Thematically speaking, I think The Leftovers is a fascinating exploration of grief. I think it’s about loss. I think it’s about pressing on in the face of that loss, it’s about hope, and coping, and it’s most profoundly, a show about love. But there’s also quite a bit of Lindelofian intrigue buried underneath the themes, and one huge mystery that rose to the surface in this most recent episode was the identity of Gladys’ killer.
Gladys death served a couple of functions within the episode. It ultimately forced Kevin to accept his divorce with his wife, and it may have helped to repair the strained relationship between Kevin and his daughter, Jill, or at least, Jill may give her Dad a break. It also showed us just how little the feds care about The Guilty Remnant, or any other cult. To the feds, they are a nuisance to be remedied,
But consider this: Who did Gladys’ death benefit the most? I haven’t read Tom Perrotta’s book, and I admit that this didn’t occur to me until a reader in another comment thread suggested it (thanks, Brent M.), but no one benefits from Gladys’ death more than Patti.
Gladys death — at least briefly — gained some sympathy for the Guilty Remnant in Mapleton in a time when they needed it most, right after having broken into people’s homes and stealing their photographs. It also gained them the sympathy of the Kevin, the Chief of Police, who I am guessing might not have had much difficulty tracking down and arrested some members for their role in the break-ins. The GR got some breathing room.
More importantly, Gladys’ death gave Patti an excuse to confront Laurie — who had clearly been wavering in her devotion to the GR (she went back and attempted to retrieve the cigarette lighter last week) — and in the end, it pushed Meg to finally and completely commit to the organization.
Gladys’ wasn’t the victim of murder. She was a martyr. And Patti set it up.
And if you rewatch the episode from the beginning, it makes sense. In case you don’t remember, the episode opened with Gladys sitting in Patti’s office. They looked at each other, and wordlessly exchanged nods. Patti’s look seemed to say, “Are you ready?” And Gladys’ nod seemed to affirm that she was indeed ready.
During the rest of the cold open, up until she was taken, Gladys looked calm, cool, and collected, and there in the end, while outside of the gas station, waiting perhaps expectantly while tapping her cigarette on her empty notepad.
Gladys didn’t exactly struggle, either, as she was being dragged away. In fact, up until the stoning began, her look was not one of shock, but of surprise, as though she knew she would die, but didn’t know that stoning would be the method.
Of course, she also begged for her life in the end, but when you’re being stoned to death, I’m sure it’s very easy to reconsider. Note, too, that once she began begging for her life, there was some serious hesitation on the part of those stoning her.
Also note: The perpetrators never spoke a word.
This wasn’t a hate crime. It was a planned martyrdom, which makes Patti all the more villainous and awful.