When a TV series based on a novel gets liberated from its source material, it often means more interesting things happen. That was the case of season two of “Man From The High Castle,” and it’s most certainly the case for seasons two and three of “The Leftovers.” Based on the acclaimed novel by Tom Perrotta, “The Leftovers” is about the sudden departure of 140-million people in the blink of an eye. In Christian mythology it’s “The Rapture,” and in “The Leftovers” there’s certainly more than a few mentions of the event through the lens of “The Rapture. However, the show is really about the aftermath of the event, and the way in which people adapt (or don’t) to their new found reality. There’s more than a bit of nihilism, more than a dash of grief, and more than pinch of “What does it all mean?” throughout the series. Oh, and because the series is produced by Damon Lindelof (“LOST”), there’s a deep undercurrent of wanting to find answers to paranormal events that, like “LOST,” has kind of a mystical quality to it.
Season one of “The Leftovers” was too wedded to the novel that it had trouble finding its footing — though not for lack of trying. The story in the novel had a subtlety to it that really sidelined the action. But Lindelof and company (and by “company” Tom Perrotta is lumped into that group since he’s involved in the series as an executive producer) pulled old tricks out from their hats to gin up the action (unnecessarily at times) and create tension and conflict where there was very little in the novel.
Season two was so much better. As I wrote here on Popdose, the series shifted location and tone. Lindelof’s fingerprints were more evident in the premiere episode, with heavy symbolism, locating the action in an earlier part of human evolution, and then lurching forward to the present to set the series in Jarden, Texas (also known as “Miracle” because no one from that town “departed”). Season two was much more compelling because Lindelof and Perrotta rightly ditched major themes that weighed down the first season and created plotlines that were more tailored for this particular genre of television: a paranormal event changes society and the way people react in the aftermath.
Season three concluded on HBO on Sunday night and Damon Lindelof has redeemed himself from the ending of “LOST.” I bring up that show in relation to “The Leftovers” because there are many similarities between the two stories. While none of the characters are marooned on a mysterious island where all sorts of strange things happen, in “The Leftovers” the world is the island, and those humans who didn’t “depart” are the ones still experiencing strange things — especially the lead character Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux). In this season, three years have passed since Kevin returned from an alternate reality that may or may not be a kind of purgatory. He’s back to being a cop, is living with Nora (Carrie Coon), and his ex-wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman) is now with one of the main characters from season two, John Murphy (Kevin Carroll). A lot relationship musical chairs have happened, but what’s clear is that Kevin and Nora represent those who are very much non-believers about the meaning of the sudden departure. An odd thing for two people to cling to — especially when both have been so deeply affected by the event. Kevin is being elevated to messiah status by Nora’s brother, Matt (Christopher Eccleston) through a book he’s writing (in a kind of old school biblical style) of Kevin’s experiences with dying, traveling to another realm, and returning to tell people about it. But all through the paranormal, religious, and cynical views expressed in the series, there was an undercurrent of science. As in, there’s a scientific explanation for the sudden departure. As it turns out, the explanation leads to answers that are more about the power of our ability to love one another. In a sense, Lindelof and Perrotta leave viewers with a very humanistic message of “What if this is all we’ve got?” How do we live our lives? Do we manufacture an apocalyptic end to our existence? Do we find comfort in a higher power who is guiding all events? Or do we find comfort and security in the deep bond of love we can forge with one another? The series kinda sorta gives answers, but it also finds a way to wrap up the story on a satisfying note — something Lindelof was not able to do with “LOST.” F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote “There are no second acts in American lives.” However, Lindelof and company have shown that in Hollywood that’s not always the case. And for those who have put off watching “The Leftovers,” you now have an opportunity to binge watch it (as all three seasons are available to stream on the HBO Go app). Doing so might be a better experience than watching it on the old “appointment viewing” model because the journey that these characters go on seem like it would be more compelling if watched in a compressed way. Whatever you choose, don’t pass up an opportunity to watch “The Leftovers.” The darker side of humanity is explored without pulling punches, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.