It’s been something of a “rough ride” sticking with HBO’s new series THE LEFTOVERS through its ten episodes. The premise of a world (specifically a small town in New York) gone mad after 2% of the population literally disappears without explanation starts dark, and gets only darker as the show progresses. “Life goes on” they say, and so it does… or so it appears. Three years after “The Departure” is where the story begins, and we immediately see that even though the world still turns, people still go to work, and everything has the surface appearance of normality, that there is a festering wound just beneath the surface, threatening to erupt in tragedy. In each successive episode we see people sinking further into depression, lashing out in violence, deliberately provoking others, exhibiting self-destructive behavior, or just trying to pretend that nothing ever happened. At one point, I asked myself “Is wading through all of this human misery going to pay off, or is this just an exercise in pointless masochism?” Well, it DOES pay off, but probably not in a way that one might expect.
I will not spoil the show here for those who haven’t watched THE LEFTOVERS yet, although the word “spoiler” doesn’t really apply here in any kind of narrative sense. Summation of the show’s thematic climax in mere words would leave it sounding cheap and tawdry, and could not possibly envelop the “big picture” that can only be experienced through watching THE LEFTOVERS from beginning to end. What we get at the end of Season One (the series has been green lit for a second season), is a kind of emotional and thematic resolution that is satisfying in a way that no plot twist could possibly match. It’s one that will certainly be divisive among viewers, but one that I found to be bordering on brilliance. This episode emotionally floored me in a way that I’m not sure that I’ve ever really experienced before. While there are still many mysterious aspects of the series that have yet to be explained or illuminated at this point, the logic – such as it is – behind “The Departure” starts to reveal itself somewhere around the sixth or seventh episode, but doesn’t fully emerge until the finale. I must warn you here and now that getting to that finale will take a certain degree of perseverance and patience. I have a few friends who gave up with the show along the way, and I’m hoping to persuade them into giving it another chance.
THE LEFTOVERS is based on a book by Tom Perrotta, which was adapted to television by the author and Damon Lindelof (of LOST fame), and it *feels* very much like a work of literature. This series will not be everyone’s “cup of tea”… If you are a person who prefers a definitive hard narrative over nuanced vagaries, you might want to sit this one out. THE LEFTOVERS is weird. There… I said it. That’s not a bad thing – not at all. “Weird” simply means that it’s different from what I am accustomed to from a television series. “Weird” means that it’s frequently unsettling and often upsetting in a deep, under-the-surface kind of way. “Weird” means that THE LEFTOVERS much of the time eschews realism for a dream logic to get its point across. Many of my favorite filmmakers – like David Lynch – create “weird” films. This is nothing like a David Lynch film… it’s not that heavily stylilzed, and falls much more into the realm of realism that most of Lynch’s oeuvre. This story is told much more by coloring with emotions, instincts, and feelings that typically elude being encompassed by words, and the Season One denouement is almost ineffable in its impact. If asked to describe exactly why THE LEFTOVERS affected me so deeply, I doubt that I could find the words to do it justice, but it’s there, just out of reach, but nonetheless undeniable.
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