The Leftovers: a Nihilistic, Tighter Lost

What are the lies we tell ourselves every day? The lies that help us heal, move on, to feel okay? There’s a fuckton of those in the above shows.

Spoilers ahoy, kiddos. Time to yap for a bit.

image courtesy of The Verge

Alright.. I have an undying love for the show Lost. Is it a perfect series? Hell no, but it’s a show that crafted real characters, emotional drama, iconic moments, and a whole new world to explore. It’s aged really well, in my opinion. The Others! The Dharma Initiative! WE HAVE TO GO BACK! The numbers! What the fuck is in that hatch? THE CONSTANT. Time skipping to the 70s! Oof. I can go on and on.

The finale is polarising (and Across the Sea remains forever fucking awful), but I am firmly in the camp that loved the damn thing through and through. Such a satisfying emotional conclusion to these characters’ stories, and The Leftovers came to the same type of incredibly gratifying conclusion.

This show runs a touch contrary to Lost, depending upon whom you ask; the fascinating bits aren’t really the mystery itself, but rather how the characters live with said mystery, though Lost got there eventually. What’s the fun in laying everything out boilerplate, anyway?

The Leftovers has the typical Lindelof thematic strings; existential loneliness and finding purpose, daddy/mommy issues, daily lying to oneself, very handsome men crying, moving on and letting go, faith versus science, damaged people just trying to make it work. The tone is overall darker, and I feel like that’s a given. How would a world that suddenly and inexplicably lost 2% of the population evolve? Shit would be weird. As the episodes progress and it gets farther away from Perrotta’s source material, it becomes exceptionally more bizarre as it bursts and blooms into this wholly mesmerising viewing experience.

image courtesy of Giphy

As an HBO bonus, there’s titties and asses galore (and a commando jogging Justin Theroux in sweatpants). It’s a win-win at 28 hourish-long episodes. Lost had some definite wheel spinning going on in Season 3 (Jack’s fucking tattoos) and the first half of Season 6 (Christ, that trash temple, what the fuck). The shorter season structure on HBO allows a more efficient viewing experience, and more effective storytelling.

Simply put, both Lost and The Leftovers are about broken people trying to get on with it. Jack Shephard can’t let a single goddamned thing go, but he eventually gets his shit together and moves on (which is probably the most succinct summary you’ll ever find of that show). He saves the world and sacrifices himself in the process.

And unlike Jack, Kevin Garvey isn’t destined to save the world — only himself.

Does Kevin have something fundamentally broken inside him? Sure, none of his family departed, but it seems the Sudden Departure itself cracked him wide open. The metaphor manifests in the penultimate episode of the series, where Kevin literally faces his issues head on– his twin brother. He happens to have the nuclear football key planted inside of him, and Prez Kev has to kill International Assassin Kev in the process of getting to the damn thing.

Apparently, it’s the Fischer Protocol; an ethical deterrent for the President so he doesn’t blow up the goddamned world, since the prez has to kill the person who has the key in order to get it out. All orchestrated by Secretary of Defense Patti Levin, no less.

Let’s backtrack for a hot second. Patti, the monkey on his back, follows him around for much of Season 2 and in order to rid himself of her and move forward from that guilt, he has to kill her in this hotel world. First, she’s masquerading as a senator; he kills her, but apparently she’s got a double. Second, she’s a little girl– Patti at her most innocent, purest. Watching Kevin push her into a well is tough, heartbreaking. The third incarnation of Patti is her Guilty Remnant self, the one Kevin knew. He approaches each of these with empathy, but carries out his grisly task every time.

Oof. Typing that out sounds absolutely fucking ridiculous. But man, there’s a few episodes of The Leftovers that absolutely should not work on paper, but are pure magic onscreen. There’s a tinge of supernatural with Kevin’s ability to die, visit the other side, and return relatively unharmed. Season 2’s International Assassin and a tidbit of the s2 finale have him working through his issues in the ‘hotel world’, which is pretty much an in-between place; an afterlife. These episodes are the show at its strangest, emotional best.

The themes that spoke to me the most were about how we all cope in the face of loss and the glaring black hole of the unknown. What does it truly mean to be okay? Can we ever actually be okay again after a great loss, or is there just a new normal? Or is life just an emotional roller-coaster, where we vacillate between happiness and self-destruction to push it all away?

Take a gander at Kevin’s journey across the seasons. He’s a broken and generally dissatisfied guy, who is offered love, family, and peace at the end of both seasons 1 and 2, yet he invariably goes on to blow his happiness straight to hell. Then there’s Nora, for whom the idea of moving on and being okay after her family’s departure is an enormous source of guilt and conflict. Despite her departed husband being a shitbird, all she wants to do is wallow in those feelings, pushing Kevin away in the process.

image courtesy of HBO

On a grander scale, these themes manifest in the small-town apocalypses of seasons 1 and 2; how the societal sweater of Mapleton and Jarden progressively unraveled via the wildly conflicting coping mechanisms of their denizens.

Not unlike Jack and ~The Island~, Kevin craves returning to the ‘other side’ to feel powerful and alive, since he can’t seem to grasp that in his real life no matter how hard he tries. The whole series he struggles with just wanting to go home, to be with his family.. and once he gets there, it’s never enough. Kevin yearns for more, lying to himself along the way that what he already has is the key though he knows that ain’t true. Guess it took losing Nora and that great love for a decade and a half for him to get it together and see what was in front of him all along. He blew up his afterlife in the process and eliminated that escape.

image courtesy of Reddit

But hey.. did Nora go to that trash dimension and fuck off for ~15 years? Or did she make it all up as an elaborate method of moving forward and forgiving herself?? I’m still on the fence as to whether it’s an intricate lie she concocted to move on with her life, but goddamn. And either way Kevin would’ve believed her.

What a ride. It’s a beautifully written and executed show, real damn good, Perfect Strangers included. I’ll definitely be revisiting this one.

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Mad Men s1e10: Long Weekend

“When God closes a door, he opens a dress.”

Roger Sterling is into youth and staying young, and this episode makes that pretty evident. Even the 1960 election that’s on in the background, John F. Kennedy versus Richard Nixon, drives that idea home. Does Kennedy’s youth in this era and his familial advantages make him entitled as a result?

Don relates to Nixon more than nouveau riche Kennedy, which is telling. He views Kennedy as the new kid on the block who effortlessly has it all, versus Nixon the self-made man, the guy who became Vice President six years out of the Navy. “Kennedy, I see a silver spoon. Nixon, I see myself.”

Don’s meeting with Menken – Rachel and father – is more of the same; talking about how to modernise their department store and how much more advantageous the new, ‘younger’ version is.

This is the first appearance of an important character, Betty’s father, Gene. He’s got a new ladyfriend Gloria, and though Betty is distressed by the quick changeover, Don dismisses her concerns with the fact that he was previously married for 4 decades. He’s an old guy, he needs a woman’s touch, et cetera– someone to take care of him, from a pragmatic point of view. Don seemingly doesn’t give an emotional connection like what Gene may have had with his wife another thought, and Betty isn’t happy to have her concerns shrugged off.

Joan seems bored of Roger’s last minute idea of getting together over Labor Day weekend, unflappable as always. Even when her roomate Carol comes onto her and clumsily confesses her love, Joan is serene as ever. This is a woman who is generally not rattled by anything or anyone.

Seeing a sliver of Joan’s private life is illuminating. “These men, constantly building them up, and for what? Dinner? Jewellery?? Who cares!” She’s out to have fun and enjoy the city, and is encouraging Carol to do the same. They’re two young girls living in the city, after all!

They bring home some fossils they met at the bar, and where Joan is playful and going with the flow, Carol is stiff and very much sullen. Those dudes are pretty ratchet though, so I can’t blame her.

Double sided aluminum has done a casting call, and since Freddy Rumsen is an Archaic Man of the Time, it’s all young twin 20-something girls. Roger and Don go to pick out a pair to charm for the evening, and end up with these ladies.

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“Now, look far away and visionary.”

image courtesy of Photobucket

At one point Roger’s talking with Mirabelle about his daughter Margaret, not understanding why she’s so angry. He can’t seem to connect with his own teenage daughter, but here he is unloading all of this on an actual 20 year-old.

Roger has a heart attack sometime during round two with her, and she frantically calls for help. Don shoos the twins away, and once the ambulance arrives to take Roger, he’s deliriously asking for said 20 year-old. Don grabs him by the hair and slaps him across the face, reminding him that his wife is Mona.. true bro shit right there.

In the hospital bed, Roger seems genuinely remorseful and broken. He goes on about energy and the human soul, and true to form, Don has no real response for him other than asking “what do you want to hear?” Oy. Then Roger sees his wife and daughter. He’s greeted with love and immediately breaks down into tears, and Don doesn’t know how to process any of it.

The phone call Don has with Betty right after his friend has a heart attack mostly revolves around her trivial complaints about Gloria. This pretty much launches him directly at Rachel’s apartment.

Joan finds out about all this from Bert Cooper, as she goes to the office in the middle of the night. This is the first time you see Joan really react to something – she tearfully types out telegrams to Sterling Cooper clients, as Bert dictates.

Bert: “Don’t waste your youth on age, my dear.”
Joan: “He’s just a friend.”
Bert: “That’s not what I’m talking about.”

Shots fired from Cooper! He read between the lines.

Not to get too Cronenberg, but there’s a few remarks about skin; Roger remarks on Mirabelle’s skin (translucent), later when he’s had his heart attack Don remarks that Roger’s skin seemed like paper. Fragile. Shaken at Rachel’s apartment, Don accuses her of looking right through him.

Don blows his emotional load all over Rachel in the afterglow. Turns out they’ve both got mothers that died in childbirth, though Don’s upbringing is infinitely more dire. This is the first time he’s talked about it aloud on the show, and he chooses to share it with Rachel in lieu of Betty. Lots of Fragile Man Feelings.

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Well, this looks like a completely normal way to lie down.

image courtesy of Mad Men Wikia

At this point, it appears that Rachel might draw some more depth out of him and help him to reform some of his views, but NOPE. Don appears to be nearly static as the series goes on – every character and every thing around him eventually changes, sometimes radically, yet he stays the same. Don is the black hole.

Mad Men s1e7: Red in the Face

This episode offers some more depth to Roger Sterling. He invites himself to Don and Betty’s house for dinner, and a vague form of mayhem ensues. From the sounds of it, he’s sort of over his teenage daughter Margaret ruining his dinner options.

Roger is inferring bits about Don’s background. By the way he “drops his Gs”, he figures Don was raised on a farm. Confronted with this observation, Don immediately leaves in search of more liquor.

Roger drunkenly shares stories about fighting in WWII, but Don seems more interested in how he felt. We can tell that Don felt mostly fear while in Korea, and he generally doesn’t talk about it per Betty. Roger speaks of some dark experiences tinged with a bit of apathy. “Bored, what about scared?” Don is trying to see if his own fear was founded, if that’s how other men feel about their time in the army.

Betty’s friendliness is mistaken for flirting, and Roger takes it to a wildly inappropriate place out of nowhere. Poor Betty! And natch, Don blows a fucking gasket about it, as it was the style at the time. Apparently that mess is somehow Betty’s fault? Yeesh. She stands up to Don as best she can, but he ultimately has the last word.

An iconic moment appears in this episode, thanks to Pete Campbell’s subdued outrage that none of his Sterling Cooper pals know what in the hell this ceramic abomination is. IT’S A CHIP AND DIP!

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image courtesy of Imgur.com

Pete goes to return the redundant #chipanddip on his lunch break and attempts to charm the pretty customer service girl to no avail. He doesn’t have the inherent allure of his Hot Idiot friend Matherton, who happened to be in the department store at the same time. Pete classily lets her know that Matherton has The Clap, and buys a BB gun with store credit. Incredible. Of course, Trudy loses her shit at him so he meekly keeps the BB gun at the office.

The next morning, Pete delivers a particularly peculiar monologue about hunting deer to Peggy. She’s super into it, and immediately seeks out a massive fucking cherry danish. As you do.

Oh my god, and another iconic moment.

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WHAT DID THE FIVE FINGERS SAY TO THE FACE?

image courtesy of Buzzfeed

So, Helen is pissed that Betty gave her son Glen a lock of her blonde hair. All of this is too weird for words. Betty slaps her across the face in the produce section, and immediately bounces.

“My mother always said you’re painting a masterpiece,

make sure to hide the brushstrokes.”

Ruminating upon her day, she tells Francine that she’s not some perfect marshmallow sweet girl. But Betty believes that keeping her appearances up and being attractive to men means that she’s ‘earning her keep’. She’s working out a way to feel OK about Roger coming onto her in the kitchen that night, that just so long as he finds her desirable it’s all good? Sort of a mess, if you ask me.

“When a man gets to a point in his life when his name’s on the building, he can get an unnatural sense of entitlement.”

Roger tries to apologise with a very thinly veiled analogy about how ‘at some point we’ve all parked in the wrong garage’, and Don ain’t buying it. He exacts his own sort of revenge, sneakily arranging with Hollis the elevator operator to ensure the elevator is “down” later that afternoon.

They go to lunch for oysters and martinis, which sounds delicious in theory, but these motherfuckers plow through 48 oysters together on top of New York cheesecake. And then throw in 20-something flights of stairs..

Roger Sterling is a compelling character, and the one thing he’s obsessed with and desires most is youth– which he intrinsically cannot attain. This is something he’ll be faced with throughout the series.

Don drives that point home with his elevator prank.

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Today, I’m on the Roger Sterling diet.

image courtesy of Imgur.com

And for whatever reason, I can’t find the horns version of the Rosemary Clooney song that closes out this episode. RUDE. Here’s the 1952 original!

Mad Men s1e4: New Amsterdam

Let’s take a look at everyone’s favourite asshole, Pete Campbell– this episode shows that he’s not your average boorish dickbag. Pete’s waspy parents are over the top to a T with the boat shoes, shite comments, and plaid. It’s conveyed that they’re true Manhattan royalty, dating back many generations; what a shadow to live underneath. And his dad’s a total dick, natch; those dudes always are. “We gave you everything; we gave you your name. What have you done with it?”

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Well, this is sufficiently uncomfortable.

image courtesy of Mad Men Wikia.

What’s in a name, anyway?

How can Pete individually define himself, as his own separate entity? He wants something different. Thus far, we’ve only seen Pete as a snarky weirdo who’s boned Peggy and been a general smarmy creep. However, no matter how hard he tries, his father is not impressed with his job (or him). Pete has to work his ass off to be one iota as charming and suave as Don, which is probably why he admires him. His wife’s family is ready to help at the drop of a hat, while his own parents do approximately fuckall in that department.

Looking at Pete’s parents versus Trudy’s parents, it’s essentially night and day. Pete feels like a heel, unable to buy the apartment on his own. He also assumes the cash from the in-laws comes with several strings because his own parents are lunatic WASPs.

In the midst of all this, Betty and Helen have a moment where she learns why Helen is divorced. “Turns out none of them were men”. Simple, but enough of an “oh fuck” moment for Betty, getting the wheels turning.

Trying to regain some sense of the upper hand, Pete pitches copy to a vaguely unhappy client, “cousins” included for a night of boozin’ at the St. Regis. Ah yes, the Bethlehem Steel schmuck and his hookers– he’s quick to dismiss Pete’s idea and get it in with the 19 year-old to his right. “I would’ve thought you slept all day and bathed in milk”.

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image courtesy of Reddit

The next day, said schmuck is suddenly SUPER into Pete’s idea and Don is livid. Don attempts to fire Pete with Roger on board, but Burt puts the kibosh on it due to who he is and his connections. Ironically, Pete’s name-identity has saved him much to Don’s chagrin. It reminds Don that he comes from nothing, and that the silver spoon types tend to get ahead in life no matter what, regardless of talent. Oy.

In their new apartment, Trudy and her parents are flitting around, delighted. Pete isn’t necessarily thrilled that their old bat neighbour is so into his lineage, but he’s lost in thought staring at the Manhattan skyline. Maybe his name has done something useful for him after all.

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image courtesy of Mad Men Wikia

PS, this episode concludes with one of my favourite songs in life. Give it a whirl!

Mad Men s1e3: Marriage of Figaro

This episode opens on the train, Don staring at that ironic Volkswagen ad in his Playboy. He gets called Dick Whitman by some schlub rando, and he’s visibly rattled. More on that to come!

Oh hey, it’s Sally’s birthday! Time for Don to get absolutely shitfaced and assemble a playhouse. #men

From the women of the club, we hear about the arresting suburban scandal of Helen Bishop .. AND HER WALKING.

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I CAN’T FEEL MY FACE

image courtesy of Imgur

A lot of this episode centres around marriage and where these characters fit in. It’s pretty plain where Don fits vs. where he doesn’t fit; at work, and at home. He’s in charge of it all at the office, but at home he’s relegated to filming the party, building the playhouse (yet he’s not permitted to wash his hands with the weird porcelain-handheld soap), being told repeatedly to pick up the cake.

Don doesn’t wear a wedding band (and is continually losing his cufflink in this episode), but Pete Campbell actually digs it.

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image courtesy of 9gag

Ladies and gentlemen, Pete Campbell. He’s back from his honeymoon and trying to clumsily navigate being a married guy in a post-banging Peggy world.

Speaking of Peggy, she is trying to figure out where she fits in at Sterling Cooper. It’s clear that she’s very different from the other ladies in the steno pool; Pegs is cut from a different cloth.

The way Don’s written is fascinating. Here we have our main character, the guy we’re ostensibly rooting for; he’s simultaneously good and infuriating, yet we can relate to all of it. Who hasn’t just wanted to ghost on some garbage party filled with a simulation of friends? These people can be absolutely exasperating in reality, yet he’s relatable in this instance. Sneaking a peek at his world allows us to see the motivations behind bouncing, his desire to get way the hell away from those faux friends.

Pausing on that secret kiss he captures with the camera – Don feels a pang, and he feels even more isolated. Maybe he’s realising that love he haughtily claimed he created for products may be legit. But then again, Don is a guy that so clearly does not understand intimacy in real life. You can’t be ~mysterious~ and play everything so close to the chest but also have true intimacy; shit just doesn’t work that way. Gotta give some to get some. At first, Don is cloying with Rachel, listening and probing with questions like a fun flirty first date but revealing nada of himself, and she already seems to be over it. Especially when he pulls the “I’m married” card. Mess.

As he’s watching the train to Manhattan blast by in Ossining, I bet he’s thinking of trying to reach Rachel somehow. How to Human, 101.

Hours later, daddy saves the day by bringing home a dog for Sally. Betty is seething with palpable rage. He’s thinking back to when he snogged Rachel Menken on the rooftop, and her saying that, “For a little girl, a dog can be all you need. They protect you and they listen”. She told all her secrets to those dogs, apparently; and Don knows that he’s probably total shite at being a father to Sally, so uh.. here’s a dog.

But where in the fresh hell did he get that dog? Did he just jack someone else’s Golden Retriever from their yard? Fucking bizarre.