The Leftovers, Season 2, Episode 3: “Off Ramp”
Written by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta
Directed by Carl Franklin
Airs Sundays at 9 pm ET on HBO
With Kevin, Nora, and Jill restarting their lives in Miracle, it seemed that the series had moved away from the Guilty Remnant, leaving us with only memories of the twisted events that unfolded in the Tri-State area. But the creators of The Leftovers are not letting us forget, nor are they willing to abandon the bleak happenings taking place in Mapleton. This week, Laurie and Tom’s work to rescue lost souls takes a toll on them; Laurie tries to spread the word about the dangers of the Guilty Remnant; Tom’s infiltration of the cult uncovers new problems.
When Laurie’s potential book publisher asks her what the Guilty Remnant believe in and why they act the way they do, he’s acting as a surrogate for many viewers who complained back in season one that they didn’t understand what the show was all about and why The GR behaved in such strange and self-destructive ways. But clearly those viewers, much like the publisher are missing the point. The Leftovers has always been an intriguing and deeply depressing study in characters going through varying levels of crisis and introspection. It’s a show about how the world is dealing with the loss of 2% of its population who mysteriously vanished into thin air. It’s a show about dealing with grief and while most of the world’s population acts like it never happened, those who lost someone they loved are having a hard time moving on with their lives. Laurie doesn’t know how to properly address the publisher’s many questions, other than to say that the Guilty Remnants believe the world ended. She struggles to explain to the publisher that even she doesn’t understand what it all means – including the dress code, the vows of silence and the chain smoking. My guess has always been that it doesn’t amount to anything other than a visual reminder for the members of the GR that they belong somewhere and more importantly, belong to something that holds a greater purpose in life.
Nothing comes easy in The Leftovers and more often than not there are no answers, but beneath all the misery, mystery and misfortune, is a series heavy in drama, characters, and underlying themes. The central theme of The Leftovers remains our very basic need as humans in believing and belonging. The people who are drawn to the GR are searching for a sense of purpose, and for a way to cure their bouts with depression and grief. Laurie has found a new sense of purpose and she believes her focus group is an alternative to the GR, but in actuality her group is no different than any other cult. “Would you like to join us?” Laurie says with a smile every time Tommy brings a new refugee into the fold, and, of course, the answer is yes. But even Laurie struggles to break free from whatever it is she found appealing about the GR. When her publisher wants more details about her past and asks her to describe the pain she felt when she led her daughter directly into a burning house — Laurie naturally snaps and assaults the man before being carried away and put behind bars. It’s at this very moment Laurie must confront the pain and suffering she once ran away from. And you can tell that in her brief emotional collapse she misses the Guilty Remnant, or better yet, misses not having to feel such intense emotions. Even Tommy is vulnerable to the GR’s appeal after his terrifying encounter with Meg leaves him wondering if he should return. Alone they are weak but together they are strong, and so Meg and Tommy are facing their fears and starting something new – something they can believe in and something which gives them total control.
The Leftover’s finest achievement is the sheer ambition running through every vein. The final scene here is a tour de force of acting, writing and directing – the camera closing in on Tommy with his arms stretched out like Jesus Christ offering a hug for anyone who needs it is powerful filmmaking. It’s the birth of a horrifying new cult and throughout his sermon, you see his confidence slowly building. Tom isn’t just convincing the others sitting in front of him that he’s special — he’s convincing himself. Those who criticized Chris Zylka’s character and performance in season one should have no reason to complain this time around. Tom’s story was the most divisive of The Leftovers’ first season if only because it felt like it had no clear vision. Season two has taken the Tommy we know from the first season and given him new life, so to speak. He’s absolutely brilliant here and he will no doubt become a focal point of the show moving forward. In order to quit one thing, Tom says, you need to offer something else. Tom understands what these people need better than anyone else because he was once just like them: lost, lonely, and confused. “Off Ramp” is one of the most emotionally-draining episodes yet and illustrates the dysfunctional core of humans at a level that exceeds most shows. Rife with unexpected outbursts, moments of catharsis and deeply disturbing observations about human nature, this is a series that runs you through the emotional wringer, then shifts into reverse and pulls you back through again.
Meg’s rape of Tommy in the back of the truck and the threat of burning him alive is bound to spark some debate. Meg has clearly risen through the GR ranks to become the new Patti of the Guilty Remnant and she’s not only dangerous, she’s fucken insane. That attack on Tommy raises several questions: Is Meg trying to get herself pregnant with Tommy’s baby and if so, what is her plan? Is she simply taking revenge on Laurie and would the GR even welcome them back, or have they gone too far?
Meg isn’t the only one slowly losing her mind this week. If anything, “Off Ramp” reveals that Laurie is crazier than ever before. In one scene she’s strangling the publisher; the next, she’s conducting a hit and run and later she’s breaking into someone’s home. Even in her quietest moment when she’s sitting alone in her car, she’s obsessing over a smudge on her windshield. “Off Ramp” was extreme in articulating its point about how these people may never truly move on. Rather than look ahead, Laurie, Tom, and entire Garvey family seem to allow their past to suffocate them. They’re frightened that The Departure can happen again, and none of them are trying to start over so much as preparing themselves for when it does. Just like the smudge on Laurie’s windshield none of it will ever go away, no matter how hard any of them try.
Of the thirteen episodes of The Leftovers that have aired thus far, “Off Ramp” perhaps makes the best use of music. The lovely piano cover of “Where Is My Mind” is an elegant touch and the bursts of improvisational jazz percussion that scores most of the episode does a fine job in mirroring Laurie and Tommy’s spontaneous decision making. Max Richter’s beautiful score continues to linger in my mind long after the credits role, and the addition of “Spoiler” by Hyper just before and after Laurie runs over two members of the GR was the perfect choice of music.
“Off Ramp” was exceptional, taking us back into the terrifying arms of the Guilty Remnant while continuing to question belief systems and acknowledging their genuine power. Haunting, moving, and thought-provoking.“Off Ramp” is a solid, expertly crafted and emotionally devastating episode that showcases a breathtaking performance from Amy Brenneman and, once again, illustrates how hard it is to start all over again.
That scene with the mother driving off the road and killing herself, her husband, and her son was devastating.
Last week, Kevin Sr. announced he was heading to Australia to help start the world up again and during this episode, we briefly hear a news report about a man, previously believed dead, emerging from a cave outside of Perth. Caves and mystical events would align with what little we’ve seen of Miracle, but it is possible this man could be Holy Wayne? Or better yet, instead of a second Departure, should the world be preparing itself for some sort of other supernatural events?