After the violent and tension-filled first episode of HBO's The Leftovers set the tone for the season, I certainly didn't expect to get sunshine and rainbows from "Penguin One, Us Zero" and it didn't disappoint in that regard. Show-runner Damon Lindelof's style has always been to feed the viewers bits and pieces of information that don't immediately add up to anything substantial so that the final reveals pack more of a punch when they do arrive and all the pieces make some semblance of sense. This certainly seems to be the case here. We do get some new background information from several main characters and begin to understand slightly more about two groups whose motivations are hard to grasp: the Guilty Remnant and Wayne's Compound. A [dim] light is also beginning to shine on Kevin Garvey's (Justin Theroux) past and present struggles as well as his very sanity.
In the sprawling suburban Guilt Remnant complex, this episode focuses on Meg's (Liv Tyler) initiation into the organization. Kevin Garvey's wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman) has the responsibility of showing Meg the ins and outs and trying to coax her into becoming a member herself. She does this by trying to get Meg to realize that things are out of control for her and that she needs to give up control in order to regain some emotional stability. First, she takes Meg out to the woods with an axe and has her try to chop down a tree. This results in tears and frustration which builds up later to the point of Meg almost wanting to leave and go back to her regular life. Later, Laurie sees that Meg needs to connect to things on a more emotional level and when Meg realizes that although Laurie may still have friends and family on the outside she has surrendered to the Guilty Remnant's way of life, it begins to dawn on her that this may be the only way to bury her intense feelings about the event and how it has affected her life afterward. Later in the episode it's revealed that Meg has left in the middle of the night and Laurie has a look of disappointment on her face. She shouldn't - Meg is out chopping down that tree.. it appears she may be ready to surrender herself and become a part of the Guilty Remnant.
Wayne's compound is raided by the FBI based on statutory rape charges from years ago - it looks like Wayne's weakness is young girls. Surely we'll learn more about this going forward but for now the story may be centered around Tom Garvey (Kevin's son) and Christine (the girl to whom Tom showed affection but looks to be in love with Wayne). After Wayne escapes from the compound raid, he gives Christine over to Tom with instructions to keep her safe and then leaves. It looks like Tom has finally had enough of the path he has been on as he almost called his Dad on the phone and as soon as he and Christine were alone in the car he lets out a blood-curdling scream of desperation and rage just like he had in the compound's pool back in the first episode. Yikes. We'll either see him saved or he will become a force of destruction and misery in this series. Either way the build-up should be a good one as it unfolds.
Kevin Garvey's story gets more interesting by the minute, as it becomes more and more hard to tell for him (and to the viewer) what is real and what is not. Reality itself seems to be playing tricks on him and that is best shown in the scene where the Mayor is having a conversation with him at the police station and the bagels that he had just put into the toaster completely disappear. Fortunately for Kevin, this episode seems to be more about showing that the things he thought could be hallucinations (mostly because of doubt introduced by other characters) are real. Dean, the "mystery man" that we have seen previously, first parks his truck at Kevin's house and then actually shows up at his door. We might think that his is all just more flights of fancy from Kevin's overactive imagination, but Dean actual hands his daughter Jill a 6-pack of beer to take inside and she asks who the man at the door was afterward. Well, looks like he is definitely real.. unless it runs in the family (a real possibility). Kevin later opens up the toaster at the police station and discovers the bagels have fallen behind some sort of mechanism inside. We do meet Kevin's father in a mental institution earlier in the episode and he seems to be a very intelligent and well-spoken man.. at least until symptoms of schizophrenia seem to wander into the conversation. It's obviously going to be a focal point here.. is there something different about the Garveys? Or could it be just a history of mental illness in the family. Does any of this have to do with the reason why Wayne seems to have everyone figured out except for Tom? Surely there is more to the story here.
There is a little more levity here than in the first episode, which I certainly appreciate. We see some teenagers goofing off, bagels disappearing and then reappearing, and blow-up penguins. I think in order for this show to work on a week-to-week basis it needs to continue down this path and separate the seriously murky emotional overtones and physical violence with more penguins and jelly beans. Hats off, Damon - I'm still a little confused about where the Guilty Remnant is going but I will no doubt be tuning in for at least the next few weeks to find out. Also, the next episode appears to center around Christopher Eccleston's character, Matt, who is a preacher that has been handing out flyers suggesting that the people that disappeared were not in any way 'special'. I'm inclined to agree with you, Matt, especially when Gary Busey was among those taken. Although that might depend on your definition of 'special'.