THE LEFTOVERS Recap: One Man’s Savior is Another Man’s Satan
By Alicia Lutes on July 20, 2014
“Won’t somebody please think of the children?!” tonight’s episode of The Leftovers seemed to scream. The children, the children! Jill, Tommy, and baby JC — to say nothing of Wayne’s unborn progeny living within Christine. Oh, baby: this one was a confusing doozy. Because, man oh man, aren’t the holidays just the toughest?
This is why I, personally, love a show like The Leftovers. It dissects how religious factions and affiliations — and even just your run-of-the-mill, non-religious human — cope with the inexplicable. How it can be made sensical by our silly, relatively tiny human brains. We’re constantly trying to make sense out of things that may have none. Because we crave reason and meaning above all else. But meaning is all relative — and one person’s baby Jesus could be another person’s Antichrist.
The episode focused almost exclusively on the children — real, imaginary, and yet-to-be. Jill and Tommy Garvey; the baby Jesus; Christine and Wayne’s baby that causes visions. It’s interesting to see how the young, those with whom the real memories of this phenomena will come from as they grow up in a post-October 14th world, deal with and react to what is, ostensibly, their first inexplicable tragedy. It’s a real moment of crisis — and a communal one at that. Will those who’ve experienced it grow from it or freak out because of it? Right now it’s still hard to say, and Jill and Tommy are still in between, grappling as best they can.
We learned a lot more about Tommy on Sunday. As it turns out, Kevin is not his biological father. Perhaps that is why, in the wake of October 14th, he fled to join Wayne’s cult. “I was abandoned by my father,” Tommy said at one point. It’s a line couched in so much meaning — The Father, Wayne the father of this religious order, his biological father, Kevin Garvey his stepfather — which does he mean? Or is it more of an all-of-the-above situation (which feels unlikely given Kevin’s concern). Who is the father and what does his loss mean?
It’s been six weeks since Christina and Tommy heard from Wayne and they’ve been staying in a homeless shelter filled with some pretty unstable folk. Christine spends her days talking to some of the more addled among them, resulting in a fight between a man who said she would “walk over the dead” because he knows “what’s inside you,” and Tommy. It’s after a trip to the hospital to check on the baby post-fight that Tommy runs into some Texas-based GRs. Looks like their numbers are far greater than we may have previously assumed. Just how many of them are there? Have religious orders taken over the world? It certainly seems that way, doesn’t it?
Believing in something — anything — keeps them invisible. To believe in a higher meaning has become the way: the conflicted among them a rarity, a weird outlier. Which is incredibly interesting, all things considered: belief in the face of the unknown takes precedent over the questioning of meaning itself. Theirs is a situation where the “answer” to why the departure happened is completely and totally unknown, yet the entire world has created answers and reasons. To believe rather than be a skeptic is what’s become the norm, regardless of the factuality of it all. Doubt is a weakness. Whether you believe a child is a savior or a Satan is no matter: having a belief at all is what’s important to this iteration of society. (And golly gee wiz if that doesn’t feel not-too-far-off from modern society, eh?)
Back in Mapleton, the baby Jesus has gone missing from the manger. As it turns out, Jill and her friends are the ones that stole him, bored as they are of their everyday existence and the couched meaning people put onto objects. They attempt to give him a viking funeral but at the last minute Jill changes her mind. It doesn’t feel right because, you know, what if? What if there really IS a greater force at play? What if the baby Jesus — regardless of his plastic, factory-line origins that we saw at the onset — was actually important? The unknown plagues Jill (as it does her father), and the mysteries behind it all creates a sort of stagnant existence. If you don’t believe, and don’t not believe, where does that leave you? Treading water?
It’s in those moments that the rationale behind the Guilty Remnant starts to make sense — to an extent. The answer to them is that there is no answer. There’s no point. So why worry? To institutionalize that way of thought, turning it into a religious calling is certainly a unique way of dealing with ennui even if it is counter-intuitive to the point of “there is no point.” But people like to feel like they belong — even if what they belong to is nothing. Because nothing matters. Humans will go to extreme lengths to find a sense of stasis.
Which is why Laurie Garvey is such a fascinating character. Her insistence on towing the GR line is obvious, and yet… still she longs for home. So why did she leave? Is it because Kevin cheated, as he noted to Nora during the holiday celebration? Or was there something bigger at play? What does Laurie really believe? Does she think her silence and call for divorce is serving a greater cause?
And if the Guilty Remnant are about honoring those who departed, what good does making their congregation a uniform mass of nameless, faceless un-notables do? Is there some sort of good that comes out of not forgetting those that have left but trying to forget those that are still currently living and alive? It seems as though Laurie is struggling with that part, which is why she returned to grasp for that lighter Jill gave her, engraved with those very words. “Don’t forget me.”
But still, for all her well-meaning and myriad attempts, sometimes things escape us. Some things will always remain just out of reach. And maybe that’s the point the GR are trying to make, regardless of the inherent hypocritical tension created by their own beliefs.
The aggressive nature with which the GR forces its opinions on others — stealing family photos, for instance — is what makes their claim so off-putting, I think, over the rest. The way in which they’ve institutionalized the idea that life is meaningless is nothing short of confounding. If nothing matters then why does it matter that everyone believes that and acts as you so desire? Is religion the problem or are its zealots?
The rest of ‘em? They’re calling out for a Baby Jesus and/or the Antichrist — depending on which way you look at it — not that it particularly matters which one. Because the mere existence of multiple “answers” creates a paradox wherein every savior is both the second coming and also the downfall. Because for every believer out there, there are just as many dissenters. So where does that leave these sacred children, if they are at once everything and nothing that they claim to be, depending on who you ask?
Sure — coincidences and “signs” will always exist: just look at how Kevin’s car stopped working as he lamented not wanting to deal with Jesus. But even if The Rapture IS the right answer — is it ever going to be enough? Is there ever going to be a good enough “reason” for why this happened that’s going to satisfy everyone?
Nope. Probably not. But that’s the very frustrating, very real point. The only people that really seem to get that are the children, though.