The Leftovers 2×03 ‘Off Ramp’: The things we believe

The Leftovers 2x03 Cover

“They’re giving them something. I mean, we can strip it away, but once it’s gone, we have nothing to put back in its place.” – Tom Garvey

Religion fills a void. It takes our deepest insecurities and our most existential questions and given them answers, telling us to be unafraid of death and unafraid of the darkness within us. You’re depressed? Turn to God. You’re scared of dying? Turn to God. You want your life to improve? Turn to God. It’s an easy way to take the unanswerable and the unknowable and make it easy to comprehend and deal with. Because having a void within us, something hollow left by damage or loss or even intelligence, makes it difficult to function. It makes it difficult to even fathom what the point of living is.

“Off Ramp” is all about trying to fill the void, and as such, it’s easily the most brutal, depressing episode the season has done so far. It’s also easily the most brilliant. “Off Ramp” transcends over the earlier two episodes by leaps and bounds, taking a close look at religion and belief in a way that doesn’t let us stop looking. But more than that, it doesn’t give us any answers, instead stopping right back where it began, with falseness filling the void, leaving any real answers or contentment fluttering further away.

The Leftovers 2x03-1

Source: HBO

“Off Ramp” closely follows Laurie as she and her son Tommy try to infiltrate the Guilty Remnant, finding those questioning their faith and rescuing them from the cult. Laurie now runs a counseling program by herself, talking to each of the ex-members of the GR, renting out a tiny space in order to house them. Of course, she doesn’t have a job and so she doesn’t have much money for rent, and she struggles to keep her counseling center open. And in order to infiltrate the organization’s different groups, Tommy goes undercover to find the one that needs the most help. All the while, Laurie is writing a book titled “Guilty” to expose the GR for the horrible group that they are. It’s a great mirroring of “Two Boats and a Helicopter” from the first season in that we see one person attempting to conduct this altruistic service, only to see that it’s more self-serving than we would think it to be.

The Leftovers 2x03-2

Source: HBO

And it is self-serving, as Laurie is constantly asserting that she is okay, only to struggle with her own past and her own actions. Her counseling service and her book is a way to atone for her sins, to remedy all the damage she did to her family and to the Mapleton community. Her book is even titled “Guilty”, as if to expose her own guilt for her actions. When the publishing agent tells Laurie to put more feeling into her book, she can’t even fathom what she did wrong. But she’s completely unable to feel her pain, to push through it, instead choosing to funnel all of her energy into her work, avoiding feeling guilt and loss and suffering. And how can she counsel others when she can’t even get herself together? She doesn’t know how to help the ex-GR members fill the void created by deprogramming them. She’s stuck in a spiral of avoidance that only damages those around her, beating them down further and further the longer she goes without facing the truth.

The Leftovers 2x03-4

Source: HBO

Tommy is one of those beaten down by Laurie’s inability to move on. Season 1 left him completely deserted, void of purpose, unable to figure out what to do with himself. Laurie, even if she didn’t mean to, capitalized on that by telling him to go infiltrate the GR groups. And it was only a matter of time until he got caught, until he was punished for breaking into the GR groups. And he was punished, as Meg (Laurie’s recruit from the first season now turned leader) raped him and doused him with gasoline, threatening to light him on fire. Tommy, in feeling the intense pain associated with the GR, admits that they have a point, that they do offer something that other people are not able to offer. The GR offer an answer to the question posed by the Departure; they say that the end of the world has happened, that there’s no point in going on, that everybody else needs to understand the truth of the world (even if it’s only the truth through the eyes of the GR).

Side Note: Yes, Meg raped Tommy. It was non-consensual sex, even if Tommy looked as if he was aroused as it was happening. The point of the rape was to show Tommy how powerless he was, how Meg was in ultimate control of the GR and those who oppose the GR. All things considered, The Leftovers did a great job depicting rape in a way that showed the intentions of rape (power, control) instead of using it as shock value.

The Leftovers 2x03-5

Source: HBO

And Tommy isn’t the only one beaten down. Laurie doesn’t understand what is drawing people to the GR, as she is unwilling to dissect her own desire to join. She thinks that she can help her newest member by introducing her back to her family and slowly assimilating her back into everyday life, but through all of this, she forgets to treat the root cause of her decision to join the GR. Susan is seriously depressed, to the point that her depression extends beyond the Departure (note how her connection to the Departure is never discussed), and the GR was a fix for that depression. Without the GR, the only solution she sees is suicide, which she commits to when she sends her family into oncoming traffic, killing her, her husband, and her child. It’s heartbreaking for Laurie, not only because she loses one of her members, but also because she doesn’t see what she’s doing wrong. It’s the same reason she drives into the two GR members; she wants to see them jump out of the way because she doesn’t know how to save them. When faced with the reality of her avoidance, the reality of what she’s done, all she can do is lash out. She attacks the publishing agent when faced with her past because actually looking at it involved feeling more suffering than she knows how to deal with.

The Leftovers 2x03-3

Source: HBO

The ending of the episode is easily one of the best scenes the show has ever done, showing the origin of religion and how people congregate around those willing to offer some answer to their suffering. Tommy and Laurie, after feeling defeated because of their lack of progress, as well as the suffering surrounding them, decide to use Tommy’s experience with Holy Wayne to sell him as Wayne’s successor. They do this out of the desire to fill the empty void in their members with something new, but, in doing so, are effectively lying to them about what to believe in. It deals in some very murky morality, where they may be saving lives, but they’re lying and manipulating to do so. In addition, their new “religion” is built from delusion and pain, namely Laurie’s inability to use her own experiences and Tommy’s feverish desire to find purpose in the world. These kinds of beliefs are always created from the intense needs of others, and they show us just how far Tommy and Laurie are willing to sink in order to feel as if they are making progress. It’s one of the best endings (aside from “Guest”) that The Leftovers has ever done.

“Off Ramp” is one of the best episodes that The Leftovers has ever, surpassed only by “Guest” from the first season. It’s a brilliant showcase for Laurie’s character, and it poignantly illustrated how religions are created and the pain involved in belief. Because it’s easy to sink ourselves into a project instead of reflecting on ourselves and moving forward in our own lives. It’s also easy to use our delusion in order to feel like we’re helping other people. But it’s much harder to deconstruct the horrible things that make us the people that we are, to use that knowledge to actually grow as people.

It’s just easier to pretend than to deal with reality. And the more we pretend, the more we end up hurting ourselves and the people around us.

What did you think of “Off Ramp”? Was it one of your favorite episodes? What do you think will happen next to Laurie and Tommy? Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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