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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

TV Preview: ‘The Leftovers’ final season promises ending of biblical proportions

After two years of mystifying, dumbfounding and perplexing audiences, HBO’s “The Leftovers” returns for a final season to finish off an overall brilliant series. It is the kind of show that not many people watch, yet those who do cannot escape its arresting quality. It is a hidden gem among the white noise of television, never falling victim to the status quo of a standard series. “The Leftovers” thrives at its most bizarre.

“The Leftovers” is inevitably comparable to the existential complexities fearlessly engaged by a show like “Lost,” thanks to Damon Lindelof, the creator of both series. “The Leftovers,” based on the Tom Perrotta novel, begins with a simple, theoretical occurrence that has an avalanche of consequences for humanity. It imagines the aftermath of a world in which 2 percent of the population suddenly disappears. The two clashing themes of the series, science and faith, elevate the premise to compelling new heights. After the sudden “departure,” there is a resurgence of religion for those desperately seeking answers. When an unexplainable phenomenon happens, who knows what is possible anymore? Humanity is suddenly polarized by enlightened believers and pessimistic realists, all suffering from an inexplicable loss of a loved one with no closure to take comfort in. People often act out when in grief and, when the entire world is grieving, the state of society can easily spiral into chaotic collapse. Cults emerge and riots break out, and humanity primitively and instinctively tries to find answers when there are clearly none to take solace in.

The series can feel soul-crushing in the best possible way. Is faith real or a delusion? What determines what is real? Are there miracles or do things just happen? What is life’s purpose? Sometimes simply asking these questions can sting. “The Leftovers” depicts how painful it is to look head-on into an abyss filled with loss, unanswered questions and empty promises. As painful and dark as the series can get, “The Leftovers” has progressed over the seasons to not take matters too seriously. It entertains these existential questions with grace, good pace and tongue-in-cheek humor to remind us that faith is all perspective.

Since my last review of the series, “The Leftovers” has amplified its quirks for the better. The writing has improved even more, expertly balancing the dark with the light, the mundane with the bizarre. It continually teases the audience, never truly picking a side between science or faith. The final season introduces an apocalyptic element to the narrative that has always been an undercurrent, finally emerging to the forefront. Events have risen to biblical proportions as Christopher Eccleston’s Pastor Matt begins writing a new New Testament to add to the bible, painting Justin Theroux’s Kevin Garvey as the next Jesus and predicting a second great flood on Oct. 14, the seven-year anniversary of the 2 percent’s departure. This triggers a narrative time-bomb, counting down to the end of the world as well as the end of the show. The countdown alludes to a timely political message relevant in our current climate: Humanity is self-destructive and the key to faith is love. The writing generously douses each character with further development, richly fleshing out their unique stories and giving each talented actor well-deserved screentime. There are capsule-style episodes centering around Carrie Coon’s melancholically complex Nora, Scott Glenn’s bewildered Kevin Garvey Sr. and Amy Brenneman’s numb Laurie Garvey. The show uprooted from New York to Texas in season two, and now, for the third and final season, sets the ending of this story in Australia, often referred to as “down under;" an appropriate location for the end of the world at the other end of the world. Many characters that were once believers are now grounded in denial. Enough time has elapsed since the departure that they view it all now as an unexplainable joke of the past. Believers are now scammers taking advantage of people similar to those they once were. In short–they’re over it, sarcastically joking about the end of the world because they couldn’t care less if it did. As Laurie eerily says to Kevin while saying a final goodbye, “We’re already gone.”

After watching all but the last episode of the show, I can confidently say that no other television series has continually and consistently moved me as much as “The Leftovers.” Like every truly great television show does, everything comes second to the acting performances. Theroux and Coon deliver one heart-wrenching performance after another, connecting to the viewer in a way narrative alone could never do. Every time I watch “The Leftovers,” a part of me desperately needs a hug and someone to tell me everything will be alright. It’s one of the hardest shows to ever watch, but it is the most underrated, philosophically engaging shows on television. Seriously, there should be university courses offered with this show as its focus. Its profound, humanitarian self-reflection carries thematic motifs that go far beyond normal television, daring the viewer to take a critical look at humanity today and its endless contradictions.

“The Leftovers” third and final season debuts tomorrow, April 16, at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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