How do you review a series that lives and breathes in the subtext? That question haunts me as much as the Sudden Departure haunts the characters in The Leftovers. To me, the series became much more substantial the farther it departed (pun fully intended) from Tom Perrotta’s novel. It evolved from a plot-oriented drama into, over Season 2, a full-on meditation. Of course, the plot existed, but the details hardly mattered. To fully appreciate The Leftovers, you have to look beyond the words and actions. You have to look closely at the subtext, the themes about grief and loss. The Leftovers Season 3 continues in that vein and benefits immensely from a sense of pre-ordained closure.Mass audiences will never completely embrace The Leftovers, but those looking for a challenging and often deeply felt, enlightening experience should seek it out. In ten years, colleges will study the series to unravel all of its mysteries and majesty. In its own way, The Leftovers offers one of the most rewarding experiences on television. Season 3 certainly cements its reputation as one of the greatest experiences on television.
I’m not going to go into the plot points of the new season. That discovery is one you should make on your own. I will say that the new season picks up from Kevin Garvey’s (Justin Theroux) journey to the other side in the end of Season 2. His return sets up much of the motivations within Season 3. But these characters, Kevin’s love Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) included, still struggle with the Great Departure. They still struggle with being left behind and the sudden absence of their loved ones. Their struggles, though, aren’t redundant from previous seasons. The characters move forward with daily life and rebuilding, giving new action within the series. It’s their souls that remain in stasis.
The Leftovers assembled a formidable cast of accomplished actors. Leads Theroux and Coon radiate intelligence and emotion in their performances. I’m particularly impressed with Theroux’s continued dedication to the role. He masterfully blends the various aspects of the Garvey character – the need to rebuild and generate order, the confusion at being reborn – into a raw nerve of a performance. Similarly, Coon gives an astoundingly great turn as she explores possibilities in Season 3 of potentially connecting with the other side. Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, Chris Zylka, and Scott Glenn also resonate with their characters, each given excellent material and the opportunity to carve out their own little piece of a very excellent pie.
But what surprises me the most about The Leftovers is its unexpected sense of humor. Everything you know about the show probably tells you it depresses and confuses with an otherworldly plot. In reality, this show, like life itself, offers laughter through the tears. There’s a particularly fantastic moment in Episode 2 where two characters – I won’t say who – discuss bringing a child into this suddenly departed world. That conversation comes just after one reveals they enjoy asphyxiation while the other receives tattoos and breaks a limb for the pain alone. The thought of having a child makes them erupt into laughter. The moment comes unexpectedly but still packs enormous comedy.
I’m frankly obsessed with The Leftovers Season 3. Every time I watch a new episode, it sort of packs a gut punch in both its emotional truth and depth of intelligence. Often, I have no idea what’s going on, but I also don’t really care. The show excels as something you feel rather than understand completely. Kind of like life itself. It makes me remember things and people I’ve lost in my life. The time my father called early on a Sunday morning to tell me my uncle passed away. The time I went to his funeral and could not stay in the funeral home because I was so heartbroken and failed to stop my tears. All of the now-passed women in my childhood who became grandmothers for me when my own were taken too early. Even putting two beloved pets to sleep over the Christmas holiday.
These moments were all deeply painful experiences that haunt me still to this day. The Leftovers tells me that I’m not alone in this grief. That others struggle similarly with those who have gone before their time. If a television show could help you work through grief with a deeper appreciation and understanding of life, then The Leftovers is that show.
And that makes it one of the most important shows I’ve ever seen.
The Leftovers Season 3 premieres Sunday night on HBO at 9pm ET.