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The Leftovers, Ep. 2.04, “Orange Sticker”

The Leftovers, Ep. 2.04, “Orange Sticker”

The Leftovers, Season 2, Episode 4, “Orange Sticker”
Written by Damon Lindelof and Tom Spezialy
Directed by Tom Shankland
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on HBO

Ever try to make sense of God, as presented throughout the Bible, as a single character? He is capable of great acts of wonder and mercy, but is just as frequently cruel, spiteful, capricious, or, of course, absent from the proceedings entirely. As The Leftovers has widened its scope over this second season, it feels increasingly as though Damon Lindelof and Tom Perotta are trying to construct a narrative just as self-contradictory, labyrinthine, and occasionally inscrutable as the founding religious texts that drive so much of the world’s conflict—and contentment. (It’s surely no coincidence that noted religious scholar and author Reza Aslan is onboard as a supervising producer this season.) “Orange Sticker” constantly returns to the feeling that its characters are being tested, but the parameters of these tests are unknown and unknowable, and those being tested may never know when to expect judgment. Or if it will ever come.

“Orange Sticker” feels a bit tardy in a sense; it finally finishes setting up the central conflicts of the new setting first established in “Axis Mundi” and “A Matter of Geography.” While it’s another strong installment in what promises to be a more consistent season than the last, there’s a strong sense that we’re witnessing one last bit of table-setting before we get to the season’s defining conflicts. That said, co-writers Lindelof and Tom Spezialy, along with director Matt Shankland, do their best to make a relatively transitional episode feel impactful, starting with the cold open, which takes us to the new Garvey homestead as the “earthquake” hits, following Nora as she moves from vigilance, to panic, and finally (once Kevin returns) to her usual state of retracted, almost eerie calm. Carrie Coon has always been the series’ not-so-secret weapon, and she gets plenty to work with throughout “Orange Sticker,” from the aforementioned sequence, to her no-bullshit handling of Kevin as the search for Evie begins, to her climactic scene with Eccleston, and finally to the episode’s penultimate scene, in which she literally handcuffs herself to Kevin. “We’re in this together, right?” It’s a tremendous boon to The Leftovers that Kevin Garvey has been paired with a character just as damaged as he is, even if she’s much more capable of keeping her shit together amidst the freefall.

Hold that thought for a moment, though, because Nora, too, is being tested. As the earthquake hits and Kevin is nowhere to be found, Nora scrambles to figure out if there’s been a second Departure, only to have Kevin return home moments later. Later in the episode, as she and Jill down Wild Turkey, she recalls tracking down a supposed Departure to Puerto Rico, then states with absolute certainty that “the Ark took all the animals it needed” and there is no second Departure to come. It’s not until her and Kevin’s last scene that she must confront the idea that Evie and her friends have, in fact, vanished.

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Nora’s had her whole life and outlook rended before and come out on the other side, though, so perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much about the results of her test. Let’s concern ourselves instead with poor Kevin Garvey, who is besieged on all sides this week. Not only does he have to contend with a bizarre, inexplicable set of events that he just happens to have been at the epicenter of, he has to do so with dealing with the near-constant spectral presence of Patti, the Guilty Remnant “hive” leader who he witnessed slitting her own throat last season. It’s great to have Ann Dowd back—and speaking, regularly!—and the presence of a wisecracking omniscient heckler prepared to supply both answers and snark already pays dividends throughout ‘Orange Sticker.” She teases Kevin early on by making it clear she has some information that he’ll find helpful, though her insights seem to have limits. Lindelof and Spezialy’s teleplay is canny in how it has Kevin letting Patti “in” one step at a time, first trying to shut her out altogether, then letting her signal him on where to locate his phone, and finally giving in and engaging her directly near episode’s end. (One of The Leftovers‘ greatest tricks is that it’s written by people who are perfectly capable of writing the hell out of a traditional story or character arc, but almost never choose to do so.) Ghost-Patti acts here as something the series hasn’t had since early-episodes Kevin: an audience surrogate, sorta. A perfect example comes shortly after Kevin addresses her directly for the first time. As she turns away and Max Richter’s ambient score rises up in the mix, signaling the end of their interaction, we wonder to ourselves, possibly aloud: why not ask her where the girls are? Couldn’t hurt! Not a moment later, the soundtrack comes to a halt, Patti turns back, and clarifies, for Kevin—and for us—that the girls vanished, and they’re not coming back.

This is the same ghost-person, of course, who literally wandered through a previous scene singing “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The Leftovers is the only series on television for which trolling its audience seems to be among its top priorities. The act of watching and trying to make sense of The Leftovers becomes, in its own way, a test. (Gotcha!) How else to explain a dark, emotionally rich episode like this one ending with a ludicrous downbeat cover of “You’re the One That I Want,” the closing song from Grease? Is it a sick joke at the expense of Nora and Kevin—a mockery of their attempt to build a happy home amidst a gathering storm—or just an earnest expression of love delivered in deliberately obtuse terms? In that moment, is the series echoing our sympathies, or poking fun at us for being so invested in such irrational players? If anyone claims to have the answers, treat them with great suspicion…and then supply me with those answers, because in the world of The Leftovers, conviction is king; everything else is just a test.

Additional thoughts

  • It might be because I caught some Deadwood earlier on today, but The Leftovers feels like a relic from that earlier era of HBO, in which showrunners like David Milch were allowed to run wild and craft their own televisual worlds without worrying if viewers were keeping up. That sense of combativeness has been missing even from many great series of late, and it’s great to have a little bit of that sensibility back.
  • John Murphy keeps his daughter’s parting gift on his dashboard. Ten bucks says there’s a dead cricket in there. (Yes, I know there was still a cricket in the house when he got back.)
  • Eccleston breaks hearts all over again as he recounts the story of how his dear wife Mary came out of her coma and they talked for hours—only to have her comatose again by morning. The Dursts are purpose-built for pain: true Catholics.
  • “Is this place real?” That’s Nora, perhaps inadvertently stating the season’s central question. In a world gone mad, is it folly to expect that peace will have a fixed address? (The answer is yes. Yes, it is.)
  • Six episodes left, and I strongly expect the full Garvey family to reunite under that one likely-unfinished roof within the next couple of weeks. I have no idea how Lindelof and Perotta plan on uniting the series’ many disparate character threads, or if they even do, but there’s a strong sense in these episodes that there is a greater design converging on Miracle. Then again…
  • As if the religious-text theme wasn’t plain enough already, next week’s episode is titled “No Room at the Inn.”