"The Leftovers" Series Finale Review (No Spoilers): The Beauty of the Struggle

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Wow, just wow.  Almost a week later and I’m still reeling from “The Leftovers” achingly perfect series finale.  Where to begin, what to say?  First, for those who haven’t seen the show it’s a limited HBO series, only three seasons from start to finish.  Honestly, three seasons is probably enough. While the show and cast are brilliant the pervasive melancholy of the storylines, not to mention the haunting score, can feel suffocating at times.  Unless you are a glutton for punishment I wouldn’t watch it all in one go. Personally, I think it’s best viewed and absorbed in smaller chunks.

Season One is the hardest to get through.  It is very bleak.  For those of you who don’t know the premise “The Leftovers” is a set in a world where 2% of the entire population inexplicably vanishes into thin air.  The entire show revolves around how the remaining 98% cope with that loss. Suffice it to say, the leftovers do not manage well.  No, not at all.

When I first heard about that premise I thought, “Ah, 2% disappears that’s not so bad.  Especially if the so-called “Departure” didn’t directly involve a loved one.”  But then I thought through the ramifications of such an occurrence.  Millions of people gone without a trace with neither science or religion offering any plausible explanation.  The tent poles of faith and reason were rendered moot in an instant and could no longer offer shelter from the raging storm.  The world held its breath waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, while at the same time sprouting unique explanations to make sense of the nonsensical. Those explanations built narrative of the series and were, with few exceptions, bat shit crazy.

To be completely honest I initially stopped watching after Season One.  It was just to damn depressing!  I wondered at the fate of the characters, many of whom I grew to love, but needed a break from the steady stream of emotional torture.  Luckily my husband is made of sturdier stuff than I am and continued to watch regularly.  From him I learned of major plot developments such that when the finale rolled around I was curious enough to want to see how it would all end.

What a finale it was!  Since the beginning of the show we have been watching all the characters try and survive in a world untethered from reason.  I was reminded of Joan Didion’s astounding book on grief “The Year of Magical Thinking.” In it, she describes the little stories she would tell herself to continue living after the loss of her beloved husband.  I think anyone who has been through a traumatic experience can understand the things we need to tell ourselves to help process and overcome grief.  What ultimately helps the mourner is the fact that the rest of the world remains solid, rooted in reality.  When they are ready to re-engage, most will be grateful for the normalcy and consistency that this provides.  In The Leftovers, it’s been seven years of magical thinking and a new normal has yet to be established.  That must be an exhausting way to live and many of the characters are reaching their breaking point as the story draws to a close.

I’m not really going to say much about the finale beyond the fact that I loved it so much I went back and watched Season 2 and 3.  I’m happy to say that while the subject matter is still sad, there are moments of humor and glimmers hope in the remaining episodes.

It’s probably worth also worth noting that I am now a life long fan of both Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux.  They play two characters – Nora Durst and Kevin Garvey, respectively – who claim to want to survive in this new world but fail to see how their choices and behaviors conflict with this notion and are self-destructive.  How they marry what they think they want with their actions is beautifully depicted in the finale.  One couldn’t ask for a more fitting resolution, absolute perfection.

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