9.6

The Leftovers Review: “Gladys”

(Episode 1.05)

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<i>The Leftovers</i> Review: &#8220;Gladys&#8221;

In last week’s review I wrote a bit about the push/pull going on in this series with regards to life on Earth. For some people—the Guilty Remnant, Dean, the gun toting dog exterminator, the officers of the ATFEC—the carapaces of animal and human life are now worthless, to be flicked aside like a housefly. And, of course, for others, it is still a precious thing worthy of care and consideration.

This has been much on my mind, especially in light of last week’s episode. Where I thought the bodies strewn out all over the highway were real, someone in the comments pointed out that they were actually fake. They were dolls essentially, made so that the loved ones of people who had disappeared would have something to bury and pray over. That actually gave the final scene with Chief Garvey tossing the baby doll out the window that much more impact.

And I bring it up now when thinking about this week’s episode, where that same struggle is being played out in terrifying ways. It’s hard to shake the cold open where men in black outfits drag Gladys, one of the GR, into the woods and stone her to death. For us watching, it’s horrific to see someone suffer so egregiously. For the people throwing the rocks—and for Dean,who pops up gunning for a couple of strays while the other GR members look for the body—it’s justice being served. And for the rest of the cult members who regard the killing with a resigned shrug, it’s something that was bound to happen sooner or later.

There’s a sense that the townspeople don’t really care anymore either. Chief Garvey tries to institute a citywide curfew to keep people safe, but is shouted down by the residents and voted down by the city council. Heck even the use of an alarm system, something Chief Garvey struggles with throughout the episode, seems irrelevant. Why bother protecting yourself when you could just vanish without warning?

Another concern of this episode and this series is the ability to hold on to one’s humanity and sanity in an inhumane and insane world. That’s where Garvey struggles the most. He’s barely hanging on, drinking himself to sleep every night and snapping at a moment’s notice. He spits out profanity like fire and in one scene lets loose on the poor owner of a dry cleaning service that lost his work shirts. Worse though is the moment when he is given the opportunity to let the ATFEC loose on the GR compound. Justin Theroux is amazing in this scene, letting his fear, bloodlust, and exhaustion swim around his eyes to the point where you’re not sure which answer he’s going to give the agent on the phone.

On the flip side, Garvey’s soon-to-be ex-wife begins to experience the same internal debate following the death of her “family” member. So, Patti, the leader of this GR chapter does what she did for Gladys when she was dealing with the death of her son: she takes her to a hotel, lets her dress in normal clothes, and, most importantly, speak out loud. Laurie doesn’t speak, instead letting Patti remind her that moments like this will continue to happen unless she’s willing to let go completely of everything from the past. Sadly, she proves more than ready to take that path. Or as Laurie’s daughter put it succinctly when she, for a moment, thought it was her mom that was killed in the woods: “I don’t know why I cried for her; she wouldn’t do that for me.”

Another thought that lingers for me at this point is that I should take what free time I can find and re-watch the first two episodes of the series. The last three have been so very good that I want to take a minute to look back on what might have slipped past me in the opening installments. Will they look even worse in light of what has come after or will the reverberations from the greatness of the next three shift my opinion somewhat? I do believe this is the mark of a great series though: I’m left mulling it over for days afterward and ready to jump back in from the beginning at my first opportunity.

Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.

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