This week’s episode of The Leftovers should have come with pre-show suggestion that the first sequence only be watched by people who absolutely hate the Guilty Remnant, and in particular, the title character Gladys (and also probably sports, the government and all of Earth's living creatures). In what is arguably the show’s most brutal and hopeless scene yet, we get to watch Gladys’ archaic death by stoning, and it’s totally the "Michael Bay stoning scene," with about five cameras slow motion and at least three gallons of blood being used.
From a sane person’s perspective, this scene is absolute overkill, with rock after rock pelting Gladys’ face, demolishing it until she’s almost unrecognizable. But the act itself is a highly important one within the context of the show, and it has already turned the town of Mapleton upside-down. But did it have to be so goddamned painful to watch?
Five weeks in, I’m not watching The Leftovers as a substitute for Veep or anything, but the moments when this series makes me feel victorious are far outnumbered by the sequences where only dread exists. If you live for easy-breezy TV on Sunday nights, shows where cult members get martyred and put bags of shit on people’s doorsteps are probably not your cup of tea. (And I hate tea anyway.)
Since the Guilty Remnant almost exclusively works through facial expressions and markerboards, one can read into almost anything they do as meaningful. Judging by a small nod between Pattie and Gladys, we can presume that Gladys’ murder was an inside job, and that she was well aware that it was coming. After all, she didn’t ask her captors who they were or why they were doing this to her. That’s to be expected, given her silent nature, but she does eventually break and begs for them to let her live. It’s almost shocking to hear these words, and for the time being, it seemed like a smart way to display Gladys’ lapse of faith.
But then we get the diner scene between Patti and Laurie, during which Patti is perfectly fine with taking a “day off” from the Remnant’s ways. She isn’t wearing white, and when she isn’t stuffing breakfast item after breakfast item in her mouth, she’s telling Laurie all about how Gladys once came close to losing her way on discovering her son died overseas. This conversation comes after Laurie’s panic attack earlier in the episode, and is something of a pep talk. (It seems these two had a therapist-patient relationship before the Departure.) The Guilty Remnant exist to push emotional feelings down until they’re non-existent and to use life only as a corridor to death, and Patti is Queen Bee, showing no obvious sorrow over either putting her friend in the path of a dozen giant rocks to the face, or in leaving a smelly present for what we can assume is either her ex-husband or son. But Gladys broke again, in the end, and I’m wondering if whoever was throwing the rocks shared that information with Patti. These are weird people, and it's bothersome that Laurie is allowing herself to fall headfirst into it, though I'm not necessarily rooting for her, or anyone, at this point.
As the Remnant deals with its own internal strife, Kevin and Mapleton’s citizens demand something be done about it. It’s bonkers that the Remnant’s photo-stealing crimes from last week are barely mentioned here – though the act clearly led to Kevin purchasing the most temperamental security system in New York. Kevin sways the mayor to back him on keeping the town under a curfew until Gladys’ murder is solved, but the townspeople won’t have it, especially not Dean, the dog-killing tobacco-chewer. (We were once led to believe that he was a figment of Kevin’s imagination, but we see here that he even has friends, or at least people who help him with dog corpses.)
Meanwhile, the ATFEC (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives and Cults) were called in, and after a game of phone tag that further makes audiences think Kevin might be crazy, a federal agent gives Kevin the option to bring in the troops to drive the Remnant out of town in any way necessary. He ultimately decides against it, which means we’ll almost definitely be dealing with that decision again at a later date. We get a bigger sense of the country’s cult-based problems in this episode, and it’s obvious that peaceful resolutions are a thing of the past. That last scene with the bodies of presumed cult members all laid out and readied for cremation seems to be a part of that no questions asked policy. But honestly, I have no idea if that scene was supposed to mean anything more than another shot of Gladys’ silent (and crushed-in) face as she heads into the fire.
For all the pulverized cheekbones and sadistic motivations, this episode still delivers some solid “Justin Theroux is in a completely different series” scenes, proving his worth for your Bizarro Emmy consideration. Kevin can’t find his white work shirts this week, and mirrors one very Seinfeld-ian trip to the dry cleaner with a Taxi Driver-ish trip back to that same dry cleaner, who fearfully gives a drunken Kevin a selection of other customers’ white shirts. (Are Kevin's white shirts related to the Remnant's white clothes?) We get more awkward conversations between him and Jill, and yet another icky moment between Kevin and Jill’s friend Aimee; in about a minute’s worth of footage, these two have already created a staggeringly creepy “will they/won’t they” scenario. Plus, we get a randomly silly bit where a store clerk mispronounces inebriated as “enibritted.”
And then there’s Reverend Matt, who is all the more endearing now when he smiles, since we’re all very aware he has the WORST LIFE OF ANYONE EVER. Seriously, despite having only good intentions in this episode, he gets taken into the police station for questioning, where Kevin blatantly leaves him to do other things. He wants to pray over Gladys’ body, but it’s missing when he gets the chance to do it. He gathers a crowd and prays for Gladys in the streets, and Laurie rabidly blows a whistle in his face. These people are not under a dome or anything. Matt should just leave town and start over.
So, we got an extremely funny (in hindsight) bit involving Gladys' flumping corpse, along with a Hall & Oates song and Meg's immersion into the Remnant, but nothing at all about Tommy and his barefoot clan. You win some, you lose some I guess. And everyone loses within The Leftovers. Everyone. I may watch next week’s episode sitting inside my carbon monoxide-filled garage.