The Leftovers Review: “Off Ramp”

(Episode 2.03)

TV Reviews The Leftovers
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<i>The Leftovers</i> Review: &#8220;Off Ramp&#8221;

Damon Lindelof sure knows how to pace out a season of television. Rather than bringing us back to Jarden so we can try and suss out what happened to Evie and the girls, and why Kevin just tried to sink himself to the bottom of a lake, he is content to let us sweat it out for another week.

Instead, we return to Mapleton to check in on Laurie and Tommy Garvey. The former is doing her part to help others who have wrested themselves free of the Guilty Remnant reacclimate to their normal lives. And her son is her inside man, helping coax those folks teetering on the edge away from the chain smoking and white outfits.

Lindelof and his co-writer for this episode Patrick Somerville also do an incredible job pacing out this hour, building the drama and mystery to a crescendo that feels both shocking and completely inevitable. Laurie, trying to juggle her work as a deprogrammer and counselor, while also trying to write a book that explains what goes on within the Guilty Remnant, is a powderkeg of emotion, waiting for the right flick of a lit cigarette to set her off. That it happens just as she’s about to sell her book to a publisher is the just kind of terrible timing inherent to TV drama.

That moment may seem to come out of nowhere, but there’s a distressing logic to it. There’s a small part of Laurie that needed what the GR had to give. Like anyone trying to navigate the world after a traumatic event (including the disappearance of her unborn child), she needed something to fill the void with, some reason to keep going forward. Hearing this publisher talk about the Guilty Remnant in such disparaging terms, no matter what Laurie wrote in her tell-all, felt like a reflection on her. Add on the weight of guilt, anger, and PTSD, and you’d snap too. No number of silent observers she knocks down with her car is going to be enough to quell her inner turmoil until she seeks some help too.

The writers reflect this with Tommy’s journey in this episode. Even after the hell that he was put through, he still finds himself watching videos of Holy Wayne’s sermons. But he also feels beholden to his mother, and is willing to put himself in harm’s way again for what he thinks is the greater good. And for all that he tries to do, it lands him pantsless and covered in gasoline in the middle of nowhere.

What a letdown it is, then, to watch Tommy try to fill the role that Holy Wayne once did. Again, it is at the behest of his mother, in her hopes of giving the former Guilty Remnant members something new to cling on to. But it feels like a copout on everyone’s part to just yank them from one religion to the next, from one savior to the next. It’s like getting gently pulled away from Scientology, only to get placed in the hands of Rick Warren. Yet who can deny these folks some comfort as they face the shivering cold of reality after being handed a carton of Marlboros and a role reminding the living of what they lost.

it’s long past time for me to praise the acting of Amy Brenneman and Chris Zylka in this episode. Both are fantastic, doing their best work yet in this series. For fans of Brenneman that should be little surprise, considering the depth she brought to roles in NYPD Blue and Judging Amy. And for almost the whole first season, she managed to convey how deeply haunted Laurie Garvey was, even when she wasn’t saying a word. She’s even more heartbreaking tonight. As she counsels a poor, mousy woman back into the arms of her family, you can see the lack of conviction behind her eyes. There’s some small part of her that doesn’t believe that it’s possible to let go of the Guilty Remnant completely.

Zylka, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer (unless you’ve spent time with Pirahna 3DD and the TV adaptation of 10 Things I Hate About You). His first season work was fine enough, without leaving much of a mark. Here, though, he is as charismatic as you would want the potential leader of a new religious order to be. Tommy comes to life in the final scene. At first he merely apes the words and ideas of Holy Wayne. Slowly and with rising confidence, he starts to believe what he’s selling these ragged souls huddled in his mom’s apartment. As his testimony goes on, he seems to grow an extra foot in height and he commands the room. Who wouldn’t want to follow him into battle, or at the very least, fall into his arms for spiritual relief?

I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Tommy and Laurie this season, nor the last of the Guilty Remnant. But just supposing that Lindelof and his team decided to let this be the one big moment for all involved in this episode before returning us to Jarden and the rest of the Garvey clan for the next seven weeks, they certainly landed a healthy emotional blow this week.

Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste, and the author of Empire: The Unauthorized Untold Story, available in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter.