The Leftovers: “Off Ramp” Season 2 Episode 3 Review

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This episode shouldn’t work. After two episodes setting the scene in Miracle, Texas for characters both new and old, we return to New York to catch up with two of season one’s least defined characters. What purpose do Laurie and Tommy even serve on a show that looked to have evolved past them? But damn, this was the best episode of the season so far and is up there with “Two Boats and a Helicopter” as one of the show’s best episodes.

“Off Ramp” feels like the most direct continuation of season one we’ve gotten yet. Laurie has left the Guilty Remnant, this being the first episode that we see her living and breathing on a post-departure world outside that toxic organization, but she’s not done with them. Using her son Tommy as a mole, she’s trying to help people leave the GRs and return to their lives. She holds counseling sessions in an office space she can’t afford, typing away at her tell-all book in her spare time. She’s doing everything in her power to turn herself into a hero, with the episode also following a woman she “saved” to show us the power of her actions. Laurie brushes off GRs threatening this woman, and even counsels her and her husband on how to continue with their marriage.

But The Leftovers isn’t about to reward a character, or its audience, without any dire consequences. All this setup turns out to be is a compelling start to a much more dangerous road. Tommy is found out by the GRs and is then taken to the middle of nowhere while tied up in the back of a van. Much to my surprise, Meg gets out of a car that followed. She seems to have taken Patti’s place. First, she has sex with him. Then, Tommy is on the ground with gasoline being thrown on him. Meg lights a cigarette and holds the flame over him. The Leftovers appears to have a new villain.

When Laurie arrives home to a bruised Tommy asking who Meg is, she desperately clings to her naive idea that what they’re doing is making a difference. “It’s working!” she shouts at her son through the bathroom door. We brilliantly cut back to the woman she saved earlier. We’re about to see exactly why it isn’t working. As she drives her and her family straight into an oncoming truck, The Leftovers reminds us that it will never give us an easy answer to something as complicated as grief.

As Tommy puts it, people joined the Guilty Remnant because it gave them something. What Laurie is doing is taking that thing away and leaving the void empty. So how do they decide to fill it? Tommy will become the next Holy Wayne, hugging people and convincing them that his touch is the cure to their grief. They are using bullshit to replace bullshit. Laurie is suddenly no different from Meg.

As for how this might all tie into the stories in Miracle, I can’t wait to see what they come up with. “Off Ramp” is one of the most confident pieces of television this year. So far, this sense of confidence, without slipping into arrogance, has been The Leftovers‘ greatest strength in these first three episodes this season. If that is maintained for the next seven, these stories intersect, and the powerful moments hit, there’s no doubt this will be one of the best shows of the year. Grade: A

 

Some Other Notes:

  • The jumps from loud drums with Laurie washing her car to the silence of Tommy at the GRs was incredible. Their stories were both immediately invigorated with new life even before we knew all of what was going on.
  • “They believe the world ended,” Laurie tells a potential publisher of the Guilty Remnant. I’m not sure the show has ever quite stated this as point-blank as it was here. That’s more of that confidence showing through.
  • Amy Brenneman did great work last season, but this episode topped all of that and then some.
  • I love the storytelling format season two has taken so far. Focusing on an individual set of characters for each episode has allowed the time to breathe that season one so desperately needed.

By Matt Dougherty

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