Television series creators are architects of make-believe. They attempt to build new roads to familiar places that we know well, but haven’t seen designed quite this way before. Let me break it down for you.
Every year, hundreds of new television series are created and dropped into our living rooms with the hopes of hooking our interest. Some start slow, while others move quicker out of the gate to engage the mind. Few actually forge a connection, and that’s because we’ve seen it all. The plot will appear familiar at some point, or the characters will be wooden or bland, losing our interest. Conviction isn’t easy to maintain, because in order to be compelling, you must do something different and deliver some unique and original, because unlike the movies, this will last up to ten hours and take up over two months of our time (unless it’s Netflix).
Damon Lindelof created an immensely popular series in Lost, but I don’t think he knew how to end it. Sometimes, television creators run a horse out of the gate with good intentions, but once it reaches a certain point, the previously juicy idea can run dry, and overthinking follows. With his second series, The Leftovers, reaching its conclusion Sunday night, Lindelof has delivered a finale worthy of praise, observation, and hopefully some studying from ambitious storytellers.
Without giving us all the answers that the pilot unearthed two years ago, Lindelof answered the most important one: Will Nora (Carrie Coon, simply phenomenal) and Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux, breaking through episode) ever find happiness, and will that be found with each other?
You see, all along, this HBO series wasn’t really about what happened to the two percent of the human population that vanished; it was about the ones that were left behind to piece together the rest of their lives now that a part of their soul had departed. Leftovers asked the eternal question: what are we doing here, and what do we need to not only survive, but be happy for most of our trek? In order for Nora and Kevin to fix their chaotic lives, they had to find each other….TWICE.
After an impressive first season that left you wanting more and contained more action than necessary, The Leftovers gave us a wildly inventive second season that combined Twilight Zone elements, David Lynch characters, with some Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan mixed in. Yeah, I said Nolan, because it threw us down the rabbit hole that was Kevin’s subconscious and spun a science fiction yarn along with it.
When people say “that’s far out”, they were really talking about The Leftovers’ second season. It was something else, but it intrigued the mind like no other, opening up religious conversations without being overbearing and spiritual talks while withholding the urge to go “way out there”.
Was Kevin a Christ like figure who couldn’t die? Was he the chosen one to save all of mankind? Was the guilty remnant just a reflection of our inner desires to express ourselves without the use of words? Was a small town in Texas really a magical place that saw zero people “depart”? So many questions, but how many answers would Lindelof give us? How many were needed?
Season 3 got even more weird, starting out in that same non-magical town, and started things off ordinary enough. Kevin was a badge again, Nora was doing her old job, and Matt (Christopher Eccleston) was still preaching to anyone who would listen. Kevin father, Kevin Sr. (Scott Glenn, making a comeback) was waltzing around Australia looking for answers and warning people about a flood to end all floods. The three year anniversary of the departed was coming up, and no one knew what was coming.
Does your head hurt yet? Lindelof didn’t throw the kitchen sink at his viewers; he just needed to turn that light on in our head.
Nora, who lost her two kids and husband on that fateful October day, found out about a machine that could send you to the place the two percent supposedly went. Was it a fraud? Season 3 is where the audience found out how much pain our heroine was really in. She was the female voice of the show, the driving force behind it. A woman, unlike Theroux’s Kevin, who lost everything in one moment and only took a job to slowly find her way back to her kids. While Amy Brenneman’s Laurie and Ann Dowd’s Patti Levin played vital roles, Nora was at the head of the pack, because her story had so much mystery to it.
Theroux’s Kevin was a centerpiece, but his story needed Nora’s juice to be extra compelling. She once paid people to shoot her in the chest so she could feel something. Kevin wrapped a plastic bag around his head every day just so he could crawl up to death’s doorstep to say hello. She camouflaged her desire to be with her kids by trying to find a love with Kevin, but he saw through her plan, and left her in that hotel room midway through Season 3. It took decades for them to be reunited in that tiny town in Australia.
The finale was perfect, and for a couple reasons. First, it didn’t answer all the questions, but it offered you closure. Laurie didn’t kill herself at sea, as fans were led to assume last week. She went back to Jordan to be with John. Kevin’s dad is still rolling around somewhere in the world, convinced he knows what is coming. His kids are doing well. Matt succumbed to Leukemia, but over 400 people attended his funeral, so he left an impact. All that was left was Nora and Kevin, the most doomed characters on the show.
Everybody else found a way to scrape away the pain from the tragic event, but these two couldn’t. They needed each other, and that’s the second thing the finale did so well. It brought these two back together. Once and for all, Nora and Kevin were together.
She told him about going through the machine and finding her kids in the alternate reality, back in Mapleton. She told him that she didn’t belong there, so she found a way back. It is up to the viewer to believe her story or not, because Lindelof won’t build that bridge for you. I happen to think she made it up, a tale to keep her soul warm until someone came along to heal it. When Kevin believes her story, that was the healing required. You can see it on Coon’s face.
Did I mention how phenomenal Coon and Theroux are on this show? It goes beyond awards and mentions. Think about all time resonance. These are extremely hard roles to play, because they are multi-faceted and complicated. At times, you love and hate Kevin. Same for Nora. Coon and Theroux dove completely headfirst into them. What a tour de force from both players. If not for their dedication, the finale falls flat, and the series fails.
Damon Lindelof made the finale about them, because their story was vital to the success of the show. We never found how Kevin avoided death so many times, or what exactly happened when Nora got into that cubic chamber. We didn’t need to find out. Some things are better off being left in our head, bouncing off infinite possibilities inside our cerebellum. If a show ever reflected the erratic nature of life, it was The Leftovers.
Great television creators are expert world builders. They create new roads to places that seem familiar, yet haven’t struck us in this particular way. They make us feel something through the most original methods possible. It leaves us wanting more, but not exactly needing more to be satisfied. They provide a hook that may last for a while, causing other shows to be sharper in the future. Great TV shows create a larger demand for quality content.
Lindelof’s The Leftovers is the epitome of original programming; you’ve never seen anything like it before, and you may never see anything like it again. Very rarely will you see beautiful writing, dynamic acting, and an ending seamlessly come together.
If you haven’t dove in yet, now is the time. Prepare to be blown away by something majestic.