Earlier this season on HBO’s The Leftovers, Damon Lindelof and company concluded an episode (technically two) on a massive cliffhanger, only to take a left turn the following week, so it’s not the biggest surprise they would take a similar path once again with “Ten Thirteen.” Compared to the completely unpredictable territory of last week’s “International Assassin,” which saw Kevin go to the black lodge and back, the latest episode feels like a depressing comedown from an exhilarating high but still sets the pieces in place for a stunning finale.
Going back to the day before the departure, Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel’s activity-appropriate “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” cold opens the episode along with some cocaine lines courtesy of Jordan Belfort Meg. She joins her somewhat overbearing mother for lunch, only to leave again quickly for another bump. “Ten Thirteen” sets itself up to have Meg’s mother depart on the following day once it mentions the date — 10/13. Cleverly, it diverts when she dies of natural causes the day before. This sets Meg on the path that led her to the Guilty Remnant in Season One. Exploring the different ways people handle a personal crisis of faith has been one of the most interesting aspects of The Leftovers, with “Ten Thirteen” displaying Meg’s unique path. She is robbed of her suffering and grief when everyone else loses someone, eventually finding her semblance of purpose and catharsis in the Guilty Remnant.
The Garveys and Jamisons aren’t the first Mapleton residents to make their way to Jarden, as the flashback narrative of “Ten Thirteen” sends Meg and her former fiancée to Miracle in search of spiritual healing well before the events of even Season One. Meg doesn’t find what she’s looking for, but a key connection is made. Evie appears in the flashback, offering a baby carrot to a crying Meg. This act will have greater significance by the episode’s end and deserves revisiting upon Tom’s eventual last-minute discovery. There’s a brilliant and seamless cut from the past to the present by director Keith Gordon as Meg gets on a bus out of Jarden and turns a corner to reveal her Guilty Remnant followers blocking the path in Mapleton. Evidenced by Meg leaving a fake grenade on a bus full of children and locking the door, she has gone so rogue in her acts that even the Guilty Remnant leadership thinks she’s taking it too far.
The tale of holy Tom continues in “Ten Thirteen,” revealing how he went missing from Laurie in “A Most Powerful Adversary.” Tired of lying about the “holy” part of his name, Tom raises the question “Who takes the pain away from the person who takes your pain away?” Meg confronts Tom at one of his sessions, telling him she “can do it for real.” The next day Tom drunkenly storms into a Guilty Remnant cell, demanding to see Meg. She coldly teases him upon her arrival, asking “Why don’t you just hug yourself?” By fate or coincidence, Meg is heading to Jarden (where Tom reveals his family has gone) to put forth the latest act of Guilty Remnant quasi-performance art/quasi-terrorism. She laughs unsettlingly at the way this is all coming together, and “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” begins to play once more. In a strange way, Grandmaster Flash’s classic becomes poetic in how it punctuates Meg’s journey.
One of the bright spots about Season Two is how The Leftovers has given each cast member their own episode to shine. Having only appeared in one scene previously this season, there was genuine wonder if that was going to be it for Liv Tyler. Thankfully, Lindelof gives “Ten Thirteen” to the actress, undoubtedly delivering her best work on the show as she offers a compelling mixture of detachment and sorrow throughout. Meg goes through an arc normally designated for multiple seasons in one episode, as the character that gets on the bus in Jarden is completely different from the one that blocks the bus in Mapleton. A transformation has occurred, with Tyler emotionally connecting the past and present. There’s a welcome shock in watching the naturally kind-looking actress coldly talk about using people’s eyes as her personal ashtray. Meg has adopted a few traits from Patti in her leadership, conveyed subtly by Tyler. Consider the fine line in which she walks between affection and calculation in her conversations with Tom. Meg tells him exactly what he needs to hear in order to further her own agenda, but Tyler still manages to provide a sense of authenticity. Last week, we said our goodbyes to Ann Dowd’s Patti, and this week, Tyler shows up ready to carry Dowd’s torch.
The main narrative objective of “Ten Thirteen” was to get the rest of the cast to Jarden, leaving each character in an interesting spot. After a catch-up drink, Matt senses that Meg’s got something up her sleeve. Meanwhile, Tom uncovers the greatest mystery of the season. At the Guilty Remnant compound outside Miracle, he wanders into a building where the cult members are clearly hiding something. Inside is a motor home with the missing Evie and friends, decked out in classic Guilty Remnant all-white. There’s something comical in how Tom doesn’t gasp, not grasping what this could possibly mean since he never knew about Evie. There were a number of ways that The Leftovers could have gone with the eventual reveal of Evie’s fate, but I doubt anybody predicted this. Each week I think we’ve reached the peak jaw-drop moment of the season, only to have my jaw drop further through the floor with each episode.
Lindelof seems to know that a third season is going to be hard to come by. After all, Season Two happened more out of HBO’s refusal to admit defeat than by genuine faith and investment in their show, and the show runners seem intent on a polarizing finale that will no doubt leave a mark. The Leftovers has one more episode to connect multiple plotlines: Kevin’s resurrection, Matt’s Job narrative, whatever Meg has planned for the next day and how Evie and her friends fit into it all. That’s a tall order for a season finale, but with a near-perfect season so far, The Leftovers shows no signs of slowing as it rounds third base.
Dylan Moses Griffin has been a cinephile for as long as he can remember. His favorite film is Taxi Driver, and he reads the works of Roger Ebert like it’s scripture. If you want, he will talk to you for 30 minutes about the chronologically weird/amazing Fast and Furious franchise.