Everyone's feeling burdened and abandoned and desperate for relief. Hence, the GR, the increased emphasis on prayer in schools, and the pseudo-savior, Wayne. A Texas congressmen (Berg player Brad Leland) pays money to be driven to an undisclosed location for an audience with this mysterious holy man, who can help people feel better. "Is he the real deal?" he asks his driver, Tom, who happens to be Garvey and Laurie's son. "As real as it gets," Tom answers.
Well, it's possible that Wayne is a complete charlatan, even if he does seem to raise the congressman's spirits. When Tom drops the politician off at the ranch (where Peter Berg himself is one of the guards), it becomes clear that: A) Wayne's not preaching monastic discipline; and B) he has a type. The pool is sprinkled with very young, bikini-clad Asian girls, one of whom, Christine, is particularly friendly with Tom. People take notice of their rapport, and Tom is invited to stay overnight for a special meeting with Wayne. At night, Tom is awakened by Wayne, a bald, British-accented black man. Passive-aggressively brandishing a knife, he warns Tom to keep his hands off Christine and then shares a dream he's been having that makes him believe that something is coming. "The grace period is over, Tom," says Wayne, with messianic fervor. "Time to go to work."
In some Christian theology, the Rapture refers to the seven-year period after the chosen few have been united with God. The "left-behind" face seven years of wars, plagues, suffering, and the emergence of the anti-Christ before 1,000 years of peace under Christ's renewed rule. There's already elements of that suffering in Mapleton, and Wayne hints that wars and increasing discord might be just around the corner. As one of the Ping-Pong dudes explains to Jill, as they bury the dead dog they found in her father's car trunk, people might be resigned to the same fate as the pets who lost their minds: "Same thing is going to happen to us. It's just taking longer."
The show's sense of purgatory and post-apocalyptic moral breakdown brings to mind two pop-cultural touchstones: Stephen King's The Stand and Lost, whose Damon Lindelof co-wrote and executive produced The Leftovers. Both of those epic tales featured fascinating characters facing external existential threats and internal conflict, and Theroux's police chief is a promising mix of Gary Sinese's Stu Redman from the 1994 Stand miniseries and Lost's Jack Shephard.
You'll note that I completely ignored Liv Tyler's Meg, the miserable fiancee who is targeted by Laurie's stalker team but ends up checking into the cult at the end of the episode. In the book, her character plays an important role, but the first episode didn't invest too much in her arc.
Readers of the novel have a strong idea of where the show might lead, but I wouldn't assume that HBO's version traces the book beat by beat—even though Perrotta is involved. In fact, I'm fascinated by the push-pull creative sensibilities of Perrotta and Lindelof, who wouldn't normally be in the same writers room. In the case of a television show, part of me wants Lindelof to prevail, though the pilot seemed fairly balanced. A character like Wayne, in particular, has the potential to be a much more nefarious figure in the show, and Theroux's simmering-souled Garvey hooked me. I don't mind living with miserable characters, as long as they're interestingly miserable. There's some glory in the gloom.