When 2% of the world's population abruptly disappears without explanation, the world struggles to understand just what they're supposed to do about it. The drama series 'The Leftovers' is the story of the people who didn't make the cut. Based on the bestselling novel by Tom Perrotta, 'The Leftovers' follows Kevin Garvey, a father of two and the chief of police in a small New York suburb, as he tries to maintain some semblance of normalcy when the notion no longer applies.
The Leftovers is a show that has had a quite fascinating trajectory. An HBO show with an all-star cast, created by the co-creator of the magnificent Lost. How could it all go wrong? And yet, it almost did. Season 1 at first glance was an inconsistent, tumultuous show of middling quality. Moments of genuine quality interspersed with plodding mediocrity. That said, upon a rewatch, my opinion of it significantly improved. It always was a good show, with some truly mesmerising moments (see Holy Wayne hugging Nora). Season 2 is where it really came alive, however. Whereas season 1 might have seemed overly gimmicky and lacking focus, season 2 delivered a truly engaging, engrossing story with the perfect mix of excitement, surreality and detailed characterisation. By season 3, critics were hailing it as one of the greatest shows of all time. Season 3 introduced the typical Leftovers’ blend of humour, the bizarre (dogs taking over the world?), entertainment and gut-wrenching misery. Like the other magnificent, emotionally driven, character based show of recent times ‘Rectify’, this show could be considered ‘misery porn’. Though I love it! However, I do feel season 3 is something I will need to watch again. It had many moments of great quality, and it was excellent, but it felt almost a bit too chaotic and lacking focus at times. Moving on, whilst the show has a very strong cast, Justin Theroux is the real acting heavyweight. Indeed, the man is an acting God who should be a Hollywood A lister. Scott Glenn was spectacular in season 3 and Carrie Coon, plus Christopher Eccleston, were never anything short of magnificent. Eccleston’s episodes were always great and full of substance; whilst Coon excelled in the finale, signing off with great aplomb. I have now watched this episode twice and both times I was struck by the exposition early on, where Nora reveals how she was allowed access to the chamber. For a show as adult and intellectual as this, it’s clumsy; however, it’s a minor gripe. The show soon made up for it with one of the first truly emotive scenes in an episode with a plethora of them. Matt and Nora said goodbye - joking at first - then Matt revealed his crisis of faith, and how petrified he was of perishing due to his cancer, leaving his son growing up without a father. It’s all very raw and visceral, and an incredible engagement resonates with the audience, to a level which very few shows have ever been capable of doing. Reminiscing about losing her kids, Nora steps into the chamber and says goodbye to her brother. There’s various flashbacks to old scenes in this episode, and it works as an homage to the show, much like the recent Trainspotting sequel did to the former (see the closing scene teasing the introduction of The Prodigy’s remix of Lust for life, before breaking into the credits, for an education in how to close a movie). It’s all constructed with tremendous finesse. After getting into the chamber, time skips forward many years into the future, and an aged Nora is now living a new life in Australia. We’re given no explanation regarding what’s transpired since, and initially it’s unclear if she’s even in ‘our’ world. Kevin soon tracks her down, pretending he thinks they never had a relationship, and only briefly knew each other. The new Kevin seems softened, with restrained emotion. The audience is left unclear whether he’s telling the truth and everything is a bit ambiguous. It’s worth pointing out that this episode showcases the startling cinematography and stylistic techniques that illustrates this show’s quality. We see some truly beautiful shots of the Australian landscape and the production values are that of a big budget Hollywood movie. Nora agrees to take Kevin up on an invitation to attend a ‘dance’, later revealed to be a wedding. Guests at this wedding are expected to wear beads. Nora rejects, and afterwards beads are placed around a goat’s neck, which proves significant later. The best scene of the entire show soon occurs, and one of the most powerful I have ever seen. The soulful, soothing elegance of ‘I’ve Got Dreams to Remember’, by Otis Redding starts playing and both characters proceed to dance. The music plays in harmony with the events construed and it all just blends to perfection in a scene dripping with sentiment. Kevin breaks down in tears of joy, but Nora tells him that this is fake and storms off, just as the crescendo really builds. The melancholic music plays out and Kevin is left standing as a broken man, drowning in misery. The Leftovers isn’t just a TV show, it’s a work of art. Later on, Nora hears a goat whining in agony up a hill: the goat from the wedding has become tangled in a fence due to the beads. As the empowering, classical theme music builds, thunder roars, and Nora removes the tangled beads, placing them around her neck. She looks to the pitch black sky and the intense music culminates. Now accepting the beads, Nora is finally embracing her sins. The biblical references are obvious and the haunting imagery is incredibly powerful. The characters in The Leftovers are morally ambiguous and that is part of the show’s quality. Nora is capable of doing some quite reprehensible things and can be quite horrible to people. She is a highly flawed, but ultimately good person. We soon see the real Kevin Garvey. He tracks down Nora again, breaks down and reveals he has spent all these years searching all over Australia for her. The emotion is overpowering. His excuse for his different recollection of events was he wanted to start afresh. The reasoning is a little flimsy, but it makes for an interesting story! The final scene soon plays out and whilst the wedding scene might be the créme de la créme of The Leftovers, this scene couldn’t be more emphatically emotive. The twist is revealed, though it’s of little consequence. This was a show focusing on dialogue and characterisation, with themes of tragedy, redemption and love permeating through it. Nora reveals that she did find her family, but they were happy, and so ultimately she travelled back. She desperately missed Kevin, but couldn’t tell him the truth. I know there’s some theories that Nora is lying, but I prefer to go with the events as they were explained. Kevin tells her he believes her, engulfed in tears, and the emotion displayed is incredible. Having spent a huge chunk of his life searching for her, he now has his woman again. As the closing credits played out I sat in silence, awestruck by the magnificence I had just watched. While San Junipero was an excellent recent TV episode with similar themes, this obliterated it. The Leftovers was a show that had all manner of bizarre happenings - and a hugely talented ensemble cast - but the finale just focused on two characters and attempted nothing spectacular. And how it succeeded. The show ended on a rare happy note and it’s a real shame a show of this quality only lasted three seasons. Still, if people are happy to sit through 12 seasons of The Big Bang Theory, that’s their prerogative. Farewell to The Leftovers, one of the greatest shows of all time. A perfect 10/10