So far The Leftovers’ second season has been about Kevin Garvey and his ragtag family’s life after leaving Mapleton. But episode three, “Off Ramp,” catches us up on the other Garveys: Laurie and Tommy, whose respective exits from cult life have left them with plenty of lingering scars.
Laurie has returned to her pre-departure calling as a therapist, helping other former Guilty Remnant members return to lives that don’t involve wearing all white, constantly smoking, taking a vows of silence, intimidation, etc. But the Guilty Remnant built up its numbers by preying on people who felt guilty about surviving the mass disappearance; now, the people who want to leave the group’s insular world feel even more guilt. Once they’re free, they realize how crummy they feel about abandoning their families or even (in Laurie’s case) putting loved ones’ lives at risk. We see Tommy and Jill’s meeting, captured from Jill’s POV last week, now seen through Laurie’s eyes—much like last week’s re-staging of the birthday party scene from a different character’s perspective. It’s a stylistic choice that’s so far serving this show, which is all about how different individuals react to the same giant crisis, rather well. “Jill’s happy,” Tommy lies.
Laurie knows he’s lying (duh, nobody on The Leftovers is happy), but she’ll have to wait to mend fences with the daughter she almost killed. Because despite her facade of professionalism, Laurie is a total mess. She has plenty of practical issues, like not being able to make rent on the space her therapy biz is secretly using as a halfway house for Guilty Remnant escapees. But her biggest problem is that she’s FILLED WITH RAGE. This quality is actually useful when her landlord steals her laptop—which contains the only copy of her tell-all (a Going Clear-type memoir entitled Guilty); without hesitation, she breaks into his house and rips it right out of the hands of his bratty kid, who’s using it for video games.
But it becomes unnerving when we see the real reason why Laurie keeps washing her car over and over. It’s because she’s started running over the Guilty Remnants who make it their business to stand in her way on the road. (And since she’s obviously one of their prime targets, that’s a lot of vroooom, splat!) And then, when a money-hungry publisher who’s interested in Guilty dares to push her on the invasive questions she’s been trying to block out—like, how did it feel to almost let your daughter burn in a house fire, and stand by helplessly while your ex-husband rescued her instead?—she leaps out of her chair in her specially-purchased $900 outfit and tries to strangle him to death. It’s an awesome, scary, not-at-all-cathartic moment that might be the best thing that’s ever happened on this show.
Laurie’s pushed to the brink in that instance when she learns that Susan, a woman who seemed to be responding well to her deprogramming treatment, has driven herself and the husband and son she’s literally just reunited with into the path of a giant truck. And Tommy takes it just as hard; his recent work infiltrating Guilty Remnant “hives” and rescuing wavering members like Susan has taken a very dark turn. First, he’s attacked by a character that viewers will recognize, even if he doesn’t (“Tell your mom Meg says hello”—yep, Liv Tyler is back, taking control in a very weird rape scene); then, he starts to question if maybe the Guilty Remnant might actually be onto something, in the way that they give troubled souls something to cling to. Once they leave that cult, the void is too much for some to bear, he realizes after Susan’s suicide. And there’s a handy solution: why not give them something else to believe in?
After Tommy springs his mom from jail (for assaulting the publisher, who will surely be pressing all kinds of charges), they gather their shell-shocked patients in a therapy circle to drop what sounds like a big bombshell to the group ... and to us, sounds like they’re maybe starting a cult of their own. A teary-eyed Tommy is awfully convincing, weaving the Ballad of Holy Wayne, and implying that Wayne passed on his powers of hug-healing before he died. Oh boy.
Surely the splintered Garvey storylines are going to collide; Laurie and Jill need to have it out, and so do Laurie and Kevin. And man, it’d be amazing if Tommy the Healer made a trip to Miracle, Texas and had a blazing-hot encounter with professional skeptic John Murphy. But this season’s most intriguing Easter Egg is still Australia, which has gotten random mentions every episode. This week, according to Laurie’s would-be publisher, there’s a “wingnut in Australia who says that he went to the other side and can’t die.” Is it Kevin’s father, who was heading there in last week’s episode? Is that who the old man in the Miracle watchtower is posting letters to?
The preview for next week indicates we’ll be back in Miracle, probing the mystery of the missing girls and Kevin’s imaginary (?) friend, Patti—whose presence suggests the Guilty Remnant is surely not far behind.