‘The Leftovers’ 1.02 Recap: “Magic F—ing Hugs”

You know, I didn’t originally plan to recap any more of HBO’s new drama series ‘The Leftovers’ beyond the premiere. However, with the second episode, I feel the need to vent about just how awful the show’s opening titles are.

I wish I could find a clip from the sequence on YouTube, but I suspect that HBO has a firm lock-down on such things. Essentially, it’s meant to be a play on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, with the faces of the show’s characters painted onto naked or half-robed bodies as they touch or hug or kiss or do obscene things to each other while being dragged up to heaven – all played to really syrupy music. It’s insanely, jaw-droppingly cheesy, and I can’t believe the sequence actually made it into a final broadcast version of the episode.

If you can get past that, the episode is at least a moderate improvement over the series premiere. While it still suffers many of the same major failings (an overwhelming mopiness combined with no intention at all of answering the central mystery of the premise), the plotting in this one at least has more interesting things going on, which in turn makes me care slightly more about the characters. I’m still not quite sold on the show, but I might watch another episode.

Some of the plot highlights of this entry include:

  • The episode opens with an ATF raid on the compound of cult leader “Holy Wayne” (the black guy with the seemingly supernatural power to hug the despair and depression out of people, not the other culties who dress all in white). The ATF agents inexplicably act like total psychos as they barge in and shoot the hell out of everyone for no reason at all. Wayne gets away, and Tom (police chief Garvey’s son) kills an ATF agent to protect a young Asian girl named Christine who Wayne insists is very important. I have my issues with the scene, but it’s quite suspenseful. Wayne is a very creepy guy, in a way that’s totally unique. I can’t recall seeing another character like him anywhere else.
  • Peter Berg kills himself. That is to say, episode director Peter Berg kills off the character he briefly played in the pilot.
  • Chief Garvey is in therapy for his nervous breakdown issues. His therapist is kind of awful. Pretty much everyone believes that Garvey has hallucinated the Mystery Man (Michael Gatson from tons of other TV shows) who shoots dogs, and that Garvey has snapped again. Not helping matters is the fact that Garvey really loses his shit when a bagel mysteriously vanishes inside a toaster. He sees this as a sign that his world is falling apart again. Later, he triumphantly disassembles the toaster and finds the bagel wedged inside. In case you didn’t get it, this is meant to be symbolic of his vindication that he isn’t totally nuts.
  • Liv Tyler spends most of the episode chopping down a tree, as part of a weird initiation into the G.R. (the culties in white). Frustrated, she complains about the “shitty cult” that makes her do pointless things like this. Amy Brenneman writes her a note saying simply, “NOT A CULT.” Yeah, right. Tyler will eventually have her own moment of triumph when she takes out all her aggression on the tree. This is also meant to be symbolic, but at least the episode writers make fun its obviousness a little.
  • Garvey’s daughter Jill and her dipshit friend decide to skip school and stalk Nora Durst (the woman who lost her entire family in the vanishing, and who gave a speech at the parade in the prior episode). Durst is either an insurance agent or works for the government, I’m not clear which. She visits families that lost people in the vanishing to deliver settlement checks – but in doing so, she insists that they must sit for video interviews in which they answer 150 extremely uncomfortable personal questions of seemingly little relevance. Jill and her friend speculate that Durst may have murdered her family and blamed their disappearance on the vanishing. I’m not sure if that’s really it, but something weird is definitely up with this lady.
  • Garvey visits his father (Scott Glenn) at a mental institution. Garvey Sr. insists that he never actually had a mental breakdown and that his “shit is still intact.” However, that seems to be immediately contradicted when he hears voices in his head. Just as Garvey Jr. is about to leave, his father shocks him by declaring, “They said they sent or are sending someone to help you.” Could that refer to the Mystery Man? Is something supernatural really happening here?

I’m still on the fence with this series, but am at least mildly intrigued by some of these storylines. I just fear that they’ll all lead in circles with no greater purpose in the end – if the show even gets an ending.

And those opening titles… Oh man, they need to go. Right now.

2 comments

  1. David Staschke

    You forgot to mention the biggest WTF moment I’ve seen in a long when Wayne kisses a dead guy and says, “He’d never let me do that if he was alive.” I’m sorry but, WHAT???!!! And yeah, that title sequence,,,, ugh, terrible! Not only is it cheesy, but it is intentionally misleading by making you think the disappearance was a religious event. I thought this episode was just as uninteresting as the pilot. I’m giving this show one more episode. I want it to be good, but I’m hanging on by a thread at this point.

  2. agentalbert

    Interesting suggestion that the woman who lost her whole family is a government agent. My thought was that she was an agent (or adjuster, whatever) but was asking a lot of her own questions along with the ones the insurance company wants as she’s trying to determine a pattern to find out why her family was taken. That’s why she says the interviews are to be done by camera now with the excuse that too many people were messing up the forms. 150 questions for a life insurance claim seems excessive, even given the odd circumstance. But whether she’s a government agent posing as an insurance worker, or a real insurance worker, I think she’s obviously using the claim process as cover to gather information and try and discern a pattern.

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