First a little background: HBO's new dramatic series, The Leftovers, was created by Tom Perrotta (who wrote the novel The Leftovers upon which this series is based) and Damon Lindelof (of Lost fame among other TV and movie projects). In a nutshell, the series is about the daily goings-on of a modern day world that has been affected by the sudden disappearance of 2% of its population with no apparent conclusions that can be made based on the demographics of those people that have vanished. Having never read Perrotta's novel I am completely in the dark about the story-line here and where these characters and events may take us. Which is a good thing. I was an avid watcher of Lindelof's Lost, but I am glad that in this case The Leftovers is based (however loosely) on pre-existing source material.. so hopefully that means less smoke monster and a more well-defined story arc.
"Pilot" starts us off at a laundromat when the 'event' occurs and we play witness to one mother's perspective as her baby suddenly vanishes from the car seat she had just placed into the back seat of the car. This kind of vicious, rending emotional scene seems to be a theme for this episode, if not for the entire series. I do appreciate how we are introduced to the impact that this inexplicable phenomenon has made upon people not on a chaotic, global scale but in the smallest possible way. In one person's life. And as I mentioned previously, The Leftovers really succeeds in pushing all of the buttons available - squeezing out every last drop of grief, sentiment and sympathy from its characters and viewers alike. Perhaps this is a problem, though, because in order to appreciate the emotional depths to which this show wants to sink we should also tip the other side of the scale and add some lighter colors to the palette. Does this series need a Hurley? Maybe not, but hopefully we're treated to at least a glimmer of hope in the next few episodes!
Justin Theroux excels in his role as Kevin Garvey, the police chief in Mapleton, who seems to be in a great deal of emotional distress. If the events of the series premiere are any indication, the whole series will likely gravitate in some way around his family. Kevin currently lives with his daughter, Jil (played by relatively new actress Margaret Qualley), and we learn toward the end of the episode that his wife, Laurie, has at some point in the last 3 years become a member of the organization known as the Guilty Remnant. This cult-like group's members dress in all white clothing, constantly smoke cigarettes and travel around the local neighborhood in same-sex pairs, shadowing certain people that seem especially troubled and had members of their immediate family disappear in the big event that occurred on October 14th three years ago. There is also another organization somewhere nearby Mapleton in a secured compound that centers around someone called Wayne. In this episode, a congressman who has heard of Wayne's restorative or healing powers (or something of the like, we're not quite sure yet) pays a hefty sum of money to be taken to this compound and talk to Wayne. A very enigmatic character, surely a little more information will leak out each episode about Wayne and his abilities and purpose.
Kevin Garvey flashes back at one point to what appears to be an emotional breakdown that he had after the event on October 14th. Throughout "Pilot", Kevin is confronted with a stag: at one point he sees the stag in a row of bushes and then looks back to see that it has disappeared. Soon afterwards he has a strange dream featuring the same animal, and then at the end of the episode we see what appears to be that same stag again being devoured by a pack of wild dogs. At this point the strange character Dean (played by notable character actor Michael Gaston) who Kevin has been chasing after appears and says "These are not our dogs", a line that goes back to a scene at the very beginning of the episode where Dean pulls up and shoots a dog in front of Kevin, who screams "You cannot kill our fucking dogs!" after him as he pulls away in his truck. Is Kevin hallucinating the stag, or is he having a vision much like the one that Wayne from the compound has with his son in it earlier in the episode? These scenes allude to something much more interesting and larger than we can currently imagine. It appears that animals are going to play a large role here as imagery and in fact, the next episode is titled 'Penguin One, Us Zero'. Come on Damon, no penguins please!
Beautifully directed by Peter Berg, "Pilot" is full of close shots and interesting perspectives that keep us attached to the characters and maintains the tense atmosphere from start to finish. Mapleton, the suburb in which all of this takes place, is written as a microcosm of the world so we can watch events unfold with a smaller perspective - but it also begs the question as to whether or not things like the Guilty Remnant and the compound with Wayne the prophet have a worldwide reach or if they exist only in a few small communities like Mapleton. In any case, this was a great series premiere that looks as though it will lead to a multi-season show with many story arcs. Although a little bleak to start, I'm confident that this show will paint with a larger emotional palette as we move on past the obligatory initial character development and the actors really slip into their character's skins.