The Leftovers is ending. The HBO show has evolved and changed over its three season run, and as we head into this week’s series finale, it has made its claim as one of the best — and definitely one of the most interesting — television series in recent memory. To commemorate this run, we have selected some of the best, weirdest, funniest, and most moving moments from a great, weird, funny, moving show. It’s a tribute, not a eulogy. Feel free to add yours below.
The dog comes back to Kevin
When people years from now speak fondly of the genius of The Leftovers, I imagine they’ll mostly bring up moments from the second and third seasons, which were more audacious, dazzling, and just plain fun than that divisive and depressing first. I would never argue against the later years being better, and in a vacuum, if asked to pick a single moment to exemplify my love of the show, I’d probably pick one from there, like Kevin singing karaoke to escape the afterlife and get back to the woman he loves.
But as someone who fell hard for the series in its grim, “please curl into a fetal position for the next hour” incarnation, I wanted to shine a spotlight on a moment that particularly floored me at the end of that unloved puppy of a season. Kevin has spent the time since the Departure trying desperately to bring life back to normal, even as his wife leaves him and the world seems to be falling apart. One of his apparently foolish quests to restore the status quo is taking in one of the town’s many dogs that have gone feral post-Departure, and trying to tame it back into being a pet, in the hopes of convincing his friend Dean to stop killing dogs. Everyone thinks he’s being naive and pig-headed, until Jill finally lets the angry pooch loose while Kevin’s out. But after father saves daughter’s life in the fire at the Guilty Remnant compound, the two of them walk home, dazed and covered in soot, and what awaits them as they approach their house? The very same dog, no longer wild and angry, but calm and eager to please and ready to join the makeshift family that Kevin and Jill will wind up forming with Nora and baby Lily.
Of the many, many scenes from the show that have reduced me to a puddle of tears, none may have hit me as hard as that one, and I’m not even a dog person!
— Alan Sepinwall
Wu-Tang is for (covering up) the children
The thing I like most about The Leftovers is that it’s this serious and heavy show about grief and loss but it’s also run by rascals. Examples are littered throughout, from the big (setting an entire episode on a Tasmanian boat filled members of a lion-obsessed sex cult) to the small (“the code is 6969”), but my favorite is definitely Nora’s Wu-Tang tattoo, because it served both purposes. You had the deadly serious stuff the show is built on, in this case Nora trying to remember her departed children by getting a tattoo of their names, only for that to become a constant devastating reminder that drives her a little mad. So, she decides to cover up those tattoos with the first thing she sees in the tattoo parlor, which is, of course, the logo for the legendary Wu-Tang Clan, who Nora refers to as “the Wu-Tang Band.” This is hilarious, and is made more hilarious by the fact that Nora and Erika then go outside and jump on a trampoline while “Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)” plays in the background.
(Quick note: A few critics, who shall remain nameless, confused this version of “Protect Ya Neck” with the earlier classic version off the 1993 album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). This song was not that. This song was a different “Protect Ya Neck,” off the 2000 album The W, which is notable for also containing the song “Gravel Pit.” The music video for “Gravel Pit” features the members of Wu-Tang rapping insides a Flinstones-style quarry, surrounding by dinosaurs, until they are interrupted by evil ninjas. It is a good music video.)
This is my favorite moment from the show for two reasons. One, because it sums up the entire show, touching on both aspects that I mentioned above. It’s heartbreak and unspeakable sadness and a shattered woman trying in vain to figure out how to remember the children she lost without that memory crushing down on her every second of every day, and just as all that starts to sink in and become almost too much for you at home to contemplate, boom, Wu-Tang tattoo. Like someone stepping on your neck until you’re about to pass out and then releasing the pressure and handing you a cupcake all at once. The full emotional spectrum in one moment.
The other reason is because, guys, Nora Durst has a Wu-Tang tattoo. Every time we see her from that moment on. It’s there. It’s all I can think about. I keep looking for it to pop out from under a loose fitting blouse. I love it so much. I’m going to miss this show tremendously.
— Brian Grubb
The Cave Baby
I couldn’t finish season one of The Leftovers.
That’s how much I hated the first 10 episodes (or in my case, eight episodes — I gave up after Christine has Holy Wayne’s baby in episode seven, and curiously tuned back in for the finale). It was overblown, it was painful, it was melodramatic, and with the exception of Nora and Matt, I didn’t care about any of the characters. In other words, it was the punishing theme song.
The show completely slipped off my radar when season two premiered, but as the weeks went by, I saw former haters praising the new episodes on Twitter. I waited until the season ended before diving back in… and watched the entire glorious thing in one weekend. The Leftovers was still depressing, but there was a welcome levity that was missing in season one. It was also the beginning of creator Damon Lindelof throwing looping curveballs at viewers when they expected fat meatballs down the middle. I don’t know why he decided to start season two with a prologue about a cave woman giving birth then dying from a snake bite, but I’m glad he did. The Leftovers went back in time to get me back into my now-favorite show on television.
— Josh Kurp