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We are now deep enough into The Leftovers that we can start to decide whether we want to judge each episode against the others within the series, or if we deem it worthy of comparing against the wealth of great shows available in this golden age of television we're currently in.
If we commit to the latter, it may be a frustrating and defeatist exercise. If we choose to hold it up against the standards it's already set, however, perhaps we can better appreciate the things it does right, and not feel so disappointed when it misses the mark.
Last night's episode held my attention for the full hour. There were plenty of events worth discussing, as has been the case throughout the first five episodes, and yet as things stand, halfway through the season, it feels like the show has been running on a treadmill the whole time. Despite all that's played out, how much has really changed in the town of Mapleton?
I'm not quite ready to cast the show off completely, though. Maybe I'm supposed to feel this way. Maybe this show (or at least this season) is all about gradually bubbling until the whole thing boils over. Until Kevin and his department really can't protect the Guilty Remnant any longer. Until Patti has had enough and decides taking pictures out of frames and smoking outside of peoples' homes isn't enough to intimidate them anymore. Until the townspeople decide to put the the departed and the GR out of their minds for good and "eliminate" them, as the ATFEC agent would put it.
For a show that's general tone is darkness and despair, the opening of last night's episode was a new low (or high, depending on your tolerance for brutal, grisly murder). Gladys, one of the most recognizable of the Guilty Remnant, is dragged into the woods by a group of unknown masked men and stoned to death. The only reason I can think of as to why it was depicted so graphically is because we, the viewers, are supposed to start feeling some sympathy for the GR, but the opening images of Gladys and her cohort stepping over a fallen elderly man leave no question as to why the cigarette-puffing cult have become pariahs.
When the GR creates a search party, Laurie is the unlucky member to find Gladys's disfigured body duct taped to a tree, which sends her into a panic attack that leads to an ER visit. Patti, played by Ann Dowd, who stole the show last night, knows that Laurie's commitment to the cult may waver out of fear of a similar fate as Gladys, so she picks her up and takes her to a motel to stay the night so she can get some rest away from the compound.
In the morning, Laurie is given regular clothes and meets Patti at a diner, who invites Laurie to speak freely. When she declines, Patti explains that she had the same conversation with Gladys once, because she saw the doubt in her as well. "Doubt is fire, and fire is gonna burn you up," as Patti explains.
As an aside: it's never really spelled out what's in Neil's doggy bag or why Patti excused herself with it, but if it is what we think it is, then we can thank the creators for not getting too graphic with every scene in the episode.
Back in the "real" world, Detective Lou has decided to hand over the investigation of Gladys's murder to the FBI, a decision that enrages Kevin. Kevin makes several attempts to contact the FBI agent to cancel Lou's request, but it's to no avail. Meanwhile, Kevin attempts to implement a curfew for the entire town, and after explaining his case to the citizens at the council meeting, one of his protestors turns out to be his old friend the dog killer, who also happens to be a suspect in the killing.
The council unanimously votes against Garvey's curfew, and he chalks up another one in the "loss" column. It seems no one in the town is aware that Kevin's wife is in GR now, or else they may have seen right through his proposed curfew as more of an effort to protect Laurie than it was to protect them. At least protecting his wife seems like the most sensible reason he has for protecting the cult, but who knows, maybe Garvey has a soft spot for them. After all, the Guilty Remnant are all about numbing their feelings, and Kevin has no trouble doing that with the aid of a case of beer. Could it be possible he sees the appeal in their lifestyle?
Near the end of the episode, the FBI agent finally gets in touch with Garvey, and the phone call sounds eerily like something out of a Scream movie. The agent ominously offers to send some agents up and implies that the Remnant can be eliminated. Visibly shaken up, Garvey declines. Although exterminating a group of people based on their extreme beliefs and behavior is obviously the right decision, it may be one that comes back to bite him in the long run.
Oh, and we can add eight white shirts to the list of things that Kevin has lost and found this season, along with a bagel and a plastic baby Jesus. Luckily, it leads to another playful back-and-forth between he and Nora Durst (who is going to have an episode to herself next week, which is something to look forward to).
An underlying story throughout the episode is Meg's growth as a fully indoctrinated member of the GR.
"I guess I should be scared, but I'm not," she says to Laurie about Gladys's murder while lighting a cigarette.
And when Garvey shows up to the GR compound and asks of Laurie's whereabouts, Meg aggressively dismisses him, saying, "she's not your wife anymore."
If there was any question left, she scrawls down the words "I Am Ready Now" on a piece of paper for Patti.
In all, "Gladys" precedes "Two Helicopters and a Boat" as the best episode thus far. The real issue at the halfway mark for season one of The Leftovers is that each episode comes and goes and leaves us feeling more or less satisfied, but not quite nourished. We don't fully understand the implications of everything that's happened thus far, nor do we have an idea of what the future has in store. That could be the recipe for a massively worthwhile payoff, or the kind of thing that leads to disappointment and unanswered questions, a feeling that fans of Lost (Lindelof's other show) are not unfamiliar with.
Until next week.
Image courtesy of: Kristin Callahan/ACE/INFphoto.com