The Leftovers, a tour-de-force of emotion that has graced HBO over the last three years, has finally come to an end. Evolved by Damon Lindelof (remember Lost?) from the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta, we have seen growth from the source material into a modern hymn for the grieving and the hopeful. Not discounting Perrotta’s original work, The Leftovers has become something more than a mere adaptation. Never has a television show taught me more about myself and others, than I have learned here. Jumping off the premise that 2% of the world disappeared without explanation, we are plunged into a murky cold sea of confusion, tension and as we follow the lives of a select few, we find ourselves clawing for the surface in tandem. Though the world of The Leftovers is rife with doubt and darkness, it allows for the comforting discomfort of less approached themes in most modern television. There is no singular answer to the very real question posed again and again, here, and in life: How do we grieve? What does it take to move on?
Three seasons, a short collection of twenty-eight episodes, and three major location changes is rare for any television show, let alone such a short lived project. The juxtaposition of expanse and brevity has served very well. Starting in the invented town of Mapleton NY, we watch as a single family is ripped apart by the silent and profound change the Sudden Departure (October 14th, 2011) has wrought without much incident. From something as common as divorce, to the world-bending aim to eliminate all dogs (They’re not ours anymore), we see the Garvey family and others cling to what is real in the unreal, coping in a myriad of ways. Reverend Jamison takes to the streets with a vicious smear campaign in order to correct the seemingly random removal of the 2%, adhering it to the Christian idea of the Rapture, come to remove the damned. Nora Durst collapses inward, seeking comfort in a bullet-proof vests and sharp-eyed prostitutes. Further still, Laurie Garvey joins the Guilty Remnant, a silent, cigarette smoking cult, dead set on being a constant reminder of what was lost.
Season 2 opens with a beautifully tragic account of a prehistoric woman giving birth and making every effort to protect her newborn in the chaos of the world in a more natural state. Earthquakes, axis mundis, the world moves on, the world remains the same. Introduced to the Murphy family, residents of Miracle, formerly Jarden Texas, a town where not one person departed on the 14th of October. This turn from the Garvey family opens the world of the Sudden Departure, shifting perspective toward relief from the ultimate unknowable tragedy just before something changes for the worse. From the point of the disappearance of Evie Murphy, we see a facing off between the Murphys and the Garveys that reaches far beyond the scope of simple neighborly woes. Meanwhile, Kevin begins losing his grip upon reality sinking further and further into depression. Rife with suicidal tendencies and the consistent plague of a most powerful adversary who has returned in a seemingly divine manner, Kevin finds himself questioning what is real, and how exactly to proceed. As we arrive at the culmination of this season, Lindelof, Perrotta and company take what we know television to be and turn it on it’s head yet again in what should go down as one of the best episodes of television in it’s history.
In this second season, we see the injection of further strangeness, as well as some much needed, though still grave levity. The micro has been blown out and we see the further unravelling of how we relate not only to our immediate circle, but those around us, suffering as well, but in wholly different ways. The drive of this season is Kevin’s journey and the grand Grieve Off between the two families, culminating in a striking and powerful exchange between Carrie Coon’s Nora Durst and Regina King’s Erika Murphy. This is the height of tension and at its apex a release of rage and quiet desperation between the two that has to be experienced first hand. The Leftovers often cuts to the quick and allows the initial sting to remain long after the incident has ended.
Rounding out the third season, we are slowly transported to Australia, nearing the seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure. Seven being a number of biblical significance, there is a general consensus that something, possibly the end of the world itself will come on the anniversary, and the people the world over prepare in their own ways, for the worst. Others seem to think there will be a Sudden Return of sorts, making way for all those lost so many years ago (Gary Busey in particular). The patchwork family we have watched form and reform throughout the past two seasons are on one final push to the grand finale of the show and perhaps the world as they know it. Kevin has been exalted by some as a possible messianic figure, Nora has found solace in the promise of a machine that could return her to her Departed family, and the world tenses up for the coming crest of a seven year long wave in the making.
Without getting too into the finer details, The Leftovers makes it’s final feats expand even further to focus on an even smaller, oft overlooked important part of our lives. The stories we tell each other and ourselves, and how they weigh on our decisions as well as those around us. More than ever we see the blending of Science and Faith here at end of a modern fable, filled with holy men, scientific analysis and perhaps even a ghost or two. The show has become an axis mundi unto itself, finding the link between what we know and what we question, either in defiance or reverence. There is layer upon layer of the nature of our existence, how we process the world at large, and the ways in which the defined and the undefinable color our experiences.
As consumers of media, in particular what is now known as “Peak TV”, we are very familiar with the series finale as a concept. Often we find ourselves feverishly awaiting the final chapter, only to come away dissatisfied, vaguely content, or perhaps left in a lurch to question the entire body of work. Those that come to mind may seem obvious, ‘The Sopranos’ infamous smash cut, Lindelof’s own ‘Lost’ church gathering that divides fans to this very day, the mammoth ‘M*A*S*H’ send-off that still dominates ratings records, all remembered and revered for different aspects of what we search for when we look to television as an artistic medium.
‘The Book of Nora’, our final entry into the world wrought forth by Lindelof, Perrotta and in just as many ways director Mimi Leder, both drains the lake and refills it almost immediately. A shift in focus from where we leave everyone in the penultimate episode, there is a time jump and we are given exactly what we need, we are told stories, the stories we want to hear, and the ones we need. Lindelof and company leave the world of The Leftovers on a masterstroke of ambiguity that is also a perfectly recognizable finality. Both the question and answer are presented with such precision that neither is the point inherently, but rather whether or not one has their faith in check. “Do you believe what you’ve been told?” is a daring but effective and well earned note to finish on.
The Leftovers, for all it has given me, and so many others, deserves a bevy of recognition that it has not gotten in it’s short span. With any hope as years wear on, others will find it to be a haven for processing and even rejoicing in our darker recesses, relating to one another on a more human level and calling into question those fringe moments where the heavens and the earth seem to meet. A hymn worthy of eternal reprise, a true work of immense depth and beauty, The Leftovers will be hard to top, and even harder to let go.