This Week’s ‘The Leftovers’ Contained A Moment Of Breathtaking Brutality That Will Not Soon Be Forgotten

I watch a lot of television. I’ve seen a lot of movies. I’ve seen untold horrors in the big and small screen over the years. Hell, I’ve seen at least four Faces of Death movies, and still, I didn’t think anything could top seeing a character burned alive in Sons of Anarchy in terms of the intimacy and immediacy of the violence. As in: Brutality that felt horribly, painfully real. With something like Game of Thrones or an Eli Roth movie, it’s easier to remove yourself from the violence. It’s easier to remember that it is fiction. That what’s going on isn’t reality.

However, it turns out, seeing a woman (poor Kathy Geiss) stoned to death is even harder to watch than the scene from Sons of Anarchy. I am not a person who looks away from my television, but hell if I didn’t have to avert my eyes a few times during what felt like a much longer sequence than it actually was. It didn’t matter, though, because the sound of stone meeting face, and stone breaking face — *thudCRUNCH* — is as hard to hear as it is to see.

That may be a death worse than fire. It’s also the last thing I expected on The Leftovers, and that’s precisely why it felt so shocking, or as Dean the Dog Shooter put it, so “f**king horrific.” (Here’s a screenshot, although I wouldn’t click it if I were you).

Speaking of Dean, we can officially (I think) put to rest any notion that he’s not real, although his place in The Leftovers universe is strange. He was with the Guilty Remnant in the woods when they were tracking Kathy Geiss and didn’t seem to flinch at the prospect of shooting another one of the feral dogs, even with scores of GR walking around him. And despite seeing firsthand the danger the anti-GR contingent poses to Mapleton, Dean’s speech during the curfew meeting was the turning point in preventing it the counsel from enacting said curfew.

But then, does it really matter if the GR are stoned to death one by one? That’s what much of last night’s episode turned on: Do the GR still feel? In the episode’s most poignant scene — a conversation about doubt between Reverend Matt Jamison and Officer Garvey — Reverend Jamison posited that “killing these people is pointless” because they are already dead inside. “What I want is to bring them back to life.”

That’s a particularly profound statement from Jameson, who lost his church to the GR because he was trying to save it, and whose very religious beliefs were cast in doubt after the Departure. But, like Job, no amount of suffering will dissuade Reverend Matt from his beliefs.

But maybe Jameson is wrong, because for all of the GR’s attempts not to feel, their emotions continue to bubble up. Kathy Geiss (whose actual character name is Gladys) not only spoke, but begged for her life while she was being hit in the head and face with stones. And like Matt two weeks ago, Laurie’s resolve was put to the test here. In the wake of her divorce, and only a short time after her daughter attempted to reach out to her, and after discovering the body of Gladys, Laurie had a panic attack. She began to feel again.

It was left to Patti to set Laurie back on her path. It’s hard to know what to make of Patti. After the Guilty Remnant were essentially elevated to villain status in last week’s episode, the stoning of Gladys and Laurie’s panic attack somehow made us feel for them again. Briefly, anyway. Patti agreed to Kevin’s request to stay off the streets, and then she gave Laurie the day off. We thought for a moment that the GR had come to its collective senses.

But no. The day off was a test. To see if Laurie would waver. If she would take the opportunity to speak. If she would let her emotions, the comfort of her family, and the lure of moving on get the best of her. Patti was only manipulating her, reminding Laurie of who her family really is. “There can’t be any doubt, Laurie,” Patti says. “Because doubt is fire, and fire is going to burn you up until you are but ash.”

When Laurie ran out and blew that whistle in the face of Matt, rejecting his prayers for Gladys, rejecting his attempts to bring the GR back to life, we knew she’d passed that test. Her resolve remained unbroken. Laurie is an unfeeling monster, and she and Patti have made Meg into one, too.

The Guilty Remnant can go straight to hell.

Personally, I agree with Reverend Matt. The GR are cowards hiding from the truth behind their silence. And yet, as much as I want to loathe them, I can’t help but to feel some pity for them, too. The fact that the feds basically want to brush the GR — and every other cult that has emerged in the wake of the departure — under the rug and forget about them is sad. It’s heartbreaking that Gladys’ murder won’t even be investigated, that her body was cremated almost by bureaucratic default.

And that’s where the major source of tension in this show resides: Between those who want to forget about the departure and move on, and those who want to be the constant, living reminders of the departure, who want to insist that it meant something, who don’t want the rest of the world to simply go back to their everyday lives.

To move on, the GR seem to say, is not only disrespectful to the departed, it’s disrespectful to the meaning of the departure itself. Reverend Matt, on the other hand, seems to be saying that we can move on, but we don’t have to forget about the past. We can bring it with us.

Random Thoughts

— Mimi Leder directed last night’s episode. She had a brief run as basically the sole female blockbuster movie director for a spell in the 90s. She directed The Peacemaker with George Clooney, and Deep Impact, which ended up playing second fiddle to Armageddon. Her feature film career, however, essentially died after Pay It Forward. She’s clearly still a hell of a director, though, as last night’s phenomenal episode attested.

— Most of us assumed it, but the fact that Aimee not only has dinner with the Garveys but wakes up in the house basically confirms that she lives with them, having likely lost her own parents to the departure.

— I am not a religious person at all, but I am finding some deep irony in the fact that Reverend Matt is not only my favorite character in the series, but the character with whom I sympathize the most. You can take God out of the equation, and what Matt is doing — trying to reawaken the dead — is still the noblest of all pursuits on the show.

— I have no goddamn idea what the lost white shirts were all about. I don’t know if those were actually his shirts that the dry cleaner returned, either. If they are not, I don’t know who was stealing them. Jill (out of spite)? Aimee (out of lust)? The Guilty Remnant (out of need)?

— However, the missing shirts did give Kevin and Nora another nice little moment together. Nora’s smile just makes me ache. In a good way. One thing, however: Isn’t it strange that Nora and Kevin had never apparently met, considering the fact that Kevin’s father was good friends with Matt, who is Nora’s brother, and that Matt used to come over to Kevin’s house for dinner?

— Not only is Kathy Geiss stoned to death, but she’s cremated in assembly-line fashion because the feds just don’t care. That bummed me out.

— Critics of The Leftovers often argue that there aren’t any characters they care about on this show. I dunno: I find myself very invested in Matt, and lately, in Kevin and Jill, and I even find myself caring deeply for Laurie, wanting so badly for her to renounce the GR and go back to her family. Patti I hate, but in a good way, the way I hated Margo Martindale’s character in Justified. The only major characters I don’t really care that much about are Tom/Wayne/Christine, who weren’t in last night’s episode.

— Speaking of Kevin, he’s come a long way. Maybe he’s Job. I’m glad to see that he accepted the divorce, but goddamn, that was a heartbreaking scene with his daughter. Maybe Jill will finally stop treating him like sh*t.

— WHO THE F@#$ IS NEIL? Anyone?