‘The Leftovers’ Season 1 Episode 2 Recap: “Penguin One, Us Zero”

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The premiere episode of The Leftovers set up the big mystery and the big characters that the show is going to follow. Now, The Leftovers is ready to narrow its focus and follow this town’s grief and attempts to forge on. For a show with such a huge event at its center, The Leftovers seems like it’s going to spend most of its time with the people of Mapleton rather than trying to solve the supernatural mystery, which is something I can definitely get behind.

“Penguin One, Us Zero” starts with its eye on Holy Wayne, the corrupt guy who “hugs the pain away” from those who are suffering. The police — and FBI — have been tracking him because he preys on underage women, specifically Asian woman, and even more specifically Christine, the young woman that he places an extra emphasis on — as does Tom. Police raid the ranch in search of Wayne but can’t find him. One officer barks questions at a terrified Christine, continuing to yell at her when she doesn’t answer. Suddenly, Tom shoots the officer to save Christine. “Sorry,” he offers as an explanation to the dying cop, “She’s important.” It’s all very ominous.

It’s clear that Christine is Wayne’s favorite, but it’s not yet explained why (I’m trying so hard to forget everything I know from the book while watching this show and I’m a little envious of those going in fresh). What is also important to note is the later conversation Tom and Wayne have; Tom refuses to let Wayne take his pain away even though he’s obviously suffering And Wayne can’t figure him out but he sends Christine with him anyway.

Elsewhere, Jill and Aimee spot Nora Durst in a cafe and notice that she has a gun in her purse (and “not some bullshit lady gun” either). They speculate on what she needs it for, like maybe she holds up liquor stores just to feel alive again. That’s a common theme: The town of Mapleton is a town of metaphorically dead people, all who had something die inside of them when the Sudden Departure happened, and now they’re trying to find ways to keep going and feeling. Nora doesn’t take it out on liquor stores but instead her desperation is quieter than robberies. She finds thrills in smaller things, like knocking over and smashing a coffee cup to see how the barista will react — he’s annoyed until he realizes who she is. Nora is someone who elicits sympathy from everyone who sees her and it has to be getting old. The girls decide to follow Nora because they’re curious about her but don’t get much insight.

However, we get some more information about Nora. She goes around doing interviews for departure benefits — the government gives benefits to survivors who have lost loved ones in the Sudden Departure — and grills a couple on their departed son, asking increasingly invasive questions and prying for information as they uncomfortably answer. Why she’s doing this is unclear. If it’s her job, it’s a hell of a job to have in her shoes. Maybe she’s trying to find her own answers through other people’s sadness.

Over at the Guilty Remnant compound, Meg is having a hard time adjusting to her new surroundings. There are tasks the members have to go through in order to join and Laurie watches as Meg struggles to chop down a large tree with an axe. She’s getting more and more frustrated, unable to make a dent in the bark, and eventually, angrily, storms away.

A short white later, Kevin pays another visit to the compound — this time as a police officer, not as a drunk, angry, and estranged husband — to follow up on some missing people reports. He does this routinely. Meg’s fiancé (or ex-fiancé, I suppose) filed a missing persons report and Kevin correctly assumes that she has joined the G.R. He questions her to make sure that she’s OK and that she’s there of her own free will. He gives her his card, just in case, and she hesitantly takes it — much to the disapproval of the G.R. leader who thinks Meg is going to bail. Also, later, Laurie tells (writes) Meg that Kevin is her husband. “Hot cop? And you’re here?” Meg responds, asking the second-biggest question of The Leftovers: How can you leave Justin Theroux?

Kevin’s still having loads of trouble, too. He continues to call Tom who continues to ignore his calls. He’s being forced to see a therapist because of last week’s incident with the dead dogs. There was a quick question as to whether or not the mystery man is real or not, but that question seems to be answered at the end of the hour when Jill and Aimee arrive home, swiping beer from the mystery man at the door. He’s trying to recruit Kevin to go kill more dogs. If there’s anything in The Leftovers that isn’t selling me, it’s the animal violence. I understand why it’s there — “They’re not our dogs. Not anymore.” is a running theme — and I now it’s supposed to be upsetting but it’s just so sad.

Then there is Kevin’s father. We know that something happened, presumably something snapped in his brain while dealing with the Sudden Departure, but who knows what it is? I’m not sure what we’re supposed to take away from this side plot (their scene together was interesting, to say the least) so I want to see where it goes in future weeks.