There’s a star­ring role for Aus­tralia in rap­ture saga The Leftovers’ lat­est sea­son

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell The Leftovers, Shots Fired,

Re­turn­ing this week for a third and fi­nal sea­son, the work of sev­eral mas­ter sto­ry­tellers, is HBO’s The Leftovers, and if you have never seen it, try dip­ping in just to get a feel of how far TV drama has trav­elled in the past decade. Cre­ated by Da­mon Lin­de­lof, who also gave us Lost, that con­found­ing high con­cept se­ries that raised more ques­tions than it was ever able to an­swer, The Leftovers is an­other show full of com­plex, dense and of­ten frus­trat­ing ideas.

Based on the best­selling novel by Tom Per­rotta, it’s a mys­ti­fy­ing con­coc­tion of sci­ence fic­tion, fan­tasy, ro­mance, hor­ror, sus­pense and psy­cho­log­i­cal drama, with a nicely weighted freight of crime fic­tion tossed in. If you haven’t caught it yet, be warned that it’s an emo­tional en­durance test and the sense of melan­choly can be a bit wear­ing.

The se­ries, launched in June 2014, re­volves around the mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of 2 per cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion: the peo­ple abruptly dis­ap­peared at the same time with­out ex­pla­na­tion, leav­ing the world strug­gling to come to terms with what hap­pened, its be­lief sys­tems shat­tered.

The show’s premise is ob­vi­ously sug­ges­tive of so-called rap­ture the­ol­ogy, the be­lief that a pe­riod of tribu­la­tion will oc­cur be­fore the re­turn of Je­sus. The rap­ture is the event in which the He­brew God mys­te­ri­ously raises a select group to heaven, leav­ing be­hind those who face an in­tense seven years of tri­als, (called “the Great Tribu­la­tion”), un­til the re­turn of Je­sus and his thou­sand-year reign on earth.

“The show is an ex­plo­ration of try­ing to tap into this idea of am­bigu­ous loss and peo­ple’s cop­ing mech­a­nisms,” Lin­de­lof says. “Some peo­ple are go­ing to join cults, or grav­i­tate to­wards be­lief sys­tems that prob­a­bly wouldn’t have made any sense be­fore. I re­ally liked the idea of ex­plor­ing the weird be­hav­iour that would emerge out of this col­lec­tive world­wide [post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der] that oc­curred in the wake of this sud­den de­par­ture.”

As the third sea­son starts it’s been seven years since “the De­par­ture”. We find the Gar­vey and Mur­phy fam­i­lies — who met, clashed and bonded last sea­son in the “mir­a­cle” town of Jar­den, Texas — try­ing to cope with dis­or­der and con­fu­sion as it seems there are now only 14 days to go un­til Rap­ture, with huge crowds build­ing chaot­i­cally, trou­bled peo­ple search­ing for some kind of res­o­lu­tion and peace.

Justin Th­er­oux’s Kevin Gar­vey is Jar­den’s po­lice chief, try­ing to main­tain or­der. He’s al­most killed by a rogue for­mer Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion agent af­ter he doubts the ex-agent’s the­ory that wild dogs have some­how be­come hu­man and are now run­ning the coun- first try — and then finds him­self deal­ing with an ap­par­ent at­tempt to poi­son the river where a large bap­tism cer­e­mony is hap­pen­ing. He’s a char­ac­ter with some emo­tional depth but also a dy­namic man of ac­tion.

To some on­look­ers he seems in­creas­ingly su­per­nat­u­ral — is he the new mes­siah, a man some­how in touch with the other side? It’s a pro­jec­tion he ve­he­mently de­nies. The episode ends on the same kind of gen­er­alised sense of in­sta­bil­ity and anx­i­ety that has char­ac­terised the en­tire se­ries, tak­ing us to the Aus­tralian desert and a small church named af­ter Mary MacKil­lop, who es­tab­lished her saint­li­ness by cre­at­ing refuges for those wish­ing to make a fresh start in life.

Lin­de­lof says that it all will end in Aus­tralia, the sea­son hav­ing been filmed on lo­ca­tions in Texas and down un­der: “Aus­tralia is the end of the world ge­o­graph­i­cally and our show is about the end of the world emo­tion­ally.”

It all might seem far-fetched and ut­terly im­plau­si­ble if you visit this world for the first time but Lin­de­lof, who wrote the episode with Pa­trick Somerville, and ac­com­plished di­rec­tor Mimi Leder carry us along with won­der­ful cin­e­matic in­ven­tion, edgy per­for­mances, and Max Richter’s spine-chill­ing mu­sic. The is­sue of Black Lives Mat­ter re­fuses to go away in the Amer­ica of Don­ald Trump. The new US drama Shots Fired (orig­i­nally en­ti­tled In­dict­ment), which started last week on Fox­tel’s Show­case and is avail­able on Fox­tel Any­time, ex­am­ines the haz­ardous reper­cus­sions of two racially charged shoot­ings in­volv­ing the po­lice in a small fic­tional south­ern US town called Gates Sta­tion in North Carolina.

And timely it is too, as re­cent re­ports sug­gest the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is back­ing away from the tough-minded polic­ing over­hauls of the Obama years that po­lice unions be­lieve had im­peded law en­force­ment and un­fairly painted many good of­fi­cers as wrong­do­ers. Trump is mov­ing rapidly to meet his prom­ises to re­store “law and or­der”, de­spite the hos­tile re­la­tion­ship be­tween blacks and the po­lice and en­dur­ing racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

The 10-episode cop drama was cre­ated by Gina Prince-Bythe­wood ( Be­hind the Lights), who also di­rected the first episode, with her hus- band and cre­ative part­ner Reg­gie Rock Bythe­wood, both serv­ing as ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers along with Fran­cie Calfo and Brian Grazer. The se­ries is a pas­sion project for the cou­ple, in­spired by the tragic deaths of two young men called Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

It’s a tough crime se­ries, al­most doc­u­men­tary in style, about what po­lice call “a good kill”, set in black neigh­bour­hoods we rarely see on TV. It’s di­rected with cool com­pe­tence, and given a highly cin­e­matic look by di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy Tami Reiker.

A black sher­iff’s deputy Joshua Beck (Tris­tan Mack Wilds) shoots and kills a white teenager, an un­armed col­lege stu­dent called Jesse Carr, af­ter pulling his car over in a black part of town where white kids are known to go for drugs. “It was either him or me,” he says in his de­fence, claim­ing the boy lunged for his gun as he climbed out of his ve­hi­cle on the cop’s or­der, but there is no seem­ing rea­son for the shoot­ing from what we are shown, re­gard­less of the self­less qual­ity of the cop.

The shoot­ing sparks po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy: North Carolina gov­er­nor Pa­tri­cia Ea­mons (He­len Hunt), al­ready in a tough elec­tion fight (“I’m not a fan of sur­prises,” she tells in­ves­ti­ga­tors), steps in to en­sure there’s no per­cep­tion of im­pro­pri­ety in the case, not want­ing an­other Fer­gu­son, where the shoot­ing of Brown, a black teenager, prompted protests that roiled the area for weeks. (Prince-Bythe­wood says they wanted the se­ries “to feel like an au­topsy of Fer­gu­son”.)

The Depart­ment of Jus­tice sends in young, am­bi­tious spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor Pre­ston Terry (Stephan James), an evan­gel­i­cal be­liever in the sys­tem, and hard-nosed black cop turned in­ves­ti­ga­tor Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan) to eval­u­ate the ev­i­dence and bring trans­parency to the case. Terry al­ready has a rep­u­ta­tion as a “fin­isher”, clos­ing down cases quickly, but this time his su­pe­ri­ors want a “cleaner”: some­one to not on­lyex­am­ine the ev­i­dence but to make sure the po­lit­i­cal reper­cus­sions are con­tained.

They find it dif­fi­cult to move around in the largely black com­mu­nity, not used to co-op­er­at­ing with the po­lice and fu­ri­ous that with all the shoot­ings of black kids, it takes the death of a white one to bring the gov­ern­ment cav­alry down in force. They are con­sis­tently told they are not ask­ing the right ques­tions, the rea­son why their in­quiries are never an­swered around the wild-west-like neigh­bour­hood called “the Houses” where the shoot­ing oc­curred.

But the con­text al­ters abruptly when they dis­cover allegations of an ear­lier, largely ig­nored, po­lice shoot­ing of an African-Amer­i­can boy. A chill de­scends on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion when anec­do­tal ev­i­dence be­gins to point to po­lice depart­ment cor­rup­tion.

Beck’s su­pe­ri­ors in­sist that he stick to his ver­sion of events and re­peat the cop shooter mantra: “In the mo­ment of en­gage­ment, I feared for my life.” The sub­se­quent in­ves­ti­ga­tion raises pro­found ques­tions about race and jus­tice, is­sues that so di­vide Amer­ica, es­pe­cially af­ter the press discovers a video­tape made at the time of Beck’s grad­u­a­tion from the po­lice academy.

Clutch­ing his medal, he says: “I fi­nally got the li­cence to shoot these crack­ers.” It is a pro­found in­dict­ment, adding fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions into the volatile racial mix.

The driven Terry is ob­sessed with a truth that has no colour, be­liev­ing that the ju­di­cial sys­tem must not only rep­re­sent and en­force the law “but to use it to make real the prom­ise of Amer­ica”. His part­ner, Akino, is a for­mer beat cop who, af­ter be­ing tapped by the DEA, worked in Colom­bia and Mex­ico for six years. Akino also has anger man­age­ment is­sues and is fight­ing for the cus­tody of her daugh­ter, a rather wel­come in­ver­sion of the con­ven­tion more typ­i­cal of too many cop shows fea­tur­ing blokes with prob­lems, who tend to fol­low their own ex­is­ten­tial codes of be­hav­iour.

As played by Lathan, there’s an “I hate ev­ery­body” force field around Akino that ev­ery­one can feel from 10 feet away. She’s also fab­u­lously de­sir­able: “I’m every guy’s type,” she pro­claims.

If you need an­other rea­son to watch Shots Fired, then it’s this great ac­tress — she is re­ally some­thing. Thurs­day, 8.30pm, Show­case. Mon­day, 8.30pm, Show­case.

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