[If you’ve seen “Off Ramp,” be sure to read Indiewire’s interview with Laurie herself, Amy Brenneman, on the divisive conclusion to Episode 3.]
After two weeks in Texas, it was time to go back north on “The Leftovers.” Laurie (Amy Brenneman), rebelling against the GR after nearly losing her daughter to the cult last year, has traded in her silence for a whole lot of words — a book, in fact. But she’s talking, too, mainly to her son Tommy (Chris Zylka), but also to the GR members he recruits in a secret operation to save souls. As devout as both are to the cause, Laurie’s involvement with the smokers in white again gets her child in trouble, as Tommy is caught, raped and scared to death by Laurie’s former protege, Meg (Liv Tyler).
Yet even with the results of that traumatic experience still to come (I didn’t see Meg use any protection for that intimate encounter), the most harrowing moment of the episode occurred when Susan, a rescued but not-so-rehabilitated GR member, gave into her inner demons and steered her family-filled van into oncoming traffic. The news broke Laurie, who responded emotionally to a book publisher who, to be fair, was asking for it — though he likely would have preferred to read her passion instead of feel it through her fists. This ultimately led to Tommy revealing a secret to the recovering GR members back at their apartment: a secret we’re not sure is real, made up or somewhere in between.
Below we’ve broken up the events of “Off Ramp” into facts, questions and theories to best discuss the most pertinent points of Episode 3. Considering how much we’ve already touched upon, let’s get right to it.
1. Do not mess with Laurie.
If you thought Laurie was a badass in Season 1 — smoking all the time, not giving a shit (except when she did) — the new and improved ex-Mrs. Garvey probably knocked you on your ass. She did exactly that to the crude, unsympathizing book publisher and — while we wouldn’t have recommended burning your only bridge to the book world — it was a rousing representation of this character’s astounding depth. Even in her first present-day episode with, you know, real dialogue, Laurie’s most telling scenes took place in a silent rage. Both the aforementioned freak-out at her book meeting and when she drove right through the GR members after stealing back her laptop showed off everything addictive about Laurie. Tough as nails, cool under pressure, clever in her attacks, Laurie can have her own episode any time she pleases. Bravo, Laurie, and bravo, Ms. Brenneman. (Did we mention we did an Episode 3 post-game interview with her?)
2. “You never really explain why they make you smoke all the time.”
“That’s because it was never explained to me.”
Mystery solved. (But if you want some more background on it, check out this interview with producer/novelist Tom Perrotta. A little taste: “The act of smoking, it could just be, ‘I like to smoke,’ or it could be ‘I want to hurt a person who doesn’t want me to smoke,’ or ‘I’m trying to hurt myself and no longer believe in the future.’ It seemed very rich.”)
3. Tommy needs his stepdad back.
Kevin — who, it should be noted, did not appear in this episode, thus marking the first time Justin Theroux was fully excluded from a full hour of “The Leftovers” — may not be the best dad in the world. He may have too much on his plate to even worry about the fate of his step-son, let alone set him back on track, and Tommy, for his part, may be too far down the rabbit hole to hear reason from a man he once respected. But damn it, they need each other. Their connection was evident in their lack of one during the first season, with Tommy considering calling his father only to back down at the last second far too often, and Kevin constantly tracking the whereabouts of his stepson. They may just bring out the best in one another, and, at the very least, there’s no way Kevin would let Tommy go on undercover recruitment operations at GR headquarters. It’s shocking Laurie is letting him after what happened with Jill last year. That may be just what he needs right now: restrictions. Rules. Order. And Kevin can certainly provide the first two.
1. Does Laurie believe her son is the new Holy Wayne?
This is where things really get interesting for Laurie, Tommy and the GR. Watching the scene over again, when Laurie gets out of jail and decides to give GR survivors “something,” it appears as though there’s some doubt in her eyes. Whether that pertains to the decision or what that “something” might be is unclear, though Tommy himself has given us plenty of reasons to think he, at least, believes the story he tells to the group is the truth (more on that below). Laurie, though, isn’t exactly like her son. Clearly they’re linked, as what Ms. Brennemen refers to in our interview as “seekers,” but she’s got a better head on her shoulders than her son. Does she believe he has a gift, or does she merely know she needs one?
2. Why did Meg do…that?
And by “that,” yes, I’m talking about having sex with Tommy before throwing him pantsless into the street, dumping gasoline on his head and holding a lighter close enough to his face to prove she doesn’t care if he sparks or survives. Was it an intimidation tactic? Obviously, but there was clearly more going on than just giving an intruder a good fright. Meg knew who he was, but didn’t let him know that until after they’d hooked up. This leads me to believe she wanted to get pregnant with his child, but for what purpose? Psychological torture? A bargaining chip over Laurie through Tommy? That seems to take a lot of “caring” into account, which the GR is not into. Still, they are diabolical, and this would be a Patti-esque move from the person who seems to be her successor.
3. How does Laurie feel about Kevin?
Clearly Laurie misses her daughter — begging just to drive her son to the meeting was almost as moving as her reaching through the sewer grate for her gifted lighter last season — but how does she feel about Kevin? She brought him up to Susan’s husband when explaining why Susan wouldn’t be going back to the GR. Though that didn’t exactly pan out, Laurie’s own explanation felt honest. “You didn’t make her leave. They did,” Laurie said. “She’s not going to leave you again, and she’s not going to go back to them.” Obviously the ex-Mr. and Mrs. Garvey had more issues than just the departure (as shown in Season 1’s “The Garveys at Their Best”), but how and when the two will meet again should prove a fascinating conversation — a real one even, now that Laurie is talking again.
1. Tommy believes in his power.
Okay, so let me explain why I think that not only Tommy’s story about Holy Wayne gifting him his powers actually happened, but that he actually believes he can hug the pain away. For one, he’s clearly still thinking about his former religious icon, considering he fell asleep watching videos of a young Wayne performing online. We never really found out what happened to Wayne before he ended up in the bathroom stall with Kevin, and it seems wholly plausible he would’ve found Tommy and told him what to do with the baby (even if it seems slightly more likely a panicking kid would drop it off at his dad’s house). Yet the most telling piece of evidence toward Tommy’s belief in the story, and thus the story being real, happened last episode when he went to meet Jill at the diner. His sister tried to hug him when he walked in the door, and he refused her, saying he was sick and didn’t want her to catch it. He didn’t appear sick in this episode, when we got a longer look at him, so I’ll bet that was a ruse, and he really was too frightened to use his power.
2. Laurie is about to start playing dirty…
…if she hasn’t already. Whether or not you believe in the new Holy Tommy — or, to be more accurate, that you believe that Laurie and Tommy believe in Holy Tommy — the mother/son duo’s decision to move forward with “giving them something” was not Plan A for a reason. It’s dangerous, questionable and not exactly doctor-approved. But that’s what “Off Ramp” was all about: showing Laurie trying to do things the right way, failing and being forced to take more drastic measures for the larger good. Her traditional tactics as a therapist fell apart when Susan changed lanes. She had done everything “right” for her, and it just wasn’t enough. Will a new prophet save the day? No matter the outcome, this doc is playing with fire — and she knows it.
3. The government will be a bigger threat to Tommy than the GR.
While Holy Wayne technically only got got because he was using underage Asian women as conduits to recharge his holy battery, Tommy shouldn’t consider himself safe from the long arm of the law just yet. Let’s not forget: He’s a murderer; a cop killer, in fact. Whether or not he’s a wanted man remains to be proven, as last year he was certainly staying under the radar, but there was no real proof of his involvement with Holy Wayne. Maybe he could’ve slipped under the radar had he just kept to himself, but now he’s about to attract a massive following. He and Laurie have basically started their own religion, and in a time when anyone preaching salvation is under even more scrutiny than before, you better believe the FBI will be keeping tabs on Holy Tommy.