The Leftovers Season 3 (2017)
Written by Damon Lindelof, Patrick Somerville, Tom Perrotta, Tom Spezialy, Tamara Carter, Lila Byock, Carly Wray
Directed by Mimi Leder, Keith Gordon, Daniel Sackheim, Nicole Kassell, Carl Franklin, Craig Zobel
Seven years ago while people were going about their day to day lives, the Sudden Departure occurred. 140 million people, 2% of the population, vanished. No trace of them could be found, and the rest of humanity was left wondered what happened, why did it happen, and where did they go? For three seasons, The Leftovers followed Sheriff Kevin Garvey, Jr., Nora Durst, and the extended families that surrounded them. The series began in New York state, wandered to just outside of Austin, Texas, and concluded its run in Australia. With the eighth episode of season 3 the series ended and assured its place as one of the greatest television series of this current golden age.
I first discovered who Damon Lindelof was through an internet rabbit hole while looking up things about Lost back in 2005. He and Carlton Cuse hosted a weekly podcast that would go over the latest episode of Lost, a series they co-produced and wrote. I have always admired his focus on character in his writing, even when caught up in the mystery machine of J.J. Abrams-produced fare. In the wake of the Lost series finale, a lot of unfair vitriol was cast his way for not answering all of the questions raised by the series. There are some valid points to be made by that crowd, but I have returned to the series and still, love the depth it brought out of its characters. Lindelof went on to receive similar internet hate from his rewrites on Prometheus. In interviews, Lindelof has talked about attempting to shift that screenplay away from simply being the prolog to Alien and into something else. It’s sad to me that he receives so much hate over the missteps in Prometheus when I believe Ridley Scott is much more to blame for the end product. But that is a conversation for another time. All this to establish that I think Lindelof is an excellent and underrated writer of human drama.
I don’t have as deep a familiarity with author Tom Perrotta, who penned the book The Leftovers is based on and wrote/produced the HBO series alongside Lindelof. I read his novel Election and saw the very well made film adaptation. I know he has many books that come highly recommended but I just hadn’t delved into his library. In interviews about The Leftovers, I learned he acted as a stopgap to some of Lindelof and the writers’ more fantastic ideas. I think the balance these two creators struck was pitch perfect and is evidenced by the remarkable series as a whole and particularly the choices made in this final season.
By the end of Season 3, these were real people to me. The time taken to flesh out their characters and tell their stories was perfection. Add to that some of the best casting I’ve ever seen on television, matching the actor to the character so expertly. The show also played with viewer expectations, not becoming too fantastical early on, understanding that a focus on character over spectacle and mystery building would pay off in the end. By the second season, we begin to step into some wilder territory, but there is always a steady hand keeping the show from losing track of the stories of the people.
In the end, The Leftovers reveals itself as a series deeply about faith and grief. It gently shows us that the innate human desire to know “why” may not always be answered. Nora (Carrie Coon) tears herself apart over the loss of her two children and husband, allowing strangers to harm her early on. Eventually, she faces a profound choice in the third season about moving on with her loss. Her choices feel genuine and honest to the character we’ve gotten to know. Her relationship with Kevin (Justin Theroux) is also painfully real. This is a relationship built on two people seeking out a safe harbor in the midst of resonating pain. The catch though is Kevin, to the best of his knowledge, lost no one in the Departure while Nora lost everyone.
Nora’s brother, Matt (Christopher Eccleston) is a reverend with a dwindling flock. The Departure and its uncertainty have driven people away from faith or to alternate religions. He competes with the Guilty Remnant, a cult of individuals who have decided that all societal constructs, particularly Family are null with this disruption. Lori (Amy Brenneman), Kevin’s ex-wife, joins the Remnant and goes on her path of self-discovery that comes to a visceral and emotional moment in the third season. In season two, the Murphy family of Miracle, Texas are introduced and with them a whole different slew of interpretations of the Departure. Lindelof, Perrotta, and their writing staff beautifully develop a world full of the types of myriad reactions such a devastating event would produce.
From the beginning, Lindelof made it clear the series would never explain why the Departure happened, and true to his word when the finale ends we still don’t know why. The series ends with a story about the family a character lost, a story that may or may not be true. What matters in this final moment is the subtext of what this character is saying. They are providing an explanation of their pain and their need to isolate themselves. And in the end, this story is a way of reaching out. And in the end, both metaphorically and literally love returns.
Thank you for this amazing series.