The Leftovers “Penguin One, Us Zero” Review (1×02)

7 Jul

The Leftovers - Episode 1.02 - Penguin One, Us Zero - Promotional Photos (6)

“They’re not our dogs anymore.”

Kevin Garvey, like many other people coping with the Sudden Departure and its implications, just wants some semblance of normalcy. He’d like to be a good cop and a good father, but how do you do that when you’re faced with your own slipping sanity, your idea of what you believe to be right coming into conflict with how everything seems to be? What happens when something as seemingly insignificant as a bagel is indicative of your mental state and ability to function, is magnified just like every little thing in a world that’s experienced a loss small on paper, but huge in reality?

“Penguin One, Us Zero” is a look at a desperate man’s psyche, from the dreams Garvey experiences at the beginning of the episode to his time in therapy to the truck of the Mystery Man in his driveway to the Mystery Man himself showing up at Garvey’s front door. Jill acknowledges the guy, so for now, we’re assuming he’s real, but it’s one more sign for our main character of the fact that he might be losing his mind. If the dogs symbolize society and its collective degeneration into its most rudimentary instincts, then  the Mystery Man’s ubiquitous nature and dog-shooting offer represent Garvey’s mental struggle between 1) simply letting go like his wife has, and 2) taking it upon himself to eliminate the bad eggs in the bunch.

Going off that point, we see throughout this episode that he’s made it his mission to talk to people who’ve followed his wife’s path, hoping to bring them back from the “dark (or white) side”; we see it in his conversation with Meg, someone who’s being asked to “surrender” aspects of her past life in order to move onto the next stage in her Guilty Remnant initiation. The final scene of the episode, in which she chops and chops and chops at the tree (man, these GR folk really have it out for trees, don’t they? Wasting paper, and now this), is reminiscent of the pilot’s closing shot; two moments of conceived catharsis, of aggression, of nearly succumbing to the allure of letting go. The penguin wins out.

Let’s go back to Garvey, though, who’s most certainly the focus of this episode. The cute blow-up penguin in the therapist’s office is mentioned as having to do with aggression, and that’s telling because aggression–or anger, or just pure emotion in general–will oftentimes win out over what we perceive ourselves to be or what we should be. Take Meg’s ex-fiancé, for example, or, whaddya know, Kevin Garvey. You can see the frustration building up inside as the episode progresses, and that’s only exacerbated by the disappearance of the bagels; when he finally finds them, it’s a triumphant and necessary moment for him because it’s something to hold onto, but it’s also sad because it’s an aspect of what little he has left. When he visits his father, it’s a moment that serves to shade in even more of the uncertainty already permeating the environment.

Will Garvey be able to craft his own identity, or will the circumstances do it for him? What will Tom do as he gets pulled closer and closer to Wayne? Will Meg give into what the Guilty Remnant stands for? These questions still stand, but these characters know that as the days drag on, it becomes increasingly difficult to fathom a life as they knew it. The 2% has consumed their lives.



-Just text, Guilty Remnant.

-I kind of wished the bagel mystery would be a recurring segment.

-Jill and Aimee follow Nora Durst, who’s a very interesting presence. Her poking and prodding about the Pattersons’ son brings the government into this, and we’re left wondering whether this is some sick, twisted way to glean information or whether this says more about Nora Durst than it does the government. Does she find some peace in seeing others experience pain? We do know, however, that she has a gun, so dun dun dun…

-The opening credits are alright. HBO rarely has one that’s anything less than good (I’m looking at you, Boardwalk Empire), and while I don’t think this one lives up to the network’s other opening credits, it’s still nicely enough put together.

-This is an episode that’s more straightforward in its storytelling, and as a result, it’s significantly less intriguing for me than the pilot was. I just don’t feel the atmosphere as much here, and it remains to be seen whether Perotta and Lindelof can smooth over the cracks that are starting to form.

-So, mystery girl Christine. I’m not really excited to see how this storyline involving Wayne and Tom plays out, even if I might be a bit intrigued by Wayne. If you want a nuanced portrayal of religion, check out Rectify. If you want cliches, watch here. Of course, these are entirely different shows that portray entirely different situations, so I might just be nitpicking here.

-Hey, a The Wire reference!

-No promises on when exactly the remaining reviews will go up (especially given the difficulty of writing about the show), but they’ll be out by Monday afternoon at the latest. That all depends on whether the pilot of The Strain brings me in for the long haul and whether I want to watch Masters of Sex the night of. Ugh….stupid TV scheduling.

Photo credit: HBO, The Leftovers


7 Responses to “The Leftovers “Penguin One, Us Zero” Review (1×02)”

  1. 13mesh July 7, 2014 at 10:22 am #

    Hey there, good review. I laughed out loud at this “Just text, Guilty Remnant.”, I wonder that too.. why the hell waste papers?!

    I like this episode better than the pilot but you are right it’s less mysterious now. I will still watch it though for my curiousity’s sake.

    I am waiting for The Strains too! Heard good things about it.

    • polarbears16 July 7, 2014 at 11:51 am #

      Yeah, they’re full of questions and contradictions, like smoking even though their message is “Stop wasting your breath”. They seem to have it out for trees, too, what with the whole chopping.

      The Strain looks great, and FX has had very few duds. It’ll be interesting watching Cuse vs. Lindelof on Sunday nights.

      • 13mesh July 7, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

        Agree. They could do better things than chopping down trees to let out their anger.

        Oh I almost forgot Cuse is on board with The Strain, should be good then. Speaking of FX, have you seen Tyrant?

      • amnesiadream75 July 7, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

        I don’t think the “Stop wasting your breath” message is literal. They look down on those who ask questions about the Departure, and who hold out hope for answers. The GR is made up of people who don’t want to go on living in uncertainty, so they retreat into a kind of resigned nihilism.

        They smoke because they don’t care about tomorrow. They figure they’re doomed to a meaningless existence anyway, so why bother? Somebody in the pilot was shown reading The Stranger, which is relevant because to me, the GR’s outlook reeks of Camusian absurdism.They don’t care about wasting resources like trees or paper; they just don’t want to waste their breath asking questions that don’t have answers.

        It’s flawed and selfish and more than a little sad, as all coping mechanisms are. But within that reactionary sense of futility you have a lot of internal conflict, which is where characters like Laurie and Meg come in. I think that out of all the storylines thus far, the GR plotline has the most potential for emotional payoff down the road.

      • polarbears16 July 7, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

        Great points. I don’t think it’s a literal message either, but it’s certainly a bit ironic when you take it that way.

        As for the GR in general, I think they’re all about rejecting what they deem to be meaningless in regard to how the rest of society copes with the Sudden Departure. The memorials and the parades ultimately add up to nothing, but in order to truly allow for the departed’s memories to stick with us, perhaps the GR needs to do what it does to prevent people from moving on.

        The GR’s current lives may be meaningless, but moving toward death and decay serves a greater purpose for them, maybe to ascend to the level of the 2%, all of whom they deem to be more meaningful than those who’ve stayed.

      • amnesiadream75 July 7, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

        I don’t know that they’re looking for any kind of transcendence through death. I think we still don’t know nearly enough about their philosophy or their ‘game plan’ or whatever. If you check out their website (, you’ll see that their plan is to “build a New World, together.” But that’s more vague and unsatisfying than anything I ever saw on LOST, so I’m not really sure what their long-term goal is yet.

  2. Pop Eye July 7, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

    Great review, PB! Like Mesh, I enjoyed this episode more than the pilot. In my case because it was so Kevin Garvey-centric. I could watch an entire show just about this guy dealing with the Sudden Departure and his own issues. The other plot strands still don’t do much for me, though. Furthermore I’m wondering about this show’s multi-season plans; its central idea seems like a wonderful premise for a miniseries (or even just a feature film), but I doubt if it will be sustainable beyond that.

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