Sunday, October 15, 2017

"The Leftovers," Year Three

Spoilers ahead for the whole series.

I'll remind you that I greatly preferred the cathartic misery of the first season of "The Leftovers" to the more experimental, existential second season that most viewers prefer. The emotional core of the series and its characters were always what drew me to the show, and I felt that this had become a little compromised by the wilder ambitions of the later episodes. So while the third season isn't very different from the second in tone or scope, I was very happy to find that the emotional throughlines were more at the forefront, simpler and clearer to follow despite an abundance of off-the-wall elements included in the plotting.

And where do we start with the plotting? Australia? The lion sex cult? The nukes? The "Perfect Strangers" running gag that turns into a full subplot? The Wu-Tang Clan? No, let's start with the Garveys, Jamisons, and Murphys, who are still in Jarden, Texas after a three-year time jump, with some notable absences in the premiere episode. It initially looks like everyone has reached a new normal, but this is soon revealed to be not the case at all, especially for Kevin and Nora. I found the way that the show dispatched with some of the more problematic storylines and characters from previous seasons very satisfying - Lily, Jill, Mary, and the Guilty Remnant are all shuffled off with very little fuss.

This leaves more time to focus on the show's best characters, and every second counts when there are only eight episodes in the final season and so much ground to cover. There are loose ends left everywhere, but I found that "The Leftovers" provided satisfying conclusions to the journeys of Kevin, Nora, Matt, and Laurie. And for those searching for answers about the Sudden Departure, one was provided, but left tantalizingly unconfirmed. All the main actors did excellent work, and were well served by scripts that were frequently bizarre and off-the-wall, but never lost sight of their storytelling or the importance of the primary relationships. There was a lot less clutter to distract from the big stuff, more answers provided more quickly.

With that in mind, I really enjoyed the unpredictability of these final episodes, where not only the landscape but the tone could change dramatically from moment to moment. This was the first time that the show's humor really worked for me, especially Nora bouncing on a trampoline with Erica in the middle of one of her most painful business trips. And then there's Kevin's big sequel to "International Assassin," where he plays twin brothers and spars with Patty one last time. And yet, the deadly serious moments still pack a real punch, from Laurie's contemplations of suicide, to Matt's talk with God, to Nora and Kevin's breakup and reconciliation.

The worldbuilding continues to be one of the show's greatest pleasures. I found the adventures of Kevin Sr. in Australia to be a little underwhelming, but the location offers so much in terms of new visuals and a new culture to explore. Even now, the series keeps finding new ways that people in the "Leftovers" world are dealing with the Sudden Departure, new stories and theories coming out of the mystery. Also, a big piece of the show's success this year is the music, which includes a slew of interesting song choices alongside the familiar Max Richter themes. The second episode's replacement theme song is one of the most sublime in-jokes I've seen on any show.

I think "The Leftovers" could have gone another season or two going in this new direction - we were sorely missing a wrap-up episode for the Murphys - but at the same time the creators stuck the ending so well that I'm glad that they stopped where they did. The show couldn't have sustained this level of daring experimentation for much longer, not without pushing the characters in directions I'm not sure I wanted to see them go. It was amazing to watch the series transform over the seasons, into something very special, very different, and very worthwhile.

Expect a Top Ten episodes list in a month or two, after I've had a chance to let the finale marinate in my head for a while.


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