WOW. The Leftovers is a show that, by definition, shouldn’t work. It’s a show very specifically about a couple intertwined ideas. It takes characters we haven’t seen in half a season or even an entire season and makes them the centerpiece of an episode. It revolves around unanswerable mysteries and reeks of pain and misery throughout every episode. It’s something that didn’t seem like it would go past one season because how could it? What else is there to say about grief and loss?
But again. WOW. The Leftovers has been setting the final scene of “Ten Thirteen” up all season, the one where it’s revealed that Evie and the other girls have joined up with Meg’s radical sect of the Guilty Remnant cult, and are part of some insane plan for the fourth anniversary of the Departure. It’s a reminder that Jardin (which I’ve now learned is the town while Miracle is the surrounding park; thank you Meg for clarifying) isn’t immune to the pain and misery of existence and of loss. They simply use their “no departures” status as a way to shield themselves from the pain that they experience in their lives. It’s a sort of religion that the citizens of Jardin use, a belief system that keeps the bad feelings away. But with religion comes not dealing with parts of life, causing even more grief. Some people might empathize with those deluded by religion, wanting them to heal. Some others might envy their ability to deny and would rather see them suffer.
Enter Meg. “Ten Thirteen” paints a very different yet entirely plausible portrait of Meg, one where she’s a narcissist who wants others to suffer as a way to make her feel better. She is incapable of dealing with her feelings, as we see when she needs cocaine to get through a simple dinner with her mother. But it’s when her mother dies on October 13th, the day before the Departure, that she is forced to look at her pain. Only the problem is that she still doesn’t want to look at that pain. She goes to Jardin to find psychics to help her move on, but it’s as the psychic says: the final words of her mother won’t help her move on. There are no magic words, no secret ways to heal. You just have to push through the pain. And when the psychic’s words don’t help, when the Guilty Remnant doesn’t help, Meg looks to escalation, using violence and misery to mask her pain.
Focusing on Meg’s backstory for the first fifteen minutes of the episode worked brilliantly to both humanize her and completely rationalize her insanity. When she throws that grenade on the school bus full of children, it’s revealed that it wasn’t live, but for a split second we don’t know if Meg just murdered a bus-full of children. We see that Meg is capable of pretty much anything. And considering how the raped and almost killed Tommy back in “Off Ramp”, it’s completely rationalized that she’s capable of anything. I never thought that Liv Tyler (calm, soothing Arwen from LOTR) could be so ridiculously terrifying, but she digs right into Meg’s character and makes her horrifying from the very beginning.
“Ten Thirteen” also does a great job showing us how radical movements form within religions. The Guilty Remnant may do some radical things (stoning, for one), but they’re mostly a benign force, simply harassing people from time to time. They’re also focused intently on a mission, and while that mission may be bred from delusion and negativity, it’s still a physically harmless mission. Meg, on the other hand, wants more gratification than what the Guilty Remnant is giving her. It’s why she taunts her superiors. It’s why she’s willing to order others killed. It’s why she uses Tommy until she’s done playing with him. She wants control, and when she tells Tommy that she raped him because “she wanted to get him pregnant”, it’s her messed-up way of saying that she wanted to give him a part of her, something he couldn’t get rid of. Tommy has always been a follower, from Holy Wayne to Laurie to Meg, so he’s just a way for Meg to feel better again. He’s a punching bag for her.
But it’s that scene at the end that really illuminates what Meg wants. When she sees Matt in the camp outside of Jardin, when he reminds her of her dead mother and the pain she felt back then, she replies by telling Matt (in a masked, cryptic manner) that she’s in Jardin to answer everybody’s questions. She’s there to be what everybody is waiting for. And it’s not that she’s there to alleviate the grief from those questions. She’s there to remind everybody of the loss that the world feels, to tell them that they’re also feeling that same loss, and to make them feel it as intently as possible. Her motives throughout the episode are terrifying, and when compounded with things like buying plastic explosives and ordering an innocent man stoned to death, she feels like a force to be reckoned with, somebody who wants to bring as much pain as possible to a town that denies itself that pain.
With an extended 72-minute season (maybe series) finale next week, and with the terrorist plot not yet revealed, The Leftovers is quite possibly the most tense it ever has been. This has been one of the best seasons of television I’ve seen in a long, long time, and with everything coming together so neatly, I’ll be sad to see it end. It’s a shame that there’s no word yet on a third season, but with the ratings so low, there’s no way to tell if it’ll indeed happen. But wow. It has really been a treat to see television so magnificent.
What did you all think of Meg’s terrifying re-entrance into the show? Do you think anybody is going to end up dying in the finale? Let me know in the comments!