What happens when 2% of the world’s population vanishes into thin air? There is a tragic conundrum at the center of HBO's complex series. A series soaked in the inconceivable aftermath and dreadful suffering of those affected by its repercussions. As well as an amaranthine of direly crucial questions. Why did this happen? Why them? Why not me? Where did they go? Will they ever come back? Did they die? Is this about religion? Most importantly: who exactly took them? A question that will likely never be answered in the show's run, but that is exactly the point. The show takes a headfirst nose dive into consternation and grief without a care or worry of what you think about it. This is more in truth than any other depiction of grief on television. Grief demands an answer, but there rarely is a "bad guy" and if you're lucky enough to have it that simple than you should know that the "bad guy" does not always get his due. This is the exact point of the show as well as the exact reason why it is such a hard sell to make. I'm actually beyond amazed that a network would take on such a distressing subject matter, let alone HBO, but it is an important show that needs to be told, which is why you should start watching it.
October 14, 'Sudden Departure'
Don’t get me wrong, this series is certainly not for everyone, in fact, it is probably made specifically for the viewer interested in complex stories. The first season was particularly criticized for its story structure and the way it was formatted within 10 episodes. Damon Lindelof and Tom Perotta, who wrote the novel of which the series is based on, had an interesting premise that would have translated well into television with a simple beginning, middle, and end story structure, but instead, the duo opted for a convoluted story structure. A complexity that enables different character perspectives and time jumps. One must admire and truly acknowledge the daunting approach, which could have ended in immediate disaster, but Lindelof and Perotta are aware of their show’s absurd amount of questions, and instead of answering them one by one as the series continues, they add even more questions to the already existing roster. Questions that range from the human psyche to religious practices.
So, what makes the series so unique? The first 10 minutes of season two was a prologue set in neanderthal Paleolithic years about a woman and her child (yeah, it can be that perplexing at times). While later on in episode eight, as if to continue The Leftover's abstruseness, one the show’s main characters, Kevin Garvey, is stuck in a hotel purgatory of some sorts. The series is more than obliged to ask some difficult questions regarding the healing process of a seemingly indiscriminate act of tragedy. Questions that aren’t afraid to go past the once white picketed fences of suburban towns, but have since began to mold as if its owner had somehow disappeared. Towns like Mapleton, New York, the setting of the first season, or cities with people who are constantly brushing amongst one another, so much so, that they would not even notice if one evaporated before their eyes. No one is safe from these questions, and they are questions that must be faced by the characters themselves. The care and gentle details provided to each and every character is what truly excels the show from a confusing masterpiece to a brilliantly constructed masterpiece set in a very confusing time.
We have Kevin Garvey, Jr., the tormented sheriff of Mapleton, who takes over from his father, Kevin, Sr., after a mental breakdown sends him straight to a psychiatric hospital. A theme that will hover over Kevin, Jr. for episodes to come like a dark cloud that’s just for him. He has an angsty daughter, Jill, and a son, Tommy, who he has not seen in years, fleeing to join an incredulous cult filled with pregnant Asian women and run by the mysterious Holy Wayne, who posses some self-proclaimed healing power. Holy Wayne's cult has a strong message of power and belief. Does he really maintain the power of healing or is it just a placebo, someone who has tricked themselves into feeling healed by Holy Wayne after they paid good money for it? Nora Durst certainly felt healed after their initial encounter, but realizes that she is anything but. Nora Durst's whole family was among the 2%, a tragedy that she has become famous, or infamous, for now. She forms a relationship with Kevin based solely on their grief and search for meaning and answers.
We also have Nora's brother, Matt Jamison, a priest who believes that this is all religious, but cannot fathom the idea of why he was not chosen to vanish like the others. His wife has become a paraplegic after getting into an accident with a car driven by a disappeared, so Matt spends his days character assassinating those who disappeared with flyers and preachings. In truth, he is just looking for answers like anybody else. This brings us to season two's introduction to the Murphy family. The second season was given a full makeover, pushing the setting west to the town of Jarden, Texas. The the significance of this town is that it is one of the only towns to have zero disappearances, making it a holy land rivaling that of Jerusalem. So much so, people travel afar just to come and see it, but first they must go through hours and hours of security. John and Erika Murphy lose their daughter, Evie, the night that Kevin, Jill, and Nora move in, adding only more questions in the process: was it another disappearance?
Themes of Grief
There are two central themes that essentially drive the horrors of within The Leftovers. One such theme is the human psyche. Kevin, Jr. is losing grasps of his reality, there is lost time that he cannot account for as well as some of the most vivid hallucinations that would put even Tyler Durden to shame? First we are not sure if Dean, a neighbor from season one, is even real, we’re never really given an answer now that I think about it, but now, for season two, he is being burdened by his guilt for the suicide of Patti Levin, the founder of the Guilty Remnant cult. It is the personal battle that Kevin and all of the other characters must combat every single day of their lives (a chess game between themselves and the answers they seek). In a sense, it is their questions and curiosity that is the true enemy of the show.
Themes of Belief
Of course, if we had to pick a physical enemy, I think most of us would choose the Guilty Remnant. Started by Patti after the "Sudden Departure" it has more of a connection to Kevin than just Patti, however. Laurie, Kevin's wife, has abandoned her family to join the cause. The cause, of course, being that they must remind every single person at all times about what happened on October 14. To apply for a position in the Guilty Remnant, you must completely absolve yourself from any aspect of your previous life (family, belongings, and memory). Trading in your fancy clothes for all white, you are instead supplied with an abundant amount of cigarettes and notepads. The notepads providing communication since once you are accepted entry within the bizarre cult, your voice is not. This represents the incessant need to believe in something, anything that may provide an answer of what the hell is going on. It’s a need that history has proven true regarding any tragic event. Guilty Remnant takes advantage of that need and uses it to cause more harm than good.
The Leftovers wears these themes on its sleeves, delving into each of them with episodes that are devoted to particular characters and their story arcs. The show's structure, alone, is enough to draw viewers in, it may not have all of the answers or even care about answering them, but that is precisely the point of it all. The Leftovers has had a tough time getting a strong following, however, its current fans are truly devoted ones. Many of whom, dressed in all white Guilty Remnant fashion, stood outside the HBO network offices and picketed for a third season renewal. Which, fortunately, has been granted, however, unfortunately, it is also its final season as well. A short-lived show that certainly had a lot more to tell (I really hoped the series would pursue other countries and see how a different culture would have dealt with the aftermath). To me, to end the series next season would be like missing out on an amazing opportunity, but you can at least expect the third and final season to be stunningly unnerving and vexatiously vague in its justifiable answers.