The Leftovers has returned for its third and final season, and it’s some of the best television that you’re not watching.
Like The Wire and Deadwood before it, audiences weren’t quite willing to give this drama a chance, but I’m sure grateful that HBO did. But maybe The Leftovers will grow into its deserved audience when all is said and done, too. Because this final season? It’s a heart-rending, hilarious, fast-paced, mysterious, and gorgeous victory lap. I’ve seen seven of the last eight hours and I’m hoping the apocalypse won’t really come before I get to see the series finale.
The Leftovers is so good, I’m not even mad at Damon Lindelof over Lost anymore.
It’s that good.
I won’t give you some tidy narrative about how Lindelof’s redeemed himself for his subjective artistic choices in his last show by answering all of The Leftovers’ big questions; lesson learned, viewers vindicated. The Leftovers takes all of the things I loved about Lost—the hour-long deep-dives into a single character, the superlative acting, and the tantalizing question marks—and none of the bad, like promising unambiguous closer (and failing to deliver).
We are no closer to learning why 2% of the world’s population simultaneously disappeared, where they went, or if God did it, than we were in the show’s 2014 premiere. And it matters not one tiny bit because this show is about just what it says it’s about: the people who were spared or punished or unworthy or unlucky.
The Leftovers’ biggest spiritual ancestor isn’t Lost, at all; it’s that other HBO show about fucked up grieving people, Six Feet Under.
In the first season, based largely on showrunner Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name, it’s a year after the October 14th event and the world as we knew it mostly continues without all of the missing people, but no one can really move on. Small town police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) didn’t lose anyone in the Sudden Departure, not technically, but his family still fell apart and into their own solitary mourning orbits of cults, teen rebellion, and insanity, leaving him alone and so distressed that he might be going crazy himself. Or he might be the Second Coming of Christ.
His foil and his new love interest is Nora Durst, a woman who did lose her husband and both children on the 14th and defines herself by her status as a victim of the cruelest cosmic tragedy. Carrie Coon (currently delivering another Emmy-worthy performance on the third season of Fargo) grounds The Leftovers with her portrayal of human resilience and bone-deep sorrow when Kevin’s story gets a bit too trippy. It’s intense viewing, a powerhouse performance of a complex women who subverts and exploits the expectations she feels put upon her as she struggles to understand the inexplicable.
The Leftovers gets stronger, less relentlessly depressing in its second season. Moving locales to a Texas town famous for having zero departures, The Leftovers reinvents itself a bit with additional supernatural mysteries—a cave woman, a demon hoax, a spirit guide—and more black humor and pathos. New families are formed and torn apart, and Kevin dies more than once and ends up in a purgatory hotel as an international assassin and, really, I’ll stop there because it almost makes sense when you watch the season unfold.
The Leftovers’ third season jumps Kevin and his family further in time, to the two weeks leading up to the seven-year anniversary of the Sudden Departure. Faithful people, like Nora’s brother, the Reverend Matt (played as a modern day Job by Doctor Who‘s Christopher Eccleston) believe that something big and world-shattering will happen on that date and that Kevin will be at the epicenter of this great… something. Is it the birth of a new gospel, a world-drowning flood, a nuclear bomb? Or will nothing happen, as Kevin believes—only that people looking for a truth will find something else to put their trust in. Just hopefully not him.
The Leftovers’ final episodes are those of a show with no more fucks to give.
The urgency is ramped up with the countdown clock—and a flashforward. And yet, there’s so much more to laugh at this season, even amid tears. Episode 2, “Don’t Be Ridiculous”, is the culmination of a long-running background gag about the cast of Perfect Strangers (!) that reaches unimaginable heights of meta-fictional brilliance as it punches you in the gut. It’s a show where two grieving mothers get some respite from mourning with the Wu-Tang Clan and a trampoline.
As things move towards their end, the show moves its location once more. Australia—home of the ultimate apocalypse movie franchise Mad Max, the origin of Lost’s ill-fated Oceanic Flight 815, and, really, as far from one’s troubles as a suburban American can physically and metaphorically run—gives Lindelof and Perrotta a vivid backdrop of sprawling outback, stormy skies, and a sense of scale. The Leftovers has never looked more beautiful than it does Down Under.
Lindelof was given a gift with these final eight hours. And he in turn is giving viewers a story that comes full circle thematically, if not literally—a global apocalypse event made deeply personal. There will be more hasty exits—and lions, submarines, and visits to another world—before the series’ end but no matter what the final episode brings, The Leftovers will have already left behind a legion of satisfied fans.
The Leftovers airs Sundays at 9PM E/PT on HBO.