The last time Damon Lindelof ended a drama he had co-created, the polarizing and often vitriolic reaction to the Lost finale was so overwhelming, it eventually drove him off of Twitter. (Though his Instagram is fun.) With The Leftovers, the audience is much smaller, the passion among those remaining to watch more consistent, that even if people didn’t love tonight’s series finale — which I found to be, like so much of this series, truly extraordinary — they are far less likely to hurl profane demands at Lindelof for a refund on the last few years of their lives.
With a series, and an ending, as ambiguous as The Leftovers has always been, there’s a lot to talk about — far more than Lindelof and I could cover even in a 90-minute interview on Thursday afternoon — including (spoilers) the story Nora tells Kevin in the show’s final moments, the revelation that Laurie did not drown herself at the end of this season’s sixth episode, how the Perfect Strangers episode was actually Lindelof’s gift to me, and a whole lot more. In some cases, Lindelof is willing to explain in depth what really happened; in many others, he deliberately invites me and the rest of the audience to draw our own conclusions. That’s all coming up just as soon as they let you keep my fossil…
(This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity; a few exchanges took place as email follow-ups after the interview ended.)
It’s a few days before the finale. How do you feel?
I don’t think there’s a word in the emotional spectrum for how I feel. I feel less anxious than I did a week ago, so it would seem my anxiety is on a downward trend as we approach the actual airing. Then it will uptick again. I anticipate Saturday and Sunday are going to be very rough days of what it feels like for it to be out there. In the meantime, the cast has started seeing it, and I had a great conversation with Justin, and that was really great, and I haven’t been spending much time with him since the show ended, so it’s been nice reconnecting with everybody. I guess I’m in a space of simultaneous celebration and dread, but I can’t quite articulate what the dread is about yet.
How much does it tie to the end of the last show? Or does it? Are the feelings at all the same?
No, they feel very distinctive. We basically finished shooting Lost three weeks before it aired. We finished shooting The Leftovers in September of last year, and the episodes airing has been so separate from the process of making it, so it’s been a much different thing.
The other thing is, the expectation on Lost, I’ve spoken ad nauseam about what it was and that it was a mystery box show, etc, but it went for 121 episodes. The Leftovers is 28, and I just feel like, when you just talk about the relative distances between, it’s like a 10k to a marathon in terms of how long it lasted, but also in terms of the scale at which how many people are watching it. Not a lot of my dread or anxiety is attached to this perceived idea of sticking the landing, because the reality is I have come to embrace the idea that there was a process by which a really good episode of The Leftovers was generated by writers, directors, actors, editors, and at the end of it my gut would either say, like, this one’s good, or this one’s not that good, and the audience has usually been relatively in sync with us on that. I’m hoping the same is true of the finale.
When and how did the idea to end the show this way come to you?
It didn’t come to me, it came to us. We got together right after New Years of ’16 and it was just the writers who were coming back from season 2, because we were still hiring writers for season 3: Patrick Somerville, Nick Cuse, Tom Spezialy, Tom Perrotta, and myself. We said, “We have to figure out what the last scene of the series is going to be, because now we know there’s going to be an ending.” There were really just two through lines that we had at that point. Through line number one was The Book of Kevin, that Matt had written this gospel without Kevin knowing about it, and that Kevin wasn’t going to be happy about it when he found out. The second narrative was the LADR narrative, which is, Nora was going to get pitched the idea of this device. Right on the heels of that, we asked what are the conclusions of those two stories? Well, we want Kevin and Nora to be together. They’re going to break up, they’re going to have a pyrotechnic knock-down drag-out horrific fight where horrible but honest things get said to one another, and they’re going to be apart. Then we want to bring them back together. That basically became the problem that we were trying to solve for.
The second problem that we were trying to solve for is, if Nora gets told about this device that can supposedly reunite her with her loved ones, what’s the culmination of that journey? Is it real? Is it a scam, is it a hoax, is it something that the GR is perpetrating? Is it just, as she suspects, an incinerator, or does it work? If it’s not just an episode construct like the guy who shows up in “Lens,” if it’s a whole season, there’s going to be some expectation that we answer that. A, is the LADR even real? B, does the LADR work? On the heels of that conversation, we said, “Oh, that’s going to be the ending of the season: Nora gets into this thing and she actually goes through it and she has this incredible experience. Wouldn’t that be amazing, because we’ve been telling people all along that we’re never going to answer where all the departed people went?” It’ll be sort of like a reverse Lost, where you got an answer that you weren’t expecting, vs you didn’t get an answer that you were.
That was just delightful and we started talking about what Nora’s experience was, and then it was Perrotta who said, “We cannot show Nora going through and having this experience with her kids, but she should tell it because our show is about people telling stories. Then we have to embrace that there will be some fundamental ambiguity about whether or not she’s telling the truth. Then the question becomes, who is she telling it to? The first version, when we were having those early January conversations, was that Nora was going to be telling this story to a grown up version of Lily, her previously adopted daughter who’s now tracked down this woman who was her adoptive mother for a short period of time. But the more we talked about the Lily idea, the stupider it sounded, and the more we were ignoring the obvious, which is, she should be telling that story to Kevin. Now, why is she telling that story to Kevin? What’s the emotional context of that story, what’s happened to them prior to telling that story, what’s happened to him? That will be all the work that we now have to do as we build the third season, but we had that construct pretty early on.
A lot of big things happen in this season. Matt Jamison meets God. God is devoured by a lion…
In quotation marks. Not “lion,” but “God.” That’s a real lion.
…a version of reality is destroyed by nuclear weapons, etc. Last week’s episode was about as big as you could possibly go. The finale is two people at a wedding having a conversation, and a dance and then enjoying some tea. It’s a very small ending. How did you feel about that?
It was completely intentional. All the writers and Mimi (Leder) and the actors agreed that the big challenge of the season was going to be, we’re selling it on the basic idea of, “It’s the seven-year anniversary of the Departure, and something big is going to happen, and in its final summation, nothing happens, and how are you going to make that satisfying? How are you going to make that feel like it’s not just a big cop-out or us not even wanting to deal with it?” That was actually the birth of the Millerite sequence: let’s just tell the audience that that’s exactly what we’re doing, that this season is about this part of the human experience that seems to be fixated on the world ending. What does that mean emotionally? It just means that’s a fantasy that we have so that we don’t have to deal with our shit, or it gives us an escape clause, or we don’t have to actually be vulnerable to people and form any kind of lasting attachment if we think that the world is going to end. That fundamental idea became the center of everything that we wanted to do.
We know that nothing’s going to happen on the seven-year anniversary. It’s not even like people are gathered in Times Square waiting for the world to end. If you actually watch the season again, more people are like the Gary Busey guys, or the Australian weatherman, than they are like Matt Jamison. He’s picked sort of an arbitrary number that some people may be taking fairly seriously, but it’s not like the world writ large is — it’s not like it was Y2k. Just these characters. What we owe the audience is, how do they feel when the world doesn’t end, and does it transform them? Those are the stories that we’re going to tell this year. All the pyrotechnics quite literally happen in the penultimate episode of the season. We resolve the answer of the world hasn’t ended, oh shit, I guess we’re still here, we’ve got to deal with our stuff after all, and what’s the thing that we most care about in the final episode and how can that thing symbolize the larger thing?
The larger thing is, can people be okay? The question that I think that Tom’s book asked is, if the Departure happened, would it ever be possible to be attached to anyone ever again knowing they could be gone in a second? You want the answer to that to be yes, and I think that the answer at the end of Tom’s novel is yes. There’s Nora, she’s just written Kevin this letter saying, “I’m leaving, I love you Kevin but I can’t be with you because I’m broken,” and then she finds this baby on the doorstep and she picks it up and she says, “Look what I found.” That’s Tom’s novel saying yes, people can be okay again, if they find the right surrogate. I just wanted to restate that same idea over and over again in every finale.
There’s this very telling line during the conversation at the end where she asks if people still call Jarden “Miracle,” and he says not so much anymore. That says to me that however many years past Departure Day this is, the world has moved on. Even something this huge and this cosmic, people are able to get past.
I hope that’s true, and it’s true theoretically about The Departure, right? Just imagine twenty years from that October 15th, whatever that Ground Zero is, has it worn off, but I think there are analogs in our own history and our own contemporary history. Not just with 9/11, but looking at something like Vietnam, or the Holocaust. Some people call it resilience, others call it denial, but once you are one generation removed, by the time that Nora and Kevin are the age that they are in the finale, Jill now has kids, and those kids don’t give a shit about the Departure, because it happened before they were born. My son Van, who’s 10 years old, I have to show him a video of 9/11 and be like, “This is what happened,” and he’s like, “Oh, those buildings fell down, that’s scary,” and you go, “You have no idea how scary it was.” Not if you weren’t alive and experienced it when it happened.
Do you know to your satisfaction if Nora is lying?
What do you expect the audience to think? If you had to put a number, like 60 percent think she’s telling the truth, 40 don’t?
I guess what I’m at least learning conversationally as people are starting to watch the finale, or I’m getting interviewed about it, is that there’s a larger proportion of people who haven’t even considered the possibility that she’s not telling the truth than I anticipated. If I ask if they believed her, they go, “What?” That’s surprising to me. At the very least, I thought her story would smell fishy and then people would decide whether or not to believe it. The fact that they just take it completely and totally at face value that it’s the truth has been surprising to me.
When I first watched it, I took it mostly at face value, and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve started to question everything about it.
Ain’t that human nature? I guess what I’ll also say is, from the moment that we talked about it, there was an evolution that started at, let’s literally shoot this story that she tells because it happened, and then that transformed into Perrotta saying to let her just tell it and let’s embrace the ambiguity of whether or not it happened, and then us having an internal conversation as writers; we needed to know whether she was telling the truth or not so that there would be no question whatsoever about our intention. Then Mimi got the material first, and my memory of my conversation with Mimi is that she was like, “Let’s not talk about whether or not Nora is actually telling the truth. Let’s just talk about what you want to have happen in the scene.” Then Carrie got the scene and she never asked, and she and I at this moment in time two days before the finale airs still haven’t talked about whether or not Nora is telling the truth. The reality is, Carrie at this point is probably more qualified to answer that question than I am, my intention aside. That said, when I was in Australia watching her perform the scene and when I was sitting in the editing room watching her perform the scene, it was very hard to not believe her. That’s all I’m willing to say on the subject.
I’ve thought about it the more I’ve written, and whether it’s true or not, the story is fundamentally the same: Nora has a chance to reunite with her kids, opts not to take it, puts herself into exile in Australia. It’s just a matter of timing; whether she leaps out of the LADR machine or somehow jumps across universes, she makes the same choice.
Yeah, I agree. One story I think is more generous to Kevin. That’s the story that she tells, because she was physically not in the same dimension as he was for many of those intervening years, but that’s the key difference. Otherwise they are the same, yes.
I don’t want to necessarily interrogate this too much, but I’ve thought about things, like, if the story is true, and Dr. Van Eeghen had the ability to rebuild the machine on that side, and people on that side are okay but they’re alone and they’re underpopulated and feeling miserable…
They’ve got an abundance of resource and no zombies.
…why would he not have rebuilt the machine himself, jumped back over, told people this is what happened, try to figure out a way for people to go back and forth? Is that something you even thought about?
Oh, sure. We talked about Dr. Van Eeghen more than many may think.
Would you care to share any thoughts on his motivations assuming this is true?
No, I can’t, because I have to go down the “assuming this is true” pathway and then you can later Saul Goodman me, or Jimmy McGill me at least.
All I’m willing to say is that every single word of Nora’s story was put under a microscope, because it needed to withstand and hold up to multiple viewings and multiple interpretations at the same time. It needed to be the culmination of many things that Nora had said, not just over the course of the episode, but the season and the series. I think that the scene that she has with the nun when she goes and confronts the nun before she crashes on her bike is just as significant in terms of analyzing Nora’s final story, but not just that scene, also the scene that she has with Erika in “Lens.” There’s a whole parabola of information to take into account as we assess what Nora is saying about Dr. Van Eeghen.
Why would the theoretical Dr. Van Eeghen, not build a machine to come back and say it works? My answer to that would be, he’s so happy that he got over onto the other side and was reunited with whoever he wanted to that he was basically like, “I know it works, I’m not going to go through the trouble and the risk attached to not being able to get back a second time. Why bother?” It’s sort of like, “I’ve been to the moon once.”
He should have sent J Lo back to go on a global goodwill tour.
Oh my god. I love it. And his chances at finding J Lo are pretty good over there, I think.Everybody’s going to know who J Lo is. You think she’s a big celebrity over here, imagine over there.
I do think about things like baby Sam from the opening scene, who would now be teenage boy Sam, almost, and other characters who wound up over there without the people who cared about them. I think about theories of the afterlife, and the idea that of whether Heaven is really Heaven if I die and go there while, say, my wife is still alive. Were any of these very familiar questions about the afterlife, floating around as you were conceiving this as your answer?
Definitely not the afterlife, because I’ve had some experience at telling stories about the afterlife, Alan. This idea that time and space function differently over there, A, is a very hard idea to get across, but B, you’re dealing with a supernatural construct. We always wanted to talk about the story that Nora tells about going through not as a supernatural construct, but as a scientific construct. Not even a sci-fi construct, but scientific.
The root of that was that when we were shooting the pilot, we were shooting the scene in the parking lot where the baby disappears. (Peter) Berg had the camera on a crane and I said, “You know what we should do is shoot a version from the baby’s point of view where the mom is on the phone and she just stops talking and then the camera drifts into the front seat, and the mom’s gone. Then we hear a guy out in the parking lot shouting for his son, and then that would be the end. Let’s just shoot it. That will be our answer for where the 98% went, where the 2% went. They just flipped. They just coexist in the same space but can’t see each other.” Berg was like, “We’re losing light, I don’t have time to do that.” That was the birth of that idea.
You had it even then.
Yeah. When I first met Perrotta, I asked, “Do you know where they went? I know you say you’re never going to answer, but do you know?” He goes, “I have to be honest with you, I don’t really even think about it.” I was like, “I don’t know if I can work on the show if I don’t have an answer. Even though I don’t ever want to tell, I need to kind of know.” We always approached that space, whether theoretical or real, as a space that was very easy to understand, which is, we just flipped. Therefore it’s not an afterlife or even an alternate dimension, it’s just the 2% are occupying the same physical space that we are, but we’re not there. It’s as Nora explains: where they went, they lost all of us.
Nora’s a minor figure in the first half of the first season, and the finale is entirely about her. At what point in working with Carrie, or simply writing Nora, did you realize how much you were going to put on the back of this character?
I’d say from even before we cast Carrie, Nora was a very prominent figure in Tom’s book and in fact I felt very passionately about the idea that the first season of The Leftovers would end in the same way that the novel did, which was with Nora finding the baby on her doorstep and saying, “Look what I found.” I wept when I read the end of Tom’s book and I was like, “We’re just going to do that.” In order to make that work, it meant that we had to viably build a romantic relationship between Kevin and Nora, and then also get Nora to a place where she was going to Dear John him and leave town and the baby sort of reversed field on her. I wanted that to happen. Then we slow-rolled Nora’s character, but we wanted to make her an object of fascination and fetishize her so that in the second episode Jill and Amy are following Nora Durst, and although we hadn’t yet figured out how to do singular point of view episodes, that we actually jump to Nora’s point of view for really the very first time when she goes and she administers her Q & A to the family of someone who Departed.
I was on the set that day as Carrie questioned that older couple for their Departure benefit. That’s when I was like, “I love this character, and I love Carrie Coon, and we need to beef up the Nora of it all and we need to get this thing with Kevin rolling sooner rather than later.” They meet at the dance in episode 4, obviously episode 5 is the Gladys episode and she does not figure in prominently, but episode 6 is all Nora all the time, and then episodes 7, 8, 9, 10 feature her much more prominently. I would say we always wanted to do it, but it wasn’t until that scene in episode 2 where I was like, “Oh, please let her have chemistry with Justin because if she doesn’t we are so fucked.”
I imagine watching her hug Holy Wayne in “Guest,” and her reaction to that, had to be very reassuring: “She can do whatever we throw at her.”
Everything that she did in “Guest.” I mean, she’s obviously incredible in that moment with Wayne, but I would say that the degree of difficulty as an actor is almost as high in the prostitute scene that starts off the show, or the scene where she grinds on the loved one, which is largely a comedic scene. She has to do so many different things in that episode, the versatility is off the charts, as you are well aware. I think that’s when the audience started saying, “Who’s that?”
Was it your intention for Kevin’s lie about only barely knowing her and still living in Mapleton to briefly create a question for the viewer about whether these scenes are after she has jumped into a parallel universe?
Yeah, but that’s not the way it came about. We had a problem: if Kevin knocks on Nora’s door and just picks up where they left off — “I found you and I want to say I’ve been looking for you all this time and I’m really sorry about what I said in the hotel” — episode’s over. It’s like, what is Kevin’s tack? If he believes she’s literally been hiding from him all this time and doesn’t want to be found, he has to build a cogent strategy for dealing with her if and when he finds her. Somerville was the one who pitched that idea that Kevin just wants to start over, and he literally builds this kind of Improv Everywhere construct. I think he knows that his story isn’t going to hold up for long, but he’s going to use it as an entrée to break the ice and move her into a space where they can be together again, and then they can start having the complicated conversations.
Once he pitched it and we were all delighted by the idea, then we realized what you just said: if we edit the show so she gets in the LADR, it fills up with water, we cut to the future, she has a scene with a nun in the middle of nowhere but we don’t really see her interacting with anyone else and then Kevin knocks on her door, we’re going to think, maybe she died in there, or he chased her, he came through this device and has tracked her down there? The audience isn’t going to know what to make of it. They’re going to be very befuddled. We thought that’s great, because Nora is also super confused in that scene. If the episode is told from Nora’s point of view, she needs to be like, “What are you doing? I don’t understand what’s happening,” because then the audience will go, “Thank God someone’s speaking for me. “
The very next scene, she needs to very clearly explain to someone that Kevin is acting out of character. All these things that happened, he is saying did not happen, and the audience needs to understand we’re in the real world. That means that Nora needs to be in contact with someone who is in the real world, and who should that be? There were only two candidates for it: Erika and Laurie. Then after we watched 6, it was very clear to us that it should be Laurie.
So if not for that decision, would we have never found out if Laurie came out of the water?
We definitely would have found out. I was like 95% sure that Laurie was dead — that the episode would only have meaning if she killed herself. But 5% is not insignificant, and also, no idea divided the writers room like the fact that Laurie killed herself. Particularly amongst the two writers who wrote it, Patrick and Carly (Wray), both of whom went along with the plan that Laurie was dead. But then once we watched the dailies, it started shifting away from like 95% and dropped immediately to 50% because I was like, “Amy Brenneman just doesn’t look right now like someone who’s about to kill herself, playing the other side of this phone call, driving out on the boat. Is this what people look like before they kill themselves? Do they look heroic and brave and courageous? More importantly, when Jill and Tom call, why doesn’t she tell them that she’s in Australia about to go scuba diving?” Was that us leaving a message for ourselves that she didn’t kill herself? I think that the intention on our behalf always was that Laurie was going to go scuba diving and she would decide when she was under the water whether or not she would turn the knob, but going scuba diving is her way of testing her own resolve after having said goodbye to Kevin and Nora for what she believes to be probably the last time.
Then the question became, is Laurie selfish, or has Laurie evolved? Did Laurie win, or did Laurie lose? Then it dropped down to 20%. Then we started having this conversation about the finale, and we were having a real hard time breaking the finale, I think because in the Schrodinger’s box of story, Laurie was dead. But what if she came out of the water? What if all this time, she’s still Nora’s shrink? Is it horrific to imagine that she has been lying to Kevin, who is going to Australia and searching for Nora? Does she know that Kevin is searching for Nora? What if she didn’t know? What if Kevin is lying about where he goes on his vacations, and Laurie just thinks he’s gotten past it? Then suddenly we were like, “Oh, we’re talking again. The ball is rolling. This is the right idea.” Then it was Laurie.
After “Certified,” a lot of people were saying they didn’t see the suicide coming, asking why would she do it, etc. You make a point to never really explain it other than perhaps the line she says to Kevin: ”We’re all gone.” Here, you don’t explain why she came out of the water. Why did you decide to leave both of those decisions as ambiguous as you did?
Because I think that’s an ambiguous space, man. I’ve never tried to commit suicide, (but) I’ve had incredibly sad points in my life where I would define myself as depressed — but not clinically depressed, because that’s about brain chemistry, that’s not about “Oh, my dad died and I’m sad,” or, “Oh, people didn’t like the Lost finale and I’m sad.” That’s depression that is basically tied to life events versus what I understand to be real clinical depression. I don’t think Laurie has ever suffered from real clinical depression. She was battling against adverse circumstances in her life and she was always trying to find a way to move forwards.
I think that the idea that someone killed themselves and it made sense, I just haven’t ever heard that narrative. You take the tragedy of someone like Chris Cornell, and what people are saying is, “It doesn’t make sense. He seemed so happy, and it must have been because he took these Ativan.” I think almost every suicide narrative that I’ve ever heard, in both the real world and in popular fiction, is, it doesn’t make sense unless that person has a terminal illness. But almost all the emotional circumstances, especially for the people that are left behind, in the case of a television show that you watch, the audience, you care about Laurie, so we’re the people who are left behind, you’re going to say, “That doesn’t make sense.” There’s no version of someone killing themselves where you go, “I kind of get it!”
I understand that suicide happens, but there’s going to be ambiguity both surrounding the decision to kill yourself and also to not kill yourself. If Nora had basically said, “Tell me again why you came out of the water,” and Laurie goes, “Nora, we’ve been over this a billion times before, I came out of the water because…,” there’s no good version of that! There just isn’t. I think that when people see that Laurie is alive, my hope is that they go, “What a relief, because it makes more sense to me that she came out of the water than it does that she stayed under it.”
Did Laurie go to Australia with Matt intending to kill herself, or with that thought in her head?
No. That certainly wasn’t my intention.
When does the idea come to her? When Nora talks about scuba diving? When she’s on the bluff with Nora? When she’s at the dinner?
In the way that we intended it in Patrick and Carly’s writing, Laurie at that moment in time thinks that she is helping Nora, and then in the subsequent story, that she is helping Kevin by bringing them to the cliff’s edge and holding their hand while they look down, but I think that she doesn’t think that they’ll jump, but then both of them say, “I’m going to jump,” and Laurie says, “You know what? That’s my evolution, I’m going to let you. Not because I myself am suicidal, but because I’ve been trying so hard to stop people from following their natural course of action, and I’m now acknowledging that this is what you need to do. I think you’re killing yourself, I think this LADR device is going to kill you Nora, Kevin I think that when you drown it’s going to kill you. In the same way that Matt lets go of The Book of Kevin, the ultimate arc for these characters is, I can’t influence these other people, I have to let them go on their own path. I can’t pull them onto my path with me.
But when Nora talks about scuba diving, it’s an argument against Laurie’s perceived idea that suicide is selfish — “Well, here’s a way for you to do it that would basically spare the feelings of everyone who cares about you and they would think it was an accident and therefore it wouldn’t be selfish anymore” — and I think that that’s how Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom Hardy incept the idea into Laurie’s head. But I don’t think at that moment she’s like, “Oh, I’m now suicidal.” I think after she has the scene with Kevin — and says,”I’m not here to stop you, I’m here to say goodbye.” — she’s already starting to think, “I’m going scuba diving tomorrow.” But I don’t think, now when I watch the show, that she’s going scuba diving to kill herself.
I think that Patrick and Carly might have a different answer for that question, and I think Brenneman’s answer actually trumps all other answers at this point. Because she played it.
So why is Laurie not telling either Kevin or Nora about Kevin’s Australia trips?
We wrote a line when Kevin is explaining to Nora what he’s been doing showing her picture around, “And I tell everybody back home that I’m going horseback riding, or mountain climbing, or going on these adventure trips, because I’m too ashamed to tell them that I’m looking for you.” Theroux was like, “I don’t want to say that line because I think it’s implied.” I was like, “Well, in the spirit of clarity, because this may be an important issue, can we just shoot it and decide editorially?” Wisely, an actor knows when they hear that, they know that it’s going to end up in the show, because it’s “Well, now you’re ignoring me.”
The day that we shot that scene was the same day that we shot the final scene, where Nora talks to Kevin. Because of makeup logistics, and light, and control of what the oncoming weather was, etc., the decision was made to shoot the final scene first. Nora tells her story was first in the day, and then Kevin confronts Nora was up second that day. Both scenes, degree of difficulty was immensely high, and I could tell that Justin didn’t want to say the line, and I was forcing him to do it, and that it was inhibiting him from being inside the performance that he needed to be in, so on the set I said, “You do not need to say that.” What ended up happening was, in a couple of early takes we had it, but I feel like Justin gave an incredible performance in that scene, but we used all the latter takes where he didn’t say the line. I felt that now if I stick the line in, I’m betraying Theroux. I am willing to take on a little bit of ambiguity surrounding it, and I can go out into the world and tell the story that I’m telling you now, but Laurie did not know that Kevin has been searching for Nora all this time. I hope that the audience jumps to that conclusion independent of reading this. There’s patient confidentiality because you gave me a pack of cigarettes once, and then there’s just being super abusive to someone. I think if she knew that Kevin was suffering to the level that he was, she would have said something.
Here’s another question for you that I won’t answer, but I’ll ask you: how long has Laurie been Nora’s shrink?
That depends on whether she went through the machine or not.
It does. That’s another question that the show doesn’t answer.
Do you have in your head what that first phone call between Nora and Laurie was like?
Yes, absolutely. As soon as Laurie says the line, “When you first called me, we established very clear boundaries,” we had to create a version of that scene even though we were never going to shoot it.
You love Otis Redding. Was Otis always going to be playing for the dance?
No. We needed to pick a song so the actors know what to dance to and so that they can feel something so they’re not just moving to nothing, but there was always an understanding that the song might very likely change. We cleared Dolly Parton’s version of “I Will Always Love You.” That felt like it was the right tempo, everything about it felt right, but it never felt like it was going to be the song. That’s what they danced to on set and that’s what we pre-cleared, and then as soon as I watched it in the editing room the first time, I felt that there’s on the nose and there’s on the nose. It didn’t not work, but it was just too saccharine. I had the Otis in my back pocket as an alt, and Otis has also been in the lexicon of The Leftovers and I wanted to figure out ways to bring back in that season one feel, and I feel like Kevin is a guy who’s always liked soul music, but when we first met him was not really that willing to acknowledge or trust his soulfulness, but now Otis would basically give him a conduit to his past. Especially because the wedding scene is all about building both an alternate past, but everything that Kevin tells Nora about the present is true in the wedding scene. Then that song just worked. At least in my humble opinion.
You used Billie Holiday as Nora’s muse in the finale.
Billie Holiday just has years on her. Not just because of where the music comes from in time and place, but there is just a kind of wisdom and also they’re love songs with cynicism, and I was like, “This is just Nora to a t.” Nora actually isn’t listening to those Billie Holiday songs, they’re just playing her experience, but we try to use music on the show so it’s what it feels like to be inside this character’s head right now. For whatever reason, Liv Tyler is thinking of Oliva Newton-John’s “Magic” as she studies the bridge and is sizing up what she’s going to do the next day. Even though if you asked Meg, “Do you like Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Magic’?,” she would say, “I hate music. Music is like family. It doesn’t exist.” But it just felt right.
Did Grace and/or Kevin Sr. go to prison?
Grace yes, Kevin Senior no.
Officer Koala Fart didn’t file charges?
I think that he got written up. Either Kevin Sr. fled Australia, or it was just, “This guy’s a lunatic. It was the day before the world was supposed to end. He’s already been running afoul of the aboriginal community. He’s an American. Let’s just deport his ass.” I think that’s what happened to him, and I think that Grace went and confessed what she did to Kevin Yarborough and she got six months of jail time and ten years of community service because the judge in that jurisdiction hated Yarborough because he was an infamous asshole.
He killed a kangaroo.
He did. He was highly abusive, and Grace made for a very sympathetic defendant who never pled out. It was basically, “Are we really going to be able to throw this woman in jail for any significant period of time because, is it attempted murder if you think someone’s going to come back to life? It’s actually attempted resurrection. That’s time served.”
Do you feel the show of seasons two and three is appreciably different from the show of season one?
Define “appreciably,” and I’m not being snarky.
The common narrative around the show is, even if you didn’t like season one, you may very well love what it does after that. You and I have talked in the past about some of the things you changed after the first year, but to you, does it all feel like the same show?
No, definitely not. I actually measure the show in pre-Mimi and post-Mimi, and I can’t say in stronger terms how influential and consequential Mimi Leder was to the show. Up until episode five, which was the first episode that she directed, Lesli Linka Glatter was doing the directing EP job, but then she went back to Homeland. Then Mimi came in for the back half of season one and stayed all the way until the end. That’s where, for me, the appreciable shift happened in both the process of making the show and understanding what the show was. Then a number of other key hires, specifically Spezialy between seasons one and two, and bringing in Patrick Somerville. The process of making the show appreciably changed from season one to seasons two and three. I think two and three are more similar to one another than one is to either two or three. I can’t even watch the pilot.
I hear this a lot from people: ”I want to watch this show, I hear all these great things about years two and three, but do I have to watch the first year?” What would you say to those people? You yourself can’t watch the pilot any more.
Well, I’ve watched the pilot.
I would say the only reason that the people who like seasons two and three like it so much is because they made it through season one. I’m not being cutesy when I say that you can’t really achieve anything truly special or unique without a certain degree of suffering. Now, every once in a while a show like Mad Men comes along, and the pilot is fucking perfect. You’re just like, it’s just there. It’s all there. Did Mad Men evolve from the pilot to the finale? Sure, but not qualitatively. The pilot won an Emmy for writing; it was already great. Sopranos, I would argue the same thing. Breaking Bad? Maybe not.
I made a joke at TCA — or at least I thought it was a joke — that The Leftovers was a grower, not a shower, but I knew even then that it was going to take some figuring out and some experimentation. Not just because that’s the natural course of things in television, like doesn’t it make sense that the first season of a show should be its worst or its least evolved or its least confident? I have that conversation with people about The Americans —where season one isn’t even bad, it’s good; it’s just not the greatest show on television yet — then people like Aziz or Donald Glover or Jill Soloway come along and make perfect first seasons of television and then you go, “Oh, I didn’t even have to suffer through that.”
What I would say is, season one is not unwatchable, it’s ten hours of your life and of those ten hours, five of those episodes are categorically on the same level as episodes from seasons two and three, in my opinion. Half of them. I’m not going to tell you which ones they are, but you’ll know. “Lens” only works emotionally because you watched season one. You just gotta power through, man. That’s my advice.
President Kevin talks about how the GR used to be silent and chain smoke, until they realized those traditions were stupid. Was that you acknowledging some regret about their portrayal in the first season, or just acknowledging that many people in the audience didn’t like those particular GR traits?
Both. And we CUT the line — “Smoking causes emphysema.”
Was it only eight episodes this year because you wanted to go to Australia, or it was always going to be eight no matter what?
I think it was always going to be eight no matter what. We were facing a very unique political circumstance, which was that I think we were dead. There wasn’t going to be a season three, and then suddenly there was, so I moved through that whole period of, we’ve aired the finale, and it’s not HBO’s MO to make people sweat it out. Usually they tell you, “We want there to be a next season,” and that hadn’t happened. Although there was just a tremendous amount of goodwill from HBO about what the creative was for season two, we lost viewership from season one, which was never that big to begin with, and with what was going on with Vinyl and Westworld, the larger climate of what the future of HBO was going to be, is The Leftovers even part of that climate? Then suddenly I got a call from Mike Lombardo: “Good news, we want there to be a third season.”
I had already spoken to Perrotta and Spezialy and Mimi saying, “If by some divine circumstance they offer us another year, let’s end the show, because I don’t want to have the feeling that I’m having right now a year from now, which is, we’ve completed another season of The Leftovers but not know whether it gets to continue or not. I don’t want to be the ambiguous ending guy, I want to end the show definitively. If we get that call, in the very same call that we get picked up I’m going to say, ‘But it needs to end.’” My one chip is, “Thank you so much for resuscitating me. I’d like to be dead again.” Then Lombardo said, “Okay, let me think about that. I think we’d be open to that.” I think he was probably relieved: “This feels right, we did it with The Newsroom.” Then he called back and said, “Okay, so we’re going to give you eight episodes.” That’s not a negotiation. That’s a, “Thank you, Michael, I appreciate it.” That’s why there were eight.
What would you have done if you had ten?
Definitely a Murphy episode. Probably John-centric, but we would probably have been able to use Regina again, especially if we had shot it in Austin. We would have figured out a way to do that. That’s definitely something. Then probably a little bit more of Tom and Jill. I don’t know exactly how, but revisit those characters in the context of the later episode. I don’t think they were ever going to Australia. That started to feel a little bit too Keystone Cops-y, that everybody went, but given those characters’ prominence in the earlier seasons, it doesn’t sit entirely well with me that the final season pushed them so significantly to the side.
There are two things that you revealed this year that I never expected to find out with 100 percent certainty. One is what Laurie saw in the ultrasound, and the other is what David Burton whispers to Kevin on the bridge. Did you intend for both of those initially to remain ambiguous, or you always knew, if the show stuck around long enough, you would make them concrete?
I think it’s probably the latter. We told Amy, “Here’s what you’re seeing on the ultrasound. It’s gone. That’s what you need to play.” It always felt pretty clear to me when I watched the episode that that’s what she was playing, even though we didn’t show it. I would say that we were never going to actually see what Laurie sees, but that she would reveal at some point, and to Kevin. Although in one iteration she revealed it to Nora, but ultimately it was Kevin’s baby too, so it should be him, that she was going to say, here’s what happened. I think that we knew that we were going to resolve that one.
As for what Burton whispers to Kevin on the bridge, that was on a short list of things that we felt we owed for season three. I think that when we originally talked about it, it was something that Kevin was going to share with someone else, versus the way that we eventually did it, which is Burton himself saying, “D’you remember what I said to you on the bridge?” Because we wanted Kevin to say, “You’re the most powerful man in the world.” But when we did it, I was like, “This cannot be a Lost in Translation thing.” It was one of the things that I felt like there had to be a season three, because it was bugging me that we would never find out what it was.
Did you know what it was back when you did the original episode?
I don’t think we knew that it was literally, “You’re the most powerful man in the world,” but it was a messianic construct. When Justin said, “How am I supposed to play what he says to me?,” I said, “It should be the equivalent of, ‘God wanted me to tell you that you’ve got your work cut out for you.’” Or that there was some sort of anointing of Kevin as a messianic figure implied in that conversation.
You’ve told me in the past that since 2% of the world’s population vanished, you were comfortable with about 2% of the show actually being supernatural. Do you yourself know what the 2% is? What is real and what is not?
I definitely could, but I wonder if you put Perrotta and I on the opposite side of a screen — and just for fuck’s sake hook us up to some sort of electrical shock thing just because that’ll make it even more interesting — and you put like, on blocks, Holy Wayne, the hotel from “International Assassin,” and we had to sort them into 98% or 2%, how close we would come to each other, and what does that say about the story? Or any of the other writers, for that matter. I guess what I’m asking you is, does my opinion and does my intention trump everyone else’s about the supernaturality of the show? I’m here to tell you, I’m very clear on what was supernatural and what wasn’t. I’ll bet you you could guess, I would hope.
There’s one in particular I want to discuss. In “International Assassin,” Kevin puts on the TV, and Kevin Senior is there telling him that he’s in a hotel in Perth and just took a drug called God’s Tongue. In “Crazy Whitefella Thinking,” Senior tells the story about how he took a drug called God’s Tongue and woke up two weeks later in Perth with no idea what happened.
Right, so he has no memory of appearing to Kevin.
How does Kevin Garvey Junior know that his father is in a hotel in Perth tripping on something called God’s Tongue if he’s not in the afterlife?
Here’s how I will answer that question, hopefully in an unambiguous and satisfying way, and let’s just take the question of supernaturality off the table. Then we’ll put it back on. Going into season three, Reza Aslan came in and talked to us about aboriginal religious beliefs and creation theory so that we would understand what Senior was up to. We read a book called The Songlines, we watched several documentaries about the indigenous peoples of Australia. The thing that keeps coming up over and over and over again — particularly in this movie The Last Wave, which was a big inspiration for and potentially an actual prequel of season three of The Leftovers, who is to say, because there is a character named Chris played by the same exact actor — is the word “dreamtime.” We never use the word in The Leftovers, but it is the core fundamental spiritual belief of the indigenous peoples of Australia. For them, the dreamtime is not a supernatural space. They understand that it is accessed by shamanic peoples, not to mention occasionally people who are just having dreams, but they don’t believe it to be a space that is psychological. They believe it to be a space that is real and exists as a tangible place — it’s like the Matrix almost, minus the computers — where they can communicate with other people who are simultaneously in the dreamtime, or even past ancestors, etc. There are no fundamental rules that govern it.
I think that Senior is in the dreamtime when he’s under the influence of God’s Tongue, and whether Kevin is there simultaneously as he’s undergoing the events of the initial International Assassin, or that hotel just has a hell of an antenna on it, he is receiving transmissions from the dreamtime. I’m not saying that he’s in the dreamtime. Senior is.
There’s basically two ways to look at “International Assassin.” One is, it’s part of the psychotic break that Laurie insists he’s having.
The other is, Virgil’s plan has worked and he has somehow gone to this other place to resolve his issues.
You don’t like either explanation.
The answer lies somewhere between boring and too weird.
Is Kevin’s previously undiscovered heart condition meant in any way to explain his continued escapes from certain death, or was it just a way to point out that he’s eminently mortal now?
More the latter than the former. Another possible interpretation is that it wasn’t a “previously undiscovered heart condition” but it was “damage sustained by dying multiple times.” It was always important to us that Kevin sustained a physical consequence for his trips to… well, wherever they’re trips to. But what’s most important is the bridge has been destroyed, as has the place it leads to.
I can explain this one myself, but I’m curious your take on it. There was news coverage of David Burton in season two, so that could just be something that Kevin is aware of.
He was also a very prominent sportscaster in the Sydney games.
Yes, so Kevin just incorporates this person into his fantasy, if it is a fantasy as opposed to something actually happening.
(smiling evilly) Seems random, but I guess technically possible.
The penis scanner. How much pleasure do you take in this particular running gag about Theroux’s manhood and putting it into the show over and over again and then doing that?
Like on a scale of one to fourteen inches?
All silliness aside, one of the things that I realized, and I’ve talked openly about this both to him and about him, is I didn’t want to cast him at first because I was like, “This guy is too good-looking and no cop who works in Mapleton, New York is going to be able to develop this physique.” Yet he had it, so I was like, “All right, let’s fetishize it, because if it were a beautiful woman we would be fetishizing that.”
I was always really interested in the idea of fetishizing Justin. Then on the first day, the first scene that we shot ever of The Leftovers, he’s wearing that gray tracksuit and jogging around, and people are looking at each other in video village like, “Okay, this is happening. It’s a little bit embarrassing, but we’re going with this.” Obviously it wasn’t edited in a gratuitous way, because a dog’s about to be shot and I had no capacity for any level of humor in season one, but I almost feel like this idea started then. Only Justin Theroux can you make fun of him over that, you know? I get teased because I’m bald. That’s an attribute that I don’t want. Is it possible to tease someone for looking like Justin Theroux and having the attributes that Justin Theroux has? Then I kind of go, “There is no too much.” Then it just became an exploration of, “Let’s find what too much looks like.” By the time we got to the dick shelf, which is what we colloquially referred to it as, we were like, “That doesn’t even seem to be too much. There’s still somewhere to go.” We didn’t even find the tip of the atmosphere that Yeager penetrates in The Right Stuff. If someone at some point wants to come and make The Leftovers: The Movie, there’s still ample space to expand this gag.
What instructions did you give the Foley guy about what you wanted it to sound like?
The joke that I put on Instagram was that we dropped a live ferret onto a homemade quilt, but I think Patrick Somerville actually said that the audio file is called “gym bag drop.” I think that the Foley guy actually filled up like a gym bag with hams? And dropped it from varying heights. My note in the mix was just, “It needs to have more heft.” We did go too far there. One mix sounded like, “Okay, that’s going to break the shelf.”
What was the initial pitch for the boat party in 305? Who discovered the story of Frasier? Was this an attempt to outdo previous HBO orgy scenes?
The pitch was “How do we do Job on a Boat?” We knew we wanted to bring Bill Camp back in a story where he interacted with Matt, not Kevin… and that he’d be claiming to be God (Bill Camp, that is). Understanding the only fair ending for such a hubristic story would be for God to be killed in spectacular fashion, we all pitched on how to do so. I can’t remember who it was (probably Nick?), but it definitely wasn’t me, that said, “He should get eaten by a lion!” Then it was just a matter of figuring out what a fucking lion was doing on the boat. We knew we wanted there to be lots of sex happening around them (very Israelites at the bottom of Sinai) that our main characters were ignoring because it would be biblical and we knew that the lion should be part of their entourage. So I just googled “sex symbol lion” and this L.A. times article from 2010 came up about Frasier. The rest is history. For the record, we wrote and shot this episode before Westworld aired THEIR orgy, so there was no attempt to outdo them and we wouldn’t even TRY to outdo Game of Thrones in the orgy department… but we are proud Kevin has died five times MORE than Jon Snow.
What is the craziest idea you guys came up with in the room that you genuinely wanted to put in the show but could never find the right place for?
I wish I could give you something here, but every idea that we loved, no matter how crazy, we did.
Let’s talk about the most beautiful shot of the entire series: Nora crying at the end of “G’Day Melbourne.” Was that scripted, was that something Dan (Sackheim) saw on the day, or how did that come about?
All that was scripted was that Nora sits on the bed smoking and the fire sprinklers are going off. We couldn’t get an actual location that would let us flood their hotel room, so we had to build that hotel room. I think Dan and our set designer John Paino specifically built the hotel room set so that he could get that shot. But the closeup of the water rolling off her brow was not scripted. He just found it.
What was your reaction when you saw that?
I had seen many of those dailies, and I was worried because Sackheim did not get a lot of takes. It turned out that he didn’t need many because they both gave such incredible performances, but I always get anxious when there’s only two or three takes of a scene that important. In the process of me expressing to (editor) David Eisenberg, “I’m worried that there aren’t enough takes,” he said to me, “Don’t worry about it. Wait’ll you see what happens when the sprinklers turn on.” Then I saw the shot of her sitting on the bed, the wide shot, and I was like, “Okay, this is pretty cool, Carrie’s great, this is the last shot of the show.” Then it popped in on that incredible profile with the rivulets of water just raining off of her eyelashes and I emailed Sackheim immediately. I think the subject heading was something like, “You’re a goddamn genius.” I had the same reaction to it that probably the audience did when they first saw it which was, “This is art.”
Were there lots of other tattoos pitched before you landed on Wu-Tang?
Yes. I’m trying to remember what they were. We knew the idea was the cast was covering up a tattoo that was covering up another tattoo, and the original tattoo was the names of her kids. So we gave the writers homework: what is the embarrassing tattoo that Nora now has when the cast comes off? Everybody came in and pitched around the table, and we got to Tamara Carter, and she said, “All white people say they like the Wu-Tang Clan, so she should have a Wu-Tang Clan tattoo,” and then she showed us what it looked like, and I just loved the way that it looked. I think that everybody responded to it as soon as she said it, everyone just laughed, I think. Usually when the entire room laughs, you end up with a dick shelf. We basically chased our laughter all season long. Once we agreed on that, I said, “I have to be honest with you, I don’t buy that Nora Durst listens to the Wu-Tang Clan, but I think that makes it even better that she has a Wu-Tang Clan tattoo.” Maybe she thinks it was something else, like a bat or a rising phoenix, as she eventually says, and then mis-identifies them as “the Wu-Tang Band.” That’s even better: she has a tattoo and she doesn’t even know entirely what it’s for.
This leads to your depressing sad bastard of a show featuring a joyous scene of two women jumping in slow motion on a trampoline to a version of “Protect Ya Neck.”
In that case, the song that I think we initially wanted to use was — and I apologize because I’m not going to pretend like I know the Wu-Tang Clan that well — the one that goes, “Wu Tang Clan ain’t nothing to fuck with,” over and over again. We couldn’t clear it, because they sampled too heavily. Then there was another one off of Liquid Swords that basically samples heavily from an old kung fu movie where this young kid is telling a story of their father and how he enacted revenge, and they were just jumping on the trampoline forever as we heard that story, and I was like, “We’re good for like 35 seconds of this, and then we’re overstaying our welcome. Especially because if we’ve made it past Mark Linn-Baker at this point, let’s not press our luck.” Then neither of those songs cleared, and I said to Liza (Richardson), “Please just send me the Wu-Tang songs that you can clear.” She sent me like six or seven tracks and that was the one that worked. Also, he literally says at the beginning, “Uninvited guest,” on a shot of Nora, which I heard and was like, “Oh, this is it.”
When I saw the credits to episode two of this season, I pretty much fell out of my chair. When and how did the idea come to put in the Perfect Strangers theme over the old credits?
Well, I had a long and fascinating conversation with Matt Zoller Seitz about his connection to Matt Jamison and not necessarily writing Matt Jamison’s episode for him, but certainly those conversations were informed by the dialogue that I had had with him. Everything Perfect Strangers on the show started with Jackie Hoyt pitching the idea that all four of the major cast members disappeared on the fourteenth and that Senior presents that in season one, and then the idea that Mark Linn-Baker had ghosted and was hiding out in Mexico in season two. I did have a lingering feeling that comedy comes in threes, but I was feeling like the final payoff for Mark Linn-Baker was just going to be another cameo thing, like not a big deal. But with your, I’ll say borderline obsession/fascination/fandom for TGIF in general but very specifically Perfect Strangers changed that. I know that if you didn’t like the show, you would say so, but the fact that you were the first and only person to embrace the show not for what it was but what you believed it was capable of or what it was going for, I was like, “Sepinwall deserves all the Mark Linn-Baker that I can muster.”
Every opportunity that we had in that particular episode — including Mark essentially setting up the entire final arc of the series by telling Nora about the LADR, and he gave an incredible performance — I was going, “Let’s use the Perfect Strangers theme song. Let’s clear that. Let’s get Max Richter to write a cover of the Perfect Strangers theme song. Let’s do that.” I was so excited. Sometimes you get a gift for someone you love and you’re not sure whether they’re going to like it or not. Other times they’re like, “I want that bike,” and you buy them that bike and you know that tomorrow morning they’re going to wake up and it’s going to be there in the garage with a bow around it. I was like, “I can’t wait for Alan to get his bike.”
I did love that bike. What answer did the scientists want about killing the baby? The guy in the VW who burns himself alive gives one answer. Nora gives the other. Both are rejected.
I think that the question of “What did the scientists want?” is not the operative question. Here are two other more interesting questions to ask, potentially. Question number one is, what are they measuring when they ask this question, and as a codicil to that, is the actual verbal response relevant to whatever it is they’re measuring? I would just rephrase it that way. I’ll say, what they are measuring is attachment. Both of them gave answers that suggested to the questioners that they were still attached.
You finished shooting the season in September…
You’re not going to ask me what Mark Linn-Baker said when he was asked the twin baby question? That pinata is just hanging there.
Fine. What did Mark Linn Baker say when they asked him?
I’m not telling.
Thank you. I will tell you this: they never asked him. And he went through.That’s another question you should be asking me. When Nora was over there, did she…
Does Nora go to look up Mark Linn-Baker?
I’m not answering that.
Why are you giving me questions that you’re not going to answer?
Because it’s fun.
Let me just say this: If The Leftovers becomes a global sensation now — in other words, it doubles its ratings from 11 people watching it to 22 people watching it —and there’s a massive demand suddenly for Leftovers conventions and it just becomes like what Star Trek did after it was canceled, and people are just like, “There has to be more Leftovers, I will make one season of Nora and Mark Linn-Baker’s adventures through on the other side.
Is this a promise?
If all of those things happen, yes, but in no way does that promise validate that Nora’s story is true. That entire season will take place and you’ll still not know whether or not it really happened.
It’s Nora telling a bedtime story to someone.
It is. It’s The Princess Bride. It’s actually Nora telling that story to a grown Fred Savage.
You finished the season a while ago. It’s been on at the same time as Fargo, which also has Carrie being invisible to technology. It’s been on at the same time as Twin Peaks, which is doing its own weird stuff, and its third episode aired in the same hour as your penultimate, which were both two of the stranger hours of TV ever made. What has it been like having your show on in this vortex of weird spring TV?
Super exciting. I do feel like at certain times our culture wants to say, “There is the show and the only show.” For example, when Walking Dead is on, it can feel like that that is the show. Or Game of Thrones. What’s been really cool to me about this spring is, there’s multiple shows. There’s The Americans, there’s Fargo, there’s American Gods. There’s Peaks. Not to mention Master of None just finally returned, and Catastrophe. It feels like all of these shows are being watched by a number of people, versus like, there just has to be one. But it is odd that there seem to be recurring themes and motifs between these shows when I swear to you that there was no collusion between showrunners. In fact, when I watched the first episode of Fargo when the door won’t open for Gloria, I texted Carrie and I asked, “So is this a running gag?” She said, “All season long.” I said, “Did you tell Noah (Hawley) about us?” And she said, “No, should I have?” I love that Carrie just didn’t say anything and was just like, “Oh, this is cool. Both these idiots wrote the same gag for me.” It does seem to suggest that there’s something about Carrie that inspires such thinking.
I’m trying to figure out what.
It’s that the laws of physics do not apply to Carrie Coon.
Why do you think that there are so many doppelgangers right now? Plus the Fassbenders in Alien: Covenant.
That, I think that goes back all the way to the original Twin Peaks, and Invitation to Love. It’s a soap opera trope, the evil twin. Like, there’s a reason that the evil twin keeps coming up and I think that right now what you’re seeing is a number of different writers/storytellers, including Lynch himself, trying to find ways to disrupt or subvert the idea of the evil twin. I feel like on Fargo, it’s not the evil, because you basically go, is it Ray or Emmit? Which one is the evil one? I don’t know. At any given time it actually shifts. For Twin Peaks, who is the evil twin? I mean, seemingly the body that is now Dale Cooper that is inhabited by Bob is the evil twin, but then you’ve got Dougie, and then actual Cooper, and lord knows how many other actors portrayed by Kyle McLaughlin out there, so I don’t know what that is. I think that the new idea is, they’re not evil twins, they’re different facets of personality.
Twin Peaks was a huge influence on you. What’s it been like having your show airing, at least for a few weeks, at the same time?
I can only answer that question as a fan, because that’s the button you’re pushing when you ask it: it’s fucking awesome. It’s awesome that I have a television show on the air at the same time as Twin Peaks. If you had told me that in 1990 — “Damon, you will grow up and one day you will have a television show on at the same time as Twin Peaks” — my brain would have exploded. It’s the greatest thing ever. As long as people don’t say that Twin Peaks is better than my show.
I don’t know about that. You did a lot of good things this year but you don’t have Wally Brando.
Oh my god. Oh, my god.
What was your reaction to Wally Brando when you first saw him?
I think my mouth dropped open. I literally was agape at it. Andy and Lucy were both so excited that their son had shown up and I was like, “Is this going to be Kyle MacLachlan again?” You got the feeling that something very weird was about to happen. Then it was weirder than anything I ever could have imagined. I couldn’t even hear what Wally was saying for the first minute of the scene, so agape was I. Just staring at his getup and his posture and Robert Forster’s somewhat benign response to the nonsense that was falling out of his mouth. I think the first words that I actually heard the first time I saw it was, “Lewis and Clark.” Then I think I just started texting everyone I knew saying, ”WALLY BRANDO.” That was the moment I’ve been waiting for. That was my bike.
What was the thinking behind keeping the season two credits, but rotating the music each week? And how did you decide that you wanted the season one theme over the penultimate episode and Iris DeMent over the finale?
When we were searching for the Iris DeMent in S2 and tried MANY different songs over the titles, it was amazing to me how the different pieces of music completely transformed my emotional response to the visuals. It should have been obvious, but it wasn’t. So when S3 came along and we couldn’t afford a new title sequence, but we still had the desire to change things up, the “overture” concept felt like the best way to go. We used Iris in the finale because I wanted the audience to have some comfort and familiarity coming into the final episode… but also to restate the central tenet of Tom’s book. As for S1 theme… despite the majority of the audience hating it, I always loved Richter’s dirge and felt it was very apropos to give it one last spin as Kevin journeyed back into the abyss.
One of the recurring elements of the show is whenever anyone tries to go anywhere, just traveling from place to place, whether they’re in a car, on a boat, on a plane, whatever, it’s an absolute nightmare. Why?
(very long pause) I’ve never really thought about that before. The reason that I’m taking such a measured pause right now is I’m thinking through all the times that that’s happened on the show and going, “Huh, you’re right.” Now I’m trying to scratch at what the subconscious or subliminal thing that even I wasn’t aware of in terms of why we do that. I guess the most obvious answer that springs to mind is that leaving home is dangerous and scary and going somewhere else is dangerous and scary and complicated and fraught with peril. But I guess at its most base element, it’s that in order to get from A to B, you gotta suffer.
Yeah. Much like you gotta watch the first season.
It all comes back together.
Streaming now on HBO GO and HBO NOW! We’ve got to get those numbers up so we can do the Nora show.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org