'The Leftovers': In Which a Member of the Guilty Remnant Gets Stoned to Death
The Leftovers has gone for a lot of shock factor in its short time on the air. Hell, almost everything the Guilty Remnant does is WTF-worthy (stealing people's family photos and leaving behind empty frames, for example). But in this week's episode, "Gladys," The Leftovers challenged it's audience. It's like Fear Factor, but for gratuitous violence.
Here's the setup, in case you missed the episode (fair warning, after reading the following, you may not want to ever actually see the episode). We start with some establishing shots of the Guilty Remnant, particularly Gladys (played by Marceline Hugot). The GR are doing what the GR do – being creepy, smoking cigarettes and terrorizing the citizens of Mapleton in ways that feel like the worst adult version of the "I'm not touching you" game that siblings play in the backseat of the family car on long road trips). They're being pretty horrible to everyone and giving zero effs. In fact, Gladys' last onscreen moment before her stoning is an act of decisive indifference as she steps over a man who falls on the sidewalk.
And then we get to the stoning. While her partner in staring creepily at passersby is in the bathroom at a gas station, Gladys is nabbed and dragged to the woods, where she's tied to a tree and stoned to death. She's hit repeatedly, bludgeoned to death. And we, as the audience, see every impact. It's bloody and violent and I'm not adverse to either of those things, but I found myself cringing and looking away instinctively. This will probably go down as the week The Leftovers went too far.
So why is this the breaking point? Why is this too much, in light of everything else the show has done thus far? Gladys' gory onscreen demise is not necessary. Yes, it illustrates the growing tensions between the Guilty Remnant and the citizens of Mapleton. Yes, it represents a tipping point for those growing tensions and yes, it might just push the series in a new direction and force it face the plot decisions it has made (and refused to explain) head-on. But mostly, I doubt that any of that matters or will happen. The Leftovers, in all of its unapologetic misanthropy, will almost certainly continue on as it has been and it won't change anything or address any of this in a satisfactory way.
So it's that – my complete lack of trust in the show or its creators to instill any real meaning in Gladys' awful, gut-wrenching death – that makes me so uncomfortable. The show's point of view is very similar to that of the Guilty Remnant. It's almost as though the opening credits promise us "inside is the meaning of your life," only to reward us with a blank slate inside. So many things have happened on The Leftovers. Each week is packed with disjointed, jarring incidents. But, strung together, they still lack any impact, any meaning to make it worth the trip.
At the end of the episode, Gladys' body is cremated before any autopsy can be performed or evidence collected. It's not stolen by a criminal element and burned unceremoniously…she is cremated by the very people charged with solving her murder. The people in charge literally erase the meaning and significance of her death, which feels like a not-so-subtle (because that's just not something The Leftovers does) wink at all of us watching at home.