The Leftovers: Thoughts on the End of the Series

The last time Damon Lindelof wrote a series finale I cried for three days. Personally, I found ending of Lost highly emotionally satisfying, but I know that’s a controversial topic. Nonetheless, Damon Lindelof has proven himself capable of writing really powerful, emotionally affecting scenes between complex characters and I have a feeling we’re dipping right back into that well with tonight’s finale of The Leftovers.

In its short three season run, The Leftovers has become my favorite show since Lost left the air. I’ve written about how this is the show you should be watching and continuously find myself furious with the Emmys and the Golden Globes for the huge blind spot in their drama categories when it comes to The Leftovers.

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When I last wrote about The Leftovers, it was before the premiere of the second season. The first season focused on very concrete events taking place in the Garvey’s home town of Mapleton, New York. It was a reflection on how people grieve and react to unexplainable events and the chaos of life. Season two captured all of those elements, brought them to a new town and the show began this balancing act where the show’s perspective is constantly teetering on the edge of faith and logic. By exploring Kevin’s hallucinations and out-of-body experiences we’re forced to confront much more abstract plot points and what they might mean to the overall message of the show.

I find myself constantly struggling with trying to understand what the show’s perspective is on the events taking place. Are they really happening? Is this a spiritual experience that these characters or having, or the hallucinations and delusions of a mentally ill person? Does any of this matter? Ultimately, I don’t know that the show really has a perspective either way. Much like Mad Men, the important part of The Leftovers is its characters. They are so well written and well acted that the events surrounding them are sometimes less important than us understanding their reactions to those events. The only way that the show pulls this off is through some stellar performances from Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, Ann Dowd, Kevin Carroll, Regina King, and Scott Glenn.

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The Leftovers has the reputation for being a very depressing show, and honestly, that’s a little bit fair. Some of your takeaway from the show is going to depend on your perspective. As a secular person, I am often inclined to think that the events taking place on The Leftovers can all be rationally explained: hallucinations from a man with a guilty conscience and a family history of mental illness; rash, inconsistent actions from a woman whose entire family disappeared; the unbearable conflict of a licensed therapist who can’t make sense of the world in the wake of the Sudden Departure. The show itself is not dark or depressing but it stirs up sometimes uncomfortable and dissonant truths about ourselves and the meaning (or lack there of)  of our existence. This can stir up doubt in long held beliefs, uncover inconsistencies in personal philosophies. I understand how that might not be everyone’s ideal television experience, but I could just swim in it.

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Even as the show approaches these sometimes bleak topics, it’s incredibly playful and funny. I was weeping and actually a little shaken up after season three episode six, “Certified”, it was incredibly affecting. The next week, I was laughing through most of the following episode, “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)”. The tone could not have been more different, yet it all feels cohesive. It revels in its absurdity at times, with Kevin being the best proxy for the audience, always willing to call out bullshit when he’s presented with it, and I think its because of those moments of levity and absurdity that the the emotional moments hit so hard.

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I know three seasons doesn’t seem like enough; on its face it looks like the show had a small audience and it got cancelled, and I think there’s a little bit of truth to that. However, for this story I think this was the perfect amount of time. The show had time to craft its characters and get the audience invested in this world that they’ve created but without being slowed down by weaker plot lines sometimes used to fill time.

Perhaps foolishly, I trust Lindelof & Co. to write a satisfying finale in some shape or form. Even when the show has presented me with things that I would reject on paper as being dumb or pointless, I’ve followed the path the show has laid out and have always been happy. Even if the finale somehow shits the bed, it can’t undo the previous 27 episodes of astounding television.

The series finale of The Leftovers airs tonight on HBO at 8:00 p.m. (CT).

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