Summary: Three years after The Sudden Departure, a day when 2% of the world's population mysteriously vanished, Kevin Garvey has estranged his family. His wife Laurie joined a cult called the Guilty Remnant who dress in white, don't speak and smoke. His son Tommy joined another cult which is led by one Holy Wayne who has mysterious powers. His daughter Jill still lives with him but is a very moody teenager. Kevin is a cop who tries to keep peace in the town, but the job is getting harder and harder as the Guilty Remnant provokes the townspeople. He also follows a mysterious man who is going around the town killing dogs.
The Good: I thought this was an effective pilot. The characters, setting, premise, story and conflict is developed a lot in just one episode and it leaves me curious to see more from this show.
My favourite aspect of the episode was the Garvey family dynamic. Unlike most shows which would probably focus on why the Departure happened and where the people went, this show appears to focus on those who are left behind. In this case, we examine a family which wasn't even affected by the Departure, but one that has fallen apart ever since it happened. It's a unique and original take on this kind of story and has so far made for some compelling television. After watching this episode, I care about the Garvey family.
This leads me to my next point, this show seems to utilize emotion a lot which is what makes it a very compelling show. Even in this pilot episode there were many scenes that engaged my emotions and made me feel something. Specifically the final few scenes with Kevin talking to Laurie (see: Best Moment), Kevin shooting the dogs and Jill looking at the destroyed family picture. It was powerful and sad stuff that left an impact.
Another scene that was really powerful was the park sequence. It opens up with a sad story from Nora Durst who lost her entire family in the Departure. The follow-up appearance from the GR (Guilty Remnant) was also effective in showing us what they have been doing that has riled up the population. The riot that followed was superbly shot and showed us some more powerful scenes with people finally exploding as Kevin predicted and Kevin beating down the people to keep the peace.
The music on this show is also superb. The scenes hit even harder than expected because the music that was being played helped get your emotions out by telling you how to feel while watching the show. This helped develop the tone of the show and let us know this wasn't going to be an easy show to watch (see: The Bad).
I enjoy the subtle storytelling in this episode that rewards viewers who put all of their focus on the show. The deer scenes, Jill grabbing the picture that Kevin destroyed, us learning about the GR, and more were all shown in a subtle way. It's wonderful to see this kind of storytelling as it rewards the dedicated viewers and lets us piece things together ourselves. This also helps us get more immersed in the world of the show, which makes for a better viewing experience overall. Though the vague storytelling may turn off casual viewers, for a critic like me this kind of storytelling gives me more of a reason to watch the show.
The Guilty Remnant has definitely gained my interest after this episode. It's interesting to examine a post-apocalyptic cult and this one seems to be different from any other one I've seen. Seeing "We are living reminders" written on the board where Laurie was brushing her teeth told us everything we needed to know about this group, and the rest of the episode gave us small details of how they work and also showed us their recruiting process as they seem to have earned a new recruit in Meg. Though we still don't know a whole lot about them (see: The Unknown), they have piqued my interest and I want to learn more about them.
The Bad: There are still a few things that need to be ironed out. For one, we don't know the characters well enough to truly care yet. This will probably be fixed later in the season, but just dumping all of these emotional scenes on us can only be so effective when we only know the bare minimum about all of the characters.
I wasn't a fan of the Tommy/Holy Wayne storyline. It had less emotion than the rest of the story and felt very disjointed when compared to the other storylines in the episode. It's a purely mystery storyline and I just don't know enough about the characters, story and conflict to really care about what is happening in that story. I'm interested to learn more about Wayne, but I don't care much about Tommy or Christine yet and I would much rather watch what is happening with Kevin, Laurie and Jill.
I didn't like this shows take on teenagers. It was basic and just showed them as brain-dead idiots which isn't an accurate reflection of what teenagers are. I understand that the world changed after the Departure, but it makes no sense for all teenagers to just go crazy in the way the show is showing them. I also didn't really like Jill's moaning friend Aimee.
A possible problem for this show is the tone. It doesn't bother me but it will most definitely bother some of the viewers. This show comes off as depressing, sad, and melancholy at all times which isn't everybody's cup of tea. As I said, I am fine with it, but it's easy to understand if somebody doesn't like the show for going all in on the feelings of pain, misery and loss.
The Unknown: So many unknowns from this episode. Damon Lindelof seems to be doing an even better job of mystery on this show than with Lost.
The big question of course is what happened with the Departure? Where did everyone go? Why were only those specific people taken away? What caused it? Who caused it? So many questions have risen up from it. However, we probably can't expect an answer for them. This show is about the people who are still here, and if they don't get an answer, then we shouldn't either.
One of the biggest question marks for me was the man shooting the dogs. Who is he? Why is he shooting the dogs? And what did he mean by saying "they're not our dogs?" Does it have something to do with the rumour that dogs went crazy after the Departure?
Why did Kevin start shooting the dogs at the end of the episode? Was it because of the deer? Speaking of the deer, what is with the deer? It seems to symbolize something but I'm not sure what. I hope to figure that out sometime soon.
What happened to Kevin's kitchen? Was it the deer? Or was it him? I ask this because judging by the editing, it seems that Kevin had blanked out for a long while and suddenly woke up at home. Why did that happen? Has he had issues of blanking out before? Is he going crazy like his father before him?
Who was Kevin's father? What happened to him? What was with the flashback of a man running through the city naked?
Who is Holy Wayne? How did he magically make that congressman not feel burdened anymore? How does he have magic powers? What did he mean by saying "the grace period is over?"
Why does Tommy have lash marks on his back? Was it from college or was it Wayne?
Who created the GR? Why do they not speak and smoke? Do they exist outside of Mapleton? Is Patti their leader? How did they pick her as a leader? As Kevin asked, where did they come from? Why did Laurie join them?
Best Moment: Kevin meeting Laurie near the end of the episode was powerful. It was a nice twist to reveal that Laurie didn't depart and that she just left the family. I assumed she departed after hearing the school coach talk to Jill about her mom leaving. It was a surprise to see she left the family and it was clearly not an easy move from her. Kevin yelling at her to come home was powerful and Amy Brenneman was superb at showing how she felt without saying even a single word. Very sad stuff.
Character of the Episode: Hard to pick in this first episode. I would say Kevin since we got to know him better than anyone else in this episode.
Conclusion: This was a brave and unusual pilot episode but I enjoyed it. There was lots of mystery, a powerful tone and mood that most shows don't explore, and a lot of emotion at play, aided by a superb soundtrack. Overall this was very good and definitely worth watching if the tone doesn't drive you away. I am very intrigued by this show and I am eager to see more.