With the second season of The Leftovers, the HBO drama series completed not just one of the most spectacular creative upswings in TV history, but one of the best seasons of television in recent memory. The first season of the series, created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, took a very intimate approach to chronicling the aftermath of “The Departure,” an event in which 2% of the world’s population suddenly vanished. There’s a claustrophobic quality to that first season that somewhat prevents the series from really soaring, and if we’re being honest, it’s almost punishingly depressing. Season 2, however, changed settings and opened the show up from an aesthetic and character perspective, with Lindelof taking massive narrative risks to phenomenal results. As such, fans will be happy to know that the show’s third and final season loses absolutely none of the creative luster that made Season 2 so compelling, and indeed doubles down on the oddities and intensely cathartic moments that have solidified The Leftovers as one of the best shows of the Second Golden Age of Television.
Season 3 consists of just eight episodes, but Lindelof and his team take full advantage of the compacted season—every episode really counts. The story picks up a full three years after the catastrophic events of the Season 2 finale, with Kevin (Justin Theroux) now serving as chief of police in Jarden, Texas and still living with Nora (Carrie Coon). There are surprising developments to be found when it comes to the show’s other characters, but those are best left to discover in the process of watching the season, so I’ll keep mum on that. Indeed, one of Lindelof’s greatest strengths as a writer and producer is his knack for spinning a great yarn, and of the episodes I’ve seen thus far he’s batting 1000. The episodes unfold with tremendously compelling narrative structures, offering up twists and turns that are as fulfilling as they are surprising. Each bump in the road, each pit stop is an opportunity for drama that further reveals who these characters are, and Lindelof has mastered the art of taking full advantage in the Leftovers universe.
Thematically, the show remains a story about faith and belief systems, hope and loss, and that’s all ratcheted up by the fact that when Season 3 begins, citizens of the world are preparing for the seventh anniversary of the Departure, which is in a few weeks. Matt (Christopher Eccleston) points out that major events in the Bible focus on the number seven, and prophesies that if something were to happen, it would happen on the seventh anniversary of the event. This provides something of a ticking clock for the narrative as characters either do or don’t believe the apocalypse is nigh, which only increases the tension as events unfold. Moreover, the show honed the “standalone” episode structure in Season 2 by focusing on one or two characters in a single episode, and that continues in Season 3 as the intense events of the season play out over a matter of days.
This episode structure, which in some ways takes cues from the Gospels of the Bible (it’s no coincidence the male characters all have beards), really allows each and every cast member to shine. There’s an entire episode devoted to Kevin Sr. where Scott Glenn basically leads his own adventurous short film in the Australian outback, and then there’s yet another episode where Carrie Coon proves she’s one of the best actresses working today. While Theroux certainly has one of the tougher jobs on the show, and delivers tremendous work as Kevin Garvey—a man who is either A. Mentally ill, B. Literally incapable of dying C. A genuine Jesus figure or D. All of the above—Coon remains the MVP of the series. Just when you think you have Nora pegged down, or know her emotional state, Coon takes the character to fascinating places in this final season that are tremendously upsetting and yet completely understandable. Trying to peg down the most “broken” character on The Leftovers is like picking the douchiest character on Entourage (spoiler alert: they’re all terrible), but Coon brings shades to Nora this season that are as surprising as they are heartbreaking.
While the season begins in Jarden, the action eventually moves to Australia, and it must be pointed out that director Mimi Leder is as much a vital part of The Leftovers DNA as Lindelof. She joined the show halfway through its first season, but she helped expand the scope of the series in Season 2 while maintaining an intense focus on character. She does the same in Season 3, for which she directed multiple episodes. You really feel the show take advantage of the Australia setting, and it’s visually dynamic in a way that honestly rivals Game of Thrones—albeit from a more human, grounded, realistic perspective.