The Leftovers S1-Ep8 Review: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the GR But Were Afraid to Ask
After the relative respite that was last week's episode, The Leftovers came back in full force this week with a gruesome death, a barrage of new information about the Guilty Remnant, and, of course, the most faithless view of human nature since Breaking Bad went off the air.
Major spoilers follow!
In this episode, Kevin's Tyler Durden-like alter-ego kidnapped Patti with every intention of killing her. This is the point of no return, as he can no longer pretend that he doesn't have a serious problem. (A multiple personality disorder would also make it all the more likely that he did, in fact, have an affair with Aimee, as his alter-ego is clearly capable of all manner of terrible things.) Although we haven't met Kevin's own personal Hyde yet, he seems to be id incarnate, taking out all of Kevin's frustrations on others with no remorse or thought to consequences. This would not be particularly original, but it would be interesting. However, that interpretation is not without its problems, as Kevin apparently made a bet with Dean while he was losing time that attempted to prevent Dean from killing any more dogs. If Hyde was a dog-killing, cult-leader-kidnapping machine without any connection to Kevin's superego, then why would he care if more dogs got killed?
We were supposed to think that Kevin was going to go full dark side on us and kill Patti in order to stop her from reporting him and ruining his life. But Patti never had any intention of reporting him, she was just trying to get him to kill her. And when he didn't take the bait, she slit her own throat. And in doing so, she finally revealed the true purpose of the Guilty Remnant: to martyr its members. She killed poor Gladys, whom Patti claimed was "okay with it." I remember Gladys's death vividly; if she was okay with it before the actual stoning, she wasn't okay with it during. But the remembering is the real purpose; we have no choice but to remember Gladys because the way she died was so viscerally horrible. Patti is essentially arguing that people can "forget" the Departure, in a sense at least, because there are no bodies, no blood, no gore, no closure. Gladys's death is too real to be ignored, because the evidence of her fear and pain is much more tangible. In an abstract sense, the GR is fulfilling a similar function to the Loved Ones dolls; they are filling in for the missing corpses of the Departed. But their intention is to cause others the pain they "should" be feeling, as opposed to providing them solace.
In such an action-packed episode, the most thoughtful plotline was the battle of wills between Nora and Jill. At first, Jill seemed to be interrogating Nora purely because she was miffed that her father was moving on with his life. But then with the line, "I just wanted to know how she got better," we could see that Jill actually looks up to Nora in a strange way. Nora is the poster child for grief caused by the Departure; the way Jill sees it, if Nora can get better, then anyone can, including her mother, her father, and herself. As a petulant teenager, she arrogantly insisted that Nora couldn't be better, but then cried when she found her gun and realized that she actually wasn't. (Incidentally, I'm relieved that this seems to imply that Wayne does not actually have magical powers, since that would be more than a little hokey.) When Aimee said, "You know, Jill, sometimes people actually can be okay," she posed the central question of the episode. Can people in this show be okay? Can they move on with their lives and find some sort of happiness, or at least peace? Jill desperately wanted Nora to be better, because then it would mean that people actually can be okay. When she found the gun, the writers were telling us no, no one can really be okay. Kevin, Laurie, Jill, Nora, Tom, Meg, Matt, they're all broken in their own ways. Even Aimee, who made the assertion, is clearly much more broken than she makes herself out to be.
What's most fascinating, though, is the show's portrayal of a dichotomy between those who externalize and those who internalize their pain. When Jill realizes that she will always be damaged, she reaches a crossroads. She goes outside to the uncivilized dog with a huge knife, and has a choice between killing it and freeing it. If she had killed it, one could argue that she would have been trying to stem the psychological disease that's rapidly spreading after the Departure, but really she would just be passing her pain to another sentient being in order to lift some of the burden. But in freeing it, she was taking the Guilty Remnant's approach, and accepting the world for what it is now: a dark, despairing place. Instead of taking her pain out on someone else, she will join the GR, whom we now know to be martyrs, so she can take her pain out on herself. This development makes perfect sense, since she's been showing increasingly ominous signs of self-destruction with every episode and only half-heartedly lashes out at others. It also makes sense from a sociological perspective; women are socialized to internalize their pain while men are taught to externalize it, and this is reflected in the characters of The Leftovers. The GR not only seems to be led by and composed almost entirely of women, but they only seem to target women. We've seen them target Meg and Nora, but we've never seen them target Kevin or Matt, for example. Kevin, in particular, is very obviously on the brink of a nervous breakdown, but he's not considered to be vulnerable in a way that would make him attractive to the GR. Because in his heart of hearts, Kevin wants to destroy others, rather than martyr himself. As a young woman, Jill has been taught to self-flagellate in the face of psychological pain, and as a result will deal with her pain like her mother rather than her father.