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Throughout the first four episodes of The Leftovers one of the most prominent story threads has been the growing tension between the Guilty Remnant and the people of Mapleton. Each episode has explored this tenuous relationship somehow and shown the strain under which the two groups coexist. We’ve seen the brazen tactics the GR takes to rattle the people of the town (staging protests, stalking, breaking into people’s homes and stealing family pictures) and how they drive some of the townspeople to react in extreme ways (physically assaulting protesters, lashing out with hateful speech, throwing rocks). From the pilot episode this dynamic has been perhaps the most compelling aspect of the series and it all drove to a shocking and harrowing incident at the beginning of this week’s episode “Gladys” which is possibly the strongest hour the series has produced thus far.
The opening scenes may be some of the more disturbing, hard to watch moments of television, certainly of the series so far, for its unflinching realism. The show forces one to confront the horrific act and portrays it in the most brutal but accurate way possible. It is incredibly effective and affecting, it hits you in the gut and immediately imbues the episode with an air of despair that does not dissipate as the hour goes on. It is shocking and relentless but despite the brutality, it doesn’t feel exploitative. It may be too much for some viewers, understandably, but the moment is a catalyst for some engaging developments and sure to affect the narrative in the episodes to come in compelling ways. Gladys’ murder is the inciting incident that spurs the episode’s narrative and provides for some really fantastic character moments like when Jill sees Kevin in the school and assumes something happened to her mother, or Laurie’s panic attack, or how it spurs Patti into taking Laurie on their special trip (How shocking was it to hear Patti speak?), or Matt Jamison’s desire to give Gladys a funeral and so on. Her attack hangs above every scene, in the back of our minds adding weight and gravity to all interactions and developments.
The episode also gives us a greater look into the national experience after the rapture. We had seen the ATFEC before when they raided Wayne’s compound and now are privy to more of their sketchy ways. I like how the show hints at or directly shows us the bigger picture, what is going on in the nation, while focusing on the microcosm that is Mapleton. Yes we are focusing on these characters in particular and this town, but these kinds of horrific events and bizarre things are occurring all over the country.
This doesn’t exactly make for a stereotypically fun or entertaining viewing experience. Why would anyone want to watch such a grim show? And I’m sure many might not come back to the series after watching this episode. But there is just something about this world and these characters that is absolutely gripping, despite some of the difficult subject matter. The Leftovers has created a fully realized universe and dynamic characters one just wants to spend time with. It is an absolutely engaging story that continues to develop in unexpected ways. In fact the series likes to play with our expectations and assumptions.
The episode devotes a great deal of time on Laurie’s seemingly conflicted feelings about her place in the GR and her growing anxiety so when Matt appears in the night to give a sermon/eulogy for the GR and she makes her way towards him, we assume she is making strides to leave the cult. The way she seems so deeply affected by Matt’s words and how the music builds up creates tension, we think she is going to say something or defy the GR ‘rules’. Instead she blows her whistle in Matt’s face, defying his grand gesture and affirming her place in the cult. It’s a great moment and our anticipation makes her actions even more shocking and impactful. It is also surprising how this event made Meg solidify her place in the cult as well, especially since she seemed like such a frail person in earlier episodes and her strength or ‘readiness’ was being questioned. This is a show that is becoming increasingly difficult to predict, not only what will happen within an episode, but also what the next installment will bring. (I’m still hoping for a Nora-centric hour.)
What did you think of “Gladys”?