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Gladys and the Guilty Remnant's Gospel

Silence makes people speak, as I pointed out last week—but it also conceals. So it has been in the universe of The Leftovers, in which the town of Mapleton (and we) have got to be wondering: is the continued silence from God/the universe about where their loved ones went a way to make them cry out, or is it concealing something? And if it's concealing something, what is that thing? Is it God refusing to tell them why they are still there? Is it God refusing to tell them what happened? Is it some other odd, weird, supernatural disappearance in which the perpetrators aren't talking?

Or is it concealing the fact that there is no reason at all, and nobody's listening?

At the beginning of this episode, Gladys—a member of the GR—is spirited away, duct-taped to a tree, and stoned by mysterious dark figures. The blood stains her white garments. Those stones forcing her to break her silence and plead for mercy, which never comes.

That death shocks the GR (although the townspeople seem considerably less shocked), including Laurie, who reacts so violently that she has a panic attack and winds up in the hospital. In response, Patti takes her to a motel, and then, to breakfast—in normal clothes, and with talking. Laurie can't break her silence, but she listens. Patti tells her that Gladys had a similar experience a year ago, that she was beginning to buckle. And then she ominously warns Laurie—more on that in a moment.

Meanwhile, across town, Kevin continues to take the brunt of the universe. Poor guy can't catch a break: everything in his life keeps disappearing and reappearing. It wasn't just that bagel. His family continues to slowly disappear on him, his home security system is kind of impossible to operate, and his shirts went on the mysterious fritz. He's haunted and now actively heckled by the guy who shoots dogs, who keeps popping up everywhere. He can't get the townspeople to agree to a curfew to keep them safe while he's solving the GR's issue.

Most importantly, though, Kevin comes to terms with the fact that Laurie actually did ask for a divorce, and that it probably is going to happen. His anger and deep sorrow nearly propels him over the edge (and I doubt this is the last time). There is something extra painful and echoing in this fresh disappearance, since it is not as if Laurie simply and suddenly disappeared without a trace. Instead, she's slowly slipping away, bit by bit. But he can still see her around. Literally.

But Laurie isn't remaining silent, though she hasn't spoken a word. Gladys's death has cemented her commitment to the GR. And Meg's, too. In a way that is reminiscent of what happened in the early days of the Christian church, Gladys's death has made her a martyr, and that symbol has elevated her to—well, to something. It remains to be seen what.

I think we could say we're seeing a re-enchantment of silence in cinema today. Martin Scorsese has just (finally) begun production on Silence, but there seems to be a lot of exploration of what it would mean to live in a world where God could exist, but appears to be silent most of the time. Fargo, Broadchurch, Calvary, and the list goes on . . . Deists might say he's fallen asleep or walked away after he set the world spinning. Some Christians might say that when God is silent, it means he is saying "not yet," or he is trying to grow us in some way. Christ, of course, called out on the cross for an answer: "Why have you forsaken me?"

Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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Gladys and the Guilty Remnant's Gospel