The Leftovers Review: “Penguin One, Us Zero” (Season 1, Episode 2)

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

Last week’s premiere of The Leftovers left me a little uncertain about whether the series would be able to hold my attention for long. After all, there’s a difference between being miserable and being profound – and the pilot episode, though intriguing, didn’t convince me that showrunner Damon Lindelof and his writing staff have been able to delineate the boundaries between the two. “Penguin One, Us Zero” is a slow, slack hour (certainly not the episode to win over those fans hesitant after last week), and if it’s setting the tone for what The Leftovers is going to be week after week, I’m not sure I’m a fan. There’s too much dreariness and overwrought piano music in place of genuine emotion and character development, and the mysteries Lindelof has put out there could very easily last longer than my patience can stand.

This week, we open with a jarring, overly shaky action sequence (Peter Berg, what happened?), as the FBI storm Wayne’s c0mpound (Wayne, we learn, has been helping people through his inexplicably life-changing hugs, which he can only perform as long as he maintains a harem of underage Asian girls. Naturally.). They attack the main building, killing the male occupants who rush to defend the women. One of the team members catches sight of Christine, whom Wayne previously told Tom Garvey was “special,” and chases her outside. Though Christine raises her hands in surrender, her pursuer seems ready to riddle her with bullets when she can’t tell him where Wayne is. Before he can take action, however, Tom arrives and shoots him from behind. “Sorry, she’s important,” he impresses as the guy bleeds out. They escape to a secret bunker just outside the compound.

Kevin is awakened by his daughter’s friend Aimee, towards whom it appeared he harbored some romantic attraction in the premiere. “You can’t be in here,” he says unconvincingly, but she hushes Kevin and enigmatically tells him, “He wants you to see.” It becomes clear that this is another one of Kevin’s dreams as they walk through a snowy forest. “You have to be quiet or you’ll scare him,” she says. They come across the bald man who killed the dogs with Kevin at the end of the premiere. He’s clutching a sniper rifle and pointing it into a clearing. As Aimee tells him to look, the camera catches view of a figure that doesn’t look entirely human (but the shot is too blurry for me to even hazard a guess as to what it is). The thing runs away, and the bald man fires off a shot. It’s unclear whether or not it’s hit. The bald man turns back and warns Kevin to watch his feet. As Kevin looks down, he sees that both his feet are in a fire. Whether he’s awake or asleep, Kevin’s basically in hell, this tells us.

He wakes up and sees that his neighbor has lit his fence on fire, hence his dream’s odd ending. Apparently, this episode takes place weeks after the first, because there actually is snow on the ground. Angrily, he goes to put it out, confronting the neighbor, an old man who was trying to burn an unwanted possession. “I don’t really want it in the attic,” he explains to Kevin, who shovels snow onto the fire and stalks back over to his house. We next see Kevin in a therapist’s office, where he can’t stop staring at a blow-up penguin. Kids use it for aggression, the therapist explains. Kevin seems tempted to beat the shrink up with it when he first calls Laurie Kevin’s ex-wife then messes up the details of Kevin’s encounter with “the mystery man” (who didn’t shoot the deer, Kevin stresses). Apparently, police responded to a report of gunshots, only to find Kevin there alone with a lot of dead dogs. This on the same night that he went to the Guilty Remnant’s compound and assaulted one of them. Question: How on Earth does this dude still have his job? Answer: Mandatory therapy sessions with this smarmy git.