The Leftovers S1-Ep5 Review: People Really, Really Hate the Guilty Remnant
Last night's episode of The Leftovers began with the most disturbing sequence on this grim, depressing show thus far: one of the Guilty Remnant, the silent, chain-smoking cult, is tied to a tree while hooded figures throw stones at her. She stays quiet for an impressively long time, but then begs for her life. They pay her no mind, and crush her skull in graphic fashion.
An already ugly scene brings out even more ugliness in the inhabitants of the fictional small town of Mapleton, New York. The Guilty Remnant is devoted to reminding the town of an event that they would rather forget, they stalk people and buy up their homes and churches, they break into homes and steal family pictures in order to drive home the message that the entire concept of the family is dead. In short, they are intentionally the manifestation of every person's fears that life is devoid of meaning, and people hate them for it. The good citizens of Mapleton don't care if these people live or die; the protagonist may only care because his wife is among them. Particularly when the federal government offers to shoot up the GR's compound just for shits and giggles, not to mention when Kevin gets murder in his eyes over a botched dry-cleaning, this episode tells us that everyone in this dystopian world is slowly losing their minds, the Guilty Remnant is just ahead of the curve.
Luckily, the symbolism this week was much more delicately handled than last week. Obviously, there was overt religious symbolism in the stoning, but the fact that this was most likely carried out by the Guilty Remnant makes this lack of subtlety make perfect sense. The Guilty Remnant is defined by their desire to become symbols rather than people, as is evidenced by their eschewing of attachments, feelings, possessions, speech, or anything else that is associated with humanity. The other motif that appeared throughout the episode was fire. GR leader Patti tells us that "doubt is fire" that will consume you and leave you in Hell, while Matt quotes the Bible passage: "If I tell you what [Jesus] spoke to me, you will pick up rocks, and stone me, and fire will come from the rocks, and devour you." Gladys doubted the mission of the Guilty Remnant, was promptly stoned to death, and then incinerated in the haunting final scene of the episode. The obvious interpretation tells us that fire represents both sin and Hell; the sin of doubt consumes a person until they are literally consumed by the fires of Hell as a kind of poetic justice. But the rapidly unraveling citizens who are not part of the Guilty Remnant provide some nuance to this metaphor; they react so strongly to the GR because they don't want to face the "fire" that is consuming them. Characters such as Kevin, Nora, Matt, and Jill are all becoming living dead people, as the nihilism of the unexplainable Departure eats away at everything that makes them human.