The Leftovers S03E03 is one of the most beautiful hours of television I have seen in a long, long time and Damon Lindelof’s show is well on its way to becoming the most powerful the small screen has ever seen.
Without any major characters and no “action” to speak of, this rich, hilarious, emotional wrecking ball of an episode has just jumped straight into my Top 10 TV Episodes of all time.
Each week. in preparation to watch The Leftovers, I undergo a mini-ritual to save me from interruptions. After ensuring my bladder is empty and I have enough liquids to see me through the hour, I switch my Mac and Skype to Do Not Disturb!
This doesn’t help with what I call expectation management, which often scuppers my own enjoyment of blockbuster movies like Denis Villeneuve’s The Arrival and Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
Maybe this was the cause of last week’s slight disappointment with S03E02.
WHY IS THE LEFTOVERS SO PERFECT?
After a jazz lounge version of Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus, The Leftovers S03E03 “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” opens with the moment Chief of Mapleton Police, Kevin Garvey Senior’s big old wise ears first hear voices moments after The Rapture of October 14th.
Via use of a clever soundbridge transition, we cut to the open road of the Australian outback to find Kevin Snr on his way to witness an Aborigine ritual at a sacred site along the ancient Song Trail.
He hikes to the top of a small outcrop and via binoculars, directional mic straight outta Coppola’s The Conversation, cassette recorder and headphones spies, listens in on and records the First Nation People’s ritual. He does this, of course, so he can repeat the ritual later to save the world from the impending apocalypse.
EVERY FRAME IS A PICTURE
See how every single frame of Mimi Leder’s hour-long (at 29.97fps) is as beautiful as an oil painting to me; her shot/reverse shots always include the subject and the “subjectee” which adds to the storytelling. Not one thirtieth of one second is wasted nor one grain of celluloid forgotten.
Damon and Tom’s writing plus Mimi’s mercurial mastery of the moving image equal perfectly made television.
THE BOOK OF JOB
After finding a tribal elder, Christopher Sunday – the only person who knows the final ritual song which could stop The Flood of Biblical Proportions – Lindelof again shows us the absolute depths of despair his characters must go through before salvation is found.
In scenes reminiscent of Season One’s perfect third episode “Two Boats and A Helicopter” (which saw Matt Jamison win the fortune he needed to save his church, get beaten up, lose a fortune, attack his robber, only to end up in hospital after trying to help a Guilty Remnant member, he was struck on the head by a rock, spent a day in hospital while his bank manager sold his church) 75 year old Scott Glenn is put through his paces. Only one television writer Lindelof can put his characters, and we the audience, through these Job-like, Old Testament tests and make us piss our pants with laughter along the way. And therein lies a message for us all, methinks.
EDITING FOR COMEDY
In three separate scenes, Kevin Senior makes us laugh out loud, first when stealing and running tribal leader Christopher Sunday’s address from an uppity white woman.
Second when he falls off Christopher’s roof on top of him and third as he is unceremoniously launched from the back of an ambulance in the middle of The Outback.
Three scenes which played differently could be straight out of Monty Python, or Harold Lloyd. Two of them using nothing but a cold cut to create the joke, just like my buddy Edgar Wright uses a plethora of editing techniques, blocking and timing to create comedy gold.
Only one sweeping vista was necessary to show Kevin Snr. beginning his epic odyssey because (despite the fact it’s about an impending armageddon) The Leftovers is at its best when it’s quiet and up close and personal with the character’s weaknesses.
THE SHAMEN’S JOURNEY
Just like Job and Matt before him, Kevin lost everything on this ten minute, largely dialogue-less odyssey. Hope sprang eternal in the form of a car on the horizon, only for the driver to cryptically self-immolate. Thirst was sated when the heavens opened, only for Kevin Snr to lose his most treasured possession (telegraphed earlier) the tape of 8-year-old Kevin Jr. Food arrived in the form of a snake, which after Kevin apologised to it for snacking on it, comically, ironically bit him.
And there, at last, just as he was giving up hope, salvation appeared in the form of a giant white cross and a figure on horseback. After weeks recuperating, Kevin walks outside to see people dismantling a chapel to build an ark. (Matt’s son is called Noah, for a reason!)
And with a line that will be forgotten as quickly as it’s delivered “You’re building a boat.” he says “For the flood” – as the script deftly manoeuvres you away to the hilariously tragedy that Kevin killed Christopher Sunday when he rolled off the roof on top of him. His last chance to save the world Gone for a David Burton… best eat a slice of Coon. Not Carrie Coon, the actress who plays Nora Durst so brilliantly, but Australia’s best-selling and most racist cheese singles.
Going through the fridge freezer, Kevin finds a photo album so spends a wistful moment eating his slice of Coon and flicking through someone else’s private life. In these two short minutes, we are introduced to Grace Mayford with stunning aplomb and efficiency through another televisual treat.
Grace was young and beautiful once (and quite Scottish indeed.)Without the use of words, just moving pictures and music, we see her life, a baby, the children she adopted including disabled native kids… she had a husband and built a chapel. She was happy, once. Like the Garveys at their best.
You can even see the passage of time as the cheese slice is demonstrably chomped away. Any budding writer/directors out there – watch and learn; for this is how the masters do it and (hint) a sandwich requires far fewer takes than a cigarette!
Kevin promptly falls asleep (due to Caleb’s dog arthritis pills) and wakes to find Grace and her gang of merry widows having just drowned a man called Kevin, but again comes a laugh as Kevin Snr unwittingly loses time again as he’s taken out of the equation and into the arms of Morpheus for a third time this episode; this time by Naomi’s deftly aimed tranquilizer dart. Kevin Snr. awakes the next morning to find the still beautiful Grace Mayford prepared to talk… and what she had to say blew my tiny mind.
You’ll have to watch the episode to find out what she said but, needless to say, I was driven to tears. Not only was the quality of the writing, in the form of her nine-minute speech, truly jaw-dropping but man, THAT performance!
This was sixty-six-year-old actress Lindsay Duncan, presumably with a half century of honing her craft delivering the most heart-breaking speech of the decade to her American counterpart with a decade on her and under the stewardship of a sixty-five-year-old director who’s been script supervising and directing film and TV for 40 years.
Without having really met her character before, few actresses could pull you in hook, line and sinker, like she did. Fewer actors still could be so utterly convincing as Scott Glenn as he walks the tight-rope thin line between enlightened world savior/shaman and desperate, deluded, vulnerable fool.
FILM IS A LANGUAGE
This is what you get when craftsmen truly understand that the medium of film and television is a language work under a writer who understands what it is to actually adapt from one medium to another, instead of placing the events from a book onto the screen, like some other shows. Remember, the events of Tom Perotta’s original source material took us only to the end of season one. Seasons 2 and 3 are fresh from Lindelof’s head. It’s important to point out that the events of Tom Perotta’s book took us only to the end of season one. Seasons 2 and 3 are fresh from Lindelof’s head. This is an adaptation of Perotta’s original source material.
While Game of Thrones wins Emmy after Emmy, year in, year out for badly made, awfully performed TV that’s seemingly written and showrun by toddlers, episodes like The Leftovers S03E03 and the show, in general, get overlooked. Save for that one Peabody Award.
The Leftovers is, without a doubt, the best television of the decade. It may not hit the crazy, vertigo-inducing heights or feature as much running action as Lost, or as much excitement as Breaking Bad, but the show is as magical as its subject matter.
I mentioned in the preview that Damon would have something special up his sleeve for the 23rd ever episode, and The Leftovers S03E03 completely lived up my highest expectations. And then some.