The Leftovers series premiere recap: 'Lost' in oblivion

When millions of people go missing worldwide, a small New York town divides over how best to deal
Ep. 01 | Aired Jun 29, 2014

Justin Theroux in The Leftovers

Paul Schiraldi

Garvey has a family, one that is struggling as much as everyone else who woke up with an ache of emptiness after being left behind. His daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) is a dark and angry high-school senior, a field-hockey player who reacts to some rough play by crushing a teammates' face with a wicked elbow in practice. Her coach sits her down, asks if things are okay with her at home after what happened to her mother. But her mother, Laurie (Amy Brenneman), it turns out, wasn't one of the 2 percent. She's very much around, a member of the suburban cult known as GR (Guilty Remnant), a sworn-silent, chain-smoking group who wear white and basically shadow the town's citizens, watching silently from a distance as a living reminder (or provocation) that people are on the wrong path. Laurie sleeps on a mattress in a cul-de-sac mansion, and the first thing she does each morning is light up, part of the group's ritual. There's even a sign explaining it (one of several mottoes and affirmations plastered throughout the home): "We don't smoke for enjoyment. We smoke to proclaim our faith."

That we didn't initially know how Laurie was linked to Garvey and Jill was a clever and effective storytelling device (at least to those who hadn't read the book). Garvey is clearly tormented and struggling to keep up appearances after some terrible loss, while Jill's exchange with her coach certainly hinted that her mother was one of the missing. But it's not until the final chapter of the show, after Garvey tips back a few drinks at the bar after the Heroes Parade turned violent and commiserates with Nora over the numbing sadness they both feel over Oct. 14, that the complete Garvey family tree is colored in. "Where were you when it happened?" she asks him, assuming perhaps a certain shared tragedy. His memory flashes back to some quick-cut, hot-and-heavy sex, but he tells Nora he was just cleaning out the gutters. Was he having sex with Laurie... or some other woman? Garvey drunkenly drives over to the GR's headquarters and angrily demands his wife back, but she sends him away.

With one parent out of the picture and the other preoccupied, Jill is sinking into an abyss. She and her more adventurous friend Aimee (Emily Meade) persuade her father to give them his car so they can attend a party, and despite their claims to the contrary, it's a hedonistic and nihilistic affair with a hard-core game of Spin the Bottle that includes commands such as Hug, Burn, Choke, and F---. Jill gets stuck with Choke, and she and her partner end up half-naked in bed together. He masturbates while she mindlessly chokes him with one hand, all the while Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" plays over the scene. It's the scene that captures everything about the show just so, and that's not a critique.

Quick aside: Sometimes a show picks the perfect song to capture the mood, in earnest or ironic ways. But the premiere's songlist felt a little too heavy-handed—hence the "Everybody Hurts" suggestion. During the Heroes Parade, they played James Blake's "Retrograde," and in the late bar scene, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" hummed in the background. Not only are the latter's lyrics applicable to the characters' plight, but they're also evocative of 1960s clashes between protestors and police as the Heroes Parade clash flashes on the bar's TV screens. I half expected a scene set in The Blue Note. Music can really add to a scene, but there's only so much underlining that should be necessary. Okay, we get it. Life sucks. But let's hear some "Happy," shall we?

NEXT: The anti-Christ?

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