The Leftovers: 1-1: Pilot (Review)

2014

60 min

United States

Creator: Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta

Director: Peter Berg

Writer: Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta

Stars: Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston

Release Date: June 29, 2014


As far as first episodes go, The Leftovers delivers more than enough to chew on.

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The Leftovers begins with the sound of a baby crying. A title card over black reads "October 14." We then watch as a flustered mother on the phone busies herself at the laundromat, her baby screeching the entire time. She puts the baby in the car seat and then prepares for her next errand, still chatting on the phone. Then... the crying stops. She looks back at the empty car seat. Confused and scared she gets out of the car and looks around. "Sam. Sam? Sam!" A kid in the parking lot then starts calling out for his dad while an unmanned shopping cart rolls itself into the back of a car. Down the street we see two cars collide. Cut back to black as we listen to a barrage of 9-1-1 calls, all reporting missing persons

In recent times movies and television have become inundated with portraying the end of the world. Last year must've seen a record number of apocalypse films be released. 2013: the year the blockbusters celebrated surviving 2012. We're still seeing a lot today. I've also noticed a rise of religious films this year. From Son of God to God's Not Dead and the remake of Left Behind nearly upon us (surely a sign of the end of something, it's a popular time time for Christian films too. Last year's This Is the End was a refreshing blend of both wherein a group of Hollywood's crassest and finest (all playing themselves) had to come to terms with not be saving during the Rapture. Enter The Leftovers, the antitheses to This Is the End's approach, but an exploration of the same themes, just without all of the dick jokes.

The rest of the pilot episode for The Leftovers is set three years after the events of October 14th. It's been exactly three years as the New York suburban town of Mapleton memorializes the events of the what has become known as the Sudden Departure, a still unexplained phenomenon which caused 2% of the world's population to vanish without a trace. There are no beams of light, earthquakes or brimstone in The Leftovers, which is really the kind of apocalyptic occurrence I've been waiting for in a story. In fact, it's arguably not even considered an apocalypse. We see that society and the lives of its members has pressed forward despite the setback.

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The Leftovers is based on the novel by Tom Perrotta. Together with Damon Lindelof the two created the show and penned the pilot. The prism through which we're granted a perspective is the Garvey family, who lost nobody in their immediately family on that fateful day but have still managed to alienate themselves from one another. Justin Theroux plays Kevin Garvey, the closest thing we have to a protagonist. His wife left him for a cult known as the Guilty Remnant. His step-son has wandered off to follow Holy Wayne, a messianic figure gathering followers. His step-daughter still comes home at night, but she leads a moody and aggressive high school life when not at home.

The performances of the Garveys are all spot on. Each deal with their circumstance in a realistic manner, even if Justin Theroux has to repeatedly play the bewildered husband and father scene in and scene out. I suppose it is some comfort that he seems to be just as confused as the viewer will undoubtedly be during the first episode. Prior to investing any time with The Leftovers I heard that Lindelof (notorious for writing Lost and Prometheus) was going to put forth many mysteries that would never be answered. Fair enough if you tell me that upfront. I think going in with the acknowledgment/acceptance will prove crucial to your appreciation of the material.

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If something like this were to happen in our world I am convinced that there would be no answers and that all we would have to lean on are the theories of the loudest or the most recognized. The characters in The Leftovers seem to have stopped wrestling with how and why. Such are unknowable while we're still stuck in this Earthly morality. This show is about what the people who have moved on are going to do with their lives. It's not because they don't remember what happened, it's because they want to forget. This might be why things get quite heated at a memorial service when the Guilty Remnant show up to protest.

As far as first episodes go, The Leftovers delivers more than enough to chew on. Even without an explanation waiting around the corner, just seeing more of what the world has come to is enough to hold my attention. The cold opening was the most exciting part and left me hoping for more flashbacks to the day of that Sudden Departure. Have you watched any of HBO's The Leftovers? Share your thoughts on the pilot or any other observations you might have in the comments below!


Episode 2 and Beyond: As of the time of this writing I've seen all but the final episode of Season 1 (yes, a second season has been announced!). While the series is primarily focused on the Garveys there are a couple episodes wherein they take the backseat to an adult brother and sister living in their town. While it was not an isolated incident we only get glimpses out of the town during one character's visit to a conference and following the exploits of Tom (Chief Garvey's son) for Holy Wayne. In the penultimate episode, "The Garveys At Their Best," we get what I've been waiting for the whole season: a look back at the day of the Sudden Departure for all of the show's main characters. It felt like the whole series had been building to this point, which made it all the more powerful to see this late in the game.