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The Leftovers continues its streak of engrossing television hours with its latest episode. After last week’s supremely intense hour, the series goes back to the more conventional narrative structure. Kevin, once again, becomes the focus of the episode that explores the history and current dynamics of the Garvey family. I’ve said before that Justin Theroux’s performance has been kind of bland, however, he is given more showy, big emotions to portray (like in the scene with Laurie and Meg), which seem to agree with his acting style more than the quiet, brooding beats he has been previously given. He doesn’t necessarily have the most emotive face, so those quiet moments don’t land entirely, but when required to lose his temper he can do so without going over the top. He also acquits himself well with moments of sarcasm, Garvey is a wiseass and Theroux pulls it off with charm. Despite the character’s prickly nature and overall gloominess, it isn’t a chore to follow him around for an episode.
It is actually quite fun. The missing baby Jesus becomes a great story to follow as Garvey gets more invested in the missing doll than almost everyone else in the town. It also incorporates some of the cast that was not featured in last week’s episode, which is totally welcome. The narrative not only emphasized some of the existential themes and questions the series likes to dwell on, but also provided great moments of comedy. For a show that has been so defined by its bleak atmosphere and depressing subject matter, it has an abundance of moments of levity. Many of those come from the younger crowd, the twins in particular are a great source of comedy (this episode’s contributions were plenty but I particularly liked the business with the car after dropping off the doll at the Garvey’s doorstep), and I’ll never get tired of Aimee trying to diffuse tension between Kevin and Jill with random stuff (Emily Meade is just so charismatic in that role, let her eat all of the sandwiches).
But it is the more dramatic material that leaves a strong impact on the viewers. Laurie’s visit to Kevin is absolutely devastating and a powerful scene that opens up the characters’ history and delivers big emotional blows. In a short amount of time the series has established these characters and made us invest in their relationships in a very impressive way. Amy Brenneman keeps getting better as Laurie and her portrayal is utterly heartbreaking. As opposed to Theroux, she is able to communicate so much with her expression, words aren’t necessary and her performance thrives with the lack of dialogue. The relationship building between her and Meg is engaging and developing into something intriguing. And it is very satisfying to see her finally interact with Jill, who is surprisingly kind to her mother even though we know is having a difficult time dealing with all this.
While all the material set in the town of Mapleton is completely immersive and compelling, the episode falters when we are taken out of that zone and thrust into Tom’s storyline. Tom is just so separated from the main narrative that it is hard to invest in the character and his future. Part of his narrative and character development has a lot to do with his separation from his family, that is something we know the series is exploring, but it doesn’t make it easier to go through. Tom on the run, babysitting this young girl and waiting to hear from Wayne is not the most interesting scenario. However, this aspect of the story is utilized to let us know about life outside of Mapleton. It opens up the world considerably giving us greater glimpses of the other new religions that have emerged since the ‘rapture’ (which Tom adopts as a way to pass by unnoticed) and other aspects of society. And it does provide one of the most affecting set pieces of the series so far, in which dozens of artificial bodies in white body bags are strewn all over the road. Very eerie and disconcerting.
Nevertheless, I could have done with less of the Tom plotline and more Mapleton, specifically more Nora, who continues to be a mysterious and intriguing force. That scene with Nora and Garvey is fantastic, it hints at something more between the characters but doesn’t knock you over the head with it. And makes one want to know more about Nora, her story has been slowly unfolding week after week, she has made an impression in every episode without giving away too much of her experience or inner workings. I think it’s time for a Nora-centric episode. Don’t you?