I soon realized while watching the first episode of The Leftovers, that the show is not going to be about explaining the mysterious rapture-like event where 140 million people vanished in an instant, but rather an exploration of all the responses we as humans would have living through a world-altering event. A congressional hearing three years after the Sudden Departure (the name given to the rapture-like event) reflects how most people have resigned to accept the event as unexplainable. A congressman reports that religion was unable to provide answers and science is coming to the same conclusion of why 2% of the world’s population disappeared, summarizing the answer as “I don’t know”.
The air is thick with an inexplicable event that neither religion nor science can explain and those who were left behind are to find meaning in their life through various means and mechanisms. Should they be glad to have averted instant death or are they the ones who are cursed, remaining on the earth while the suddenly departed are in some form of paradise? Are they blessed or damned?
One group who started to coalesce in Mapleton over the past year, has accepted that they are indeed the damned. Living reminders. A Guilty Remnant. A cult who dresses all in white, proclaim their faith by smoking cigarettes, live communally and take a vow of silence. In pairs they stalk other residents of the town, silently persuading others to accept their divine condemnation.
Then there is the mystic Holy Wayne. Seekers take a circuitous journey in order to meet with him at his secret compound and hope to find healing. Somehow Wayne can lift the burden of those who remain, releasing them from the psychic torment that overwhelms them.
Yet another group of people finds solace in free love, drugs and alcohol. Letting their pleasure rule the day. If they are damned anyways, why not enjoy it? Why not explore the limits of human pleasure or pain?
Then there are those who are striving for life as it was pre-Sudden Departure. Looking for normalcy in the mundanity of life. Ready to feel better. But as the main protagonist Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) yells at the planning meeting for the day of remembrance deemed Hero’s Day, “Nobody’s ready to feel better. They’re ready to fucking explode.”
With competing ideologies, philosophies, religions and individualized responses, the remnant are being pulled apart from each other relationally. Into their own factions. Into their jobs. Into themselves. Into nothing. As one astute teenager observes, after burying a feral dog who once was domesticated, “They see something like that and they just snap. They just go primal, man. Same thing’s going to happen to us. It’s just taking longer.”
No clearer picture of how the tragedy of October 14th separated and destroyed relationships can be found than within the Garvey family. The father, Kevin, continues on with life as normal. Working as a police officer, committed to his job and committed to a providing a stable home life for his daughter. Jill (Margaret Qualley), on the other hand, internalizes her emotional suffering, escaping through typical teenage avenues for coping. Yet while those teenage trappings take a more sadistic turn at the party she attends (choking a guy while he masturbates), she gets bored easily of that form of escape.
Laurie (Amy Brenneman), Kevin’s estranged wife, joined the Guilty Remnant and is an active participant in their recruiting efforts. Kevin’s prodigal son, Tom (Chris Zylka), is Holy Wayne’s driver, picking up seekers and bringing them to the compound. But he is more than a henchman, as he truly believes that Wayne is doing a good work in people’s lives. Each of their paths have sought out meaning while distancing themselves relationally from each other.
As the series progresses I am interested in seeing how these cracks in the Garvey family widen and the town continues to divide along philosophical lines. If Tom Garvey reading Albert Camus’ The Stranger is any indication of things to come, everyone’s search for meaning post-Sudden Departure may be futile. What may rule the day in The Leftovers is not a relief from existential dread but a return to the primal forces that drive us as humans and ultimately, separate us from each other.