As a television fan, I've come to easily recognise writing practices or tropes television series use on a fairly common basis. And as with most aspects of television, one's appreciation of these writing practices is subjective to the taste of each individual television viewer. This week's episode of The Leftovers, 'The Garvey's at Their Best', used a very common storytelling device in the form of a flashback, the entire episode being based pre-rapture, which the rest of the series has been based several years after this event.

I feel it necessary to preface this review somewhat with the knowledge that I hate flashbacks. I still love The Leftovers, and there were many great parts about 'The Garvey's at Their Best', as well as a lot more background information about the characters we've grown to know this season, but inherently, I tend to scrutinise the use of flashbacks more than most, so if my review is a little harsher than usual, that's why. My question to series that rely heavily on flashbacks is, is the story you are telling in the present time so boring and un-informative that you feel the need to travel back to the past to excite and inform viewers? If the answer is yes, my next question is, if the stories you are telling in the flashbacks are so exciting and important to the overall series, why isn't the series based during that period of time? Why didn't it start then instead of you giving us all this information later?

And so I asked these very questions of The Leftovers this week, and the answers, as they usually do, sort of made me question how good the series is. The fact of the matter is that 'The Garvey's at Their Best', for all intents and purposes, could have the pilot episode for the series. Honestly, the series as a whole would make a lot more sense had this episode been it's pilot. The rapture was the catalyst for the events of the series, and that is usually the best starting point for a series. The Leftovers obviously chose not to do this, which is both perplexing and exhilarating. Many have expressed their distaste at the lack of answers the series has given thus far, and one can't help and think that had The Leftovers started with the rapture and continued following the distorted lives of the citizens of Mapleton from that point, viewers would be more understanding of what the series was/ is trying to be. It didn't do this however, and for this I'm glad. It is so easy for me to say that The Leftovers may have been better suited to having a traditional story beginning, and then I instantly check myself. In my opinion, great television breaks the boundaries of writing traditions and clichés, and The Leftovers definitely did this by throwing us into its world with little warning and understanding. It is because of this that I'm annoyed 'The Garvey's at Their Best' reverted to such a common trope as flashbacks to start to explain itself, but alas, I've probably digressed far too much already and should probably actually review the episode itself.

At least, however, The Leftovers didn't try and convince us that things were so much better for everyone before the rapture. Sure, brace-face Jill was disturbingly peppy (somehow she's even more annoying like this then she is as a passive aggressive depressive), but The Leftovers has never been a 'happy' series, as many will tell you, so it was refreshing that we were able to see some serious drama unfold in these characters lives that wasn't directly or indirectly effected by October 14th.

Nora was the stereotypically unfulfilled housewife who wanted more than to just decide what juice boxes her children should consume. And her husband, who we knew had an affair before he poofed, was already enough of a jerk without this knowledge, basically spent his time ignoring Nora and his children and going through life on a smile. Tommy, as any young boy who's been abandoned by his father does, had a longing to reconnect with said father that left him and Laurie behind. Laurie, a therapist, struggled to keep the dialogue within her own marriage going, causing large amounts of stress for all the Garvey's. But we as the audience, knowing little about Laurie, but a lot about Kevin, were definitely made to assume that majority of these problems were Kevin's doing.

He lied about smoking, he lied about Tommy visiting his real Dad, he lied about wanting a dog - and for what? This pre-rapture Kevin was all about keeping up appearances that everything was okay and that everything was happy, except the cracks were starting to show, and people, in fact, could tell that Kevin was not okay. In a conversation that mirrored (and subverted) the one they shared towards the end of 'Solace for Tired Feet' Kevin Sr. basically told Kevin that every man fights with the idea that there's nothing more to his life, but that he needed to accept that there was nothing more, no larger purpose for him, or he'd end up with nothing.

Throughout the episode the Mapleton police department struggled with a startled and confused deer breaking into and getting stuck in various properties around town. Despite wanting to tranquilise it, Kevin eventually put it out of it's misery after it was hit by a car. Probably as a more overt reading, Kevin was the wild deer who longed to break free of the restrictions adult life had set him. Who knows whether by putting the deer down he was accepting or rejecting them, agreeing or disagreeing to keep up appearances. We do know, however, that he was willing to keep on lying to himself and everyone else as he dropped the women who had hot the deer off at her hotel, and then preceded to join her in her room.

The biggest advantage of having the knowledge that the rapture would soon be approaching as the episode concluded is that it created more of those heart in the mouth feelings The Leftovers has provided so many of. I assumed Kevin's new friend would poof, and she did, much to his amazement. A pang of sorrow shot out as I watched Matt and his wife leave the doctor's office, knowing that in a few minutes she's be reduced to a vegetable after a car crash. The most poignant moment though, was from Nora, who totally lost it at her family - only for her to turn for a second and literally lose her entire family.

I may have not totally appreciated having a flashback episode, but is was undoubtedly an important part of the story that the series is telling, and with some intriguing insights into the past of our characters, I'm eager to see where the series wants to take them in the future.

THE GUILTY REMNANT NOTEPAD SCRIBBLES:

- I'm getting a strong feeling that this won't be the last flashback episode we see. There's still a lot left to show us, like Kevin Sr.'s breakdown, and the breakdown of Kevin and Laurie's relationship.

- And for the record, I don't hate all flashbacks, some shows can do them, and use them, really well (like Lost), but more often than not they come across as pandering and unnecessary (like in True Blood). What are everyone else's thoughts on flashbacks? Love them or hate them? Which shows do them well, which don't?

- One of the good things flashback provide is to see characters that have died. It was so good seeing Gladys and Patti again, even for a short time.

- So Laurie lost her baby, yes? This seemed a little odd to me. A women screamed in another room, presumably signifying that someone had 'poofed', and Laurie and the doctor turned from the ultrasound at this point. If Laurie had lost her baby once she had turned back, doesn't that mean that not everyone disappeared at the same time. It seemed like there was a slight time discrepancy here.

- I share Kevin's sentiments, Lou just needs to fuck off.

Note: Sorry about the lack of pictures this week, I couldn't find too many, I may have to start doing my own screenshots, but if so, I'll likely put up the reviews and add them later as to get it to you all a bit earlier.
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Sorry for being so late to comment this week! I don't have an all-out opinion on flashbacks overall; as you said, some shows have used them better than others. And while I liked seeing this episode full of them, I do question its placement in The Leftovers' first season. I too am glad that it wasn't the pilot, but I wonder why the show waited until Ep. 9 to show us these things? I wonder how much of the show was written/produced before the creative team found out they were getting a second season, and whether that had anything to do with it.

I do believe that Laurie lost her baby. As I wrote on @ionee24's post about this episode, that moment was weirdly unsettling for me, because it kind of opened up the possibility that there are more Departed than anyone even knows about or can tabulate, which expands the series somehow in my brain. What about people who "poofed" but maybe didn't have any friends or family? Are you truly Departed if you have no one to mourn for you? Kind of makes me shudder to think about.

I *am* eager to see how the relationships that were "revealed" in the flashbacks come into play, if at all. If we'll get to more of how everyone got to where they are now. This:

The rapture was the catalyst for the events of the series, and that is usually the best starting point for a series. The Leftovers obviously chose not to do this, which is both perplexing and exhilarating.

...is a great point. While I'm overall a little confused about why the show waited so long to show us some of this stuff, I'm especially eager to see what it does with the finale and what kind of Season 2 it sets us up for.

Thanks for the review!

--Jen
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This episode was further justification to love this show and further proof that those who don't...well...they're idiots :)

I've always drawn a distinction when it comes to flashbacks between a scene or two and an entire episode. Traditional flashbacks I find are used to add a little context to a particular plot point. This was a detailed chronology which casts light on pretty much everything we've seen thus far. It was very "Lost-like" in that regard, but since we spent the entire episode leading up to events prior to the pilot...I dunno...I give it a full pass.

"It is because of this that I'm annoyed 'The Garvey's at Their Best' reverted to such a common trope as flashbacks to start to explain itself, but alas, I've probably digressed far too much already and should probably actually review the episode itself."

It's funny how two people can see the same thing but come away completely different. I didn't see this as trying to explain anything, it just showed a slightly different perspective of what we (mostly) already knew...these people had MAJOR issues before the event. What's happened since that has only exacerbated the problems these people already suffered from.

The way it did this though is where I think the magic is. To start, everybody looks genuinely happy. As we progress, we see the cracks develop and by the end, they're fully dysfunctional. Then {POOF} people vanish, and what was messy before is not complete chaos and those left have to try and make sense of it all while trying (or not) to be honest with themselves.

- We knew of Kevin's infidelity, but certainly not to THIS extent. Does that change the perception of Laurie leaving him? What about the apparent hero worship of he father before and now after whatever psycotic break he suffered?
- Laurie loses a baby she didn't want to have in the first place? Harsh!
- Patti was Laurie's patient? That changes EVERYTHING about that dynamic and their positions of power. How did such a significant role reversal happen?
- Nora, seemingly ignored and taken for granted by her husband and at her wits end with her bratty children after making a pledge "For the next month, I don't have a family" (which I think was also some wishful thinking on her part) turns around and everybody's gone? That's a lot of guilt to carry.
- Tom and Jill seemed to be a very loving brother and sister...what happened to split them up so?
- Was that gas leak just a random thing?
- Were the people in the car the future of the cult?
- What's with the deer? Did another go crazy or did Kevin wreck his own kitchen?

For as much as this episode provided some answers, it created a whole lot more questions with the relationships and dynamics of the characters we've grown to know and love. Personally, I LOVE IT! While I wouldn't want this format to be a regular occurrence, I could go for one or two more that cover the years between the rapture and where the pilot started.
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@No1Slayerette you were fast this week with your thoughts and review! Thanks! I know I'm a little late to this party but I had to sort my thoughts.
As soon as the episode ended I went into my children's room, kissed their foreheads and told them I loved them. Nora's story before rapture hits close to home. I have definitely experienced a morning like hers a time or two, I haven't wished my family to ever go away but I have wished for silence. I can absolutely understand her guilt if she did indeed wish them to be gone and anyone else's for that matter. In some cases people may be ok with their wish being fulfilled and go along with their lives but I don't think we have seen ANYONE who seems ok that the rapture happened. Of course grief takes time to heal but what about guilt? With grief you can say I've lost my blah blah blah because and I'm sad they are gone. Grief seems more of a subject a person can talk about to start a process of getting better. Guilt on the other hand people protect it and more times than not a person NEVER/ RARELY admits they are guilty. I think everyone is carrying the guilt and not progressing to get better because no one is admitting to possibly having something to do with wishing they were in a different situation then they presently were. Guilt can be a mother f'er and if you blame yourself and don't talk about it then it will eat at you. Just a thought on why people seem so messed up. However this may not explain Jill's or Tom's actions maybe we will get to see what made them the way they are next season. Or how Wayne's Hugs work. Anyway...
I completely enjoyed this episode and thought this flashback worked really well. If it had been the pilot I'm not sure it would have made us care for the characters before now. Also if we didn't have this flashblack then we would have people constantly saying, "this is how my loved one left or I was standing next to person X and they poofed". Then we'd be complaining about the redundancy of that. I don't think this will be the last flashback in the series or Patti. There is much to go into with her and her relationship with Laurie.
The episode title 'The Garvey's at Their Best'; this was not their best in my opinion. Kevin and Laurie both lying to each other, Tom seems to have issues with coming to terms that Kevin isn't his real dad and Jill, well Jill seemed like an overly happy kid so I'm not sure how she turned so dark. Actually her life seemed the most "normal". I do feel that Kevin seemed to love and care about his kids and his marriage (yes) and was putting on a facade to make it work. Unfortunately his guilt at wanting more pushed him to have an affair and this is probably the straw that broke the Garvey's back.
Lastly.....Where was Aimee? I was hoping she was going to pop up in the flashback. Hmmmm now I'm even more curious about her.

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I have work off this week so much more time to watch and write. I usually watch the episode on Monday's (for those living in the US, probably very late Sunday night), but with so much other stuff to watch on Sunday's, I usually don't get around to writing anything until Tuesday here (or very late on Monday in the US). I wish I could have it up earlier every week, as it sparks a lot more discussion when it's fresh in people's minds, but that's life I guess.

Great thoughts on guilt, Jen! A lot of people have been complaining that those grieving over the departed should have moved on by now, but the inclusion of guilt into the mix of emotions would definitely help explain why some characters are having prolonged feelings of depression - every day they experience the guilt that they are somehow responsible for the loss of their loved ones.

Oh, that mysterious Aimee continues to allude us, hey? Here's hoping she'll get her own episode (flashback or otherwise) when the series returns next season.
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Gosh those silly jobs get in the way of the important things in life! ;) Anyway I forgot to mention that it's complete B.S. that we have to wait 2 weeks for the finale!!!!
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Two weeks!? I did not realise this. Well I guess it will make for good practice for when I'm having withdrawls for having to wait 9 months in between seasons, ha!
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Best show on TV right now, easily. Pretty sure the common thread is that the people that vanished were not wanted, they were wished away by people that were close to them...to many clues throughout reveal that and nothing else makes sense. Even Nora's little brat kid says "prayers are stupid" while his sister is praying so this is not about God.

I, personally, loved that this flashback was the 2nd to last episode. The pay-off would not have been the same if this was the pilot. And god damn, Jill is the best. Having her go back to this kid who was happy...she was a completely different person before the event, and it breaks my heart to see her happy and now have to deal with the shit cards she's been dealt. Tommy will save her though, they need each other, that much was obvious from last epi. Flashbacks only work once we have some significant character development. This would not have had the same impact or effect in any other order, so I for one am glad it was episode 9 if only for the emotional impact of it all.

Can't wait for finale night!
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Agree. This is the FIRST time I could sink my teeth into some meat from this show. Finally some ground beef! Most of the time I simply felt displaced. Since the series seem now to have gotten back on track somewhat, let's see how long b4 I feel raptured again and leave them for good this time. That would really make them truly Leftovers-literally!
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The way I see it is that in the first episode the Garveys seemed untouched by the rapture - no one in the family actually disappeared (where Nora lost everyone, so it's ok to be bumped), and nevertheless Laurie jumped on the "kookoo train of smoking white", Tom went to "the land of Wayne", Jill is mad about everything (I thought it was just because her mom walked out, which of course would make anyone "not a happy camper"), Kevin Sr had a nervous breakdown (yet, opposite to what he told Kevin in this episode, last time they met he told him he had a mission) and Kevin, well he's not exactly the saniest guy in town is he?
In this episode we get to see that the Garveys were actually affected by the rapture - Tom and Jill lost people at school, Laurie lost a baby Kevin didn't know anything about, Kevin lost a random stranger he got snuggly with (did he actually get her name?)
I'm also guessing we're gonna have a few flash-backs until we find out why Laurie went to the silend ones (with nervous-something big-is-coming-patient Patty - I don't think it's just because of the baby - about which she obviously still hasn't told Kevin) and Tom ended up babysitting an Asian girl, one of the many mothers of Waynes' offsprings, what happened with Kevin's dad. And where was Wayne the day of the rapture?
On the subject of guilt, I think that, like No1Slayerette said, it might play its part in some cases, but I don't think we can make it a rule of some kind.
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Okay.... enough time has gone by and I am SHOCKED nobody's mentioned what's going on here. Come on people, they all feel guilty because THEY CAUSED the disappearances by "WISHING" them. Even for just a nano-second like when Nora *wished* the kids/husband gone after the juice spilled and missed potential job phonecall....
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It's definitely an interesting theory, but I wouldn't call it anything but that at this stage of the series. Yes, Nora obviously wished that her family were gone for a second, but what about all the other disappearances? Laurie may have wished she wasn't pregnant, but surely so did a lot of other women in the world at that time? And why would Kevin wish that the woman he was sleeping with disappear?

The idea that the people 'poofed' because someone wanted them to does add an extra amount of guilt of those that remain, but honestly, I just think this is an internal thought process characters like Nora place on themselves rather than the actual reason the people disappeared, but who knows?
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I agree. While it is plausible that Nora and Laurie could have "wished" them away, I don't think Jill wished that one kid away or the kid who's dad departed while pushing the grocery cart in the premiere.
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Remember that lady from a previous episode who said "Who said I didn't want them gone?" She was relieved they disappeared. Some feel guilty, some don't. Some actually wanted this to happen while others feel guilty about their wishes. Brilliant writing nonetheless.
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Since this got picked up for season 2 I imagine there is going to be a decent amount of flashback episodes.

But from your review, which was good as always, I think the question to ask is do these revelations change the perspective on the story enough to make us care about the current incarnations of the characters. Now Nora did lose all her family at once, which is fine because it alleviates the suspicion that she actually killed her husband. But does that change anything about her, does it change the fact that for three years after that she was literally a professional victim? I don't think that it does. Same with all of them.

Ok Laurie lost her fetus, does that warrant to join a cult of morons whose tenants are entirely arbitrary and are only followed when it is easy and convenient. To me know. Likely I would imagine there was more to Laurie's fall then just the loss of the fetus, perhaps you guys will get another flashback that shows her finding out about the affair. And if that is the kicker that sends her overall to the chain smokers, then that is a fairly materialistic reason to do that.

It certainly doesn't change the glaring fact that the situation they are all in at least in regard to the town and the people that reside in it, are the result of Kevin's inaction in dealing with the GR. How much better would the town be if he would make the call to the ATF? And in the beginning during the pilot I commented on the Mayor's inaction in dealing with the GR. But really that is all of Kevin. He could solve all of this with a phone call and yet still refuses to do so. I hope that he snaps out of his idiocy before something really drastic happens. Perhaps Jill heading to the GR house from the last episode will send him over that edge.

Despite all of these so called answers we still lack answers as to why after three years none of these people have made any forward progress.

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@mate Glad to see you couldn't resist and came back! :) Great points! See my comment above on my theroy of why people haven't made forward progress.

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Well just because I won't watch it doesn't mean I can't enjoy No1Slayerette's reviews and chat about it. If anything the show is thought provoking and comment worthy, even if I think it sucks.
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AHAHAHAHA! Well you do provide some great stuff! :)
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Glad to have you sticking around Mate! And even happier that for once we possibly have a very similar opinion on the episode? I liked it, but as you said, 'do these revelations change the perspective on the story enough to make us care about the current incarnations of the characters.'

Taking that a step further, I already care about them, it's whether or not these revelations really any significance on the plot going forward. Really it just seemed like a payoff episode for people longing for answers.
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Ok. How about this. Do these revelations on the characters provide the viewer with a knowledge as to why these characters are still the way that they are? After nearly 4 years from that date? For me it would be for perhaps that first six months to a year, maybe two since these people are obviously mentally and emotionally stunted perhaps more so than their contemporaries. Because they haven't really changed at all within the last year that we have known them. And I would presume that we could extrapolate that for nearly the whole of the past 4 years. Personally and professionally I would say they have gotten worse.

And I guess that is the huge difference in you and I as viewers, and more to the point why I am no longer a viewer. I found myself not able to care about these characters, particularly Kevin and Laurie(Well the whole GR). I feel their flaws are the most forced of the bunch and neither one of them, especially Kevin can get out of their own way and continually provide the ammo to their current state of frustration and life problems.
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As to your question: I loved the flashbacks from Oz. They were always very short so they didn't stray from the main (present) story too long and you immediately knew why they were in prison. With The Leftovers I first wasn't too happy they were doing a flashback but in the end I really liked it and thought it was well handled.

Also something I read earlier and I totally didn't notice
When the car passed Kevin and they asked him "Are you ready?", Kevin was dressed in white and smoking like the Guilty Remnants, so they had to know something right. Makes me wonder what else I missed in this and the previous episodes.
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I haven't watched Oz (it's on my very long list of series to check out though).

Good theory about the women in the car, I honestly had no idea who they were, what they wanted, and who they thought Kevin was... The series has some weird moments like that, and at this point, it's hard to explain way.
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I actually enjoy those really weird moments in The Leftovers, it's kind of a curve ball that leaves you wondering what in the world is happening in this mad show - I still like them, I don't know though if it's gonna entertain me if it happens all the time - I would like some (sain) answers sometime - I seem to have piled up a lot of questions...
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No1Slayerette, I don't see any time discrepancy probby. There was a nano second of time after the scream, when Laurie and the Dr. turned away, never to look back at the monitor. Ultrasounds are a second or two delayed.
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Wow, this flashback explained so much, I don't think I've ever seen an entire episode flashback before, lol. Now I understand why Laurie joined the GR, I wonder if Kevin knows their fetus poofed.
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The rate of miscarriage among women that know they are pregnant is 15-20%; the far vast majority of them do not up and join cults. Especially ones with little to no point.
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Well that is true Mate, but the vast majority of preggo women do not see their fetus disappear while they're getting an ultrasound, while at the same time thousands of other people magically disappear. It might just be enough to drive someone into a cult. Probably a better reason than most people have for joining bizarre cults. Miscarriage is a natural phenomenon, whatever happened to the disappeared seems to be supernatural.

The point of the GR is to make people remember. They suck, but don't all cults pretty much suck?
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True, however the psychology of it, especially considering that the fetus wasn't a person walking around and having relationships with people missing them I would say among all of the disappeared that would be the most similar to that type of loss.

And as for this scenario, we have to accept that it is supernatural because no one really looked into it. But I do get your point.

I have never really studied cults. I worked with a Psychiatrist during my PhD on a paper studying exorcisms one time and that is somewhat similar, but yes I don't think any cults would be fun otherwise they wouldn't really be cults, because of their popularity. An argument could be made for certain sports team fanatics being cults and them being fun. But that would be a stretch.
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I had just rushed over to youtube to listen to that! lol
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Now "Cult of Personality" is stuck in my head :P
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My comment from Tim's review of first episode:

"I suspect Mrs. Garvey was preggers and the baby vanished from her tummy or something. Why else would she join the Nut House?"

I totally predicted the fetus thing.

It was good episode. It explained lot of stuff. I can't wait for the season's finale.
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Flashbacks are used to develop the characters in the main timeline - your two questions in the second paragraph relating to flashbacks are completely irrelevant and missing the point.
And yes I do appreciate a good flashback and this flashback was one of the best I have witnessed. It developed the characters in a massive way.
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I guess I didn't fully explain myself then. Flashbacks need to lend themselves to the story being told in the series. So yes, they can provide excellent character insight and development - but only if it has an effect and some meaning in the events currently going on in the show. The Leftovers was different from most flashbacks in the sense this is was the entire episode. Unfortunately this means that we won't really know whether it was all that significant to plots and characters going forward. Sure, we know a lot more about them, but my question will be, was it necessary to use an episode based entirely in the past to do it? It remains to be seen, even if this was an enjoyable episode.
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