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Josh Reviews The Third and Final Season of The Leftovers

After several years during which several of my friends repeatedly beseeched me to watch The Leftovers, I finally gave it a chance.  I’m so glad I did.  The show is a masterpiece.  It’s a deep character study; a riveting meditation on grief and loss; and a thrillingly ambitious narrative in which I found myself repeatedly, joyously bowled over by how impossible to predict it was.  I enjoyed the first season and I thought the second season was even stronger.

The first season was set three years after the mysterious Sudden Departure, an event in which 2% of the world’s population vanished.  That season was set in the small town of Mapleton, NY, and as we followed many of the town’s denizens, the show explored the myriad ways in which this dramatic event damaged each of their lives, whether they’d lost a close family member to the Departure or not.  The second season expanded the show’s focus to a new location: Jarden, Texas, a town nicknamed “Miracle” because not a single member of the town Departed.  That terrific second season showed us a little more of the (extremely messed-up) state of the world, while at the same time drilling down even more intimately into the emotional lives of the show’s characters.  For this third and final season, the show expanded even further, while at the same time continuing to give us the riveting, tightly-focused P.O.V. episodes that had proven so critical to the show’s emotional power in the first two seasons.  Once again, I am impressed at the continued world-building of the universe in which The Leftovers takes place, and the power of the intimate explorations of these characters.

This third and final season was even shorter than the first two seasons (only eight episodes instead of the previous ten).  I wish there were far more.  But as with the previous seasons, these eight episodes were extremely well-structured to tell the story that the makers of this show (overseen by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta) set out to tell.  There was nary a stinker in the bunch.  (Which, again, has been the case from the beginning.  I don’t think there was a single bad episode in the entire run of this show.  That’s an extraordinary achievement!)  And, once again, I was impressed by the boldness of the storytelling.  In a shorter-than-ever season, I’d never have predicted they’d devote an entire episode to a supporting character who, while important, had never before gotten a lot of screen time!  (That’d be Scott Glenn as Kevin Senior.  His third episode spotlight was a highlight of the season for me.)

As with my previous reviews, I want to dive into the details of this show, so if you’ve never before seen the show or this season, I advise you to stop here.  Know that I have thoroughly enjoyed this unique and memorable series, and I highly recommend that you give it a shot.  And I’ll advise you as I was advised: don’t give up during some of the first season’s intensely sad, emotionally wrenching (though beautifully crafted) episodes.

OK, let’s dive into season three!

Episode 1 — The Book of Kevin — Well, nothing could top the crazy opening sequence of season two, set in prehistoric times.  But I was once again totally surprised and totally delighted by the vignette that opened this third season, as we watch a community in the eighteen forties repeatedly prepare for a miraculous religious event, only to have to repeatedly confront what it means for their faith when that event never arrives.  (Watching the episode I’d assumed that this was a fictionalized sequence, but reading about the show afterwards I discovered that this was a depiction of what came to be known as the Great Disappointment in the Millerite movement.)  I loved the way this extended sequence encapsulated the show’s larger themes and explorations of how grief and trauma can shake some people’s religious faith, while cementing it in others.

I’d wondered whether season three would take place in an entirely new locale, as season two had.  My guess going into the season was that it would.  And so it was a fun surprise to me to find myself back in Jarden, Texas, albeit after a time-jump of three years.  (Though later on in the season we’ll wind up spending a lot of time in a new location: Australia!)  It was fun to check back in with so many of the show’s characters… and it was a particularly fun surprise to see how happy the members of the extended Garvey family all seemed to be!  It was fun to discover the new status quo… Kevin was a chief of police again, albeit this time in Jarden; Tommy was on the force with him; John was giving people psychic readings just like Isaac used to do (a huge surprise, one that made more sense when we learned that Laurie’s online investigations were behind his psychic powers); John and Laurie were now married; etc. etc.  The day leading up to Tommy’s “surprise” birthday party was the happiest extended sequence the show had ever given us, and it was a delight… while also being anxiety-producing, as I waited for the other shoe to drop.  This is The Leftovers, after all.

That sadness did come.  Something has happened to baby Lily.  Mary is leaving Matt and taking their son (I love that his name is Noah!) with her.  And I was disappointed to see that Kevin still seems to be suicidal (taping a plastic bag over his head in what seems to be a regular ritual).  On the one hand I felt like the show had done this story before… on the other hand, I’d commented in my review of season two that, as brilliant as the “International Assassin” episode was, there was a part of me that struggled to accept those events as a quick resolution to Kevin’s deep-seeded psychological troubles, so it made sense to see that he was still wrestling with these demons.

I loved the idea that Matt was writing a new gospel based on the life, deaths, and rebirths of Kevin Garvey!!  What a brilliant idea that makes perfect sense in the universe of this show.  Based on the events of season two, it shouldn’t be shocking that Matt, Michael, and John all have reason to believe that Kevin has been touched by the divine.  Kevin’s reaction is hilarious — as is Nora’s.

The return of the dog-shooting Dean from season one was a wonderful surprise.  His ultimate fate was so sad.

After the end of season two transformed Meg into a terrifying, and very smart, villain, I was bummed to see her written off the show so quickly here at the start of season three!  (Though that drone strike was one more great example of my being delighted and shocked by a left turn on this show that I never saw coming!)

Then there was that ending — a jump into the future to see Nora Durst, sad and alone, doing something with doves in Australia!!  (After the hints we got in season two, I am glad season three is taking us to Australia!)  This was an incredible hook — and, also, a heartbreaking one, as it looks like Nora and Kevin won’t be getting the happy ending I’d been rooting for.

Episode 2 — Don’t Be Ridiculous — Possibly the greatest moment in this TV series, and in any TV series I have watched for years, was the tremendous surprise of hearing the Perfect Strangers theme song play over the show’s opening credits!!  Genius!!  And then this episode gave us Mark Linn-Baker himself (the actor who played Cousin Larry on Perfect Strangers) in an ultra-serious role, as a man convinced that he knows how to reconnect those left behind with their Departed loved ones.  Mr. Linn-Baker was amazing, absolutely knocking this very intense scene out of the park.  So, of course, was the great Carrie Coon as Nora Durst, as always.  This was another amazing Nora scene.  Discovering that both she and Mark Linn-Baker had lost three of the four members of their “family” was a chilling point of connection between the two.

It was wonderful to get another intense spotlight on Nora so early in this season.  It was heartbreaking to learn what had happened to Lily.  I was glad the little girl was still alive, though devastating to discover that Nora had lost a young child yet again.  After seeing Dean in episode one, it was terrific to get to see Christine again, briefly, here.  It was also wonderful to see Erika (Regina King) again.  I love that she and Nora are now friends.  And while I miss the amazing Regina King on the show, it’s satisfying to see that Erika seems to be doing well for herself.  (She’s no longer super messed up, which means there’s not really a place for her on the show, I guess!)  I also loved seeing Joel Murray back as the Department of Sudden Disappearances agent!!

We got another awesome, crazy ending set in Australia, in which a group of women murder a police chief named Kevin, thinking he’s the messiah… and then they bump into Kevin Garvey senior (Scott Glenn)!

Episode 3 — Crazy Whitefella Thinking — I’m delighted to see Scott Glenn back in the show for this final season, and as I commented above, I was blown away that he got his own spotlight episode!!  It was sad to see him so deeply lost in what seems like mental illness.  (Though, this being The Leftovers, a universe in which paranormal things DO take place, one never knows!)  But his rambling monologue to Christopher Sunday about following voices — a monologue that was brilliantly delivered by Mr. Glenn — my heart was broken listening to this man who is a character I really like (despite his bursts of scary violence as seen in season one), and was rooting for, seem to be so obviously out of his mind.  The whole episode was a tour de force for the amazing Mr. Glenn.  It’s a wild development that he’s become convinced he’s the only one who can stop a flood from destroying the world.  It’s interesting to discover his continued connections with Matt (did season one ever explain how/why Kevin Senior buried all that money for Matt to use?) and, of course, the flood connection with the name of Matt’s son, Noah.

Surprisingly, the real show-stopping monologue wasn’t Kevin Senior’s — it was Grace (Lindsay Duncan’s) devastating tale of thinking that her husband and all of their adopted children had Departed… only to discover that the kids all died alone in the desert, because it never occurred to her to go look for them.  That tale of unbelievable horror takes me back to the sadness of season one.  That’s not a criticism, as that was an amazingly powerful moment, brilliantly delivered by Ms. Duncan.  (It’s got to be so hard for an actor, to get hired for a guest appearance on a show and have to come in and deliver an incredible monologue like this in one of your first scenes!!)

Episode 4 — G’Day Melbourne — Kevin and Nora’s vicious fight in their hotel room was a devastatingly sad ending to this episode and, it seems, to their relationship (at least for a long while).  This makes me so sad, because I’d been rooting for these two to get a happy ending ever since they first crossed paths in season one.  Nora’s interactions with the two LADR (like, ladder to heaven?) scientists are so weird and creepy.  (I guess we know now why the guy who burned himself in the desert in the previous episode was so upset about giving the wrong answer to a question about killing a baby!)  (Though he gave the opposite answer than Nora did, which adds yet another layer of mystery onto the bizarre questions the scientists were asking…)  This episode is filled with great Nora Durst moments — such as her revealing that she was traveling with $20,000 in cash taped to her middle, or telling Kevin that if the LADR scientists ask her why he’s with her, she’ll just say that they’re in a “toxic, co-dependent relationship”!  Having grown to love Nora so much, it’s breaks my heart to see her trapped in quiet desperation to somehow reconnect with her Departed family.  It’s also so sad to see Kevin descending back into madness and paranoia — thinking that a woman he sees is actually Evie Murphy.

Episode 5 — It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World — Each season of The Leftovers has had an episode spotlighting Matt (Christopher Eccleston) and putting him (and the audience!) through the wringer.  I was glad to see this tradition continue in season three, which what might be the strangest Matt episode of them all, as he (along with Laurie, John, and Michael) are trapped on an escalatingly-nutso orgy cruise from hell, along with a sensuous lion.  All of the business with Frasier the lion (be careful about saying his name!) had me perplexed and amused in equal measure; another wonderful example of The Leftovers’ complete unpredictability.  It felt so perfect that the Job-like Matt should now shift into being like Daniel, thrust into the lion’s den.  Matt’s conversation with “God” (David Burton, played by the same actor, Bill Camp, as the man who Kevin encountered on both of his visits to the hotel/afterlife) is of course the highlight of the episode.  It’s fascinating to watch Matt’s complete transition over the course of the conversation, from anger that this man (who may or may not be a murderer) is claiming to be God, to Matt’s asking God why he is suffering the way he is.  It’s sad to learn in this episode that Matt’s cancer (a key piece of his backstory) has returned, apparently terminally this time.  It’s fascinating that Matt — one of the strongest true believers in a show about a lot of true believers — has latched onto belief in Kevin so strongly.  Matt goes into this episode just as convinced that the fate of the world is on his shoulders (in his mission to bring Kevin back to Jarden) as Kevin Sr. does.  And he ends the episode with that belief washed away, telling the ship’s captain that he has no pressing business in Melbourne.  I’m uncertain whether this is a happy ending or a sad one.  Matt’s obsession with Kevin (to the point of writing a Gospel about him) seems laughable… and yet, watching The Leftovers it’s hard to deny that Kevin has been saved by the divine — possibly multiple times.  And it’s sad to me to see Matt’s faith — which has been the central through-line in his life — apparently shaken.  (Though the episode’s ending left me uncertain as to the state of Matt’s Christian faith, separate from his belief in Kevin Garvey.)  I adored the episode’s bizarre and memorable opening scene, in which a nude French sailor launches a nuclear submarine (and provides us with an explanation for the “explosion” which we learned at the end of the previous episode had shut down all the airports in Australia, while at the same time ratcheting up the tension that, as the end of the series approaches, so too does the End of Days…).

Episode 6 — Certified — There’s a lot of plot in this episode.  Had this been a longer season, it’d have been fun to have gotten to see some of these storylines play out in more detail, and in a more linear fashion.  Still, it also works just fine to jump ahead to so many of our characters’ meeting up in Australia: Kevin Sr. and Grace, Laurie and John and Michael, and Kevin himself.  It’s fascinating to open the episode with a flashback to Laurie’s still trying to work as a therapist two years after the Departure.  Her attempted suicide was sad, but I loved getting to finally understand more about why she left her family to join the Guilty Remnant (an act I simply could not fathom, watching her in season one).  That the episode seems to end with Laurie’s following through on that suicide she’d attempted years earlier was among the more heartbreaking of this series’ many heartbreaking endings.  That final scene of Laurie on the boat, talking to Jill and Tommy (both of whom I wish we’d seen more of this season; particularly Jill), was so enigmatic and sad.  I didn’t understand why Laurie would kill herself, but then, how could one ever really understand why anyone could possibly make that decision?  Laurie’s declaration to Kevin that “we’re all gone” seemed like a very sad ending for this show’s main question.  We have been hoping for these characters to find some way of pulling their lives back together and continuing to live following the trauma of the Departure.  Here as we near the end, is the answer that this is impossible??  (I was pleased that the finale doesn’t seem to depict quite so hopeless a worldview…)  But watching Nora, in this episode, sort of Incept the idea of suicide via scuba “accident” into Laurie’s head was terrible.  Speaking of Nora, this episode also seems to end with her making a similar decision, to leave this world behind by going into the LADR scientists’ machine.  This is equally heartbreaking.  (It’s interesting that the finale reveals that neither Laurie nor Nora chose to kill themselves.  I was happy with that, and those revelations do not run any way undermine the power of this episode.)  I love the surprise of Laurie’s playing Judas by drugging the food of Kevin Sr., Grace, John and Michael.  (With the dog’s pills, no less!!)  I loved her final conversation with Kevin.  It’s nice to see these two — who were so far apart, emotionally, in season one… during a time which, of course, Laurie wouldn’t utter a word to Kevin — now being able to sit and communicate.  It’s fascinating and heartbreaking to finally get confirmation that Laurie’s unborn child DID Depart.  Speaking of heartbreaking, so was Nora and Laurie’s final conversation, in which Nora tells that story of the usher taking the beach ball and Laurie involves doctor-patient confidentiality by having Nora give her a packet of cigarettes.  (Tremendous work by both Carrie Coon and Amy Brenneman, both of whom I will now love forever because of this show.)

Episode 7 — The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother) — I am bowled over by the unbelievable boldness of devoting a full episode in this shortened, eight-episode final season, to a THIRD trip to Kevin’s mysterious maybe afterlife.  I am absolutely tickled by the balls-to-the-wall audaciousness of that.  I am in awe.  This could so easily have been an indulgent waste of time, and yet Kevin’s crazily escalating adventure (and his dual missions of assassinating the President while also avoiding assassination) was a highlight of this spectacular season for me.  I loved being back in this world and hearing that iconic music again.  (Verdi’s “Va Pensiero””.  Thank you, internet.)  I loved seeing Dean back again at the beginning of the episode, and I loved seeing Meg and Patti back again at the end.  (It was a particular pleasure to get a few more great Kevin-Patti battle-of-will scenes before the end of the show.)  I laughed long and hard at the penis scanner.  The sound we hear when Kevin puts his penis on the scanner might be the single greatest foley sound effect in the history of the medium.  (This show has made a LOT of jokes about the apparently-prodigious size of Justin Theroux’s genitalia!)  What’s fascinating about this episode’s structure is that, on the one hand, this trip seems to allow Kevin to resolve many of his personal internal issues just as his first two trips did.  On the other hand, Kevin doesn’t actually obtain answers to any of the questions he’s hoping to get.  He doesn’t learn, for Grace, what happened to her kids’ missing shoes.  Evie won’t give him any last words to pass on to John.  And Christopher Sunday says that, despite Kevin Sr.’s fervent belief, there is no magical song to stop the rain.  At the end of the episode, we see that the world hasn’t ended by a flood, even though Kevin Sr. didn’t complete that last dance.  I love the parallel to the opening of the season, as the episode ends with Kevin Sr. up on a roof; the world hasn’t ended, and now he has to figure out what to do with what’s left of his life.  That was beautiful.  Getting back to Kevin Jr., I loved the idea that it was Patti who had to force him to blow up his maybe-fictional afterlife world, so that he can’t keep coming here.  Instead he has to, finally, somehow, fix his real life in the real world.  That works for me emotionally, and is also a good storytelling solution to the question of why Kevin couldn’t keep coming back to this mystical afterlife to solve his problems, since that had worked two times before and now seems to work a third time as well.  Justin Theroux has bowled me over throughout this series at how amazing an actor he is.  I knew he was a strong comedic performer, but I had no idea of the depths he was capable of.  Here in this episode, I was astonished by his performance, reading from the romance novel that he’d written in the afterlife, and being forced to finally take ownership of how he’d bungled so many of the key relationships in his life.  What a scene.  And, of course, it came hand in hand with another classic bit of Leftovers weirdness when one Kevin has to cut into the chest of the other Kevin.  Wowsers!!  I love this show.

Episode 8 — The Book of Nora — I love this beautiful series finale.  It’s a deeply moving, completely satisfying ending to this great show.  This has been a dark season — the happiness we saw at the gathering at the Garvey home in Jarden in the series premiere feels like a long time ago — and I’d been hoping for a glimpse of light and hope by the end.  I’m so glad we got that; and not in a way that felt like a cheat or an undoing of any of the devastating storytelling we’d gone through to get to this point.  It was a pleasure to finally catch up to the season premiere’s last forward of future Nora living alone in Australia.  I love how Nora — who was a great character in season one but definitely a supporting one — has become so central that the series finale is focused on her.  Carrie Coon is once again extraordinary.  She’s never been more riveting than in Nora’s final lengthy monologue to Kevin.  What a showstopper.  Do I believe Nora?  Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.  Primarily because I want Nora and Kevin to find some peace and a happy ending, and I think if this whole tale is B.S. she’s spinning then that doesn’t bode well for their having a healthy future together.  There are definitely holes in Nora’s story.  (If she knows for certain what happened to everyone who Departed, isn’t it so selfish of her to keep that information to herself?  If the scientist she found could create a machine to send people between worlds, wouldn’t he send at least one person back to our world to give everyone an answer as to what happened to the Departed?  I know Nora’s family was happy, but surely there are SOME people who Departed who are unhappy and would do anything to be reunited with their lost loved ones??)  But I think, as a viewer and a fan, I choose to believe Nora.  What a scene.  “It’s a better story” — like the nun who Nora catches having sex tells her — and I’m going to go with that.  By the way, Justin Theroux also gives a tremendous performance in his near-silent reactions to Nora’s tale.  (The part that pains me either way is that it seems Laurie knew Nora was alive but kept that secret from Kevin despite his years of searching for her.  Or was the idea that Kevin lied to everyone about how he was spending his vacations each year, and so Laurie didn’t know…?)

Damon Lindelof and Lost broke my heart when that show failed to answer most of the mysteries it had spent years so carefully cultivating, and I’d been warned going into The Leftovers that season one would develop some mysteries that the show wouldn’t answer.  But I must say, I was surprised and pleased by how many questions the show did satisfactorily answer before the end.  I loved learning what the guy on the bridge said to Kevin in “International Assassin”.  I loved getting confirmation of what happened to Laurie’s unborn fetus.  And, wow, I was blown away that the show actually did give an answer (or at least, a possible one) to the central question of what happened to the 2% who departed!!  I’d assumed and accepted that we’d have to “let the mystery be” on that one, and so to actually get an answer in the finale was incredible.  Whether or not I accept that answer is, I suppose, a matter of faith — which is perfect for this show that has wrestled so beautifully with questions of faith and belief.

I loved how this final season used a different piece of music over the opening credits of each episode.  It was fun to hear the season one theme music over the credits one last time in episode seven, and it was tremendously satisfying to hear the season two theme, which I loved, one last time here in the finale.

There’s so much else to love in this finale.  I loved Nora and Matt’s farewell scene at the beginning.  (I laughed at “Matt Libs”, and I loved that we got one more mysterious — and possibly/probably meaningless, though you never know — reference to Cairo in there!)  I loved the crazy sci-fi weirdness of Nora’s nude journey into the LADR machine.  I loved the way Kevin’s reappearance, and his ruse that none of his past with Nora had ever happened, made me wonder whether this entire episode wasn’t taking place in an alternate universe that Nora had traveled to.

What a show.  I am so glad to have finally caught up with this brilliant and emotionally rich series.  Despite how painful and difficult it was at times, I sort of want to watch the whole thing through again from the beginning…

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