UK VOD TV review: The Leftovers Season 2, Episode 9 (Ten Thirteen)
Ivan Radford | On 07, Dec 2015
This contains some spoilers, although we’ve tried to keep them to a minimum
“Violence is weakness.” “You’re wrong.”
Ever since its opening episode, The Leftovers has often struggled with plot. Not its story, but the way it’s presented. The show has often lacked the narrative drive to push events forward: it’s been so busy being enigmatic and symbolic that it’s left viewers wondering what’s happening, rather than what might happen in weeks to come.
It’s a deliberate decision by showrunners Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta. One of the symptoms of depression is being unable to see a future. The Leftovers is a show about grief and depression – it’s a show that intentionally stops its audience from picturing that future, leaving them in a limbo of anger, hopelessness or confusion.
As a result, Season 1 didn’t fully succeed in engaging its divided audience. Season 2, though, has found the balance between questions and answers. The change-up of location is a perfect example: the second run began with a whole new set of characters, ones that stopped us from being hung up on events and people that had come before. Then, once we’d been hooked in, we jumped back to fill in the gaps. Exposition and atmosphere have become natural good cops and bad cops for the whole season: Episodes 7 and 8 proved the perfect double-bill, with the series deploying its first cliffhanger after Kevin shot himself, a grounded episode about life, death and imaginary friends that gave way to the most out-there chapter yet – one that was presented, fittingly, in the visceral form of an action thriller.
Episode 9 brings us back to earth by flying once more into the past. This time, they fill the biggest gap to date: Meg. Liv Tyler has always been a dangerous figure, lingering in the background of the show, following her adoption into the Guilty Remnants in Season 1. Here, we see how and why she got into the group in the first place.
In short, she was like everyone else: someone looking for answers following a loss. The difference, though, is that her mum passed away of natural causes – just as she was going to the loo in a restaurant, the day before the depature. Soon enough, her grief was hijacked by everyone else’s. Matt Jamison publishing flyers about it all didn’t help.
A trip to Jarden in hope of resolution only made matters worse. Because as we all know, miracles don’t really happen there. That’s something Evie Murphy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) tells her when they meet long before Season 2. Combined, it’s enough to push Meg over the edge. Signing up to the cult, she becomes the radical extremist of the bunch. “Why do I have stand there when I can put my cigarette out in their fucking eye?” she spits at the elders. It’s not enough to simply make others remember the departed: Meg wants to punish everyone for forgetting about her own loss. The happy people in Jarden, protected by their borders and supposed miracle status, are the ultimate scorn. The place is begging for a fag to the face.
Which brings us to the present day, as Tom and Meg encounter each other once more. Why did she rape him? Why is she driving to Jarden with him? What does she know about Evie’s sudden departure, years after the original event? Lindelof and Perrotta colour in all the blanks that have previously been left empty, also giving us time to spend with Tom (Chris Zylka) and his own emotional fallout, after his mum, Laurie, decided to peddle the lies of his magical hugging powers. It’s perhaps no surprise that Tom and Meg should end up together: one resents the loss of her mother, the other wants rid of his because she uses him as a means of money and revenge after not having her book published.
Zylka soaks up the screen time like someone who’s been waiting two seasons for the writers to do justice to his character, while Tyler makes her words menacing like someone who has perfected the art of looking threatening while staying silent. They’re a great couple, both bitter, duplicitous and curiously attracted to each other. How much of that is an act on both of their parts? It’s hard to say. But Meg makes her ruthless streak clear when we see her breakaway GR clan deal with a sinner they trap by stoning him; let he who has the most rage cast the first rock.
Christopher Eccleston gets another welcome scene, too, as Matt and Meg collide for the first time since she beat him up in Season 1. They talk amicably about the Jarden set-up, but the juxtaposition between them ramps up the tension: for all his flaws, he’s a paragon of forgiveness; she, on the other hand, is a walking grudge, dressed in white. Why does everyone sit outside the city wishing to be let in? It’s not a question that Matt every really asks. It’s unfair, he agrees, but smiles and shrugs it off. Meg, though, can’t do that. Why are these people hanging around? “You’re waiting for me,” she reasons, with the forceful logic of a charismatic leader.
It’s the kind of confident statement that doesn’t really belong in The Leftovers. Here, people talk in abstract terms, vague questions and pained expressions. But that’s precisely why Meg is such a dangerous, striking figure: ever since Season 1, she’s been cutting her way through the limbo with a purposeful blade – and we’re only just realising it. (The sheer number of characters she’s crossed paths with without us noticing adds to her intimidating influence.) It’s also the kind of decisive declaration that brings clarity to the table – again, not something we’re used to being served by Lindelof and co. But two seasons in and The Leftovers has found its balance between mystery and truth and understands how to exploit it to make its obtuse drama grippingly tangible. After using questions to nudge things forwards uncertainly, this penultimate chapter uses answers to build the tension: suddenly, we have all the puzzle pieces and they’re being put together in front of us. For the first time, we’re not bewildered by what’s gone before and we’re asking a different question altogether. For the first time, we’re wondering: what happens next?
Season 1 and 2 of The Leftovers available on Sky Box Sets. Not got Sky? You can watch The Leftovers online on with NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription that includes live and on-demand access to Sky Atlantic, Sky 1, FOX UK and more.
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