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The Leftovers – Cairo Review

"An Intense Hour"

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While the two most successful episodes of The Leftovers have been, “Two Boats and a Helicopter” and “Guest,” which limit their narrative to the experience of one specific character, “Cairo” shows that the series can deliver an equally daring and ambitious hour with the more traditional storytelling template. The focus isn’t entirely on one person; instead it makes its way through an array of experiences, all of which inform the others in differing ways. Kevin, Jill, Patti, and Laurie all experience significant struggles and go through substantial transformations by the end of the episode. And though not all of the characters interact directly and their stories might seem disparate at times, the writers do a deft job at connecting them in compelling ways, be it visually, thematically, or editorially.

It certainly helps that a bulk of the action takes place in Mapleton, which makes for a cohesive feel. The town definitely unifies the several stories that are simultaneously unfolding. “Cairo” is a packed episode that could easily come across as overwhelming, however it eschews that impression by simply switching from one story to another or cleverly interspersing the more intense scenes with moments of lightness, which the writers have gotten really good at. This is a really funny show when it wants to be, and despite all the misery and violence and bleak nature of the series as a whole it is still somehow deeply entertaining to watch. Just sprinkle in some Nora sass, a few Aimee wisecracks and the twins being idiots along with the doom and gloom and we’ve got a good time.

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There was not a weak link in any of the story arcs and the way they were employed, how one story tangentially informed another, the various parallels between characters, etc. was absolutely masterful. And as usual, the performances are fantastic. Even Justin Theroux, who has been shaky as Kevin, now has a good handle on the character and the material. The characters continue to deepen in unexpected but logical ways. Who would’ve thought that Jill would turn to the GR? It is an absolutely shocking and unpredictable development. However after seeing how angry she is that everyone around her is “OK” when, in her eyes they shouldn’t be, and after listening to Patti’s diatribe about the GR, it makes total sense that she would join their cause. They are all about making people remember the horrible things that happened and not ‘pretending’ to be ok or forget such tragedies.

The episode also does a great job in building anticipation for the final two episodes of the season. How will Laurie deal with having Jill presumably join the GR (she didn’t really seem happy about her daughter showing up there)? How will Kevin react to the news he has lost yet another family member to a group he has such an antagonistic relationship with? What is he going to do about Patti and Dean? And, most intriguingly, what is the GR’s plan for Memorial Day? We now know that they stole the family pictures from the homes, not as a manipulative ploy, but to send for these replicas to be made. Will they reveal them in a big event, or plant them in the people’s homes? How will Nora react to seeing her family again? So many questions posed in this one hour, cannot wait to see what happens next.

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Sometimes it is difficult to articulate exactly why or how a series has established itself as one of the most captivating dramas currently airing in television, sometimes it happens, and it just becomes truth. With just eight episodes, The Leftovers has become that kind of show. Sometime between its premiere and now it has stealthily commanded viewers’ attentions, each episode employing a sublime blend of engaging story and inspiring performances. It has transcended the initial intrigue set up by its mysterious premise and universe and become a series about absolutely engrossing characters in a familiar, but skewed setting. It isn’t a perfect show, it definitely has a lot of room to improve, but even with its misgivings and imperfections it remains an incredibly powerful and gripping program. It is the show I look forward to the most every week and one that I suspect will be in a ton of year-end ‘best of television’ lists, it definitely has a spot in mine.

 

Final Thoughts

  • Did Aimee sleep with Kevin? It is unclear still, but I liked how the issue was addressed. We were all wondering and might continue to do so, but its good that that question is somewhat out of the way.
  • Just when we were starting to fully sympathize with the GR, or at least with Patti (no one deserves a beat down like that and to be treated like she was), their big plan is revealed. It seems like such a horrible thing to do, to force people to go through something so potentially traumatic. It is a plan that seems cruel and sadistic that it is difficult to in any way be on their side of the argument.
  • Meg is certainly losing her grip, and it is so engaging to watch her lash out. Liv Tyler is surprisingly good as Meg and I look forward to more of the character’s inner conflict.
  • “I don’t forget.”
  • “I think I just heard a bell ring,” Patti also has some sass, even when she is beat up, tied up to a chair in a cabin in the middle of the woods. Also, don’t deprive her of her nicotine.
  • I lobbied for a Nora-centric episode for a long time, I think its time we get a more in depth look into Aimee. But with only two episodes left I doubt that will happen.
Rating
8.9
Pros
  • Amazing Performances
  • Surprising Developments
  • No Tom or Wayne Business
Cons
  • We Could Always Use More Nora
  • Also More Aimee

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