Goodbye to The Leftovers
I never expected to fall in love with The Leftovers.
I had read the novel which the first season is based on before S1 aired and I found the idea fascinating and the book an intriguing but sometimes a tough read. I was definitely interested to see how the TV show would adapt the story and immediately felt like I had to defend the series because the book offered no answers to the Departure and as a staunch defender of Lost and its finale I knew there was going to be a backlash from viewers eager to take out their frustration on creator Damon Lindelof.
So I was prepared to watch the series and manage other viewers expectations. I know that is an odd thing to do – I wasn’t involved in the show in any way but like I said I loved Lost and I wanted people to know that they shouldn’t expect answers but instead expect a detailed exploration of grief and depression. I know hardly a great pitch for a show.
Anyway the series aired and I began to watch. I respected what the show was trying to do. I really liked the performances especially Carrie Coon and Christopher Eccleston and the Nora and Matt focused episodes. I thought I didn’t feel a deep connection to the series and yet something about it made it compulsive viewing. Even as reviews criticized the show for being depressing and dreary and I often found myself agreeing with this sentiment – I still could not look away. I was definitely finding The Leftovers irresistible.
By the time the season 1 finale happened I realized that I needed this show to come back – the first season may have adapted the book but I wanted more. My need came because of the final few moments of the season. What happens is simple -the feral dog that Kevin had found earlier in the season returns looking for its master – it isn’t wild or dangerous but calm. For the first time the show presented a different perspective. It offered hope. Maybe the world wasn’t completely messed up, maybe if the dogs that went mad after the Departure could get back to normal then perhaps our human characters could as well. With Nora finding a baby on her doorstep and Laurie and Tom escaping their respective cults, the show was finally revealing its true nature. This wasn’t just a story about how terrible everything was but it was a tale of people who desperately wanted to find hope again. They didn’t want to stay broken.
When S2 began and the action moved to a new location, I was fully on board. I wanted to see how the Departure had effected other characters but also The Leftovers started going really weird and incredibly funny. Season 1 definitely had its moments of strangeness but second season opening scene was something else. Everything was getting bizarre and the show was embracing that. Whether it was Kevin losing his mind and talking to a dead person, mysteries like the town of Miracle where no Departures happened or the implication by some scientists that Nora was responsible for the Departure of her family. Things were not normal and the show found humour in the insanity.
Weirdness though only works for me if I care about the characters and increasingly I did. Around this time it became clear that the core of the story was not just Kevin but Nora and her own difficulty in dealing with what had happened and their love story. At the heart of The Leftovers are two damaged people, pretending they don’t believe in miracles or the supernatural and yet at the same time either experiencing it like Kevin or desperately wanting it to be true like Nora. Nora acts cynical about any explanation people come up with for the Departure and yet as season 3 shows she will do anything to see her children again. Meanwhile Kevin repeatedly refuses to believe in anything weird and yet he has died 3 times and been resurrected via a possible trip to the afterlife. They both try to cover up their desires and natures but increasingly it becomes impossible.
By the end of season 2 I was crying as Kevin found his way back to his family and if the show had ended there it would have been an emotionally satisfying conclusion. Yet I’m glad we got one final season to put the characters through emotional hell again, not because I’m sadist but because of the very important message of the show – grief and depression are not easy to get over. There is no one solution for everyone and whilst some people can recover from it relevantly quickly, others spend their lives struggling with it. This may sound like a pessimistic point of view but I think its realistic. The circumstances that these characters find themselves in is like no other, so many criticisms of the show talk about how grim it is but I always ask ‘if 2% of the world’s population suddenly disappeared, wouldn’t you be just a bit messed up by it?’.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression throughout my adult life I’ve wished it could just solve itself in a day instead of taking 20 years but the reality is it does take time to deal with your issues. Nora may never get over the disappearance of her loved ones but I do think there is hope that she could, she just has to push herself to the edge in order to realize it. Take Nora’s brother Matt, a devout man who throughout the season lets his faith overtake his life even as life continually kicks him in the face. Eventually Matt finds himself on a Tasmanian Ferry in the middle of a lion inspired orgy (god I love The Leftovers) and faced with a man claiming to be God. Throughout the episode Matt is acting manic, desperate to get to Australia in order to find Kevin who he hopes will stop the apocalypse or a second departure. This confrontation eventually leads Matt to realize his fundamentalist approach to religion has cost him his family. When we see him at the end of the episode a huge relief has washed over him. I don’t think he has lost his faith but instead he has realized that God may never answer him personally, he may not get the answers he needs but that is OK.
Then we have Kevin, it takes him three trips to the afterlife (whether its real or just in his head) to realize he is terrified of allowing himself to love Nora and be loved by her. He literally nukes his safe haven so he can’t run away from the real world anyone. He has reached the edge and it looks like he is willing to come back from it.
Now what happens in the finale tonight I have no idea, maybe Nora never finds peace, maybe she keeps pushing herself and can’t reach a resolution that will bring her happiness but I hope she can, even if it takes 20, 30 or 40 years I hope she can.
However the series ends I will remember it for the madness, the unexpected comedy, the music of Max Richter making me cry every damn time. I will remember these characters trying their best to make sense of a situation no one can really handle.
I will remember The Leftovers as one of the best series of its time and I will miss it. But in the words of Lindelof’s other series, its time to remember and let go.