Laurie Garvey had a tough go of it this week on HBO's The Leftovers . Sometime between the Season 1 finale and the third episode of Season 2, "Off Ramp," the former Guilty Remnant member — who had even become the cult's de facto leader in Patti's absence — had turned against the group. She has now devoted her life to helping other reluctant GR members escape the cult's clutches and readjust to life in the real world. But naturally this task is harder than it seems.
First, her son Tom, who Laurie recruited to infiltrate the GR and identify those members having second thoughts, is nearly murdered by her former friend Meg when he's found out. Then a woman who Tom and Laurie had rescued had so much trouble acclimating to life on the outside that she ended up killing herself and her husband. But, something good was going to come out of all of this misery: Laurie was going to write a book that would expose all of the Guilty Remnant's secrets to the world. And, through Laurie's tell-all, showrunners Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta were able to inject a little self-aware humor into their morose show.
Laurie's meeting with her potential publishers starts off well enough, with the three well-dressed professionals gushing over her book, referring to it as the next What's Next. (That's the memoir that got Nora Durst so upset in the Season 1 episode "Guest.") There are compliments and wisecracks: When Laurie's phone rings, she apologies, "Let me just put this on silent." One of the men says that would be a good alternate title for the book. Publisher's got jokes, everyone!
But, the meeting starts to go downhill fast when the publisher mentions that he wants her to "sharpen the edges" and "get some clarity." Laurie's confused. What kinds of things? "You never really explain why they make you smoke all the time," he elaborates, aping the mystified reactions of many viewers throughout the show's first season. Laurie insists she doesn't know they reason because they never told her the reason.
But, there is at least one issue we get some clarity on. "We know what the Guilty Remnant does," the publisher says. "But what do they believe?" he inquires. Laurie's answer is short and to-the-point: "They believe the world ended." Why bother speaking when life as you know it has come to a grinding halt? Why bother wasting energy picking out clothes? Why care about filling your lungs up with toxic chemicals? No wonder the GR was so crazy. If you thought the world had literally ended and everyone else around you was going about business as usual, you'd probably go crazy, too.
But, Laurie really starts to lose it when Mr. Publisher informs her that, "We've gotta put some feeling into this thing." She balks. Come again? "Feeling, emotion," he elaborates. "If you want people to connect with it, you have to tell them how it felt." On the one hand, with this line Lindelof and Perrotta are acknowledging one of the common complaints about The Leftovers Season 1: That the show was simply an exercise in misery, and that the characters delighted in wallowing in their grief rather than attempting to move on and feel any emotion other than pain.
By acknowledging this criticism, it may sound like Lindelof and Perrotta are agreeing with it — especially given how Season 2 has thus far been markedly less bleak than Season 1. But, who are our sympathies supposed to lie with? The smarmy publisher? Or Laurie, one of the show's biggest main characters? Here's a hint: It's the one who's a writer. And, what does Laurie do next? She physically assaults the man who dared try to tell her how to tell her own story.
Does that tell you what Damon Lindelof thinks of his critics? While the publisher informs Laurie that she has to "tell them how it felt," the showunner is more content to show — and let his audience draw their own conclusions and feel their own emotions without being spoon-fed. That's part of what makes The Leftovers such gripping television: Its utter refusal to holds its audience's hand through the frequently horrific events of the show, from stonings to riots to unexplained disappearances. Just like the citizens of Mapleton after the Sudden Departure, we're on our own.
Images: Ryan Green (2), Van Redin/HBO