The Leftovers S03E03 is one of the most beautiful hours of TV I have seen in an aeon 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 may have 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 ritualism 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 expectation management was the cause of my 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 an ingenius 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, tape recorder and cans) spies, listens in on and records the First Nation People’s ritual. He does this, of course, so he can repeat it to save the world from impending apocalypse.
EVERY FRAME IS A PICTURE
Damon and Tom’s writing plus Mimi Leder’s mastery of the moving image equal perfectly made television. Not one thirtieth of one second is wasted nor one grain of celluloid forgotten. Every single frame of Mimi’s hour-long (at 29.97fps, that’s almost 108,000 frames!) is as beautiful as an oil painting to me; her over the shoulder shot/reverse shots always include the subject and much more of the subjectee’s profile than most directors (I’m noticing an increasingly worrying number of actor’s mouths and head movements not matching up with ADR in dozens of other, more lazy shows and movies, including the otherwise perfect The Force Awakens) Mimi’s reverse shots lead to so much emotion through silent reations. Half of Justin Theroux’s mercurial acting comes from his eyes.
THE BOOK OF JOB
After finding a tribal elder, Christopher Sunday – the only person left alive who knows Kevin’s much-needed last ritual song – which could stop The Flood of Biblical Proportions – Lindelof again shows us the absolute depths of despair his characters must go through for what they believe.
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 by betting Hurley’s Lost numbers on a roulette wheel, get beaten up, lose said 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 The Right Stuff actor Scott Glenn is put through his paces before finding salvation.
Only Lindelof can continually put his characters and we, the audience, through these Job-like, Old Testament ‘trials on the road’ and make us piss our pants with laughter along the way. Herein lies the writer’s message on how to live life, methinks.
EDITING FOR COMEDY
In three separate scenes, Kevin Senior makes us laugh out loud; first when stealing tribal leader Christopher Sunday’s address from an uppity white woman and making a dash for it. Yes, the comedy comes from the running, but it’s the edit that makes it work.
Second; when Kevin falls off the roof, ironically killing the world’s last hope; Christopher Sunday, and third as Kevin 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, timing and using the edgeof the frame to create comedy gold.
Only one sweeping vista was necessary to show Kevin Snr. beginning his Homerian odyssey. That’s because, despite the fact it’s about an impending armageddon, The Leftovers is at its best when it’s up close and personal with the character’s weaknesses.
THE SHAMEN’S JOURNEY
Just like Matt Jamison before him, and Job before him, Kevin Snr lost everything dear to him on this ten minute, largely dialogue-less schlep…
Hope sprang eternal in the form of a VW bug on the horizon, only for the driver to self-immolate after cryptic words that will (surely) make sense in a later episode. Thirst was sated when the heavens opened, only for Kevin Snr to lose his most treasured possession – his tape of 8-year-old Kevin Jr. Food arrived in the form of a snake, which after Kevin apologised to his fellow animal totem for snacking on it, comically, ironically bit him. If it were up to me, I’d say Lindelof’s been reading the Bhagavad Gita again.
And there, at last, just as Kevin 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, I’m telling ya!)
And with a line that will be forgotten as quickly as it’s delivered “You’re building a boat… for the flood,” the script deftly distracts you from the bigger picture with news of the tragedy that Kevin killed Christopher Sunday. Kevin’s last chance to save the world Gone for a David Burton…
Going through the fridge freezer, Kevin finds a photo album, so spends a wistful moment eating his slice of (Carrie) Coon cheese 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.
In one hundred silent seconds we learn that Grace was young and beautiful once (and quite Scottish indeed) Without the use of words, just moving pictures and music, we see her life, her baby, the children she adopted including disabled native kids… the chapel she and her husband built. She was happy, once. Like the Garveys at their best.
Leder conveys the passage of screentime 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 a sandwich requires far fewer takes than a burning 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. Another comedy moment arrives as Kevin Snr is unwittingly taken into the arms of Morpheus for a third time this episode; this time by Naomi’s deftly aimed tranquilizer dart.
Kevin awakes the next morning to find Grace Mayford prepared to talk… and what she had to say blew my tiny fucking mind.
You’ll have to watch the episode to find out what Grace said but I was driven to tears. Not only by the quality of her nine-minute speech but by Lindsay Duncan’s truly jaw-dropping performance!
Without having really met her character before, sixty-six-year-old Lindsay Duncan (presumably with a half century of honing her craft) pulled you in hook, line and sinker. She delivered the most heart-breaking speech of the decade.
Her audience: 76 year old, American counterpart Scott Glenn who always expertly walks the tight-rope thin line between enlightened world savior/shaman and desperate, deluded, vulnerable fool.
The scene was under the stewardship of a sixty-five-year-old director who’s been script supervising and directing film and TV for 40 years.
Between them, Duncan. Glenn and Leder have a combined age of over two hundred including 150 years of film, TV and acting experience. Who ever said TV is a young man’s game was lying.
FILM IS A LANGUAGE
The Leftovers is what you get when craftsmen work under a writer who understands how to actually adapt from one medium to another, instead of placing the events from a book onto the screen, like some other shows.
It’s important to point out that 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.
While Game of Thrones wins Emmy after Emmy, year in, year out for maddenly badly-craftly, 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 of Lost, or feature as much tension 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 (serendipitously, cosmically, my favourite number plus my birthday – March 3rd) completely lived up my highest expectations. And then some.
If you’re interested – check out the origin of the word serendipitous. It may surprise you.