The Leftovers aired its series finale this past weekend and you can see my detailed thoughts on the final episode on Periscope.
Beyond being a really well-made, thought-provoking show, The Leftovers spawned what has become some of my favorite pop-culture writing ever. I wanted to take a moment to just link to a few of these pieces before everyone moves on.
Firstly, there’s Matt Zoller Seitz’s extraordinary interview with showrunner Damon Lindelof, in which Lindelof explains how an episode from this season was inspired by Matt’s writing. Here’s Lindelof:
I hear everything that you’re saying, and obviously it’s no secret that The Leftovers is not a meditation on grief. But it is a show about different coping mechanisms that people employ for inexplicable loss, and the closest analog that we have in the real world is death.
And I do think that, if I’m dedicating the show to you, or writing to someone who’s suffered that sort of loss, it is a very universal idea — it’s not like you have to have lost someone that you care deeply about in order to understand The Leftovers, but I feel like once you hit 40, odds are you’ve lost someone really close to you. That’s unfortunately the world we live in. It is more abnormal when you’ve lost someone close to you who is your age or your peer. That’s not supposed to happen. There’s an unnatural quality to that, and it’s shocking and it’s sudden, as it was in your case, versus a long protracted battle with illness.
At Variety, Maureen Ryan wrote movingly about how experiencing both the show and grief in her own life makes her think about time and quantum physics:
“The Leftovers” is the observer, viewing human particles who exist in many modes and places and times. They, like us, are here and there, with the living and the dead, hopeful and undone. Here and not here. Gone and left behind. (Echoes of a classic music video from A-Ha.)
The show has never delved too far into various scientific explanations behind the Sudden Departure, but on a bone-deep level, something about the event the show describes feels right — it feels true, like it could happen. Because there is no fixed point, the center cannot hold. Death is always coming, separation is always lurking, sudden tragedies happen every day, and, if we are entangled, we are undone.
We all know that’s part of the package deal of being human, and if we don’t know that, we’re taught that by time, the slowest and most exacting teacher. As I told a friend who also lost someone recently, grief is the boss level of love. (In some alternate universe, there is a version of me that has turned that observation into a smash-hit collaboration with Ghostface Killah.)
At Uproxx, Alan Sepinwall has a typically excellent interview with Lindelof about the meaning of the finale. Here’s Lindelof explaining whether season 1 of the show is worth enduring to get to seasons 2-3:
I made a joke at TCA — or at least I thought it was a joke — that The Leftovers was a grower, not a shower, but I knew even then that it was going to take some figuring out and some experimentation. Not just because that’s the natural course of things in television, like doesn’t it make sense that the first season of a show should be its worst or its least evolved or its least confident? I have that conversation with people about The Americans —where season one isn’t even bad, it’s good; it’s just not the greatest show on television yet — then people like Aziz or Donald Glover or Jill Soloway come along and make perfect first seasons of television and then you go, “Oh, I didn’t even have to suffer through that.”
What I would say is, season one is not unwatchable, it’s ten hours of your life and of those ten hours, five of those episodes are categorically on the same level as episodes from seasons two and three, in my opinion. Half of them. I’m not going to tell you which ones they are, but you’ll know. “Lens” only works emotionally because you watched season one. You just gotta power through, man. That’s my advice.
- Sepinwall’s review of the finale
- Dan Fienberg’s review of the finale
- James Poniewozik’s review of the finale
While The Leftovers is a show I admire more than I love, I appreciated much of what it was trying to communicate. We live in a broken world that’s hungry for meaning, and one of the only ways we can find that meaning is through each other. But people are often terrible. For me, that’s the fundamental tension that the show brought to light, and that we need to deal with in our lives every day.