hour of television.
Morgan: Gosh, this is hard. I really loved the whole first season. The Season One finale was my favorite, “The Prodigal Son Returns.”
The opening scene – which I discuss in my “right in the feels” section is a reason this episode feels like a masterpiece. That said, there are so many places in this episode where the acting, production, direction, music, everything is on point.
The Guilty Remnant have purchased life-sized doll replicas of people that departed from the town. One standout scene is Nora after her morning routine. These replicas were strategically placed around town to “make people remember.” The moment when she sees her family in the kitchen is spectacular. In those moments, we see her go through several intense emotions. Carrie Coon didn’t win anything for this show and she very much deserved to.
Sage: The Leftovers turns the corner from good into great with our first Nora spotlight episode, “Guest.” Not only is it a proper introduction to, imo, one of TV’s most compelling characters, it also gives us a glimpse at the world outside Mapleton post-Departure. And could there be a richer setting for that than a Departure conference? Naturally, good-faith efforts to explain what occurred on Oct. 14, 2011 and to provide relief to those who lost someone have also enabled opportunists exploiting sadness and hawking philosophy, conspiracy theorists invalidating pain, and a cynical element that blames anyone with the gall to still be suffering in their vicinity for ruining the party. Watching “Guest” in the throes of a politicized pandemic made it more poignant than ever; fortunately, it also has other elements that soften the content: a healthy dose of dark comedy, which The Leftovers does well; a genuinely swoony scene with Kevin and Nora; a full-blown mystery that’s solved in the course of the episode; and a masterful performance by Carrie Coon, the only actor who could deliver the line, “Oh, fuck your daughter!” with that much gusto.
- Least Favorite Episode?
Rachel: How am I supposed to answer this? They are all great! But if I had to pick, I think it would have to be Episode 2, “Penguin One, Us Zero.” It’s got a fair bit of Holy Wayne stuff which is probably the least interesting as Tom is separated from the rest of the Garvey clan most of the season. I get why they had to do a lot of teen time here, but the follow Nora Durst with the twins story I would say is one of the most conventionally told of the season? Also Dog Guy. Which we’ll get to later. But I do really like the Meg/Laurie tree chopping scenes a lot, and of course, they lead to a pivotal moment for Meg later on.
Shannon: I have a feeling this is going to be a hard question for me every season, since eight episode runs are a lot less likely to include clunkers. Especially here! Everything is so carefully parsed out and has such a clear vision that even if I’m not enjoying an episode, per say, I’m very engaged.
All that said, despite its killer title, “Penguin One, Us Zero” faded into the distance for me. Maybe it’s that I hadn’t emotionally connected to much of the Holy Wayne and/or dogs plotline yet, but there’s just a lot going on in that episode and none of it was particularly memorable.
Morgan: Do I have to pick one? I enjoyed “Gladys” less as it involves a violent kidnapping and stoning of a woman from the Guilty Remnant. I understood why it was there, but that scene was hard to see.
Sage: It’s not a bad hour of television by any means, but I do think that “Gladys” goes too far. It’s essential to comprehend the brutality of the GR martyr’s death, but one (1) rock in the face would have done that for me, you know? The violence is alienating, and I can see why it was a dealbreaker for a lot of viewers.
Kim: Every single episode of this season is strong and compelling television filled with excellent, precise storytelling. Listen, when you have a ten-episode season, there’s no room for filler. You have to know where the story is going and you can’t waste time getting there. That makes it harder for me to have a clear “least favorite” episode. (Damon Lindelof just works better with a smaller episode order. That’s a known fact, just look at the back half of Lost.) So instead I’m approaching this category with an eye of “Which episode would I not go back to?” That honor goes to “Gladys,” mainly due to the fact that I couldn’t sit through her getting stoned to death again. Too far guys!
- Favorite Character?
Sage: Rewatching this show after watching Lost for the first time opened my eyes to the fact that Kevin (or Kiev-in, if your name is Patti Levin) is, in a lot of ways, Jack Shephard 2.0. (It could have also been Kim sitting next to me shouting “Man of science, man of faith!” during the scene in “Solace for Tired Feet” where Kevin Sr. tries to give his son the National Geographic, but I digress.)
Kevin wrestles with a lot of the same issues that Jack does, but somehow manages to be far less annoying about it. He’s an authority figure presiding over a powder keg situation. He’s plagued by regrets and guilt – both for things he has done and for things he only thought about doing. And unlike most people in Mapleton (and seemingly the rest of the world), he doesn’t care much about why the Departure happened or what really took place. Or, at least, he doesn’t on the surface. Whether it’s his own subconscious or some greater force, something is pushing Kevin to dig deeper, to go further, to step into a bigger role. And Justin Theroux is just shockingly good at playing a man who’s resisting that with all his might.
He’s also a very pretty crier, which will continue to be an asset on a show like this.
Morgan: Kevin Garvey Jr. is my favorite. I had a fair amount of trouble choosing who gets this, as a lot of the acting is stellar. In a group of characters who are deeply flawed, seeing a man cope with losing his mind and by the end of the season, finding his way back again felt oddly satisfying.
Patti was a close second.
Kim: When it comes to these posts, I feel like there’s always a moment when your favorite character crystallizes for you. For me, it was when Matt Jamison showed up to Kevin’s cabin with a shovel in his trunk, ready to help Kevin dispose of Patti’s body, no questions asked. (To the point where, when it seemed that Matt had turned on Kevin and taken him to a mental institution, I was fully prepared to write a scathing essay on how WILDLY out of character it was.) Like I did with Benjamin Linus in our Season Six Lost post, I even think I said under my breath “Oh, it’s you,” in that moment.
CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON, you guys. Look, I know I’m Doctor Who trash, but I’ve been going through it with Eccles over the past eighteen months since he started hitting the convention circuit. Seeing him in person and then watching him in this role just makes so much sense to me! Chris just has an innate warmth and earnestness as a PERSON and those qualities just get infused into Matt Jamison to the point where you can’t hate him even when he’s making terrible decisions, like outing his own sister’s departed husband for his misdeeds or believing that members of the GR actually want his help. He’s a good man who doesn’t give up, who just wants what happened to have MEANING, even in the moments where it’s clear there may be none. His belief is both tragic and admirable at the same time. How could I NOT root for that man?
Rachel: This was a tough choice between Nora Durst and Patti, but I’m giving the edge to Patti. Ann Dowd gives a tour de force performance here, which adds to the absolute powerhouse that is the Guilty Remnant cult leader. The slow build over the course of Season One of Patti the in command super organized leader, gradually chipped away to reveal her unhinged nature. From murdering Gladys, to the GR going on offense with home invasions and Departed replacement dummies, to ultimately slitting her own throat, Patti takes us on a JOURNEY. And dammit, give Ann Dowd a retroactive Emmy!
Shannon: Laurie, all day every day.
I know, I know! She and the rest of the Guilty Remnant are responsible for horrific psychological attacks. But it’s Laurie’s scenes I get the most excited about. Amy Brenneman does an exceptional job of imbuing Laurie with a full scope of humanity and as a result, I want to know what’s going on in that woman’s mind more than anyone else’s. I want to understand how she made the decisions she did, and how she feels, and what she thinks. I always sit up a little taller when she’s on screen.
Also, the Mayor is a badass and I love her, so, close second there.
- Least Favorite Character?
Morgan: My least favorite character has to be Dean. He keeps shooting/hunting dogs, and that (regardless of their temperament) is not okay.
There are moments in the show where I felt uncertain as to if he exists separate from Kevin, or if he is a part of Kevin’s psyche. Characters regularly question if Dean is real. In episode 4, Kevin is driving Dean’s abandoned truck. And in “Cairo,” Patti calls Dean a “ghost,” before he corrects her by saying that he is a “guardian angel.”
Rachel: Holy Wayne is the character that makes me the most angry, but damn if this show doesn’t make him compelling? The mystery of whether or not his hugs “work” keeps us on our toes as well. So I am going to have to go with Dog Guy aka Dean. He’s just a dick.
Kim: I fully realize that Christine is a traumatized teenager who was brainwashed and impregnated by a cult leader and then had to subsequently deliver her possible antichrist child alone in a bathtub, but that doesn’t make her any less THE WOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRST, I’m sorry!
Sage: It’s probably unfair to want more out of Christine – a pregnant, teenage victim of abuse and gaslighting – but I do. Her and Tommy’s storyline inevitably feels separate from the rest of the narrative (and is something that probably worked better on the page), but she isn’t even serviced by the stuff we do get. The older Garvey sibling is the focus of their road trip plotline, even though Christine has already lived a lot more life and has a lot more reasons to be angry. Lindelof really isn’t great with a pregnancy arc, is he?
Shannon: I’m having the hardest time connecting to Christine. She’s suffered horrific abuse at the hands of Holy Wayne, and I feel for her on an abstract level, but as a character she just sets my teeth on edge and I haven’t found a way in yet.
- Most Underrated Episode?
Rachel: Season One of The Leftovers is relentless, with each episode pulling back layers on the characters, giving us massive revelations and backstory reveals, but at the same time, moving things forward to what we assume will be a big confrontation with the Guilty Remnant to bookend what takes place in the Pilot. Given that, I don’t think any particular episode is underrated, per se, but I do think that “B.J. and the A.C.” might get overshadowed in the conversation by those powerful episodes that follow.
It starts off especially creepy, Leftovers style, with the baby doll manufacturing sequence. This ties to the lighter plot of who stole the titular Baby Jesus from the nativity, except maybe it isn’t really a lighter story? Jill escalates her reckless behavior while at the same time tries to forge a connection with Laurie in what we can see later as a clear through line to her decision to join her mother in the Guilty Remnant. The utter heartbreak of seeing Laurie throw that lighter in the sewer grate was especially gutting. Speaking of the GR, they pull a fast one on Chief Garvey, using the holiday gala as a smokescreen to step up their activities in Mapleton. Tommy grows up a little bit in this episode too, as he manages to get himself and Christine out of a couple scrapes, while realizing that maybe Wayne isn’t looking out for their best interests entirely. But perhaps the most powerful element of “B.J. and the A.C.” is the confrontation between Laurie and Kevin as Meg reads him Laurie’s intent to divorce. Kevin isn’t going to get the kind of closure he wants, and we can see that anguish as he lashes out.
Shannon: “B.J. and the A.C.” was GREAT, y’all. I saw some commentary from the time whinging about it being heavy handed, and I’ll cede some points to that. But honestly I thought all the missing Baby Jesus stuff was hilarious and real. The character moments within the episode were top notch, too; it’s in this hour that we get Laurie delivering divorce papers through Meg, a sequence that’s stuck with me for weeks. And that hospital breakout with Tommy and Christine was no less tense for all its inevitability. A win all around.
Sage: Compared to the rest of the season, not much happens in “B.J. and the A.C.” But an exasperated Kevin tasked with retrieving the Walmart Baby Jesus that his own daughter swiped from the town’s nativity scene? Classic Leftovers gallows humor. Plus, Mayor Lucy shines in her few brief scenes, and we get Kevin and Nora hitting it off in a meet that’s pretty cute for a show with such a dreary premise. Their chemistry is so central, it feels like something is missing until you get a taste of it.
Kim: Maybe it’s because we watched it in the peak of the holiday season, but I have such a fondness for “B.J. and the A.C.,” you guys. Sure the Tommy/Christine story is frustrating and stressful (He’s just trying to take care of you, Christine! Fuck!) but other parts of the episode feel like they could be in the before times. From the teenage shenanigans with the stolen Baby Jesus to Kevin’s quest for said Baby Jesus to all the domestic angst with the Garveys, this episode feels more about interpersonal drama than an existential crisis. Add in Kevin and Nora’s meet cute in front of her old locker and a truly heinous stunt from our favorite assholes The Guilty Remnant and you have one jam-packed episode that truly represents all the best facets of the world The Leftovers has created.
Morgan: “Two Boats and a Helicopter.” In this episode we see Matt struggle to hold onto his church. He keeps looking for help. The episode title is based on a joke about a man standing on his roof during a flood. He refuses three rescue attempts, dies, goes to heaven. He chastises god, and god replies, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”
Matthew’s character is beyond help, he keeps trying to make things better, often they end up worse. I believe he was tricked by the Guilty Remnant after stopping for the person that was hit by the rock. He was knocked out by another rock, and it cost him his church.
- Saddest Departure Story?
Rachel: The very first sequence of the series features a young mother, at wit’s end with her baby and laundry and dealing with a phone call that you almost don’t notice the crying baby sound drop out in the background. This of course is replaced by her anguished cries as she tries to figure out what happened to her child. We figure out what happened at the same time she does! This first departure hits so hard, sets the tone for the show, and doesn’t diminish one bit in her return in the scene with Kevin at the bar where they both lie about their Departure experience. We feel it all over again just as much as that first scene there, as well as in other returns to that moment from other characters’ perspectives.
Sage: Maybe because it’s the first one we see, maybe because it happens to a baby, maybe because it involves Succession’s Natalie Gold…I’m not sure exactly why, but the chilling Departure of little Sam in the opening moments of the show sticks in my brain.
Morgan: The infant of the doing-the-best-she-can, distracted, frantic mother.
Shannon: They’re all pretty brutal, but the kids holding hands at the science fair is a tough image to shake. All that loss of innocence and trauma, in the blink of an eye.
Kim: How do you NOT say Nora Durst here? The story of how she lost her husband and two small children was ALREADY super tragic even before “The Garveys at Their Best” revealed that at the moment of the departure Nora was having a real Kevin McAllister moment, shouting at her daughter after she spilled milk all over her iPhone and turning her back on them angrily. (“GodDAMMIT, I said TWO HANDS.”) It’s a passing moment of frustration that EVERYONE has experienced at some point in their lives and it’s nothing short of devastating to know that was Nora’s last interaction with her family. (Well…her kids. NONE FOR YOU, MISTER DURST, YOU CHEATING PIECE OF SHIT.) It’s no wonder that she spent three years slavishly keeping her house as a memorial to that moment as a means of penance and self-loathing.
- Favorite Ship?
Morgan: Jill and Laurie. I could watch a whole show surrounding them. Also the Frost twins are pretty loyal, and they are kind, good boys.
Shannon: Kevin! And! Nora! These two positively CRACKLE when they’re on screen together and bring out the best in each other’s emotional journeys at the same time. They’re a perfect mental match. Also they’re both super hot.
Sage: In the midst of all the suffering and chaos, there is something so innocent and hopeful about Kevin Garvey and Nora Durst.
They meet at the lockers. They flirt at the laundromat. Kevin shows up on Nora’s doorstep to ask her out on a date, for Christ’s sake. It’s implied from the start that they’ll be tested, but the blooming of their relationship is proof that there’s still new joy to be found, even in the wake of such unimaginable loss.
Rachel: It feels like there really isn’t any ship here of note besides Kevin & Nora but it absolutely delivers in volumes on all fronts. I’ll take it!
Kim: The only answer to this is Kevin and Nora! Obvious actor chemistry aside (like, I shipped it in the first 30 seconds), what works so much about Kevin and Nora is that they are two incredibly broken human beings. They just happen to be broken in ways that fit together so that they don’t feel so very broken anymore. And that’s the dream, isn’t it? Rapture or not, to paraphrase Jonathan Larson, we’re all just looking for someone with baggage that goes with our own.
- Best Warm Fuzzy Moment?
Shannon: There’s something so beautiful about Kevin Sr. and Jill finally reuniting at the Garvey house in “Solace for Tired Feet.” Despite all the chaos and upheaval and unsettled mental state that Kevin Sr. brings with him, he’s still just Jill’s grandpa. This girl is crying out for a family member to acknowledge the reality of her daily life with a full and present heart, to be themselves, and to be honest with her. Kevin Sr. delivers in every sense. Plus, he’s genuinely proud of her for calling in her dad. The sight of these two sitting on her bed, showing up for each other with everything they have, is very warm and fuzzy.
Sage: Over the course of three years, Nora has gotten used to being the town tragedy and treated like an oddity because of it. Then here comes Kevin, who isn’t afraid of the person that her pain makes her. To Kevin, Nora is whole and alive, just as she is right now. That has to mean a lot to someone who essentially lives in a tomb. And in their first conversation, Kevin unloads the source of his greatest shame, and Nora accepts that too. These two meet each other head-on and with eyes wide open, which leads me to my warm and fuzzy moment.
After they have sex for the first time, Kevin confesses a fear that he hasn’t yet spoken out loud to another soul: he thinks that he’s going crazy. He doesn’t do it to push Nora away, though maybe there is a slight note of warning in it. I think he says it because he can’t go on not saying it. And Nora, who knows that the sanity scale has been fucked to hell, doesn’t even flinch.
“Well, my friend,” she says, nestling into him. “You’ve come to the right place.”
Morgan: When the Frost twins recover the baby Jesus and frantically leave it on the Garveys’ doorstep.
Kim: My warm fuzzy isn’t a moment, it’s a person. Two people actually. Because goddammit if I don’t smile every time the Frost twins are on screen. In a world where the kids are most definitely not alright, the twinbos have somehow retained an astonishing purity. (That’s probably because they’re brand new spirits, let’s be real.) I love that they seem content to just always have Jill Garvey’s back, no matter what she does, with no agenda other than they just like being with her. Non-toxic male characters for the win!
Rachel: There’s not a lot of Warm Fuzzy in the Leftovers. It’s just not designed that way, but one spot really stood out to me. In the waning moments of “The Prodigal Son Returns,” Tom and Laurie accidentally meet at the same spot on the Hudson. It was a place meaningful to each of them, and after the trauma they experienced separately, they both sought out this place of refuge. It warmed my heart so much to see those two, seemingly alone in the world, find each other.
- Thirstiest Moment?
Rachel: Kevin Garvey goes for a jog is tempting, but then in the finale they go and have Kevin give himself a cold shower in the woods while shirtless after burying Patti. I was done for.
Morgan: The running, the sweatpants, the “hot cop” Kevin Garvey.
Kim: I have but two words for you, because they are all I need: Gray. Sweatpants.
Sage: Come on. The Sweatpants. Stuff of horny legend.
Shannon: Uh, Kevin running in sweatpants. It’s gotta be the sweatpants. Is there any other choice than the sweatpants?
*Editor’s Note: The BTS details Justin Theroux gives about the sweatpants scenes in this interview make them so much worse. Enjoy.
- Best Right in the Feels Moment?
Sage: Understandably, the Departure altered Jill, right as she was already going through what’s bound to be an awkward, questioning time. But we do see hints of the girl she used to be, even before the flashback episode. We don’t find out what she gets her dad for Christmas; it seems like maybe she didn’t buy her best friend anything (cool teens don’t do that!); but Jill goes to the trouble not only of picking out something for her absent mom but also of getting it engraved. The lighter is an olive branch, a plea, an indictment. She confronts Laurie for abandoning her and reaches out to her at the same time. “Don’t forget me.” Woof. A punch to the gut.
Kim: I went on a JOURNEY with Laurie Garvey this season. She was in the running for my most hated character after “B.J. and the A.C.,” but then I found myself feeling incredibly sympathetic towards her by the time we reached “The Garveys at Their Best.” What strikes me so much about Laurie is her conviction and her dedication to the Guilty Remnant…except when it comes to her daughter. Yes, she throws Jill’s incredibly thoughtful gift of an engraved lighter in the gutter (reader, Sage can attest for the way I GASPED in outrage), but she also goes back for it, only to find that it is (fittingly) oh so very just out of her reach. But never has Laurie’s resolve been tested more than when Jill waltzed through the doors of one of the GR houses ready to join them on the eve of their most dangerous mission. You could SEE that she was fighting so hard NOT to use her voice, and honestly, I don’t think anyone would have come down too hard on her if she had. But she doesn’t, even though you can see the conflict all over her face and the barely restrained tears in her eyes.
Cut to all hell breaking loose. It wasn’t that we didn’t know that Jill was going to be in peril as soon as we saw those fires. That moment was telegraphed the instant Meg told Laurie that ‘at least they would be together’ when it all went down. But what I still questioned was if Laurie would DO something about it, whether she would break the GR vows about there being no family when her actual daughter was in peril, especially when we now know that the loss of a child is what drove her to the GR in the first place. When we saw Laurie going completely feral as someone dragged her out of the burning house, my fear became not whether or not Laurie would say something but IF she physically COULD say something, her voice forgotten after years of disuse. The work Amy Brenneman does in this scene is truly extraordinary because you see that struggle, you hear the strangled sounds as she tries to find her voice. She does find it and she only needs one word to convey the urgency of the situation to her ex-husband.
Right in the feels, my friends.
Rachel: The immediate sequence leading up to and including the Departure in “The Garveys at their Best” absolutely destroyed me the first time I saw it, and the impact did not lessen in future viewings. It’s THE pivotal moment of the series thus far that has been danced around all season long, and the episode does such an incredible job of building up the tension around it. We think we know what happened but we don’t truly know yet. It’s almost as if they slowed down time itself, and the best way I’ve come up with to describe that feeling is the bass drop in the Segun Akinola Doctor Who theme. Every other sound falls away in my mind and the world bottoms out. From Kevin’s incredulousness, to the kids’ confusion, to Nora’s terror, to that single look from Laurie at the monitor, we know all of their pain all at once. We feel every single bit of it.
Morgan: This show comes right for our feelings. “The Prodigal Son Returns” opens after Patti kills herself. In shock, we see Kevin’s reflection in her blood, then Patti’s face and her body. In the background is the Nina Simone version of “Ne me quitte pas.” With everything going on right now, it hit me right in my feels.
Easily my favorite version of this song, the main lyric means “Don’t leave me” or “If you go away.”
Kevin lights up one of Patti’s cigarettes. The whole scene is shot beautifully, we see Kevin grieving – weakened and making a call.
Shannon: Holy Wayne is a nightmare cult leader and he terrifies and unsettles me, but there was something undeniably moving about watching him embrace Nora Durst while she sobbed. It’s the release in her face. Because up until this moment, she hadn’t allowed herself to grieve, for fear that grieving will mean she forgets, and begins to leave her family in the past. It’s such a heartbreaking picture of mourning. There is no moving on, and yet, there MUST be. It’s all on her face at once.
- Best WHAT THE FUCK Moment?
Sage: So much of the tension in the first season is born out of Kevin losing time and coming back to lucidity having no knowledge of what he’s done while he was blacked out. And because we don’t know what we’re dealing with in the grand premise of the show, the big question comes to be about who’s in control when the Kevin we know and love isn’t. If the Departure has a scientific explanation, he has inherited his father’s madness. If it was an act of someone’s god, then Kevin is perhaps a cog in that plan.
The first time I watched this show, I was so preoccupied by that larger question that the mechanics of Kevin’s blackouts, i.e. what he was physically doing all that time, took me completely by surprise. “Cairo” is inexplicable and inevitable at the same time. Kevin and Patti have been at a standoff for weeks; she is the enemy, as far as he’s concerned. And yet, there’s really nothing that can prepare you for the information that you get at the top of that episode. What are we to make of the fact that our main character, someone who is certainly flawed but is capable of heroic acts, literally beat a woman, kidnapped her, and painstakingly planned out her death? The Leftovers doesn’t answer that for you. Not in this episode and not through the season finale. There’s still so much to be uncovered about who Kevin Garvey is – or, to phrase it differently, which Kevin Garvey is the truest version of himself.
Shannon: There are so many great options to choose from! But for the masterful delivery from Ann Dowd and the pure shock value of the whole scene, I’m going with Patti sitting casually in the diner and chattering away while Laurie clings to her eight months of silence. As the scene progressed, I got more and more suspicious of what Patti was up to. The whole thing felt like a multi-layered trap and made me even more fascinated by the Guilty Remnant situation. I still don’t know if I understand the whole scene, but I do know I haven’t stopped thinking about it.
Rachel: There are a lot of moments in Season One that were more imminently shocking to me for sure, but I’m going to go with the Nora Durst hires prostitutes to shoot her revelation in “Guest.” I think up to that point, we intellectually know how deeply messed up she is from the Departure of her family. But I think we’ve mostly been shown a Nora with a certain level of cold detachment and willful denial, even with the illogical shopping trip for the family’s groceries, as a means of self preservation. But this moment pulls focus completely in the opposite direction. That Nora is so completely broken, but not in a Guilty Remnant outwardly depressive way. Rather, in that awful way we can recognize in so many that choose to hurt themselves in order to maintain that pain. Because without that pain, who is she really?
Morgan: This show has so many WTF moments. I found watching Kevin interact with the deer in “The Garveys at Their Best” fascinating. There was so much tension at the door when he was hoping to tranquilize the deer in the house. The buck goes wild and runs into traffic getting hit by a car, requiring Kevin to put him down. The “it’s a girl” balloon he found was a rough, but nice touch. This incident also helped to explain all the other repeated animal challenges and dreams.
Kim: I’m pretty certain I actually shouted “WHAT THE FUCK” when Patti stabbed herself in the neck with that giant shard of glass. My reasons for doing so are three-fold. One, if you DON’T shout WHAT THE FUCK in that moment, what’s wrong with you on like, a fundamentally human level? Two, all season Patti has been set up to be the antagonist that we love to hate and now she’s GONE? WHAT THE FUCK? And finally, knowing that Ann Dowd didn’t even get nominated for an Emmy for this season, much less WIN one. TRULY. What. The. FUCK.
- Favorite Celebrity Departure?
Kim: We all know the world doesn’t deserve Jennifer Lopez, so really, is it any surprise that she was taken?
Shannon: The way I snorted when Salman Rushdie flashed on screen, y’all. What a perfect choice for an academic rapture.
Morgan: Bonnie Raitt
Sage: TGIF raised me, so it’s of course the entire core cast of Perfect Strangers. (And that’s a fewer than 1 in 128,000 chance, since there were four of them.)
Rachel: The one that makes me laugh the most is Gary Busey. As the bartender says, “The Pope, I get the Pope, but Gary fucking Busey?”
- Favorite Religious Moment/Guru?
Morgan: The Barefoot People. They put a bullseye on their head so they can be found by their god. No shoes allowed.
Kim: LISTEN. I know, you know, we ALL know they are assholes but when all is said and done: The Guilty Remnant has beliefs, Holy Wayne has none. (Talk less! Smoke more!)
Shannon: It’s hard to beat the Guilty Remnant! They’re fascinating and complicated and infuriating and human. The thing I appreciate the most about the GR, though, is that it’s such a clear reactionary line to the disappearances. As it stands right now, I could see Holy Wayne popping up after just about any terrible tragedy. But the GR is responding specifically to the immediate loss of 2% of the population, without any explanation – religious or otherwise. Their actions speak to the hopelessness and the nihilism of the departure, and I can’t imagine their response coming from any other sort of trauma.
Rachel: It’s the Guilty Remnant. They have the matching (but yet completely practical!) outfits, a charismatic leader in Patti, and the most appeal. They are organized and seem to have a clear path. Given the circumstances of The Departure, the full embracing of a depressive state along with having a simple life with tasks assigned to you? My kind of cult. Plus, no need to plan what to wear!
Sage: Certainly the Guilty Remnant is a much more interesting and less derivative cult than Holy Wayne’s Jim Jones cosplay. But I want to specifically shout out my main bitch, Patti Levin.
Patti doesn’t rely on charm to win followers; she preys on hopelessness, identifying her most vulnerable neighbors and then sending her members out to haunt them. And she does this with unwavering conviction. Wayne knows he’s a fraud; those thoughts consume his final moments. But Patti has no such doubts. It was the show’s invention to make Kevin and Patti mortal enemies, and it makes perfect sense. Kevin’s mission is to keep the peace, to help Mapleton move on. And Patti’s dedicated her life to no one ever knowing peace again. What makes their dynamic crackle though, is that Patti doesn’t hate Kevin for his beliefs. She pities him. She thinks he’s a weak, naive dope. (“Oh Kevin, you can’t kill me. You don’t have the fucking balls.”) And the flashback episode reveals the personal feeling that she can’t quell, no matter what she preaches: Laurie, once the wealthy therapist with the perfect family in whose office a broken Patti would cry once a week, is now one of her foot soldiers. Laurie chose Patti over Kevin and everything he represents, and she’ll never stop lording it over him.
As fascinating as she is on paper, Patti wouldn’t be as iconic if she’d been played by anybody but Ann Dowd. She’s electric in everything she does, but imo, Patti is her crowning achievement. (And half of the reason why she finally got her Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale, trust.) The malice, the coolness, the menace – Ann gives her performance to the cheap seats without ever losing control.
- Best Episode Title?
Sage: The Charlie Brown vibes of “Penguin One, Us Zero” make me chuckle every time I read it. Life is out to kick your ass, and it’s up to you to fight back.
Shannon: For its simplicity and for the shivers it still runs down my spine, that one goes out to “Gladys.”
Morgan: “Solace for Tired Feet.”
Rachel: “The Garveys at Their Best.” It’s the clearest description of what an episode is ostensibly about, yet the most subversive on its face.
Kim: It has to be “B.J. and the A.C.” because the idea that those initials stand for “Baby Jesus and the Antichrist” delights me endlessly.
- Best Hero Moment?
Rachel: The absolute best hero moment is when Laurie chooses to speak to save Jill. It seems like it should be an obvious thing to do, but she hasn’t spoken one word all season (other than in flashback in the previous episode from before the Departure). Through everything: Christmas, the divorce, her heartbreak of leaving the kids behind, getting challenged by Patti on her commitment to the GR, taking over when Patti is missing, Laurie stays with it. So when she is faced with knowing her daughter is in a burning house, it means a lot more than it would for anyone else to scream out Jill’s name and point toward the fire. It’s going against every single thing Laurie has built in the GR to protect herself and to be able to survive in the world as it stands.
Sage: As many of us have tweeted throughout the season, the kids are not alright! In fact, they’re so desensitized that they’re almost comatose, which is why it’s so jarring when the handle breaks off of the refrigerator and they realize in a panic that they may have killed their friend. It feels like a miracle, not a coincidence, that grandpa Garvey happens to be in the right place at the right time and is able to save Jill from suffocating to death. And the rescue becomes more poignant retroactively once we see how close those two were in the before times.
Morgan: Kevin Garvey rushing in a burning house to save his daughter.
Kim: I KNOW this makes me a basic woman but I’m going with Kevin running into a blazing inferno to save his daughter without a second thought or any concern for his own safety. He doesn’t even try to cover his nose or mouth because any second spent doing that is a second that he could be saving Jill. Ultimately, it’s the way Jill tightens her arms around Kevin’s neck once she realizes her dad has got her for me. A HERO.
Shannon: That’d be Kevin Garvey positively sprinting into the burning Guilty Remnant building to find and rescue Jill, after enduring the longest, strangest, most terrible day imaginable. Honestly, I don’t know how that man was still standing after living through the finale, much less running. The fact that he doesn’t have the time or the emotional energy to react to Jill seemingly becoming a member of the GR just makes it more impressive and heroic and fucking beautiful.
- Do you think the Departed are in a better place? (a.k.a. What do you think happened on the 14th?)
Rachel: Full disclosure since I’ve seen the whole series, it’s hard to answer this question without considering Seasons Two and Three. That being said, in general I would approach it the same way I do with death in the real world. We cannot know for sure what happens when you die but I don’t subscribe to any sort of afterlife concept and I’d just assume they are just gone and are nowhere.
Kim: Comparatively? I would certainly HOPE so. The thought that the Departed could be in a horrible place, or, even worse, no place at all is…not a great thing to think about. (I may be letting my newbie status show, and DON’T TELL ME TILL AFTER WE’RE DONE but Jesus, I would love to hear Damon’s answer to this question, given what I’ve gleaned about his feelings towards religion and the afterlife over the course of Lost and now The Leftovers.)
Morgan: Gods, no. I’m hesitant to believe they’ve been taken some place “better.” This season’s opening credits paint a very beautiful picture of a place very similar to an in-between zone. It is beautiful and horrible at the same time. My hope is that they were sent someplace better, but I doubt that is the case.
Sage: Well, “Guest” suggests that it’s the person asking the question that determines the other person’s answer, not necessarily their own feelings. Then again, the Departure relief questionnaire doesn’t allow for any nuance.
Maybe I consume too much media about the multiverse, but that’s the first place my mind goes. I think the act itself was a neutral one – a split that wasn’t punishment or reward. That also feels in line with the show’s ethos to me: It’s about humans clinging to each other in the wake of something that they will never understand.
Shannon: As Matt would argue, the randomness of the whole affair means this isn’t a “traditional” religious rapture. Still, I can’t fathom an explanation for what happened on October 14th that’s not at least marginally spiritual. For whatever reason – be it my own spiritual beliefs, or the way the show has been crafted, or some combination of the two – I just can’t write this one off as aliens or pure, non-mythological fantasy. Which means that, while I don’t think the Departed were lifted away because they were the best of us, I do believe they’re in a better place. I have to. Otherwise it would mean we’re looking at an evil spiritual entity that zapped 2% of the population with malicious intent, and that’s just not a world I can live in. Even in fiction.
- Sum up your feelings on the season as a whole.
Morgan: I really enjoyed watching this with friends. It is a brutal show. Having people to connect with over Twitter when all of it was happening was really valuable! This season was quite interesting to watch in this dark timeline. It’s been quite a year.
I found the episodes that included any protests, riots, and police content more challenging to watch. I found the Departure scenes to hit a bit harder than I recalled from when I saw these episodes previously. I have yet to watch the other seasons, but I am looking forward to them! Thanks for being #Oct14th crowd!
Kim: Timing is a big thing when it comes to a show as complex and dark and multi-layered as The Leftovers. I wasn’t in the best mental place personally in 2014, so in retrospect, it makes a LOT of sense that all I saw was the despair of the first three episodes and noped the fuck out of it. I remember saying that there was no “in” for me, there was no character that I could relate to or root for, that it was all just too fucking depressing to watch every week. And then I never came back, even when I saw people whose opinions I trusted rapturously praising the series when it came back for its second season.
Watching The Leftovers in 2020/2021 brings a fresh perspective on what the show has always been. Because that’s the thing isn’t it? The DNA of The Leftovers hasn’t changed. The world has. I have. Because yes, the darkness and despair is still there, especially in the early episodes. But now I have a better capability to understand and connect to the characters. (Kevin Garvey, I understand you!!!) I also have the ability to fully appreciate the work that went into the series now too. It’s even more clear coming off of a Lost rewatch how much Damon Lindelof grew as a writer and storyteller between the series finale of Lost and the series premiere of The Leftovers. And the ACTING on this show, you guys! Everyone is at the top of their game, turning in career best work on a weekly basis. I can still see how The Leftovers isn’t a show for everyone though. It demands a LOT of emotional bandwidth from the viewer and it also requires you to trust that your invested bandwidth will be repaid in the end. Because, to quote Samwise Gamgee, how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened?
I look forward to finding out.
Shannon: What a magnificent season of television. Over the last few weeks, our fearless leader Sage has often said that this show isn’t “depressing,” it’s hopeful and human. I have absolutely found that to be true. Amidst all the desolation, loneliness and trauma of the last few weeks and months, The Leftovers has done what all great art does for me in a crisis: it’s shown me I’m not alone. That there’s a way forward from anguish, even if its recurrence is an inevitability. We have to keep going, because that’s what humanity does. We persist. Our communities reform and evolve and adapt, sometimes for worse, but often for better. It’s a reminder I’ve sorely needed lately and I’m grateful for it. And I can’t wait to see where the show goes from here.
Sage: I watched this show for the first time in February of 2020, mere weeks before the world spun out into chaos. And while it was undoubtedly an emotional binge, I still had the distance that prestige TV affords: hot people, cheeky needle drops, literary references, more hot people, and so on. Rewatching The Leftovers now, it’s like…everything that was theoretical has come true. And that distance is a much shorter one.
It’s almost eerily prophetic, how spot-on The Leftovers is regarding humanity’s response to the unimaginable. And even though I still, at this point, believe Season One to be the toughest watch of the three, it’s also even more profoundly hopeful than I remember. The Leftovers knows that tragedy comes for us all, but that life somehow limps bravely on. Leave it to a show about an entire population’s shared trauma to supply some perspective during a global pandemic.
For the past couple of weeks, Kim and I have been chasing our Leftovers episodes with Ted Lasso, and as he always does, Ted knows exactly what to say in this situation: “The only thing worse than being sad is being alone and being sad.” I couldn’t help thinking of our Leftovers characters when he said that – people who will only find fulfillment again by hanging on to each other for dear life.
Rachel: One thing I really appreciated about Season One is how they started with a focus on the Garvey family, who didn’t lose anyone to the departure, and getting to know the rest of the landscape before hitting you with Nora Durst’s full story. I think for that episode to have the impact it does, we needed a certain degree of world building. And we sure got it. Going back and watching the pilot, knowing how Season One unfolds, brings a whole new depth to the impact of the Departure on these people. You can see the seeds of the unraveling ahead for all of these characters and how they are (understandably so) just trying to hold it together.
This show is an emotional behemoth, and doesn’t let up very much. Everyone is broken, deeply traumatized by the Departure. It just manifests in different ways for everyone, leading some to cults, some to pretend like things are “normal”, some to run away, and some to self harm. I felt all of this so deeply, especially in these times. We’re all a little broken, at least, and are doing our best to cope. It isn’t easy. We make mistakes, we suffer in silence, we grieve, and we are lonely. At the same time, as is the case in Mapleton, there will always be a thread that binds us together and brings us home.
Let us know your thoughts on the season in the comments. And watch along with us on Twitter with the hashtag #Oct14!