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The Leftovers Season 1: “Pilot”

By VL Vanderveer on Jul 5, 2014 to The Leftovers


After several months of anticipating the arrival of HBO’s new series “The Leftovers,” the waiting is over. The show debuted on 06.29 to an audience of 1.8 million viewers. With “True Blood” as a solid lead in, “The Leftovers” had a great start. If they can hold off on more animal violence, in my opinion, then I can see this show flourishing and becoming a solid staple among HBO’s Sunday night programming.

As with any new series, it’s important to establish who the characters are, where they live, and what’s going on. We begin the show on October 14th, the infamous day when the Sudden Departure occurred. The first episode didn’t really describe the Sudden Departure; this is how Tom Perrotta, author of the source material and an executive producerof the series describes it as follows:

“Something tragic occurred,” the experts repeated over and over. “It was a Rapture-like phenomenon, but it doesn’t appear to have been the Rapture.” Interestingly, some of the loudest voices making this argument belonged to Christians themselves, who couldn’t help noticing that many of the people who’d disappeared on October 14th – Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and atheists and homosexuals and Eskimos and Mormons and Zoroastrarians, whatever the heck they were – hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior. As far as anyone could tell, it was a random harvest, and the one thing the Rapture couldn’t be was random. The whole point was to separate the wheat from the chaff, to reward the true believers and put the rest of the world on notice. An indiscriminate Rapture was no Rapture at all.

“The Leftovers” begins just days before the three-year anniversary of the Sudden Departure and focuses on the four members of the Garvey family: father Kevin, who is the chief of police in Mapleton, the town where most of the story takes place; mother Laurie, who has left her family to join the Guilty Remnant, a cult-like group that has taken a vow of silence and protests nearly everything the members of the world still alive and affiliated with the GR do;  son Tom, who is in the inner circle of Holy Wayne, a prophet/Messiah-like figure who says he can take away pain by hugging a person; and daughter Jill, who is still in high school, has no real friends, social standing, or reason to continue doing anything at all. In Perrotta’s book, Jill was present when one of her friends “departed” – she was there one moment and gone the next – but it is unknown if that detail will be included in the show.Leftovers_youngcast

Editor Jef Dinsmore picks up the review from here

That is the basic setup, but I will add a bit more insight to help you possibly embrace the series. Upon watching the pilot I think there are some basic facts you have to accept. We have already seen comments on this site and others that offer a great disappointment in the premiere, but if you follow the following considerations those folks might end up giving the show a second look. Granted, the premise and the pilot are flawed and you shouldn’t have to justify anything; it should have been handled better in our opinion, but let’s consider the following anyway.

First, you have to accept the illogical behavior of the society as we see it or the show will be a mess for you. An unexplainable tragedy has occurred and society, absolutely everyone, has suffered because of it. There is no solid reason why America or Mapleton should behave in the manner it does. Think of bad things that have happened around us. Even after 9/11 we were able to heal and move on. Yes, the world has changed post event, but not to the extent that it has in this show. We are more cautious now, and have tighter security, but we have not developed cult behaviors and become reckless with our lives nor bemoaned it three years later. Why is the society depicted here behaving this way?

We don’t know, but we are going to Leftovers_toasthave to accept that it is behaving that way. Maybe, it is Earth of an alternate universe? Maybe, it has seen more terrorism beyond 9/11 and/or natural disasters that have decimated the country and the Sudden Departure was the last straw to break the camel’s back? Maybe, the planet is so fed up with trauma that mankind as a whole just snapped. Maybe, they just cannot handle living without Gary Busey?? Accept it or turn away from the show. It is your call.

The other fact to consider is that everyone handles loss in their own way and time and the feeling of loss is tantamount in THE LEFTOVERS. In fact, I have kind of embraced the notion a bit strongly I think. The premiere episode was so disjointed and off-beat that I think the production team aided in the viewer feeling a sense of disconnect. Now, I am no fool and do not give the show runner the credit for intentionally controlling the viewer’s mood in that direction. The way the episode was edited and presented perfectly plays into the sense of loss felt by the characters – the audience felt a loss of cohesion and character development. In time we can only hope that feeling will abate and some substance will develop and some purpose to continue watching will take over and we also can move on. I just hope that it doesn’t take to many flash-backs, or gods forbid, flash-sideways to get us to that point. Again, accept it or turn away from the show. It is your call.

One little side note, please! The character of Pam, who is the woman you runs the local Guilty Remnant shelter where Laurie Garvey resides, also played the half-sister of Errol Childress in TRUE DETECTIVE. Yep, that’s her.



In conclusion we thank Victoria for her insight in starting off this piece. She has read the Tom Perrotta book (The Leftovers) and her initiative and input helped this article. We hope to hear more from her on the matter soon.

Here’s a preview for Episode 2, “Penguin One, Us Zero”:

  • Laura

    I don’t care if killing the dogs was “necessary,” or if letting us “hear” a deer squealing in pain after being hit by and trapped under the car is important to the plot — there are other ways to get whatever points they were trying to make. Unless, of course, the producer thinks it will appeal to the viewers. I was looking forward to this show, but have deleted the series. Animal violence is unacceptable, in any venue, for any “purpose.” Shame on the producers and writers.

  • Nahojism

    The trailer didn’t impress me at all, but I have to say that it shows promise after having seen the first episode. I want to know more about what is going on! In opposite of Cian, I think it was intriguing and I will continue watching.

    • Jef Dinsmore

      Yes, I’m not going anywhere either. I’ll stick it out, but I do see where it is formulaic Lindelof.

  • This is a show that only works when we care about the characters because the mystery is going to hang on for years to come.

    I’m guessing 1 hour isn’t enough time for most people to care or become attached. Definitely going to give this some time.

  • I’ll paste my thoughts here from another article:

    Lindelof sketches out paper-thin characters, who frustratingly have the potential to be extremely interesting. Then he puts all of his effort into “the mystery”, which the entire story eventually revolves around, even becomes. It’s a cheap and annoying way to get the viewer’s attention, and I feel like it won’t work as well here as it did with Lost; the premise is too immediate, and demands at least a slow leak of information.

    What are we supposed to come back and see? What is supposed to have hooked us in until the next episode? I don’t know…the dog situation? The Guilty Remnant? Walt? It’s not enough, because we don’t know anything about them yet, so why should we even care? Now, I love slow-paced shows (Boardwalk, The Wire etc.), so that’s not my issue. My issue is this:

    None of what we saw was intriguing enough to warrant a decent level of interest, or pique our attention until the second episode. Keeping us guessing about trivialities doesn’t count.

    On top of this, perhaps what annoyed me most was the complete misinterpretation of teenage life, notably at the party. This is simply not how teenagers, human beings even, act. And that’s just the point; too many writers paint teenagers as either weak or monstrous. Why can’t they just be, you know…normal? Also, the notion that the event of three years ago “changed” them to the extent that they nonchalantly burn themselves is ludicrous, so it must be down to, yet again, poor writing, whether from the source material’s author or Lindelof.

    Of course, I could be forced to eat my hat next week if the second episode proves me wrong, but until then, I’m sticking to my guns.

    There’s just nothing of substance to care about yet. One thing that annoyed me (which I also thought was lazy from a production point of view) was that the same piano motif played over and over. It’s a nice piece, but it became almost comical when it shoved itself into every scene. I’m also expecting a decent explanation for the GR’s chain-smoking. “We smoke for our faith” doesn’t cut it…what is your faith?! Oh yeah, they don’t talk.

    The most worrying thing is that most of this will probably be unexplained. Now, I’m a firm believer in restraint, and writers/producers trusting the audience to come to their own conclusions and figure things out themselves. However, there’s a difference between subtlety and ludicrousness.

    The comment above that we may just have to accept the bizarre actions of the characters is spot on. It’s not an excuse, but these characters clearly aren’t humans, at least as we know them. With all of that said, I’ll ride the show out, at least to the end of this season.

    • Weds

      It’s been one episode. So you’ve essentially seen just 1/10th of the story that will be told over the course of the first season.

      Your complaints about the teenage party also seem particularly off-base. Everybody has a different experience, obviously, but – given the specific circumstances of the show – I’ve seen some pretty wild shit go down at a house party (granted, I was in college at the time), and this portrayal didn’t seem so wildly egregious.

      Something that I think is integral to understanding the mindset of these characters, is to put yourself into the situation they’ve found themselves in. They live in a world where approximately 140 million people just disappeared into thin air. And there’s no explanation. No logical reason for why the same thing couldn’t happen again, meaning that you, or someone you love/know – could be here one instant, and gone in the next.

      But not in a comprehensible way. That’s why the burial of the dog (and the story line with said dog, overall) was the through-line of the episode. The simple act of saying goodbye; of knowing that you’re able to put the past to rest, is cathartic in and of itself. We know how the dog lived, how he died, and despite the fact that it was complete strangers who ended up burying him, the ritual itself is still important.

      Which is why so many people simply vanishing all at once has affected everyone in such a way. There’s no closure. No explanation. And no guarantee that the same couldn’t occur again. In that context, the nihilistic behavior of the teens and the exasperation of many of the adults makes perfect sense.

      We have strange cults who do even weirder shit than the Guilty Remnant in our own world, where we’ve never had one single case of a documented supernatural event occurring, and I don’t see anyone proclaiming that real life is some kind of giant plot-hole.

      I understand that this is completely subjective, I just don’t think you’re giving the premise of the show the weight it deserves, and that that has colored your perception in a way that the content of the show itself doesn’t support. If closure is (mostly) a necessity for human beings to begin the process of moving on from a great tragedy, then we’re looking at a world stuck in a constant state of uncertainty, fear, and apathy.

      Personally, I loved the pilot. It was a first episode that worked to establish the tone and atmosphere of the world, to display the attitudes of the people living in it, not to lay out exactly who everyone is and why they’re acting the way that they are. That will come with time. Specifically, it will happen over the course of the remaining 9/10th’s of the season.

      If I gauged every show just by its pilot, there are a lot of great series’ that I would have never given a fair shot. I’m not saying that I can’t see how someone would have a negative reaction to the premiere, I just don’t find the reasoning to be all that compelling. Worrying about answers – when it’s clear that the uncertainty is part of the DNA of the show itself – seems too hasty and knee-jerk-Lindelof-hater-ish (just tackling many of the general complaints I’ve read; not meaning you, specifically).

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