Who needs a hug?
Tom Garvey needs a huge hug. He’s had a rough stretch, going all the way back to season 1. He dropped out of college after the Departure, and he’s a searcher, someone looking for meaning and something to believe in. He found it briefly — or thought he found it — in Holy Wayne. But that only led him on a cross-country jaunt with the pregnant Christine, who abandoned Tom and her baby as soon as she realized that she wasn’t truly chosen by Wayne in the way she had hoped. Tom arranged for the orphan baby to be discovered at his dad’s house, and though he checked in with Jill in episode 2, the last we really saw of him was reuniting with his mother, Laurie, after the Guilty Remnant fire.
Tom is still looking for answers, and his first scenes in “Off Ramp” were mildly discomforting because they place him in the white uniforms of the Guilty Remnant. The GR may have been driven out of Mapleton, N.Y., but they are still doing their work. But Tom hasn’t drank the Kool-Aid (yet). He targets a GR named Susan who seems uncertain about her new life in white and lures her off campus to a group-therapy meeting — run by Laurie.
Recall that Laurie was a therapist in her former life, and now she and Tom are pairing up to undermine the GR from the inside-out. He recruits wavering GRs, and she counsels them to return to their families and previous lives. “If you let me, I will help you come back [to society],” she promises Susan.
But the strain on Tom is showing. Even Laurie recognizes it and suggests he take some time off from his latest undercover work to get back to his normal self. She knows first-hand that the cult can mess with one’s mind, but she might not realize just how susceptible her son is. He’s drinking heavily in his few idle hours and watching video of Holy Wayne’s hugging spiel. “Do you ever miss it…?” he asks his mother. “The quiet.”
Laurie is putting her life back together the only way she knows how. But she didn’t walk away from the GR fire unscathed. The episode opens with her washing her car and a Whiplash-like jazz-drum score. She’s talking again, and counseling her small recovery group of former GRs. But her motives aren’t entirely altruistic, even if her intentions are good. She’s writing a highly critical book about her cult experience, and it almost seems like she’s driven by revenge. When Susan, the newest ex-GR in her support group, suggests that Laurie is angry, she quickly denies it and tries to laugh it off. Hmm. Know thyself, Laurie.
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The GR traces Susan to Laurie’s office — where she and others are living illegally — and they arrive to investigate and possibly retrieve her. Susan is clearly frightened, but Laurie stands up to them, crumpling the mute leader’s notebook message before he can share it with the room. They leave, but Susan’s eye lingers on the crumpled note, and she clearly is perturbed. Before the interruption, one of the other group members discussed her own struggle to re-acclimate to normalcy, engaging with loved ones who have moved on with their lives after the Departure. “Stuff they care about, feels so stupid sometimes…,” she says. “While I’m talking [with my husband at dinner], I’m thinking this is so fake: You’re in someone else’s movie, and you’re just saying lines.”
Her confession generates nods from the sharing circle. The gravitational pull of the GR and their logic has a hold that is hard to shake. Just ask Tom. He’s back in white, working a different GR location, but he’s running on fumes. When he retrieves a new patient for Laurie, Howard the Guy Who Misses His Nice Watch, there’s a dull haze to Tom’s eyes. Laurie had warned him that he was pressing his luck, especially since the GR now knew for sure that Laurie was behind Susan’s disappearance. Tom laughed off the threat of being recognized by the GR at his next assignment, but there’s also the strong possibility that he simply needs to be there, that he’s buying into what they’re selling. As he says later after disaster strikes, “They make sense. They know something.”
Howard’s arrival accompanies a TV news report that a man near Perth, Australia, had emerged from a cave days after dying: a miracle resurrection. Australia certainly is becoming popular on The Leftovers. Last week, Kevin’s dad announced he was heading Down Under to start the world over again, and in the premiere, the wild-haired man living atop the Miracle, Texas, pillar sent a letter to a man in Sydney. Any chance we already know the resurrected man in Australia? Could it be Holy Wayne?
NEXT: Meg has an unusual way of saying hello [pagebreak]
Laurie seems determined to push Susan back to her family, a wealthy husband and adorable son. Susan seems hesitant, and even the husband — though thrilled by her return — is slightly uncomfortable with the pace. A therapist is never supposed to talk about herself, but Laurie’s actions seem driven by her own desires — she wants her family back. Or at least Jill. When she learns that Tom is meeting Jill for brunch, she can’t help herself. She wants to be there, too. When Tom cautions that Jill isn’t ready yet, she makes him promise to give her the letter — the letter that Jill rips up without reading in episode 2.
Laurie and Tom’s recovery operation is flirting with disaster. Tom is increasingly vulnerable after one-too-many extractions, and Laurie’s scumbag landlord evicts them when she can’t meet the increased rent. He dumps their stuff on the sidewalk, but her laptop — which holds the only copy of her manuscript — is missing. Laurie tries to reason with the landlord, but he denies having her computer. Cue more Whiplash jazz as Laurie breaks into his house at night, skills I’m sure she learned from the GR back in the days of Operation M.D. She grabs her Buddha-stickered laptop from the landlord’s a-hole son and takes off. Driving away, she sees two GRs standing in the street at an intersection. Are they following her now or just in the wrong place at the wrong time. She slams the gas pedal and runs the GRs over. They never even flinch.
Time for another car wash. Are we to presume that cleaning the car is part of a ritual that begins with GR blood on Laurie’s fender and windshield? Has she killed before?
Tom’s luck finally runs out. He tried to recruit a frightened-looking GR, but she literally blows the whistle on him. He’s quickly overpowered, handcuffed in the back of a truck, and driven to an undisclosed location. Expecting the absolute worst, he’s met by…Meg. She not only survived the Mapleton riot, she’s climbed the leadership ladder of the cult, filling the void left by Patti’s death and Laurie’s defection. But her wicked ways of retribution are slightly unorthodox. She pulls Tom’s pants down, slides her panties off, and rides him while he’s still handcuffed to the truck. It’s quick and crude and serves a purpose. The deed done, Tom is dragged into the sun and doused with gasoline. For a moment, Meg teases him with her Zippo lighter. She spares him and leaves him in the middle of nowhere with a simple, “Tell your mom Meg says hello.”
Laurie is dropping almost $900 on a new dress for her promising book meeting at the same time that Susan reaches the end of her very short rope. Susan’s back to where she began before the Departure, before the GR: making her kid breakfast, eating at a fancy restaurant, going through the motions as if the world was okay. The words from group therapy seem to echo: “This is so fake: You’re in someone else’s movie, and you’re just saying lines.’”
She finds the note from that the angry GR member scribbled the day he found her at Laurie’s: “Any day now.”
So the next time she’s driving the family in traffic, with her husband jabbering on his cell and her son tuned out on his iPad, she calmly closes her eyes and steers into oncoming traffic.
Laurie learns of the tragedy just as she’s invited to meet an enthusiastic publisher. It rattles her, but she’s not about to let anything get in the way of her imminent triumph. She even turns off her phone when it buzzes again during their meeting. The room loves her book and just wants more of it, especially more about how she feels about things, how she feels about almost causing her daughter to die in the fire. And like that, she pounces on the publisher, attacking him with malice.
Tom has to bail her out of jail. “They liked my book,” she says before breaking down. The book is dead, Susan is dead, the anti-GR cause is homeless and nearly kaput. “They won’t jump out of the way,” she squeaks, an answer to the question she poses next, “Why are we losing?”
Tom has a clue: “We can strip it away, but once it’s gone, we have nothing to put back in its place.”
Eureka! If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, so to speak. Tom knows the messiah playbook. He’s watched the tapes of Wayne in action, and when he and his mother reconvene with the group, they unveil Holy Tom 1.0. He performs Wayne’s act, claims he was presented with those same powers by the martyr himself and that he can no longer hold back while people are in pain. “I’ve been afraid to use it,” he tells the mesmerized group. “I’ve been afraid of what it would become, but I can’t let you hurt anymore. I can’t be afraid anymore. So…who wants a hug?”
He’s a fraud, right? But he might have a purpose now. Where to next, Laurie and Tom: Texas or Australia? And if Meg’s plan involves a pregnancy, what is to become of Tom’s unborn child?