‘The Leftovers’ recap, episode 2: ‘Penguin One, Us Zero’


Police chief Kevin Garvey (Paul Schiraldi/AP/HBO)

There were only a couple of meltdowns on “The Leftovers” on Sunday night. Considering what happened to all the characters, that number seems fairly low.

It’s become clear in the second episode that although the “Leftovers” universe — three years after a rapture-like event — is vast, we’re seeing everything framed through the viewpoints of the Garvey family: Kevin, the dad and town police chief severely in need of some anger-management classes; Laurie, the mom who ditched everyone to go live with the Guilty Remnant group; Jill, the daughter lashing out at all the chaos by running with a bad crowd; and Tom, the son who’s on the run thanks to a sinister cult leader.

Here’s how everything shook out in Episode 2, which centered around two deadly topics: cults and guns.

["The Leftovers" premiere recap: After a Sudden Departure, things are grim]

Kevin Garvey

After last week’s episode ended with Kevin on a shooting rampage against a pack of wild dogs, he kicks things off in a shrink’s office. Turns out when you’re chief of police, you can’t necessarily shoot a bunch of street dogs without people asking questions. In this case, it’s Kevin’s fellow officers, who are concerned that their boss may have lost his mind. To make matters worse, no one can locate the bald guy in the pickup truck who Kevin swears helped him. The shrink takes to condescendingly calling him the “Mystery Man” and, by the skeptical look on his face, seems to think Kevin is making it all up as an excuse to work through his anger issues (wife leaving, personal life in shambles, etc.).

Kevin is adamant that the man is real, but you can tell even he is wondering if his fellow shooter was a figment of his imagination — no one else can find him. Things get even weirder when the guy’s pickup truck winds up in Kevin’s driveway with a dead dog in a bag. (Note: Okay “Leftovers,” we get it: You’re a scary show. Can you stop with the dead dogs?)

Later, Kevin has an unpleasant run-in with Lucy, the mayor, who tells him that in addition to shooting dogs, he also probably shouldn’t stop by the Guilty Remnant compound and start punching people while looking for his wife. Kevin is only half-listening, though, as he goes to toast a bagel and it suddenly disappears from the machine. Starting to panic that he really is losing it, Kevin starts slamming the toaster oven against the counter, much to the horror of his fellow co-workers who are already questioning his sanity.

However, Kevin is redeemed — or so it appears — when Mystery Man/bald guy stops by Kevin’s house with a six pack late at night, asking when he wants to go shoot some more dogs. Kevin declines, even though the guy says really, he’s just lonely and would like some company. That would be sad if it weren’t so incredibly creepy. Things get even more bizarre when Kevin goes to visit his father, the former police chief who is in a mental-health facility after apparently suffering a breakdown. They have a normal chat until his father starts hearing voices and tells Kevin that “someone is coming to help him.” But who? And with what, exactly?

Obviously wondering if Mystery Man is a figment of his imagination after all, Kevin promptly heads to the police station and takes apart the toaster oven to see if the bagel really did disappear. And … it didn’t! It was stuck in the back of the machine the whole time. So, Kevin: 1; Possible Insanity: 0. Although we’re still not sure about Mystery Man.

Meanwhile, when he’s not stuck in a shrink’s office or questioning his own state of  mind, Kevin goes about his daily life, which seems pretty miserable, particularly when he has to stop by the Guilty Remnant home with a search warrant. When people run away to join the G.R. cult, their families file missing persons’ reports, and Kevin’s in charge of taking care of them. While at the G.R. Pledge House (an orientation room  for new G.R. recruits), he bumps into new recruit Meg and gives her his card if she ever needs help. After all, Meg is having some trouble adjusting to the G.R. lifestyle — even though she’s still allowed to talk during her orientation. Kevin takes refrains to mention that her mentor (Laurie) is his wife. Afterwards, he then breaks the news to Meg’s fiance, who had also reported her missing weeks ago and had no idea she joined a cult. Her fiance does not take it well.

Laurie Garvey

Speaking of Meg, Laurie’s been assigned to help the G.R.’s newest recruit transition from the outside world to Guilty Remnant life. Again, that’s a vow of silence, wearing all white, eating slop and stalking the fellow people in town to make sure everyone is reminded that the rapture happened. We still don’t know why Meg decided to ditch her fiance weeks before her wedding, but she’s deep into the G.R.’s Pledge House.

At first, things are pretty shaky. Laurie takes Meg on a mission, communicating only through written notes on paper (although Meg is still allowed to talk as a newbie). She assigns her to cut down a huge tree using only a tiny ax. Meg doesn’t really get the symbolism — is the tree supposed to be her former life? Laurie  can’t say a word and Meg quickly throws in the towel because cutting down a tree is more challenging than it looks. Laurie’s G.R. boss, Patti, is not pleased that Meg isn’t making much progress and orders Laurie to ditch her.

Laurie has faith, though, and it pays off. She goes to Meg’s bed that night for what is apparently a ritual: collecting items, one by one, from Meg’s former life. Meg is on the verge of tears as she thinks about parting with one more sentimental object. “Do you remember what it was like to care?” she asks Laurie, somewhat rhetorically. Laurie responds with a single sentence on the notepad: “I heard you met my husband today.” Meg can’t believe it. “The hot cop?” she asks in disbelief, as Laurie points to Kevin’s business card in Meg’s pocket. “I remember,” Laurie writes. Cut to: Meg, seemingly inspired by this revelation that even a lady with a hot husband could give it all up for the G.R., defiantly slamming the ax against the tree multiple times to tear it down.

Jill Garvey

Jill’s trouble-making friend Aimee is still living at the Garvey residence, but Kevin frankly seems relieved that there’s someone to connect with his daughter. The two of them have a very strange day when they notice Nora Durst at a coffee shop before school. Nora’s the most severe victim of the rapture in town: Her husband and two small children all disappeared.

Anyway, Jill walks by Nora at the coffee shop and notices she has a gun in her purse. She and Aimee start evilly speculating about why it’s there: Does she rob liquor stores at night to feel alive? Contemplate shooting herself every night? Did she secretly kill her family and pretend they were taken in the rapture? Something about Nora doesn’t quite seem right, as she purposefully knocks her coffee mug off the table. The shop staffer is annoyed until he realizes it’s Nora — given what she’s been through, he can’t reprimand her about something as small as broken glass. And that’s what it’s like being Nora Durst these days.

Bored, Aimee and Jill decide to follow Nora when she leaves and see where she’s going with the gun. They jump in the car with their twin guy friends and quietly stalk her as she arrives at an older couple’s house. We see that Nora’s there to interview them for “departed benefits” of sorts, a monetary compensation for those who had a loved one disappear. The questions are quite painful — this couple lost their son, who had Down syndrome — but Nora says she must ask every single one and record it all on video. Did their son have any food allergies? Did he travel? Speak more than one language?

It’s all odd, and gets interrupted when Aimee decides it would be fun to break into Nora’s car while she’s in the house. She goes to steal some lotion and then grabs some jelly beans, while Jill purposefully honks the horn so Nora will notice. By the time Nora exits the house and sees the four teenagers speeding away, it’s too late. Later, Aimee notes the jelly beans are stale; Jill reminds her that she probably bought them for her departed children years ago.

The whole thing is unsettling and mostly serve to give more insight into Nora, though we’re just left with more questions. Namely, what is up with that weird “benefits” interview? Who does Nora work for?

Tom Garvey

In the most unsettling storyline of the night, we finally learn about Wayne, the leader of Tom’s cult. He believes that he can heal people with hugs, and after the rapture, people were lining up to be his disciples. Incidentally, Wayne’s also a criminal; as the cops say, he “charges his batteries” with Asian teenage girls and is wanted on multiple counts of statutory rape. His followers are mostly dumb college kids, and Tom fits the bill.

Though Wayne’s gone underground since the charges surfaced, the FBI breaks into the ranch in Nevada and storms the place, screaming at all the girls to find Wayne. One agent captures Christine, who’s terrified, and Tom winds up shooting him in the neck to let her go. “Sorry,” he tells the bleeding, dying FBI agent. “She’s important.” He grabs Christine and runs, with no further info about why Christine seems to be the Chosen One.

They later meet up with Wayne at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, and Wayne thanks Tom for saving Christine. But he notes that since Tom killed a man, he’s now going to have some “poison” inside of him that will be nearly impossible to escape. He offers a hug; Tom declines. Wayne looks amused and says he can’t figure out Tom’s motives. “You’re all suffering and no salvation,” Wayne muses. Regardless, Wayne’s on the run from a whole mess of cops, so there’s no time to chat. He instructs Tom to take Christine and run. They must go until it’s safe for Wayne and Christine to meet again for “whatever comes next.” That can only be bad news.

Wayne shatters Tom’s cell phone, and Tom and Christine get in the car, ready to get out of there. But the car doesn’t start. And Tom has a total meltdown. Christine tries to comfort him, but it’s too late — Tom seems to realize that despite putting all his trust in cult leader Wayne, this is all going way, way downhill from here.

Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter and pop culture blogger for the Style section. She joined the Post in May 2008, a week before she graduated from the University of Maryland, and worked on Lisa de Moraes' TV Column and blog.
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Emily Yahr · July 7