Warning: This contains some spoilers. They’re pretty vague and harmless, but if you want to go in cold, you might want to bookmark this until you’ve seen the finale – which is already available to stream on Sky On Demand and NOW TV.
“I’m beyond repair. Maybe we’re all beyond repair.”
The Leftovers closes out with something of a surprise finale. Surprising for its message, rather than any plot twist, and also, perhaps, for its brilliance.
This has been an uneven series, with viewers naturally torn between wanting an answer to the big mystery of the disappearance and wanting to forget it altogether and focus on characters grieving (and, if possible, to forget about the subplot involving Kevin’s son, Tom, too). Co-creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perotta – upon whose book it is based – have been adamant throughout that the vanishing of 2 per cent of the world’s population will not be explained, but the show has continually gone back to it, teasing us with mysteries, unable to forget its own tragic premise.
The Leftovers has worked best when it manages to do just that; when, you suspect, it has leaned more towards Perotta’s vision than Lindelof’s. The show, after all, is about those left behind, not those taken. And yet those taken unavoidably dictate the direction of the drama; it is a study of mourning, of filling the holes. The resulting shift between the two approaches, aptly moving on from the past in fits and bursts, has created some stand-out episodes, ones that, tellingly, work almost as standalone tales. A mini-series of Episodes 1 (the introduction), 3 (Christopher Eccleston’s troubled priest), 6 (Carrie Coon’s messed up wife, Nora), 8 (Ann Dowd’s ruthless cult leader, Patti) and 9 (the flashback) would be fascinating to see.
To dismiss the other chapters as filler, though, would be a disservice to the cast, all of whom have given their characters a real depth and sense of loss. Episode 10 joins that shortlist of superb television, tying up all of those occasionally frustrating loose threads into a fascinating climax.
The immediate matter at hand is, of course, what the Guilty Remnant cult has planned for its big demonstration. It’s not hard to guess, having already seen their theft of family photographs and their acquisition of a whole host of “Loved Ones” – mannequins intended for people to bury in place of their missing family and friends. The reveal, though, is as shocking as intended: a blunt message that spares no sympathy for the local residents of Mapleton. After seeing in detail in Episode 9 exactly how those 100 bodies evaporated, the reminder is devastating – not least because of its impact upon Nora. Carrie Coon’s face screws up into a silent scream, an unheard outburst of agony that reverbs across the town.
As Nora’s grief is ripped from her voicebox, the GR become increasingly vocal in the community, who react as well one might when confronted with the prospect of their loved ones having departed to the afterlife. Mapleton descends into an apocalyptic vision of fire and chaos, one which Kevin struggles to keep in order. (Max Richter’s music, which has always been note perfect for the series’ unsettling, melancholic tone, is more powerful than ever here, incorporating the haunting middle movement of Schubert’s Sonata in A major, D. 959 and a classical cover of Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters.)
“We made them remember,” writes Meg (Liv Tyler) with a righteous glint in her eye, as violence takes over the streets and, in an echo of the baby Jesus’ Viking burial in Episode 4, an oddly fitting sacrifice is offered; a cathartic act of memorial turned into a gesture of anger and revenge. Amid it all, it is no coincidence that Laurie breaks her silence to offer one word to Kevin: Jill.
The Garveys continue to be our central touchpoint for the drama, as the family’s troubled daughter dons her own white clothing and cigarette just to communicate with her mother. Lack of communication is at the root of their divide, represented by Laurie’s mute detachment – and the GR’s religious devotion to pen and paper. Kevin, meanwhile, begins the episode as absent as ever, not just mentally, but physically – stuck in the woods with Patti’s blood-stained corpse.
Reverend Matt drives out to help him, bringing his own written note with him: Job 23. “Because he knows the road on which I travel, when he had tested me, I’ll come out like gold. My feet stay where his footsteps lead; I kept on his pathway and haven’t turned aside,” Justin Theroux’s bewildered cop reads aloud, at Matt’s behest.
“Who can change him? He does whatever he wants to do,” Kevin continues, his wild eyes racked with fervent desperation. “He’ll complete what he has planned for me.”
The police chief’s possible slide into madness continues to be a problem, but it’s telling that any hint of his father’s significance to the mystery – the National Geographic magazine and other overtly symbolic elements – are consigned to a dream rather than reality. Even the subplots involving the imaginary dog hunter and the wild canines running rampant are tamed for the finale; the unleashed, abandoned mutts of humanity moving past their anger, one even returning, calm and tail wagging.
“Let’s go home,” Matt smiles, before they drive back from the horrors of the past.
That sense of returning and reconciliation becomes the overriding theme, as The Leftovers finally arrives at its real philosophical puzzle: is it possible for people to ever truly move on?
From emotional terrorists carrying out extreme displays to Holy Wayne’s ability to heal unconditionally, The Leftovers has explored many avenues of grief. But as Wayne and Tom’s subplot is effectively written out, Wayne’s final act on-screen offering a wish, it is in the everyday people rather than the unnatural forces that the show finds its most moving step forwards. The show resorts to two highly contrived encounters to hint at restoring family units, but Nora provides the cement to put the pieces back together.
“I want to believe that I’m not surrounded by the abandoned ruin of a dead civilization,” she writes in a letter to Kevin, which manages to respond to all of the show’s questions with a human answer; every convoluted theme and narrative strand wrapped up in one woman’s emotional journey.
“I want to believe it’s still possible to get close to someone,” she adds. “But it’s easier not to.”
“We made them remember,” wrote Meg earlier, but Nora’s honesty overrides any previous conflict; a beautiful conclusion that sees the series forget its old concerns and remember its potential for a future. What emerges is an overwhelming exploration of bereavement that abandons science fiction thinking for a grounded tug at the heartstrings; a climax that fixes the season’s uneven issues with a consistently satisfying end. Maybe The Leftovers are beyond repair. But as the prospect of a second season looms, for the first time we get a twist in the tale: a rewarding sense of hope. The surprise ending? Maybe they’re not after all.
Season 1 and 2 of The Leftovers available on Sky Box Sets. Not got Sky? You can watch The Leftovers online on with NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription that includes live and on-demand access to Sky Atlantic, Sky 1, FOX UK and more.
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