If you have not seen The Leftovers, I don’t believe that I spoil much, but I suggest not reading this review if you absolutely have to watch something not knowing anything about it beyond the general plot synopsis.
Too often, The Leftovers has contrived sequences and the characters do frustrating things. Some of this can be chalked up to events and actions occurring in a post-rapture world, although it’s never specifically stated it was a rapture that took place in the years prior, suddenly vanishing 2% of the world’s population, until season 3 and only then it was conjecture from an overly religious character. And that was part of my issue with The Leftovers from the beginning – it just assumes that you think the sudden vanishing was the rapture and not something else. But even though the show assumes rapture, it tries to explore it from a scientific standpoint briefly at times (and nothing ever comes of that). As for me if 2% of the world’s population suddenly disappeared, I would first think that we’re living in a virtual reality and the 2% were deleted, either accidentally or intentionally, and if accidentally then we’re living in a dead-end timeline before everything gets restored. If intentionally,well, shit.
As I mentioned before, season 1 of the Leftovers was just good enough to continue watching. A cult known as the Guilty Remnant (GR) played a prominent role in season 1 and this was probably its weakest subplot in the whole series. Why these people act the way they do and how they are able to recruit so many members is never adequately explained. The show simply assumes that the viewer is to understand that people would act this way in a post-rapture world. But is that the way some people would act? It’s a take it or leave it scenario and taking it is a large stretch. They all dress in white, they all chain smoke, and all have taken a vow of silence and do not speak. So, they communicate by writing things down on notepads all the time and this gets pretty tedious at times given that they’re always communicating by writing when they’re not supposed to be communicating. As to why they do all this, it’s not explained. They are able to recruit a few new members by standing outside their houses silently stalking them. And that’s all it takes to recruit new members. Lame. They also do things like break into everybody’s houses and take their family photos and nobody bats an eye, then later when they do something equally lame, everybody in town completely and totally loses their shit.
Also, subplots are brought up, then dead-ended. A couple from season 1 included characters I mentioned in a previous post. The dog-killer states that the leftover dogs are a danger and Kevin helps kill them in his sleep walking, then Kevin later adopts one. That’s it. So are the leftover dogs a danger, or what? How do they figure into the rapture? The other subplot included Aimee, who was living with Kevin and Jill. The reason she was living with them was never explained and at one point there was an odd sexual tension in one scene between Aimee and Kevin. Nothing was ever done with this tension except to have Jill accuse Aimee of fucking her dad (which wasn’t true) to have a fallout occur between the two and get rid of Aimee from the series. The whole thing was pointless and odder still because Aimee is presumably an underage character (she’s in high school) even though the actress is obviously in her 20s. The scene with the odd sexual tension occurs because Aimee appears in the kitchen wearing a see-through shirt. I don’t know current laws with television, but this could be considered child pornography even though the actress is in her 20s because it’s a portrayal of a bare-breasted female child in a semi-sexual manner. But again, the whole thing was pointless, so I don’t know why they did any of it.
But for all of my problems with The Leftovers, the performances from the actors and actresses are top-notch. Justin Theroux (playing Kevin Garvey) and Carrie Coon (playing Nora Durst) carry the show. Other supporting actors are great as well – Christopher Eccleston playing Matt Jamison, Kevin Carroll as John Murphy, and Regina King as Erika Murphy, to name a few. The fantastic Scott Glenn plays a supporting role too and one of my favorite episodes, Season 3’s Crazy Whitefella Thinking, featured him prominently (as the crazy whitefella). It’s these performances and stellar episodes every once in a while that kept me coming back. Season 2’s International Assassin episode is another example of great storytelling from all involved and Season 1’s Guest is the episode that really got me into the show. These three episodes all had something in common – they focused on a singular character and his or her journey. This is where The Leftovers is at its strongest and it’s engrossing.
Then, just like that, Crazy Whitefella Thinking gets followed by an episode that is one big contrived and cliched mess. Going into the last four episodes of the series, I gave The Leftovers a C+ in my mind with the final episodes being capable of raising it up to a B or B- level or dropping it down to a C. Would the final episodes be strong ones focused on a Garvey or would they go the more likely route of jumping back and forth through different characters to tie up the character arcs? But why bother doing that when so many other things haven’t been tied up? Will I be really upset by the ending like so many were who took Lost seriously?
I’m happy to say that season 3 episodes 5, 6, and 7 all largely focused on a singular character and each was successively better than the previous. Episode 5’s It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World seemed odd with the lion sex party (you would have to watch it), then Episode 6’s Certified allowed Amy Brenneman (who plays Laurie) to shine brightly despite an episode nearly devoid of plot. I felt her acting talent was largely wasted until this episode. Then came The Most Powerful Man in the World (and his Twin Brother), a brilliant episode and largely a sequel to Season 2’s International Assassin, also from the same director (Craig Zobel, who also co-founded Homestar Runner!). This penultimate episode is every bit as good as International Assassin and has one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen on the small or big screen in quite some time.
Before I get to the series finale, I have to say that I read up a bit on the many theories online about the show. While some seem like they could be legit and others are pretty far out there, I came across one written during the first season stating they felt the series was largely a study in depression. In fact, I got the feeling that’s what the show was about before I even saw that article. That’s probably why I don’t like it quite as much as others – as a largely depressed person, I crave a little more escapist entertainment than what The Leftovers has to offer. My understanding is that the first season was loosely based on the book (which I have not read), then season 2 and 3 was not. Season 2 is where The Leftovers got significantly better, probably because the creators and writers were able to take the characters and ideas and write their own material directly for a visual format. But they still kept the depression theme at times, especially given what takes place in Certified during the third season.
As for the series finale, it was mildly disappointing and again, reminded me of Lost. There’s even a reference to Lost early in the episode. I’m not going to say anything else about it.
The strength of the latter half of season 3 earns it an increase in grade from C+, but the series finale prevents it from getting a full B and results in a B-.