Plot: On October 14th, 2% of the world’s population vanished in an instant. A grand total of 140 million people went missing without a trace. Wracked with survivor’s guilt, the residents of Mapleton desperately try to move on by hosting a Heroes Day on the three year anniversary. Unfortunately for them, a mysterious cult called the Guilty Remnant has other plans.
It’s easy to take answers for granted in this hyper-connected society we all live in. With the vast majority of people owning Internet capable smart phones, a normal web search can provide nearly all the solutions to everyday problems. For those that the Internet cannot solve we’re able to turn to either religion or science to find what we long for. There’s this inherent belief everyone has now that mysteries eventually won’t be mysteries any longer if enough time passes. To put it simply, its a very easy way to live. Now imagine that you’re presented with an overbearing question that just doesn’t have an answer. Neither science nor religion can give you the comfort you so desperately desire. You are literally forced to live with this mystery as if it is just a part of nature. Wouldn’t that frustrate you to no end?
That problem is the main backbone of The Leftovers. When 2% of the global population suddenly disappears into thin air, it’s only natural that the remaining people will want answers. Yet as we see following a three year time jump, the events of October 14th are simply unexplainable. Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, and anyone else was taken away without provocation or warning and no one can figure out why. If the town of Mapleton is any indication of the world at large, society is now a boiling pot that is ready to bubble over. Everyday folk are hotbeds of rage and are willing to meltdown at a moments notice. As Police Chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) states on the eve of Heroes Day, “People aren’t looking for peace. Everyone is ready to fucking explode.” It’s that simmering tension underneath a seemingly normal world that makes The Leftovers such an incredibly gripping summer drama.
What stuck out to me during this premiere was how everyone is going through their lives as normal. Kevin is doing whatever he can to maintain the peace in town. His daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) goes to school and smokes weed with her friend Aimee (Emily Meade). Kids go to parties and do incredibly stupid things while drunk like burning themselves. For all intents and purposes, everything is the same as it always was. The only difference is that people take time out of their days to pray for the loved ones they lost. Songs are requested on the radio in hopes that those missing will somehow hear them and come home. It’s desperation in the ultimate sense, but it’s literally all that people have left now.
2% of the population vanishing is not normal though, and that’s where the Guilty Remnant comes in. Cropping up only two years after October 14th, the white clothed members of this cult don’t speak and exist solely to remind people of what happened. Society wants to conform to this new normal but the Remnant refuses to allow it. What really makes this cult work as antagonists is how they actually don’t do anything to anybody. They’re simply non-violent reminders of the worst day in global history and have normal people as members like Tom’s wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman) and a newcomer named Meg Abbott (Liv Tyler). The pinnacle of their actions comes on Heroes Day where they only hold up signs telling the Mapleton citizens to not hold their breaths grieving for their lost ones. Even though this cult isn’t violent, their silent actions cause chaos throughout the neighborhood. Heroes Day, intended to be a somber remembrance, becomes a bloody riot. By forcing the unknown into the minds of everyone, the Remnant is a brand new type of foe that fits perfectly into this show rapt with questions.
Where The Leftovers goes a bit off the rails though is when Kevin’s son Tom (Chris Zylka) does work for this mysterious prophet named Wayne (Paterson Joseph). Absolutely nothing is revealed concerning what Wayne is all about, but he evidently has the ability to unburden those from their issues. What does this mean exactly? I have no idea. He does however give an incredibly ominous message to Tom claiming that “the grace period is over.” In this case, we can assume the grace period was the three year time gap. It wouldn’t be a shock to learn that Wayne is actually the head honcho within the Guilty Remnant, but I’m inclined to believe he’s someone else entirely. Wayne might honestly be a way for the show to bring in even more supernatural elements which wouldn’t be unheard of in something run by Damon Lindelof.
Lastly, this premiere episode did an excellent job bringing events full circle. The very first thing we see is a young mother (Natalie Gold) instantly losing her infant son after a trip to the laundromat. Shortly after the time jump, Kevin witnesses a dog get brutally murdered on the street during a run. It’s something that haunts him throughout the day. At the end of the episode, all of this comes together in a big way. Kevin meets the same young mother in a bar and she has seemingly moved on. Her ferocious screaming for her son three years ago has now been replaced by a remorseful but content smile. As for the dogs, Kevin witnesses a pack of feral animals brutally devouring a deer in the street. This in itself is a metaphor for how society has changed in this new world, something that Jill’s friends mention while burying the first dog killed. The dogs have become violent beasts and eventually humans will too. If the Heroes Day riot is any indication, humanity has already devolved into our basic animal instincts.
A few weeks back, I wrote an article about shows that I’m excited about for this summer broadcast season. It was a list of five programs that can very possibly make the normally disappointing break from spring to fall something special. The Leftovers was my number one show to look out for and this season premiere definitely didn’t disappoint. It was engrossing, powerfully acted, and suitably unsettling. Though he didn’t have much to do in this premiere, Christopher Eccleston plays a pastor named Matt Jamison who is bound to play a major role as this season rolls on. Bottom line: The Leftovers is a must watch.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.