The Leftovers is back for its third and final season. I’ve already published my overall thoughts on the new episodes, and I have a review of the premiere coming up just as soon as I let you keep Gary Busey up there…
“It’s all true. It all happened. It’s still happening.” -Matt
The first two seasons of The Leftovers concluded on as happy and optimistic a note as a show about grief can. Season one ended with Kevin, Jill, Nora, the baby, and the now-tame dog coming together to form an improbable but perhaps contented family, while season two climaxed with Kevin cheating death again to return to a home where his entire extended, weird, unexpectedly healthy family was there to welcome him back into the warmth of their hearts and hearths. All better, right? Play triumphant strings and bells, tilt camera up to the heavens, maybe put up a “THE END” title card, and all is well.
Except… life, and grief, are never that simple. The pain doesn’t magically go away, even if you get a hell of a lot more, and better, help than the people on The Leftovers tend to. We saw throughout season two that the makeshift Garvey/Durst family was built on the most fragile of foundations, with Kevin literally having to chain himself to Nora to keep from running off in the middle of the night, and with Patti’s omnipresent voice in his head driving him to repeated suicide attempts. We saw that while Laurie had left the Guilty Remnant, and Tommy the employ of Holy Wayne, neither was particularly stable or secure. And the Murphys, who seemed to embody all that was peaceful and safe and good about Jarden, were instead revealed to be a family that had been falling apart for forever, if only its four members could be bothered to look at each other long enough to notice.
So when we catch up with the characters in their present circumstance — after a three-year time jump, after the shocking drone strike that kills off Evie and Meg and their GR comrades, and after another historical prologue — it is sad but certainly not surprising to see that the palpable joy in Kevin and Nora’s house at the end of “I Live Here Now” was a temporary state of being, rather than a sign that everyone’s problems had been cured forever. All of this has happened before, and it will keep on happening so long as these people keep looking outward, rather than inward, to try to cure the many things ailing them.
That emotional loop is illustrated in devastating fashion in the prologue, which only goes back to 1844 rather than cavewoman times, to dramatize the Great Disappointment of the Millerite movement (an event whose name serves as a fine bookend with the Sudden Departure), when Jesus’s return did not come on the pronounced date, or the one after, or the one after. In time, the Great Disappointment would be treated as more of an unfortunate misinterpretation, and many of the remaining Millerites would form the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but in that moment, the Messiah’s repeated failure to arrive as promised must have been devastating to the group, who not only had to endure the scorn of outsiders, but the loss of faith and splintering of families, which we see dramatized when the redheaded woman at the center of our story has to keep climbing that ladder after her husband and child have opted out. Despite all evidence to the contrary that the Second Coming is not, in fact, coming, she persists in thinking that all will be well if she believes hard enough, and every time she ends up not in Heaven, but stuck in her mundane, difficult life here on Earth.
Her story reflects not only those of the Garveys and Murphys and Jamisons as someone left behind when she expected to go elsewhere, but of the various families we’ve seen splinter due to incompatible belief systems, from Laurie and Evie both joining the Guilty Remnant to Mary Jamison getting fed up with Matt using her and little Noah as religious props who aren’t allowed out of Jarden for their own safety. And it reflects a simpler and more universal struggle to find meaning in a world that can often seem meaningless and random, to keep doing the same thing over and over in the hope that belief or simple repetition will be enough to ironically make everything very different. But, as Jill warned us early last season, wherever you go, there you are, and Kevin and the rest of the gang are the same messes they’ve always been, there trying to get through another day of life when so many people have left, whether through the Departure or more conventional means like the drone strike.
The rocket attack is both shocking and somehow par for the course for the show’s broken world. After all the build up at the end of last season about what Meg, Evie, and the rest of this Remnant offshoot were up to, I wasn’t expecting them to be wiped off the map so quickly. But Kevin’s encounters with federal agents in the first two seasons made clear that the government would like nothing better than to see the GR, and maybe all of the cults that sprung up after the Departure, go off and be with the missing two percent of the global population. After such a public stunt, on Departure Day, in what has improbably become the holiest place on the planet — a move meant to scare people into understanding that even safe places aren’t truly safe — is it any wonder that there would be swift retaliation, and in a manner that could later be blamed on a gas leak being ignited by a GR cigarette?