Monday, June 30, 2014

In Which I Review The Leftovers (1x1)

I have a soft spot for anyone who was once associated with LOST. As a former LOST-a-holic, I try to keep track of where the actors and producers and writers are and check out their new creative projects. Sometimes, it's a success (Once Upon a Time) and sometimes it's a dismal failure (Josh Holloway in Intelligence). Since LOST ended four years ago, co-creator and head writer Damon Lindelof has been off the TV grid, mostly working on the Star Trek movies. His venture back into TV is in the form a book-turned-small screen adaption of life post "Rapture." Going into this episode of TV, I must admit I had little interest. Post-rapture TV has been done before. The world turns gritty and ugly; most of the time this rapture event leaves the world backwards, technology has decayed, people are fighting over wells for water, rusted out shells of cars line the streets. All of which makes little sense since I'm fairly certain the book of Revelation makes no mention a technological standstill. The post rapture, post apocalyptic world is a hellscape to remind viewers, and characters in the show, of a life that once was, a better life. And maybe that's all well and good but it's deadly dull when each new "post" world is exactly the same. You can also expect some heavy handed metaphysical musings from the characters about God, divine wrath, sin, the Devil, ect. What is refreshing about The Leftovers, at least from the first episode, is that none of this really happened. The secular and pious voices come from the TV channels, which, over the course of the hour Pilot, vacillate from scientists who have no answers to religious leaders who have no answers. The post apocalyptic landscape looks a lot like our present day, just with less people. Technology still works, kids go to school, adults go to work, cars run, iPods play. The metaphsyical nature of a rapture is left to the talking heads on screen because what the characters in the story care about is how this event personally affected them; and more to the point, how they, the Leftovers, are coping with it. Hint: most of them are coping with it badly. 

Three years ago, 2% of the world's population suddenly vanished. There was neither rhyme nor reason; they just simply left the earth. This "rapture" took all sorts of people: celebrities known for excessive living, newborn babies, fathers, mothers, the old and infirm, the young and healthy, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist. We aren't given much in way of the confusion that surely followed, but rather we move forward in time three years to how everyone is dealing now. It's a small town and the mayor, following a federal mandate, is insisting that everyone is ready to move on. It's time to remember the heroes (even if their heroic quality is simply being taken) and have parades and celebrations. We have a tendency in America to celebrate and "remember" tragic events. Anniversaries of days gone by are brought up annually with picnics, parades, balloons, fireworks. It's...bizarre. At the same time that you're supposed to be moving on, you're forced to continually relive the event in question, as if we are worried that moving on means forgetting. And it's something Police Chief Kevin is against. He doesn't think three years is enough time for people to start feeling better. Kevin thinks that the town is basically trying to put a shiny spin on the tragic loss and move on, as if suddenly having millions upon millions of people vanish can ever be moved on from, especially when there are no answers to be had.

Kevin himself is an interesting guy. Father, husband, cop. He is small town America personified, except I think it's quite possible that he's loosing his mind in the wake of loosing those he loved. None of Kevin's immediate family was taken three years ago, but yet somehow he lost them. His son, Tommy, has joined up with a mysterious guru who claims he can help people unburden themselves but comes across as a dangerous warlord who enjoys flashing knives at people in the dark--and just so happens to have many Asian bikini-clad women lounging around a pool. Kevin's daughter, Jill, was once a straight-A student who is now numb and angry. She lashes out violently at times, and then moves to dissociation during acts of sexual violence (chocking a guy while he masturbates and all she can do is stare and the ceiling and let one tear fall). And Kevin's wife, Laurie, has decided to join up with a fascinatingly disturbing cult that might be the reason to keep tuning in, if only to learn what the heck his Guilty Remnant wants and why they act the way they do. More on them in a minute. Kevin, though, is obviously angry but trying his best to keep it together. He drinks quite a bit and I think is sleep walking, during which time he destroys his kitchen. He blames it on a deer though, so that's okay. There is a feral threat lurking around every corner--mobs, rabid dogs, sharpshooters, but most of all... men. Kevin's daughter might think that he'd never hurt a dog, but by episodes end, he's tearfully unloading his handgun into a pack of rabid dogs who came out of nowhere to take down a deer. The wild things that hurt the innocent--it's a motif in the show. Just as the wild dogs attacked something that was simply standing there, the angry mob attacked the cult even though they were leading a peaceful protest. And, of course, just as human kind was going through their day to day lives, someone or something decided to pluck 2% of them away.

Cults are a typical occurrence in any kind of "post" world. Upheaval always forces people to reexamine their lives and make drastic turns. Laurie, Kevin's wife, made her choice at some point after the rapture. She has taken up with the Guilty Remanent, a cult living in the suburbs. I like that they are in the suburbs; it drives home the point that these were all normal people until something happened to the world in which they live. Normally, the cult would be out on some desolate farm, cut off from the rest of the world. But these specters in white live amongst everyone else, even though they aren't welcome. Their cultic practices are unique to say the least. Dressing in all white doesn't seem too far off the path, but the chain smoking is. Boards with quoteables line the hallways, "we do not smoke for our enjoyment. We smoke as a demonstration of our faith." We learn little about the cult, mostly because no one is allowed to talk; they use paper and pen to communicate. At the remembrance memorial, they appear with signs telling people to stop wasting their breath. The cult was probably the most interesting part of the episode. Part of their duties include following unsuspecting people around, silently, smoking, and staring. It unhinges a woman name Meg who decides to join them instead of having them follow her anymore. What they believe in, or don't believe in, has yet to be made clear but it's something to look forward to.

There are a lot of other goodies in the show but for a pilot episode, it's more important to get the main cast down--the family who didn't loose each other in the rapture but are lost to one another anyway. It's possible that the show may delve into the more theological aspects of a "post" world--God, angels, demons, and Satan may appear, but I somehow doubt it. The show doesn't much care for the how of the rapture and maybe not even the why, but the what now question. The people taken will likely never come back and the characters still around will never get an answer as to why they were left over. It's how they learn to deal with and live in the new world that matters.

Or maybe it's aliens. This is Lindelof after all.

 Miscellaneous Notes on the Pilot

--I'd encourage people to check the show out. It's an interesting hour of TV.

--There are a lot of characters so far and it's hard to keep them straight, but that's very LOST. There are also some flashbacks, but unlike with LOST and ONCE, they aren't important yet.

--Christopher Eccleston plays an American preacher. He'll always be the 9th Doctor to me, so it's a bit odd but I really want to know what caused him to start spewing information about those taken.

--Lot of interesting musical elements in the show--classical piano motifs cut in at intervals of violence or upheaval.

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