After the powerful one-two punch of “Gladys” and “Guest,” “Solace for Tired Feet” is a useful respite, pausing to establish the constellation of conflicts driving the first season of The Leftovers to its conclusion. It’s a measure of just how thoroughly the series has won me over that the episode manages to work through this abundance of plot without slipping into the labored, distracted mode of “Pilot” and “Penguins One, Us Zero.” Indeed, “Solace for Tired Feet” leavens its rather harrowing tale of (seemingly) false prophets with lovely, funny details, like the image of Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) spraying two members of the Guilty Remnant with a garden hose. The Leftovers once strained to be taken seriously, but it now approaches both light and dark with an easy, expansive confidence.
Take tonight’s cold open, which finds the humor in an otherwise unnerving interlude. That rusted-out icebox in the woods is awfully macabre, invoking the memory of a young man who departed on October 14th while locked inside, and the panicky moment Jill (Margaret Qualley) endures after the door handle breaks off is a rare glimpse of the emotions roiling beneath her usually unflappable surface. But just as quickly as the tension builds, it finds release. Kevin Garvey Sr. (Scott Glenn) swoops in to save the day, and Jill delivers her response to a friend’s question (“Who was that?”) so coolly that I couldn’t help but laugh: “My grandpa,” she says flatly, as if it were nothing out of the ordinary. Jill’s grown on me over the course of the season, in part because I’ve come to admire her calmness in the face of what can only be described as a traumatic adolescence, but “Solace for Tired Feet” also begins to suggest that she’s become a much more complicated and mature person than the brat who stole the baby Jesus in “B.J. and the A.C.” She displays kindness toward her grandfather, offering him a sandwich and ordering the issue of National Geographic he seeks, but she also recognizes that he needs to be in treatment. (Her willingness to keep those useless twins around is another matter.)
Jill’s relative stability stands in stark contrast to just about everyone else in “Solace for Tired Feet,” which witnesses each ideological faction in post-Departure society grow increasingly edgy. Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) and his small band of committed Christians stir up trouble with the Guilty Remnant, plastering Mapleton with posters depicting Gladys’s stoic face above the words “SAVE THEM.” (GR responds in kind by scrawling “DON’T” in scarlet ink on the posters and staging a protest that shuts down Main Street.) Tom (Chris Zylka) discovers that Christine (Annie Q) is not the only woman Holy Wayne (Paterson Joseph) impregnated, reinforcing the impression that he’s merely a charismatic fraud. “Nothing can hurt the baby,” Christine says enigmatically. “He’s the one. The only one. He’s the bridge.” Given that Wayne’s stripped to his underwear in a narrow, empty cellar, disoriented and desperate for money, it’s unclear what the endgame is, but needless to say he appears much diminished from the empathic healer of “Guest.” Was he right to predict his own impending demise?
“Solace for Tired Feet” ultimately offers cold comfort to those in search of an explanation for the Sudden Departure, framing the ostensible “truth-tellers” as the victims of a profound derangement. Watching the elder Kevin Garvey speak to the voices in his head, his gaunt face reflected in a diner window, registered as the heartbreaking consequence of looking for meaning in the meaningless. His faith in the power of the May 1972 issue of National Geographic, the episode suggests, is analogous to Holy Wayne’s dishonesty and Matt’s self-righteousness: Against Jill’s unshowy acts of kindness and her father’s dutiful commitment to family, religious convictions that require hurting others appear silly, and more than a little sad. At least for now, The Leftovers stands with Kevin Jr. (Justin Theroux) in the understanding that no fragment of text, no parable or morality tale, can adequately express the messiness of human endeavor. When the reverend begins to recite from the Bible, Kevin summarizes the central theme of “Solace for Tired Feet” in three words: “Fuck you, Matt.”
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