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The Leftovers: Penguin One, Us Zero

Kevin looks for his missing bagel
"The old world is gone."

"Penguin One, Us Zero" didn't break a lot of new narrative ground. Instead, it continued to echo the overarching theme of the pilot, which was the impossibility of "moving on" from October 14. "Everybody's ready to feel better", quoth the mayor, but no one seems to know how. All they know is that ceremonies of old such as parades, teenage house parties, and weddings don't seem remotely capable of healing the collective open wound. It feels almost reasonable to try new potential remedies such as getting branded with a fork, hunting feral dogs, or joining a cult, because you never know until you try, right?

So instead of "moving on", i.e. moving back to a "normal", pre-10/14 way of life, the characters continue drifting even further away from the familiar territory of their lives. Tom's relatively cushy gig of being a chauffeur and flirting with cute girls by a swimming pool is now behind him, as he's become a murderer on the run. He's progressed from screaming underwater to screaming profanities behind the wheel of a getaway car that won't even start. The days of hesitant phone tag with his father are in the dust along with his broken phone. (If he's anything like me, chances are he doesn't even know his father's phone number, so good luck calling in the cavalry from a pay phone.)

Meanwhile, Kevin is following the lead of everyone around him by starting to seriously entertain the possibility that he's losing his shit. His confirmation that his M.I.A. bagel was neither raptured nor a figment of his imagination would be a more convincing argument in favor of his sanity if it hadn't required a late-night trip to the police station while armed with power tools. To borrow another quote from the mayor: that's something crazy people do.

Laurie holds up a message: Not a cult
Laurie teaching Meg the first rule of cults
As for Meg, well, she's down one fiancée, up a few blisters (seriously, Meg, buy a pair of gloves! It's freezing outside!), and seems open to picking up a smoking habit. I hear cigarettes pair nicely with Kool-Aid. Only Jill seems to have avoided crossing any personal Rubicons so far. I credit her friendship with Aimee. Don't listen to the twins; Aimee is a great influence on Jill, as she's easily the most stable character around. She's certainly the only one having anything resembling fun.

Wayne opens his arms to Tom
"Come on in."
We learned a bit more about Wayne and his cult, but I'm hoping we'll get even more of that backstory in future episodes. It's not quite enough to explain that he can "hug the pain" away, when the closest we come to seeing his mysterious power in action is a deeply squicky scene of a near-hugging from Tom's point of view (luckily Tom talked his way out of it, losing only his flannel shirt in the process). And Tom, however much of a true believer he may have been in the past (he's basically Renfield to Wayne's Dracula), clearly has his doubts. The result is that the audience still sees Wayne through that same doubtful lens, and it prevents us from fully comprehending what brought people like Tom and Christine into Wayne's orbit in the beginning. I would not complain at all if we got a Lost-esque episode focusing on the cult's origin story.

This episode's MVP was Liv Tyler, who convincingly conveyed the depth of pain and desperation that might lead an otherwise sane person to give up everything and join the Guilty Remnant. She nailed the final tree-chopping scene, by turns determined, elated, angry, and anguished, all in the course of 10 seconds.

Bits & Pieces:

— The timeline between the pilot and this episode is a bit of a head-scratcher. The riot, which happened the same day that Meg joined the cult and Kevin shot the dogs, took place on a bright summer day with nary a hint of fall color in the trees. In this episode, Meg mentions that she's been with the cult "for weeks", but the streets are lined with 5-foot-high snow banks. On the other hand, characters discuss Kevin's dog-hunting encounter with the "mystery man" as if it just happened. Maybe time moves differently after the rapture?

— Speaking of the mystery man, I loved the unsettling scene in which he showed up with a six-pack on Kevin's doorstep, much to Kevin's befuddlement. Throw in a few off-kilter camera angles, and the scene would have felt right at home in Twin Peaks.

— Along with his superhuman hugging abilities, Wayne has some otherworldly hand strength if he can snap a smartphone in half like it's a piece of spaghetti.

— Laurie's "I remember" response to Meg randomly reminded me of Station Eleven's "I remember damage". I had to look up the rest of the quote, which does seem like something a GR member might (not) say: "I remember damage. And escape. Then...adrift in a stranger's galaxy for a long time. But I'm safe now. I found it again. My home."


Twin 1: "I'm a man; why would I have hand cream?"
Aimee: "You're a man?!"

Meg: "You guys are running a pretty shitty cult if you can't even join."

Kevin: "They're not our dogs — not anymore."

Meg: "I don't want to feel this way anymore." (every other character: "Ditto.")

All in all, this was a solid, world-expanding, character-connecting episode (well hello, Kevin's dad/the Mayor's sweetheart). I'm enjoying the restrained storytelling, such as the short opening scene with a couple of office-bound feds casually, almost gleefully, deciding to order the violent raid of Wayne's compound. No exposition was needed to make it clear that this was routine for them; one wonders just how many cults had sprung up, and been busted, in the wake of 10/14.

Three out of four burned bagels,


P.S. It's impossible not to mention how eerie it is to be starting this show in 2024, with the Covid-19 pandemic still making headlines, even if we've mostly shelved our KN95s. I get the sense that a good number of people were turned off by the darkness and nihilism when "The Leftovers" was originally released. I'm not sure how I would have felt about it back in 2014, but in 2024? Yeah, I'll take a lengthy meditation on collective trauma and loss and grief and faith and hope and hopelessness and the desperate desire to "move on". "Everybody's ready to feel better", indeed.


Mothra is looking for a portal to the parallel universe in which "Counterpart" got a third season.


  1. Mothra, welcome to the site and congratulations on posting your first review! Hope you like it here.

    It's been awhile since I watched the series so I probably won't have good comments for you, but you're right about how this series might look different post-covid.

  2. Welcome!
    I really liked this show when I watched it. IDK why I never started with season 2 (I think I watched the first 10 minutes or so).

    The screenshot of Paterson Joseph reminds me of my initial surprise at seeing him in The Leftovers. I was so used to his persona in Peep Show that it took some getting used to seeing him in a drama series. He was great in both.

    1. Thanks, FrankQ! I am still trying to figure out where I've seen that actor before. I'm resisting looking at any IMDB pages for the show's actors lest I be spoiled. I agree that he's terrific, and I look forward to seeing where they go with the character.

  3. Mothra, welcome! I'm so happy you're reviewing this show for us. I might watch along with your reviews of seasons 2 and 3.

  4. I really enjoyed Season 1 and LOVED seasons 2 and 3 so I'm happy these are getting reviewed here!
    I was going to say that Liv Tyler's performance here is sorely underrated but then again, the bench of fantastic performances here is do deep that nearly every one of them is underrated.

  5. Welcome, Mothra! I look forward to reading your coverage of this amazing series. It's probably one of the most powerful, high quality shows I've seen. So I'm glad to see people excited to talk about it.

    And you are right, it's even more freakishly relevant now than it was when it originally aired. It seems as though Damon Lindelof has a knack for making shows like that.


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