The Leftovers: Season 1 created by Damon Lindelof (Warner Bros. Television)
Starring Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, Liv Tyler, Chris Zylka, Margaret Qualley, and Carrie Coon.
Are you a dreamer? Do you spend those hours before sunrise drifting in the lightest sleep states while your mind explores surreal connections between ideas, people, and objects? How about those moments after you’re awake, stumbling to the shower hoping for the cascading water to rouse your slumbering soul?
These moments can be confusing. Truth and fiction have little meaning. Your body reacts slowly as your brain works to restore consciousness. You probably have heard funny stories from others about the crazy things you’ve said in these states. For example, my wife found much joy when I told her she woke up a few weeks ago and muttered, “Kelly Blue Book” to me.
Even though I wouldn’t label The Leftovers riveting television, Damon Lindelof’s show conjures this unmoored feeling of a dream state quite nicely.
Left Behind After a Sudden Departure
Based in the suburban New York town of Mapleton, The Leftovers elaborates on a group of characters who have lost something. You see, this show occurs in the wake of a cataclysmic, unexplainable, biblical event. 2% of the population has vanished into thin air. Babies once crying are gone. Drivers no longer control the wheel.
While the chaos of the event is shocking, the aftermath for those left behind offers some intriguing stories.
Our protagonist, Kevin Garvey, Jr. (Justin Theroux) functions as Mapleton’s chief of police. Even though his often acts erratically, his principle motivation is to keep the peace, to provide a semblance of normalcy in this broken town, and to keep the remnants of his family together.
His daughter, Jill (Margaret Qualley) possesses all the stereotypical qualities of a rebellious teenager. Her brooding nature is equal parts a reaction to the mass disappearance and a result of her mother’s (Amy Brenneman) exodus to a newly formed cult, the Guilty Remnant.
The GR—as the community refers to the Guilty Remnant—are a group of chain smoking, white-clad mourners whose sole purpose is to remind those left behind of what has happened. The GR stage protests, stalk people, and do everything they can to make people feel uncomfortable.
And surprisingly, the tactic works. Many, including Megan Abbott (Liv Tyler), adopt this new way of life, taking a vow of silence and ultimately risking life and death to be a nuisance to the world.
And finally and perhaps most strikingly, Lindelof portrays the life of a brother and sister—Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) and Nora Durst (Carrie Coon).
Matt works as Mapleton’s pastor. In some of the most moving parts of the series, he battles doubt as man of the cloth, left behind from an event surely he was made to encounter.
And his sister, Nora, had the worst of the sudden departure. Her husband and two kids disappeared, one moment enjoying breakfast on a normal day, the next moment gone.
Like a Cat Toying with a Mouse
Thematically, The Leftovers operates in the realm of Christian theology, but with a subverted position. The dreamlike feeling of just awakening permeates the screen and while things are dense and depraved, there’s the faintest glimmer of hope.
Aside from the clear allusions to the rapture in this sudden departure, The Leftovers offers extensive Christian imagery, whether allusions to the manger or questions on belief, The Leftovers wants to juggle Christian theology, asking questions about its foundational principles, seeking to play out its worldview in bits and pieces, and requiring the viewer to make decisions on what is good, just, and beautiful in a dark and broken world.
In the end, The Leftovers feels like a dream, not only in how the show refracts through my eyeballs, but also in its constant state of unknowing. It’s difficult to recommend The Leftovers only because the purpose of the show is to make you feel uncomfortable, hardly easy viewing. But I think the show succeeds at its aims, even if those aims can frustrate. I will tune in next year, if that counts for anything.
Verdict: 3 out of 5