The Leftovers: “Ten Thirteen” Season 2 Episode 9 Review

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Over the course of this masterful season of television, The Leftovers has oh-so-carefully laid its groundwork. Now, as the season nears its end, the show is playing in the world it made. While the writers and actors are clearly enjoying every tease or scenery chewing moment, we the audience are left to sit in horror as the inevitable endgame approaches.

Let’s be clear, “Ten Thirteen” is a big pulpy episode of television. This is a show, like Mad Men and Breaking Bad before it, that once it sets up its board, it has the pieces make big moves. Big things are about to starting happening on The Leftovers, and it all seems to be coming from one source completely out of left field.

Meg’s one appearance earlier this season in the sensational “Off Ramp” indicated that she had started to take the GR thing way more seriously. “Ten Thirteen” opens with Meg having dinner with her mother the day before the Departure. While Meg takes a bathroom break to snort coke, her mother dies just before she could tell her something important.

Fast forward some months later and Meg and her then fiancee are vacationing in Jarden. She has two fateful interactions. The first is with the psychic who’s house John burned down in the season premiere. Meg is there to ask him what her mother wanted to tell her before she died. We get an expertly written monologue on why the answer would never matter nor help before we cut away to her leaving with the answer, but us kept in the dark. Classic Leftovers.

The second is with Evie, who briefly consoles Meg as she cries on a bench. Having not seen Evie since the season’s first episode, the show plants the idea that her disappearance is somehow tied to Meg early in the hour, allowing us to forget about it again before the big reveal at the end. Again, just phenomenal storytelling.

This backstory does more work for Meg than all ten episodes of season one did. It helps that this episode is the best performance of Liv Tyler’s career. As we get into the meat of the episode, we find out Meg is pushing the GRs into terrorism territory. She doesn’t believe the group is going far enough. Remember, all the violence in season one’s finale was not technically caused by the GRs, they just pushed all the right buttons to make it happen. Meg wants to push the button to blow up the bomb, literally. She’s gaining followers, including Tommy, who gets so naively seduced by her on a trip to Jarden.

But not everything quite comes together until Meg has a conversation with Matt just outside the city limits. Here we have two people that have faced enormous struggles outside of the Departure but landed on opposite sides of the coin. For all her suffering, Meg has turned to an evil not unlike many terrorist groups around the globe. Why? “They don’t suffer like the rest of us,” she says. Matt, who could have just as easily ended up with the same viewpoint, sees right through her. This pillar of strength who has overcome so many trials continues to atone for sins he didn’t commit. If Matt is the Jesus Christ of The Leftovers, then Meg is its Lucifer. In a story quite literally of Biblical proportions, there was always going to have to be good and evil presented as plainly as this. What side The Leftovers gives the greater victory to next week, if any, will be fascinating to watch.

The episode ends with Tommy discovering Evie, the newest member of the Guilty Remnant, hidden in a shed on Meg’s secret GR headquarters. Whatever part she has to play yet this season, the show has once again pulled the rug out from under us, giving an answer that only leads to many more questions.

Either way, The Leftovers was on its A-game this week. As this already fantastic season draws to a close, the seemingly random threads are being strung together. Throw in the usual pitch-perfect storytelling techniques and ever-impressive performances, and you’ve got another contender for best episode of the season. It’s going to be a long week. Grade: A

Some Other Notes:

  • After spending some time on Liv Tyler’s IMDB page, the only other thing I’ve really liked her in is Lord of the Rings really. But her work here far trumps that. Hopefully more filmmakers will notice and push her away from her typecast.
  • To go from Meg being consoled and eating baby carrots to her seemingly tossing a grenade onto a school bus was horrifying. Even more impressive was how it felt justified.
  • If there’s one thing that didn’t quite work this week it was how Meg convinced Tommy to go to Texas with her. It more or less felt like the show just wanted to get every character in Jarden for the finale. Most of the scenes worked, obviously, but there was a little too much ambiguity to why he would blindly follow.
  • So I rewatched last week’s episode one night after Thanksgiving festivities. My review gave it a B, which felt wrong after a second viewing. Initially, I thought it was betraying its own premise by leaning toward one answer over the other. What that turned out to be was my own projections of what the answers should be. “International Assassin” has no answers for us other than that Kevin is alive. I was the one pushing for answers, not the writers, and I wasn’t satisfied by what I was pushing. Regardless, if I were to review it again, it would be an A-, only because, despite being beautifully handled, the whole Kevin/Patti thing has very little to do with the season overall. At least yet. Otherwise, that episode is among the best of this legendary sophomore season.

By Matt Dougherty

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