updated 06/30/2014 AT 6:00 AM ET
•originally published 06/30/2014 AT 7:00 AM ET
In a word: enrapturing.
Premiering Sunday night, HBO’s , about a small New York town in the aftermath of a global Rapture-like event that caused the sudden disappearance of two percent of the world’s population, was possibly the most anticipated new show of the summer. While disturbing, the first episode did not disappoint.
Reader warning: Plot spoilers ahead.
The show opens with a frazzled young mother running errands with her crying baby. As she gets ready to pull out of the parking lot, the baby’s wails stop, thanks to every mother’s worst fear. The child’s gone without a trace.
Fast forward to three years later, and we meet Mapleton police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), who assumed the position after his dad, the former chief, apparently lost his marbles. While taking a run Garvey, finds a lost dog that he would have gladly returned were it not for the fact the animal was shot dead right in front of him by a mysterious stranger, who speeds off in a pickup truck.
That’s just the first of many Mapleton mysteries. In the years since the tragic disappearances, a local cult known as the Guilty Remnant has sprung up. Donning all white, the members follow a code of silence while chain-smoking and stalking locals.
When two members of the GR repeatedly follow weary townswoman Meg (Liv Tyler) and her fiancé, she snaps and strikes one of them. But she can’t fight her sadness. Meg later leaves her fiancé to join the cult.
Garvey’s daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) and her friend, Aimee (Emily Meade), are the first bit of normalcy to hit the screen. Like all high-schoolers, they talk boys and parties, but there’s a dark side. After a bully on her field hockey team purposely trips Jill, she responds with a move that breaks the girl’s nose.
Later, at a friend’s party – or rather a drug-fueled orgy – Jill decides to leave after Aimee dips off with her crush. If she wasn’t troubled enough for one day, she discovers the dead dog in her dad’s trunk.
Somewhere far away, her brother Tom Garvey (Chris Zylka) has dropped out of college, disillusioned by classmate suicides, and works for a mysterious clairvoyant-type named Wayne (Paterson Joseph). Tom’s seemingly happy, has a crush on a girl at Wayne’s compound, but he never answers his dad’s calls.
Peace Gives Way to Chaos
Back on duty, Chief Garvey tries to convince the town’s mayor, Lucy Warburton (Amanda Warren), to cancel an inaugural parade to commemorate the fateful day. “Everybody’s ready to feel better,” she says. But fearing the Guilty Remnant will show and anger citizens, Chief Garvey warns her everyone’s “ready to f—— explode.”
And he’s right. The peaceful remembrance parade gives way to chaos when the Remnant show up in silent force.
After breaking up the melee, Garvey goes to drown his sorrows at the local bar. In a moment of humor, the news flashes photos of famous disappearance victims, like the Pope and J. Lo.
Liquor can’t do the trick for Garvey, who heads to the home of the Remnant, where we learn his wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman) is actually one of the cult’s main flunkies who took a beating at the parade. “Are you okay?” he asks. “Please come home,” he begs.
Despite Garvey’s entire family surviving the event, they couldn’t be further apart. Dogged by nightmares, flashbacks and some seriously spooky animal sightings, Garvey may soon be following in his dad’s footsteps. When he learns the town’s dogs have actually turned vicious, the episode closes with a tearful Garvey taking his pain out on a local pack.