I have to admit – I’m a huge fan of ‘The Leftovers’.
But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, when ‘The Leftovers’ first debuted back in 2014… I wasn’t really bothered. I’d seen the odd, mysterious adverts on Sky Atlantic – you know the ones, where an American mom is depicted buckling her child into the back of her car, only for the kid to suddenly vanish.
And that’s when it dawns on her – her child isn’t the only one who’s gone.
‘The Leftovers’ is a weird one. Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, the show takes places several years after a global event known as the ‘Sudden Departure’ – the instantaneous and completely inexplicable disappearance of 2% of the world’s population, on October 14, 2011.
That’s 140 million people, vanished in the blink of an eye.
There’s no explanation. And spoiler alert – there likely never will be. But the show is more than just getting to the bottom of a weird mystery. In fact, it’s not really that at all… it’s far more important to realise that the show is about how its characters, the community, and even the entire world has been affected by the event.
As you can probably guess, it’s not good.
Kevin Garvey Jr (played by Justin Theroux) is the everyman. He’s the town of Mapleton’s Chief of Police… but while at first, he may seem like an average Joe, it soon becomes clear that he’s not exactly normal. And he may have been affected by the Sudden Departure a lot more than he realises.
And then there’s his love interest…
Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) was a wife and mother who lost everything. Her husband and both children were among the departed… and when we finally see it unfolding during a flashback, it’s completely devastating. Obviously, the experience has left her feeling numb, and she no longer knows how to deal with life.
And heartbreak seems to run in her family.
Her brother, Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) is the mild-mannered face of mainstream religion… but he’s also a man on the edge. Following the Sudden Departure, people just aren’t convinced by religion anymore, and church attendance is at an all-time low. But the sad story of Matt Jamison isn’t confined to his dwindling congregation.
His wife, Mary was paralyzed in a car crash during the Sudden Departure.
If there’s one thing ‘The Leftovers’ does well, it’s the relentless tragedy which befalls every single character… whether we realise it or not. And as hard as Matt tries to get back on his feet, something always gets in the way.
And that’s where the Guilty Remnant come in.
This mysterious cult, seemingly run by the enigmatic Patty (Ann Dowd) are relentless. Often seen around town, they follow those susceptible to joining their ranks – always watching, but never speaking. The Guilty Remnant considers themselves a ‘living reminder of the awesome power of God’.
And they’re willing to turn the world upside down to make you see it.
In Reverend Matt’s case, the Guilty Remnant are hell bent on putting a stop to him… and eventually manage to force him out of his family church, taking possession of the building for themselves and turning it into a GR headquarters.
But Reverend Matt isn’t the only one who’s faced with a world turned upside down.
The entire first season builds up a picture of the crazy world they live in. It may look familiar – folks go to work, eat dinner and drive cars. But the ‘Sudden Departure’ changed everything. Tiny hints that things aren’t okay creep into every aspect of their lives, whether it’s insurance policies which emphatically state they don’t cover departures, or just a feeling that something is ‘off’.
There are bigger things, too… and essentially, it feels as though society is broken.
And that is why ‘The Leftovers’ is so interesting.
Even the Guilty Remnant – the obvious ‘villains’ of the series – are painted in an uncertain light. They’re damaged goods, and they don’t know quite how to deal with things after the departure. Even their monstrous leader, Patty can be seen in a sometimes-sympathetic light.
But the ‘Sudden Departure’ was only the beginning.
By the end of Season One, the town of Mapleton has been changed yet again. I won’t spoil it with too many details, but the Guilty Remnant had been working towards an end goal – the ultimate act of reminding the community exactly what they lost.
And it’s completely brutal.
That’s not to say it’s a violent act… but the sheer emotion brought to the surface by their horrific plans is exhausting. I’m not ashamed to admit that the first season of ‘The Leftovers’ regularly left me in bits. But never more so than the season finale.
But where could they go from there?
By the end of Season One, the town of Mapleton has been torn apart… and that gives Kevin Garvey and his family only one option – to head out of town. And so the family packs up and ships out to a new home in Miracle.
That’s right – the religious significance is never played down.
The town of Jarden, Texas has been renamed ‘Miracle’ on account that there were no departures in the entire town. It’s a rare thing, and this is part of the reason why the Garveys inevitably head there – Nora is convinced it’s the only place she can exist without the fear of it happening again.
But it soon transpires that Miracle is not all it seems.
It’s a bold move – taking ‘The Leftovers’ away from its original setting and transplanting the core cast into a new environment… but it really pays off. Showrunners Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta have given us the opportunity to explore the wider world. Not to mention, that it finally gives the cast a sense of moving on with their lives. Even if it is just a fleeting notion.
Of course, Season Two is just as weird.
The town is run by John Murphy (played by Kevin Carroll) – a ‘normal’ guy with a seemingly normal family. But the cracks soon begin to show. John is a control freak, and the legend which has sprung up around Miracle makes him uncomfortable – so much so, that he will brutally beat anyone who holds any kind of supernatural, religious experience.
And on second glance, the whole town is clearly broken.
There’s the weird man in the tower who shouts at passers-by, and the even weirder man who randomly slaughters goats during town meetings and the like. In searching for their own bit of paradise, the Garveys have stumbled upon a town which is just as messed up as Mapleton.
They just don’t want to admit it.
Of course, there’s plenty of confrontation throughout Season 2 – something that ‘The Leftovers’ does incredibly well. And when it comes down to it, the weird, dysfunctional feel of the show is punctuated with real human emotions. The characters think and feel and yearn for a life they know they’ll never get back, no matter how hard they try.
Written by Damon Lindelof, you can really feel his influence. The character work is phenomenal, and their interweaving stories is reminiscent of some of the finer moments of ‘Lost’ – walking the line between mysterious thriller and incredible character drama.
What you’re left with is a stunning piece of television…
‘The Leftovers’ is a beautiful mess - not in how the show is made, but in the broken, self-destructive society that was leftover. It’s brutal, emotional and a bit exhausting at times… but it’s always the most human show you’ll ever see. It even manages to tackle bigger, existential issues without ramming it down your throat. And if you like
Most of all, ‘The Leftovers’ is a beautiful glimpse of humanity doing what it does best - carrying on. And I don’t think any other show will ever tap into human emotions in quite the same way.
‘The Leftovers’ is currently films Season 3.
Picture Credit: HBO
Have you seen ‘The Leftovers’? Where do you think it will go in Season 3? Leave your comments below… and follow Ryan Leston on Twitter, Facebook or my official Tumblr blog for more on the latest TV shows.