Don’t Think in Straight Lines

Great television is more than entertainment. The greatest TV shows of the last 25 years have not simply told great stories, but they have involved us in their telling of the story. They know how to break into our lives – our stories – to get us to invest ourselves and our emotions into the show, into its characters, and into its plot. If we are living in the Golden Age of Television right now, it’s only because of the shows that have gone before it. They have taught us all how to recognize what makes a great show and how writers can use the medium of television as a very powerful way to tell a story.

The greatest shows of the past 25 years are also products of their times. And that’s fine. That’s good. It’s part of what makes the medium of television what it is. Of course the greatest shows will also be timeless, but they are still the most impactful when they aired. Right now, there’s a number of great shows on TV, and they are everywhere. In fact, there’s so many, that it may even be hurting the medium itself right now. We simply can’t watch them all. I mean, I try, but it’s just not feasible. I don’t think I’ve ever turned on the USA Network until this summer’s premier of Mr. Robot. I binged all of Master of None in one day on Netflix. I’m even (for some reason) watching Quantico on ABC just because I liked the premise. And shows like Homeland, for all it’s ups and downs, definitely will be interesting to look back on 10 years from now. These shows are products of the time we are living. That’s true for even a show like FX’s Fargo, which this season takes place in the 70s. It’s a good time to be alive if you have time to watch TV. That’s for sure. There’s so many great shows on TV right now (and yes, there’s plenty of bad ones, too), but perhaps no show has captivated my attention more than the second season of HBO’s The Leftovers.

Season one of The Leftovers was a show that I had a hard time making my mind up about. It was intriguing, but it was also confusing and sometimes simply frustrating. But I couldn’t think of another show like it on TV. And that makes me a fan. Yes, there are definitely some places of overlap between The Leftovers and Lost. We’re dealing with some of the same writers here. So that should be of no surprise.

I didn’t know if The Leftovers was a show that would be able to get renewed. But it did, and I was so glad. I wanted to see where this would all go. Would any answers ever come? Or would we simply get more and more questions?

Well, we got more questions, but in a much more satisfying way. Like Lost and even The Walking Dead, you don’t know where the storyline is going to go the next week, or what characters were going to receive the focus of an episode. Or what characters might die (or “die”). Sometimes this can be frustrating because the plot can basically come to a standstill as the show focuses on one character and their backstory, but that’s what makes the medium of TV great in my opinion, especially for network television shows which have 20+ episodes a season. Maybe some people get frustrated by the lack of plot progress in a show like The Leftovers where there are only 10 episodes, but personally, I love it.

Many great TV shows that have pulled us into their worlds, the shows that have intertwined themselves with our emotions and expectations and hopes, have at least one defining and polarizing experimental episode. Some examples would be the fly episode in the third season of Breaking Bad, the LSD trip of Roger Sterling in the fifth season of Mad Men, the food poisoned induced dream-filled world of Tony Soprano in the season finale of the second season of The Sopranos. These are episodes that are polarizing. These are episodes where the storywriters and directors take some significant risks. It’s one of the reasons I loved every one of those episodes.

The Leftovers itself feels like a polarizing show. I’m not sure what else to compare that to. Perhaps Twin Peaks? I’m not sure. Maybe some of the later seasons of Lost? (I think we can all agree not to like the ending, though). But I’ve never been more interested in a show’s next episode since The Sopranos and the last season of Breaking Bad. 

People love to hate on shows. I used to be an avid reader of the AV Club, but anymore it just seems that the writers hate on the episodes of most of the TV shows. It really confuses me as to why, but it seems to be the thing to do. People loved hating on this summer’s True Detective. It was hard to find any good reviews, except for our own Adam Robinson’s reviews here on Library of Impressions. But it’s so easy to complain about shows and to pick them apart. Sometimes the poor reviews of the shows I watch have been made up for by the incredible comment section of the AV Club. A rare thing these days. But the The Leftovers this season has been filled with mostly negative and cynical reviews and angry annoyed commenters. People “hate watch” the show simply so they can get onto the site to complain about it. So guess what I’ve stopped doing? Reading AV Club reviews. (So I guess I have to just write my own…)

The Leftovers has been a show that has transported us to another world, a world gripped with deep questions as people try to move on and let time try numb out the biggest question of all of them “Where the heck did all those people go?” And as viewers, we’ve been right there with them. We haven’t really been privy to many answers ourselves. We have no idea what is going on. As viewers we think we like to get answers to the big questions that shows like these set up. For instance Twin Peaks’s biggest question of “Who killed Laura Palmer?” We thought we wanted to know the answer until we found out. Once we found out, it was kind of like, “Ok, now what?” I think that was Lost‘s biggest realization. No, we actually don’t want the biggest question answered. Maybe some of the smaller ones, but not the biggest one. As much as we think we do. The best shows seem to know how to deal with ambiguity well. Answering all of our questions actually steals a big part of the joy of a show.

The Leftovers is a show filled with questions. And big ones. And it has kept that tension perfectly this season. It almost never answers any questions, but just creates more and more. And that’s been incredible as a viewer. For some, that is repelling. For me, that is magnetic. I want to see where the story continues to go.

That is why this most recent episode “International Assassin” is it’s riskiest episode to date. It seemingly answers some questions. It answers perhaps one of the biggest ones, “Are there forces/powers/spiritual worlds beyond that which we can see and understand?” The show was clearly dichotomized through Kevin’s experience of dealing with Patti. Is she real? Or is she a figment of his imagination?

As viewers, we were basically challenged with that question ourselves. Do we think there is something, I don’t know, spiritual going on? Or can it be neatly explained through psychology, and treated with medication? This is not an unfamiliar dichotomy – science versus faith – but it is a device where the show itself can reach into our own lives and reveal something about ourselves. What do we want the answer to be? And why?

Well that answer was seemingly answered this week. I say seemingly because I’m always cautious with supposed definite answers, especially in a show like this. There is still the chance that this was a poison induced nightmare where he filled in a dramatic storyline to connect all the dots of those that have been killed over the course of the last season and a half. I have my doubts, but at the same time you can never be too sure in a show like this. It hasn’t given us answers before now, why do we expect this has given us the answers we’ve been looking for?

People actually wrote off Kevin’s character last week. Really? REALLY?! Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead has really caused us to constantly be in fear of a main character dying. But Kevin is THE main character. There’s just no way he was done in the seventh episode of the season.

Now we’ll have to find out if Patti is indeed gone for good? Is the Jeopardy scene her final scene?

The setup for this episode was so good, the last couple episodes especially, that I had been looking forward to it all week. I knew it was going to be one of those polarizing episodes. Probably the quickest a show has done something this polarizing – the eighth episode of its second season. But I like that. We’ve been a part of this world for a while now. We want to get some handholds as to what the heck is going on. What better way to answer that sentiment with an episode where you basically are asking yourself, “What the heck is going on?” throughout the entire thing?

This is the first time I’ve ever turned off Sunday Night Football to watch a TV show. I didn’t want to wait until later. I wanted to watch it right away. And I was glued to the TV. And despite all the haters, I think this will be one of this show’s defining memorable episodes, like those others I mentioned above from some of the best televisions shows ever to air in the past 25 years. I think The Leftovers is a big part of “The Golden Age of Television” right now. People roll their eyes at the various esoteric nods to literature (Dante’s Inferno), movies (the explicit reference to The Godfather), philosophers (Epictetus), and the visual (the guilty remnant’s white attire) and audio devices (dramatic Beethoven segments surrounding scenes of violence) borrowed from cult classics like Clockwork Orange. And that’s not to mention the nods this episode and show give to the heritage of great TV that has come before it.

People scoff at stuff like this, but I think it’s great. What, would you rather watch The Big Bang Theory? Or The Blacklist? Really? If so, stop complaining about this show. It’s not for you.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment with shows like The Leftovers for me, is that their seasons are usually only ten or so episodes long. Eight, in the case of True Detective (for better or worse). Only two more episodes left in this second season. We’ve been shown a glimpse that things are not going to get any better for Kevin. That handprint is going to have dire consequences it seems. At least we still (thankfully) have the huge nagging question of “Where did the departed go?” still looming. And it now includes those girls. They weren’t in the purgatory in-between alternate world that Kevin was in. So…what does that mean?

I’m curious to see which questions will be answered and which ones will continue to go unanswered. Most likely, we’ll end up with more questions than we had before. But we have to remember as Virgil said to not think in straight lines.

This post was originally written for Library of Impressions

How will we respond to Syrian Refugees?

Our words matter. Our opinions matter. Our response matters.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46

Long Exposure

“Writing about the Christian life . . . is like trying to paint a picture of a bird in flight. The very nature of a subject in which everything is always in motion and the context is constantly changing — rhythm of wings, sun-tinted feathers, drift of clouds (and much more) — precludes precision. Which is why definitions and explanations for the most part miss the very thing that we are interested in. Stories and metaphors, poetry and prayer, and leisurely conversation are much more congenial to the subject, a conversation that necessarily also includes the Other.”

– Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

I came across this quote this morning while reading the most recent post on 

I really like what Chaplain Mike said later in the post:

Jesus did not make God known by giving his disciples a “body of knowledge” from which they could formulate doctrines. He did it partly by teaching, yes, but that teaching was the farthest thing from academic.

  • It was not “doctrinal,” but incorporated fully into daily life, experience, ministry — more like apprenticeship than classroom, more like field training than book study.
  • It was told “slant” — in ways that prompted curiosity, imagination, questions, even befuddlement and resistance in those who were privileged to receive it, not in easy to learn propositional summaries.
  • It was relational, the kind of “knowing” that is shared between persons, which cannot ever be systematized, despite our many efforts to produce “how to” books about such bonds as marriage, parenting, or friendship.

One commenter agreed, saying, “We need cool heads and warm hearts. Study tends to overheat the brain. It leads to hot heads and cold hearts.”


Under the Big Blue Sky

[This review of Rectify Season 3: Episode 1 originally appeared at]

“The best show nobody’s watching” kicked off its third season this past Thursday on the Sundance Channel. I have been a faithful fan of the show since I first heard the first promo for it. There’s so much I love about the show – though it’s like being in high school and knowing all about an indie band that no one else has ever heard of. I don’t know many people who have seen the show, or are fans of it, but those who have, love it. And there is a kind of instant camaraderie that comes from finding someone else who watches the show, like finding that one other person who has heard of that obscure indie band you like.

I’ve always been a person who appreciates a good plot, but for a show to really stand out, I want to see deep characters and well-written, consistent character development. I want to know how they think and why they think it. Usually that means a slower paced show, but TV lends itself for that. It allows for a deeper connection to the characters, if the writers and actors are able to pull it off. No TV show that I can think of has really mastered the character development while still maintaining an interesting plotline as well as Rectify has. It also helps when you have a cast that really knows how to act and writers who can make awkward scenes and dialogue feel very real.

In “Hurrah,” season three picked up right where season two left off. And for a show that has one of the slowest timeline advances of any show (besides 24, I suppose) they really cut right to the chase. Daniel signed a confession and Ted Jr.’s decision to press charges against Daniel came just moments too late. It works out, though, because as Ted Jr. said, he didn’t really want to press charges in the first place.


As soon as I saw Ted Jr. at the vending machine I just knew whatever he was buying would get stuck. Of course it would. That’s just Teddy’s luck, isn’t it? At the same time the scene really kind of fell flat for me. It was the weakest of all the scenes of this week’s episode. What, has Teddy never had anything get stuck in a vending machine before? I get it. Teddy has bad luck, and the sheriff does something he probably shouldn’t do. But it just didn’t really work for me.

The best part of the scene was when Sheriff Daggett mentions that Daniel will have thirty days “to get his affairs in order” and Teddy is shocked by the wording and exclaims, “affairs?!” – clearly thinking about Tawney.

The scene at the dinner table and the conversation between Teddy and Daniel afterwards really seemed to be the focal point of the episode. That scene was Rectify at its best, really. The pacing was about as slow as anyone can handle. The dialogue and overall feel of the scene was tense and awkward. The way that the whole scene was visually framed just off center seemed to be a good visual metaphor for what was going on. Then Teddy shows up unexpectedly, slowly proceeding through the uneasy darkness of the room to join the Daniel, Ted, and Janet while they’re having dinner.

The dialogue between Teddy and Daniel was great. Don’t you love how Aden Young handle’s Daniel’s responses to Teddy? Anytime that Daniel and Ted Jr. have interactions with each other, I generally think it’s the best part of the show. Both actors encapsulate their characters so well you can’t help but fall in love with the show, no matter how uncomfortable the dialogue may be.

I also love the set up surrounding the details about the BBQ place, Willy D’s. Janet specifically got this meal because it was one of Daniel’s favorite places. She told this to Ted Sr. before dinner, and even though he knew it was not true he didn’t say anything to Janet. Surprise, surprise. He probably figured it wouldn’t really be much good to upset Janet, and that it wasn’t really information that she needed to know. It was best to just let her think that she was doing something especially thoughtful for Daniel.

Daniel handles the situation in the most Daniel way possible when she tells him that she got this food for him because it was one of his favorite places to eat. “Maybe so. I just don’t remember.” That kind of response sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Is it a foreshadowing of Daniel’s innocence of the crime that he’s just confessed to? Maybe I’m just reading too deeply into this scene.

But when Teddy shows up and gets excited that they are eating Willy D’s BBQ it adds that twist we weren’t exactly expecting, and it really makes us look a bit differently at Janet. Then later she rightfully gets upset at Ted Sr. for not telling her and letting her believe that it was one of Daniel’s favorite places. It was a neat moment in the show to see Teddy’s response and the boy-like cheeriness that was brought into the scene at the memory of going to Willy D’s for the first time, yet at the same time it makes you cringe because of Janet’s mistake. That story carried a lot of weight with it in how we are to view Janet and her feelings for Daniel and of Teddy. And it even snuck in some rare feelings of empathy for Teddy.

I love the scenes between Teddy and Daniel – and the scene after dinner is no exception. The way Daniel talks – is it honest to a fault? Is it a sneaky way of being patronizing towards Teddy? Is it just a lack of social aptitude because of his 18 or so years in prison? Perhaps is it a mixture of all three? I honestly don’t know.

Ted Jr.’s accusations usually seem a bit stretched. Though I’ve always found his suspicions generally warranted and pretty understandable for someone who doesn’t really know what’s going on with his wife, and who has had coffee grounds poured down the back of his pants by a man who just moments before was baptized in a Christian ceremony. Teddy has built up a narrative of what has happened, though. And this narrative is full of projections and conjectures that’s he’s formed over the weeks that Daniel has been out of jail. He’s heard the confessions of his wife saying that she had inappropriate feelings for Daniel. He’s seen how Daniel acts around and looks at Tawney. Mix that with his own insecurities, especially about his masculinity, and I think the accusations just make sense, and they’re reasonably well thought out.

Side note: I find it fascinating that being choked out and having coffee grounds poured down the back of your pants is almost as shameful for Teddy as if he were raped or something. The way he’s reacted has always seemed a bit disproportionate with the offense. Which could be why those that he’s told assume that it was more than just coffee grounds down the pants. (But don’t suggest that! He get’s really upset when that happens.) He must be VERY insecure about his masculinity. He feels he is constantly having to prove himself to his wife, who has rejected him sexually a number of times (many men’s worst nightmare) and to his father, who just doesn’t seem to think he can be a successful businessman of his own right. And then there’s Janet, who clearly doesn’t really see him as her son, although now she seems to regret that. (“I wish I hadn’t asked you to call me Janet.”)

Daniel doesn’t help dissuade Teddy’s narrative or projections. Daniel really doesn’t stick up for himself beyond, “No…that’s impossible.” The narrative that Teddy has built up continues to be strengthened because Daniel really seems to allow for himself to take the blame for things that he isn’t truly guilty of. Maybe to a fault.

At the same time, we do know that Daniel has feelings for Tawney. He isn’t just an innocent friend. He has feelings for Tawney, and Tawney has had feelings for Daniel. This isn’t simply an innocent friendship. And Ted Jr. has picked up on that and amplified and projected all of his insecurities into the situation.

The scene of the jail workers prepping Daniel for execution wasn’t a flashback, but rather a fantasy. That’s something I don’t think we’ve experienced in this show as of yet. And this fantasy had some great underlying emotions attached with it. Was it anger? Grief? I’m not really sure exactly what it was – but it was good. This isn’t a memory like in the scenes of the jail that we’ve seen before. This was more of a projection of how he is feeling right now. His punishment was the result of his confession of the crime – and that punishment was the killing off of his life from the rest of his family. Perhaps most significantly to his mother, who seems desperate to believe that Daniel is indeed innocent.

Daniel’s scene in the park continues to show his ineptitude in social interactions. This time amplified because it’s a mother with her child at a merry-go-round. (Do they still have those? I haven’t seen one for years…) Daniel is a gentle giant in many ways, but boy is he awkward. But this show can pull off awkward like few shows can, and that’s almost purely due to both the writing of Daniel’s character and Aden Young’s ability to pull it off in such a remarkable way.

I kept figuring since this is such a small town the young mom would be able to connect the dots about who this creepy over-sharing dude was and figure out that this was that killer that was released from prison just weeks ago. But no, she was very patient and kind in her interaction with Daniel and instead of scampering off with her daughter in fear (which I think most shows would do) Daniel is the one who eventually walks away. I loved that scene.

There was a glimmer of hope that maybe Teddy would become a decent man, and be willing to do whatever it took to reconcile with his wife. But…of course not. He’s too stubborn and insecure (although Tawney really did try to phrase things the best she could for him to consider therapy of some kind).


Also, Teddy only admitted earlier to Janet that he and Tawney were having marital issues out of necessity. She was standing on his front doorstep asking where Tawney was. So add that to the shame wagon that Teddy is carting around with him all the time. But when Tawney told him that Beth, the woman whom she has found refuge with during this time (btw, why did Tawney tell Teddy where she was?!), has had two miscarriages of her own, Teddy responded with a cold “Good for her!” It’s such a despicable response that even Tawney failed to believe her ears. “What?!”

So much for any hopes of therapy or reconciliation. At least for now.

And then there’s Amantha. She needs to make a decision. Should she stay in Paulie? Should she take a managerial position at Thrifty Town?


She seems so lost. What is she going to do? She devoted herself to her brother and his case and now she feels betrayed by him that he took the plea deal. But, at the end of the day, when Daniel says needs a place to sleep, she says “of course” he can stay with her.

Amantha seems so downtrodden now. She was a fiery defender of Daniel. Her devotion to Daniel, and by association her own family and name, has waned a bit since he’s gotten out of jail. That was her entire purpose of living for years it seems, and then he got out, and now she’s sort of aimless. She’s also frustrated and angry with Daniel that after all that she has done for him to get him out of jail, he takes the easy route and says he “did the deed.” She gave her life to clear his name based on the belief that he didn’t do it. But the fact that he admitted he did it, even if only to stay out of prison, I think nags at that deep feeling of doubt that everyone is carrying with them – Did he do it?

Perhaps we’ll find out for sure this season whether he “did the deed.” We the viewers know a lot about the characters in this show, but at the end of the day we don’t really know if Daniel did the crime that he confessed to. (Although I am still haunted by that scene where he chokes that rag-doll in his bedroom.) And honestly, we don’t even know if Daniel knows if he did it or not. How much longer can this show carry that tension so successfully? Is there a breaking point? I guess we’ll find out together.

Stray Thoughts:

  • In AV Club fashion I thought I’d include some meandering thoughts or observations I had while I watched.
  • It’s come to be that I’m shocked when Amantha isn’t smoking during a scene. She’s got to have lung cancer by now, right? Someone should count how many cigarettes she’s smoked since season one. I know people did that for alcoholic drinks andMad Men.
  • The last scene with Senator Foulkes was definitely interesting. Is it a way for the show to point to an overarching sense of “justice will prevail”? When I was watching this with my wife she noted that many people fear a stroke over death itself, and interesting contrast to Daniel’s fantasy of his own execution.
  • Am I wrong about my reaction to the whole Twix getting stuck thing? I mean, they have vending machines at their tire store. Surely this is not an uncommon occurrence. I’m pretty sure Teddy would know how to get the Twix unstuck “due to its ridges” or whatever.
  • Am I the only one who thinks that Amantha’s (ex?)boyfriend/Daniel’s (ex?)lawyer constantly looks like an extremely exhausted Mark Ruffalo?
  • I didn’t talk about anything related to Jared in this review, but something tells me there will be plenty of opportunity later this season, even though his appearances up to this point have been quite sparse.
  • I didn’t mention anything about the DA, but it seems clear to me that she’s very conflicted about this whole thing. She doesn’t seem to believe that this case is closed. And Senator Faulkes can see it, and he suggests that she not go down any of the paths of doubt. The whole dead body and the details surrounding the stuff being dug up at the river just goes to show that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than is apparent right now. We already somewhat knew that because of very short snippets of scenes that has made us aware, but it seems that maybe those storylines will finally be developed this season. And I’m looking forward to finally putting some of those puzzle pieces together.