December 7, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “The Leftovers”


At what point does unconventional storytelling become perversity for its own sake, a collection of curlicued narratives that operate like the showrunner version of The Emperor’s New Clothes?  It’s a question that came up often in connection with Damon Lindelof’s Lost, especially toward the end of its ultimately frustrating run, and even though THE LEFTOVERS comes clad in HBO robes of solemnity, it applies here as well.  Season 2 of The Leftovers was even more experimental than its first, with episodes that traveled backwards, sideways and into the ether, rarely focusing on the same characters for two hours in a row, and now that the season is over, it’s fair to wonder whether any of it took the story or its themes any farther than they would have gone otherwise.

Fittingly for a season that began with a prehistoric prologue, the season finale, written by Lindelof and co-creator Tom Perrotta, and directed beautifully by Mimi Leder, led with an extended flashback, and took a side trip at one point back to its purgatorial hotel afterlife when Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), poor guy, was killed twice in as many days (both times temporarily).  For all that, it was one of the most straightforward episodes of the season.  As was so often the case on Lost, much of it turned out to be a tease, in one way or another.  Sinister Megan (Liv Tyler), who had seemed in the last episode to represent a much more militant and terrorist off-shoot of the Guilty Remnant sect, was just a higher degree of annoying than the rest of them.  Her master plan to blow up Jardin, Texas’s (aka Miracle) smug sense of superiority about not having lost any inhabitants to The Departure wasn’t to actually set off a bomb or harm the seemingly missing girls headed by Evie (Jasmin Savoy Brown), but just to open the gates and let the dozens if not hundreds of GR members who’d apparently been lurking there all along into the town.  (It was a turn foreshadowed when we previously saw Megan threaten to throw a grenade into a school bus, only to have it be a deliberate dud.)  This apparently caused an instant apocalypse that certainly lowered Jardin property values, and while it made sense that the GR would want Jardin’s residents to be as miserable as everyone else, it was pretty much the same thing they’d done back in Mapleton, New York at the end of Season 1.  (And frankly, the Mapleton stunt, making use of life-size dummies of the Departed, was more fiendishly clever.)

Also basically the same as Season 1 was the reconstituted family conclusion, as newly reborn (again) Kevin found himself reunited with just about everyone, even including pregnant sister-in-law Mary (Janel Moloney), back from her coma apparently for good, and with full recollection of being conscious when husband Matt (Christopher Eccleston) impregnated her.  If you count Kevin’s new bonding with next door neighbor John Murphy (Kevin Carroll) after John’s nearly successful attempt to murder him, the family was bigger than ever.

The Leftovers is as cinematic and well-performed as anything on TV, and many of its hours were gripping in their own way.  Theroux would have been an effective center if the show had one, and his agonized episodes dealing with a Patti (Ann Dowd) who may or may not have been an undead presence in his mind, were showcases for both of them.  The “International Assassin” episode, which brought us for the first time to Kevin’s afterlife, was imaginative and managed to be cohesive as well as far-out.  Carrie Coon, Regina King, Amy Brenneman and Eccleston were among those who rose to the challenge when the show put its spotlight on their characters.

In the end, though, the rebooting of the narrative from New York to Texas, the introduction of the Murphys and other new characters, and the threads of mystery and spirituality amounted to little more than a restaging of Season 1 in new settings.  (The best developed character, oddly enough, was the post-death Patti.)  The season’s detours and narrative left turns obscured for a while that the only real plot devices the show has are the antics of the Guilty Remnant, but that became sadly clear once again in the last few episodes.

Despite ratings that were unimpressive for an HBO anchor series, The Leftovers did well enough that it might be brought back for another season, especially since the critical response, deserved or not, was stronger for Season 2.  What’s unclear, though, is whether the series has the ability to take its story somewhere else with another edition, or whether viewers would go on another fancy, accomplished ride to nowhere in particular.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."