After two episodes set in Miracle, it’s time to check in on the remaining cast members from S1 of The Leftovers.
Let’s bitch it out…
The first two episodes of S2 have acted as two bookends: they introduced the new season by focusing on the Murphys and the Garveys individually, but ended up speaking to each other by sharing a substantial number of scenes told from different perspectives. ‘Off Ramp’ only shares one scene with another episode as we see Jill (Margaret Qualley) and Tom’s (Chris Zylka) diner conversation from last episode, but it is from Laurie’s (Amy Brenneman) perspective outside in the car and completely absent any dialogue.
Of course most of the conversation is obscured by Laurie’s increasing frantic efforts to conceal the evidence of her nocturnal jaunts: running down members of the Guilty Remnant she encounters on the street. The revelation of what’s she doing unfolds in typical Leftovers fashion – the visual cues are present early on (the constant car washes) but they carry a different meaning until the truth is revealed. Initially it seems like the car washes are part of her OCD recovery program, although seeing it in context with her other preparations (and cued to a soundtrack of pulsing drums), it’s hardly a surprise that Laurie is as unhinged as ever. As her new recruit Susan mentions at one point, Laurie is completely and utterly filled with rage. Her tell all book ‘Guilty’ may be her outlet, but clearly her emotion of choice for coping is anger.
“Off Ramp” is a masterfully balanced episode of television; it is elegant in its simplicity. It is clear that Tom is putting himself in increasing danger each time he returns to the Guilty Remnant to identify new recruits (I’ll confess that I put the odds that he would fall under their sway at par with my suspicion that he would be identified and murdered). It is clear that Susan is ill-prepared for re-entry back into her old domestic life long before she commits murder-suicide with her husband and young son on the titular off ramp. And it is clear that Laurie is ill-suited to play therapist to the survivors of the white-clothed cult because she herself is unable to deal with her own trauma.
And yet despite anticipating the outcome of each of these story lines, ‘Off Ramp’ still plays out in surprising, compelling and immensely emotional ways. The montage of Tom re-entering the cult to an acoustic version of the Pixie’s ‘Where Is My Mind?’ is expertly edited and acted by Zylka, while Hitflix‘s Alan Sepinwall rightfully identifies the moment when Laurie runs over the Guilty Remnant couple with her car as a masterstroke directing technique that almost literally lets the audience experience Laurie’s point of view. Finally, the scene when Tom is abducted, raped by Meg* (Liv Tyler) and nearly set ablaze in the sun is harrowing and visceral, not just for the discomfort of the sex or the shock of full-frontal male nudity. It is the fact that on The Leftovers seemingly anything and everything is possible, up to and including fantastic proclamations about the healing powers of hugs.
*As we discussed earlier this year with Game Of Thrones, this is unequivocally non-consensual sex, even if you want to argue that it appears that Tom gets into it before Meg dismounts. Sepinwall’s interview with co-executive producer Damon Lindelof suggests there’s more to Meg and Tom’s relationship coming, so we can look forward to exploring these power dynamics in greater detail in the future.
What ‘Off Ramp’ successfully proves is that last year’s most divisive storyline – the Guilty Remnant – still has the capacity to deliver great television, regardless of whether the chain smoking silent group did or did not work for you. The Leftovers remains one of the most confident, evocative and cinematic dramas on TV and S2 is shaping up to be a cracker of a year for the series.
- The question about smoking during the book meeting: is that symptomatic of the fact that Laurie doesn’t really know the Guilty Remnant, or that the publishers don’t actually understand the book at all? Or both?
- Sidebar: the smashcut from Laurie strangling the publisher to her sitting in jail is chuckle-worthy. Very well done.
- It was an integral part of one of last season’s best episodes (that would be 1×06 ‘Guest’), but I never latched onto Holy Wayne’s story line. Despite this, Tom’s confession that he has inherited Wayne’s powers is very well delivered by Zylka, whose outstretched arms work as both a parable of Christ on the cross and as a nice little comedic zinger for the episode to end on.
- If we’re being honest, I almost wish that the episode had ended when Laurie finally opened up by breaking down the therapist/patient barrier to reveal her own struggle as a member of the Remnant and what it did to her relationship with Jill. This feels like the emotional climax of the episode to me.
- I appreciate that The Leftovers has never shied away from the fact that there is an attractiveness to (at least some aspects of) the Guilty Remnant. Tom asks his mother if she ever misses the quiet and while she replies no in a semi-vicious tone, there’s a piece that resonates in the monotony of Susan’s final few scenes involving inane chatter about co-workers and aggravatingly loud cartoons on TV. The smoking is a hard pass, though.
- It is important to note that Tom does not pass along Laurie’s note to Jill as he tells her he does. I interpreted this as confirmation of his earlier statement that Jill isn’t ready to forgive Laurie, but is there another reason?
Your turn: did you enjoy the focus on Laurie and Tom? Were you surprised that Laurie is so angry? Did you expect Tom’s rape & attack? Were you uncomfortable during the sex scene? Which scene hit hardest emotionally? And where do Laurie and Tom go from here? Sound off below.
The Leftovers airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO