The Leftovers, Season 1, Episode 8, “Cairo”
Written by Curtis Gwinn & Carlito Rodriguez
Directed by Michelle MacLaren
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on HBO
Cults on TV are tough. They seem like a really good idea. They’re weird and scary and, bonus, we have them in real life. But anyone who has seen or read my reviews of The Following knows that it is incredibly easy to abuse (big, unnamed plans that go nowhere; non-believably-cultish members, too much access and synchronicity on too many fronts). It’s exciting to see, then, that this show, which has saddled itself with two cult plots—both trickily heightened from real life— finally comes through with really activating at least one, and making it live. A lot of what’s in “Cairo” is material I’ve been waiting for since the pilot. The gusto with which it delivers it makes it absolutely worth the wait.
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The thing is, we could always surmise what the point of the Guilty Remnant and they have talked around it well enough, but it is incredibly satisfying and chilling to get a monologue about exactly what it is this silent group is trying to achieve. “Impressive line of bullshit,” Kevin calls it. Long overdue, I’d say. They’re such an integral part of the series, yet have continually been treated as a burden to explain. The posters on their walls and hazy college memories of the Freudian death drive could only go so far.
Not that it’s exactly much deeper than those things. But, since last week ended with a cult that is more obviously one guy’s sick scam, to have one that is the real deal, with fanatical members who can argue back and are ready to die for their cause, a cause that is actually somewhat understandable given the givens, is important. We are, for now, out of the land of magic and mysteries this show too often likes to drop us into, and instead a place much creepier—the capabilities and weaknesses of regular human minds. Ones that have been faced with impossible phenomena, and are ready to do something about their incredible amount of stress and confusion.
Which brings me to another aspect I think this episode pulls off well—Kevin’s blackouts. Again, it’s a great way to focus on the mental over the magical, and it makes us really fear for this man’s sanity. Justin Theroux does his best job yet as he unravels the events of the night he kidnapped Patti, events of his own doing. More than that, though, the split personality angle also serves a practical purpose of giving air into the show. If Kevin was just an angry guy all the time, it would be ridiculously tiresome. It was already getting to be so in the first few episodes. Now, we get to have two Kevins. One who is still raging against everything that’s happened to him, as well as one who is more functional in daily life, more joke-y, and able to develop relationships for us to hang on to. The two extremes, in conflict, make for true drama. Plus, just kind of neat that Mapleton Police Department = MPD = Multiple Personality Disorder. Also that the pointless-seeming white shirt subplot in “Gladys” that I bemoaned was given renewed purpose.
In a few ways, actually, “Cairo” is like a re-do of the underwhelming “Gladys”. What seemed redundant is no longer. We knew that people hated the Guilty Remnant, and all that episode did was enforce that. With Patti’s revelation that Gladys chose to die for her cause, suddenly the stoning scene and everything after takes on a new disturbance; Matt’s kindness and grief for the woman takes on a new futility; and Kevin deciding not to let his FBI contact handle the cult becomes a huge mistake. Also, Ann Dowd as Patti finally gets to have poetic and clear material enough to match her breathtaking, commanding delivery, which didn’t quite happen back then with her too-strange paper bag antics.
Still, despite such incredible scenes like Patti with Kevin, there is still nit-picky execution issues. Did we really need two scenes where Garveys have knives and there is suspense, only to use them to cut something loose? And does Meg’s mother dying on the 13th really make sense for her to join a cult obsessed with the 14th? Also, Laurie quickly needs some definition before the season is done. Currently, she is defined by other people. Kevin thinks she’s part of the cult because he cheated, Patti because she needed purpose. What does Laurie think, and how can she abandon her children?
There haven’t been enough hints and we are going to need some compelling answers to understand how Jill could even consider joining with her (the scene of finding Nora’s gun was poignant, but not enough—I agreed with the twins on some confusion there). The good news is, despite Damon Lindelof’s reputation, it seems like answers really could be on their way. I’m joining The Leftovers cult.