The Leftovers, Season 1, Episode 5, “Gladys”
Written by Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrota
Directed by Mimi Leder
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on HBO
Gladys, Gladys, you were so classless, intimidating the leftovers with sass and badass-ness.
This is a song. This is a song I came up with, but do not necessarily feel like singing. I can almost gather the enthusiasm, but it just doesn’t happen. This series inspires this type of near-reaction. If the structure was tighter, if proper introductions were made, if stakes were established and the characters three-dimensional, then one might engage. As it stands, The Leftovers is halfway through its first season, and it feels like it still hasn’t started, despite some intriguing elements. Like Kevin and the dry cleaners, the door feels locked, with someone uncaring inside.
There’s a true blankness with this series, and some of it is intentional, but most not. This episode is named after one of the dead members of the Guilty Remnant, killed as a message in its teaser, but we still don’t understand who the Guilty Remnant are except professional troublemakers. We have seen Gladys before, she stuck out with her physicality and stone expression, but she hasn’t had that one moment that would have really had her death be meaningful. Like Matt says, she’s a “familiar face,” but that’s all, and they can try to tell us that he’s given her blankets she’s refused, or Patti can tell us she’s met with her at the diner and had a big discussion, but it feels like too much attributed to someone we don’t know at all. The balance is off.
The laser focus of this episode is also particularly strange. Like I’ve said before, this show is truly unpredictably predictable. Who knew after last week’s somewhat forwarding of story lines and character building, we’d halt all momentum to deal with Gladys and a threat to the GR, and that it would be so… straightforward. FBI phone calls, interviewing the suspects, town hall meetings, all these things are shown to us, and are ultimately, filler.
We still don’t know who killed Gladys by the end, all we know is what we came in with, except stronger—the town doesn’t like these people, but Kevin is tied into their safety because of his wife. Meg is also further committed to the cult-we-don’t-understand—the purpose of the second episode.
Another problem is Laurie. She’s a big presence here, but is ultimately not captivating. Amy Brenneman has a big job to persuade us to pay attention to her, to make us understand why Kevin loves her, that she is in conflict, and to simply even stand out in scenes with other characters who talk. She rarely does, though. Instead of commanding, she withers and blends into the scenery. Patti (Ann Dowd), by contrast, is always in control, with voice or not. Although, her big speech in this episode is disproportionately melodramatic to what we know about her. We get a hint that there was someone named Neil in her life, but we have yet to really hear her or a single GR member’s story, to understand their psychology beyond mildly depressed.
“Gladys” is co-written by the author of the book it is based on, but there is a serious issue with feeling comfortable in the creator’s hands, and too many questions and threads in the air. Matt went through an incredible experience two episodes ago, but we don’t see its affects, it’s as if nothing happened. Kevin is friendly with Matt, but has no idea that his sister was Nora, the town celebrity. Kevin has a strange conflict with the Mystery Man, but it’s out of left field and he’s serving a totally different role than his previous one as a magical truck-giving fairy. There are all the supernatural questions. The last issue we needed addressed was the GR/town conflict, at least, not to the expense of everything else.
A lot of these issues would be forgivable, though, if we were presented with compelling characters, like Jill almost was. Last week she gave her mother the Christmas present not to forget her, being surprisingly tender. Instead of opening that back up, we get more eye-rolling teenage behavior now, and her friend explaining that that’s “just Jill,” a statement that can apply to all the characters on The Leftovers. Kevin is going to get drunk and bust ass about white shirts because that’s just Kevin. Matt is going to give a speech about Christianity because that’s just Matt. Mayor Warburton is going to take care of business in a no-nonsense manner because she’s just the mayor. It’s tiresome at this point, and it’s beginning to feel like maybe there is no mystery to why these people were left behind. After all, who would want to spend eternity with them?