The significance of interviewing The Leftovers dream team of co-creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta and director Mimi Leder inside a hotel wasn’t lost on me. Many of the show’s most iconic moments — “International Assassin,” Nora’s sprinkler system tears, “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)” — were set inside hotels. It probably wasn’t lost on Lindelof, either. In a conversation with Alan Sepinwall, which took place a few days before the series finale aired, he was filled with “simultaneous celebration and dread.” But last Friday, during a panel at the Austin Television Festival and our subsequent discussion, Lindelof looked relaxed and relieved; he even wore a Frasier the Sensuous Lion t-shirt.
I spoke to Lindelof, as well as Perrotta and Leder, about some of the wildest theories they read about The Leftovers and the TV shows that influced their masterpiece.
As I was doing research for this interview, I went down a rabbit hole of The Leftovers theories. Most of which, now that the show is over, have obviously been proven completely wrong. I’m curious if there’s any along the way that you were particularly wild and out there.
Lindelof: The one that stuck with me coming into the end game was the idea that the physicists were actually in the Guilty Remnant, and that they were basically staging an elaborate con to recruit people, which is why they had selected Nora. So the idea is that they would kinda bring her into the back of the truck, and there’d be fifty other people dressed in white there saying, “We’ve now proven that you want to, you know, go and see your kids. You can admit that there is nothing worth living for now.” So the series would end with Nora in white, as a member of the GR. It was like, oh boy, that’s nastier. We’ve come up with some nasty stuff, but that’s nastier than anything we’ve ever thought of.
Perrotta: And in a sense, it’s a logical thing because it was…
Lindelof: …based on the previous two seasons.
Perrotta: It’s a twist that we’ve done, so whoever was doing that was not a wild theorist, but somebody who is doing the more strategic “How do these people think?”.
Perrotta: And the idea that the GR was the ultimate embodiment of the show. I agree that people would maybe be skeptical, like, did we really just kill them off? The GR and Lisa weren’t the only ones, right? We knew there were others, because Meg had met with them, but the GR affected her disappearance off this show, this season. I can see why it was a good theory.
Lindelof: My new favorite one in the wake of the finale is that Nora was the messiah all along, because she takes the beads off the goat and that’s the sins of mankind, and the final episode is called “The Book of Nora.”
That’s what I thought, actually, as I was watching it.
Lindelof: And I’m like, “Oh, I really like that one,” because if you need to have a messiah, I think Nora would make a better messiah than Kevin in general, nothing against him…
Perrotta: He’s just a more responsible person!
Lindelof: More importantly, I think, we need some more female messiahs! You know, there’s a shortage of female messiahs.
There’s a theory out there for every member of the cast being a stealth member of the GR. Including one for Kevin, where he was in it all along, and he was planning a long con to… That one didn’t really have a resolution.
Lindelof: But you know Patti, in season one, said to Kevin, “You understand.” That was what “you understand” was. “You’re pretending you’re our enemy, but you are right here with me, you believe in nothing the same way I believe in nothing.” So, that theory is actually totally right.
You mentioned something earlier about Nora, that it would be too much of an emotional wallop to have her in the GR. Was there ever a point where you considered doing something to a character but you eventually pulled back because it was just too much? It was too emotionally devastating.
Perrotta: We definitely talked about in the premiere the idea of killing Meg and Evie in one fell swoop, it felt like it was a good idea plot-wise and narratively to say, “This is what the GR wanted, they wanted some level of martyrdom, and now they got what they wanted,” and then three years later there’s just a couple of teenagers in red shirts, saying “Remember them!” But that’s all that remains of the GR. But I think on a character level, it’s like, is that what we want? We liked the idea of being able to reprise Meg and Evie in the International Assassin Room, but Laurie is the one that we’ve talked about most exhaustively in terms of… We had to come to the point where she was committing suicide, and sit with that for a couple of weeks, before we decided to revisit it, because it wasn’t sitting particularly well.
Leder: If the kids hadn’t called, would she have stayed under?
Perrotta: Or was that her intention at all, yeah.
Lindelof: But the other issue was for people who were seeing it for the first time, they weren’t quite sure what realm Nora was in. Is it some other realm of the dead? So when you see Laurie, people were just not really… Until Kevin explains what’s going on, I think people have this little kernel of doubt about what they’re even seeing.
On a lighter note, a very silly theory posited that the entire show was one big set-up to a ridiculous leftovers/microwave pun.
Lindelof: [Sarcastically.] Right. Great, I like that one.
Yeah, it’s good stuff. Season one is heavier than seasons two and three, or at least it feels it. Was there a moment where you were conscious of adding, maybe not jokes exactly, but more lightness to the script?