When it first came out several years ago, THE LEFTOVERS blew my mind. I just finished the third season and had mixed feelings about it. While I found it affecting in parts and powerful in its conclusion, it relies too heavily on weird plot twists and ultimately unexplained dead-end plot lines to keep itself going.
Created by Damon Lindelof (who also created ABC’s LOST) and Tom Perrotta (on whose novel the series is based), THE LEFTOVERS tells the story of those left behind after 2% of the world’s population mysteriously vanishes into thin air. Set three years after this Rapture-like event, the world is still reeling. As science and religion don’t have definitive answers, cults have sprung up. Many can’t let go of those they lost. Many others, faced with an impossible event that cannot be explained, lose their sense of purpose. They don’t know whether to feel lucky they weren’t taken or rejected because they weren’t. In short, the world has gone into a slow burn mode of haywire. They’re trying to move on but don’t know where to go. They only know they want to stop feeling bad.
The result is a definitive portrait of loss and the search for meaning.
THE LEFTOVERS centers on a family–a police chief who lives with his daughter, his teenage daughter, his wife who now lives with a cult created in response to the event, and his son who works for another cult out in the desert. These and other characters populate a world rife with anger, violence, despair and religious hysteria. Two other characters become more important as the series develops. Nora Durst, who lost her entire family the morning of the event, and her brother Matt, a preacher who rejects the idea the Sudden Departure was the Rapture and who continually butts heads with the Guilty Remnant, a cult whose membership in the area keeps growing.
Unfortunately, I missed the second season, as I don’t have HBO and for some frustrating reason, Google Play didn’t carry it. I read Wikipedia to catch up to Season 3. In Season 3, all the main characters have moved to Miracle, a town in Texas where nobody disappeared. As a result, it’s a magnet for cults and weirdos believing in various theories about the Sudden Departure, particularly as the seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure looms. In Season 2, Kevin found out that when he dies, he goes to another (strange) world and then returns from the dead; in Season 3, he struggles with this and what it means. His dad is in Australia believing if he enacts a ritual, it will prevent an apocalyptic flood. Nora hears about a machine that sends you wherever the departed went and goes to Australia to investigate it, though we suspect she may want to go through to be with her children at last. And Matt is writing a new Testament about Kevin’s miraculous return from the dead. All of these characters end up in Australia for conclusion to the series.
Season 3 shines in many respects. Where the episodes focus on genuine issues of loss and the characters’ relationships, it’s as deeply affecting as Season 1. The last episode is perfect in just about every way, bringing the main character arcs to a satisfying close while explaining the Sudden Departure and what it meant. However, the odd LOST-like elements kept forcing me to emotionally disengage. Weird things happen for no reason, Kevin’s trips to another world during death appear to serve no purpose other than to give him personal peace, and almost everybody is wrong about the personal meaning they have found. I think that in itself would be wonderful–everybody finds meaning in a bizarre but meaningless world-changing event, but they’re all wrong–but the show gave enough credence and reality to the weird events to suggest a higher purpose, guiding entity, even a plan. But no, it’s all meaningless. As a viewer, you could almost see how hard the show’s creators were working to keep it all going, right down to the overbearing music deviating from the first season’s beautiful score by Max Richter. A quote attributed to Chekov is if there’s a gun over the mantle in Act I, somebody has to fire it by Act III. Season 3 of THE LEFTOVERS takes you into a gun store and not a single gun is fired.
So yeah, mixed feelings on Season 3. Loved it going in, loved the parts that were true to the emotional punch of Season 1, but overall it could have done without the dead-end spiritual story lines.