A spoiler-free plea for why you should watch The Leftovers Season 2, both for the generally curious and for those who had given up.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about HBO’s The Leftovers—at that time it was in the midst of its second season run—and how the show had really come into its own, resulting in the most interesting thing happening on television at the moment. Well now, three episodes later and fresh off of last night’s incredible season finale, it’s official: Season 2 of The Leftovers has solidified its place in history as one of the all-time great seasons of television.
It’s a weird thing to say about such a niche/odd show. The Leftovers isn’t even hip in a cult-y, Firefly kind of way. For his first new TV series after Lost, creator/showrunner Damon Lindelof opted for a full-on heavy drama that leaves the mythology behind. There may or may not be a supernatural element to the show (I’m pretty sure there is), but ultimately it’s a series about grief, loss, pain, and how we as human beings try to continue living our lives after some terrible event has happened—be it the death of a family member or the sudden and unexplained disappearance of 2% of the world’s population.
Relaying the show’s premise to the uninitiated isn’t an easy sell, and while Season 1 had moments of greatness, it admittedly had some stumbles that may have turned some folks off from watching Season 2. But over the course of the second season’s 10 episodes, Lindelof and his writing staff not only stuck the landing of an immensely satisfying piece of storytelling, but Lindelof himself seems to have somewhat honed his particular style with a few lessons learned.
When Lost took hold of the zeitgeist, Lindelof and co-showrunner Carlton Cuse were constantly bombarded with the question of whether they knew how the show would end, or if they were making it up as they went along. The real answer was somewhere in between—there was an outline of a road map, but they took detours when it felt prudent—but fans seemed downright offended that this show that was seemingly all about mysteries hadn’t been worked out fully before it began. This arguably is what led to some of the intense reaction to the show’s series finale, which left some mythology-centric questions unanswered in favor of a more character-driven, spiritual wrap up of the show’s themes.
With The Leftovers’ second season, you can certainly see shades of the same writer behind Lost when it comes to the tight plotting or downright brilliant/compelling storytelling, but it’s coming from a place of more security, more confidence, and more ambition. It was clear from the onset that this was a series about questions to which you maybe weren’t going to get answers, because that’s the reality of the world these characters are living in. But the trick that Season 2 pulled off was getting the audience so comfortable with not expecting answers, so when certain questions were addressed (and sometimes in very indirect ways), they were pleasant surprises that satisfied on a character-driven level, not pieces of a big mythological puzzle. And on the visual side, the directors on The Leftovers this season, particularly Mimi Leder and Craig Zobel, absolutely slayed it.
One of the season’s most brilliant flourishes, though, started to become clear as the last few episodes began tying up these diverse new storylines. This all culminated in a finale that (somewhat) brought things full circle, back to the season premiere’s extended, dialogue-free sequence involving on a prehistoric (yes, really—this show is strange!). Indeed, for Season 2 Lindelof and his team switched up the format of the show to more heavily focus on single points of view, so almost every episode was told entirely from the point of view of a certain character or characters. The immediate result was the ability to become more heavily invested in the emotional stakes for these people, but as the season barreled towards it conclusion, these various plot threads began coming together and paying off in massive ways, especially when it comes to the finale.
I’m not getting specific here for a reason—the ratings of The Leftovers’ second season were not great. Not a lot of folks tuned in, but those that did were treated to something truly special, and I’m hoping that A. People who skipped it will give it a shot and B. HBO feels compelled to give Lindelof and Co. a third season. Now that the show feels like it knows exactly what it is, and coming off such a fantastically-structure season as this, I’m beyond curious to see where things would go in Season 3.
And even if The Leftovers doesn’t continue, it feels like Lindelof really found his groove this year. It’s always been clear he’s a gifted writer and storyteller—folks are quick to forget that most of Lost is pretty darn incredible—but after being burned so heavily by fans unhappy with that series finale or being blamed for films on which he was one of multiple writers/voices, The Leftovers feels like Lindelof throwing up his arms, saying “Screw it,” and putting all his chips on the table for the kind of story he wants to tell regardless of how folks may react. And boy what a story it is.