This season of HBO’s The Leftovers is three episodes in and unequivocally great. The taut pain and tightly wound mystery of Season 1 has given way to new characters, and, with new storylines, its existing characters have a chance to spread out a bit. The show skips around its own timeline, a device currently used to great effect on shows like The Affair, How to Get Away With Murder, and Quantico.
The Leftovers has always been a brutal show to watch, with its plotline about the sudden, possibly-rapturous disappearance of 2 percent of the world’s population, and the shattered aftermath and emotional trauma that occurrence leaves behind. But on Sunday’s episode, it proffered up yet another TV rape, this one quiet and methodical and perhaps tantamount to the scene but cruel and deliberate and numbing nonetheless. Hey, showrunners? I’m not the kind of person who needs a trigger warning on anything, and I’m desensitized to a lot, for better for worse. But this shit is tiresome? [SPOILERS BEGIN HERE.]
The scene was remarkable for its explicit nature, and not in the gruesome, gratuitous way American Horror Story depicted its most recent rape. Tommy Garvey (Chris Zylka) has been posing as a member of the Guilty Remnant, working undercover to help fellow cult members escape and get treatment from his mother, Laurie (Amy Brenneman), who’s presumably defected after almost letting her daughter Jill die in a fire. But as we’ve seen, the Guilty Remnant is duplicitous, dangerous, and murderous, so when Tommy is discovered after approaching the wrong GR member, he’s restrained and taken to the middle of the desert in the back of a delivery truck.
As he’s sitting on the floor, his hands zip-tied above his head, the truck door slides open and in walks Meg (Liv Tyler), who has presumably replaced Patti as the leader of the Guilty Remnant. Silently, she strips Tommy of his white pants, his bottom half totally naked in a rare full-frontal stance; then she pulls up her dress, also naked beneath it, and perches on him to commence the rape while he’s still restrained. It lasts only a couple of minutes but it’s still deeply disturbing, moreso after he’s untied, thrown into the road and doused with gasoline by two of her GR henchmen. She fakes that she’s about to set him aflame but lights a cigarette instead, and tells him to tell his mother that “Meg says hi.”
From an artistic standpoint, you could maybe make the case that this development fits into the narrative; clearly, Meg is trying to get back at now-freed Laurie from befriending her and recruiting her into the GR. And obviously, if you’re in the business of telling truths about the darkest and most horrific parts of humanity, rape is part of the tale, and shouldn’t be omitted just for the sake of it. But nor should it be included for those reasons, either. I would have been on the fence about this one, but the tight camera shots on both Tommy and Meg’s genitals seem more like another move by a director to cash in on shock value. Which maybe isn’t triggering so much as it is boring and cliché.
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