For those of us who’ve been caught up in this HBO series, taken from best-selling author Tom Perotta’s book also titled The Leftovers, we are eagerly awaiting April 16th to see if it’s truly the beginning of the end. In spite of its religious subject matter, the show has surprisingly hooked scads of viewers. No matter how you feel about Christian concepts like the rapture and the end of the world as depicted in Revelations, we watch because it’s not as much about religion as it is about what happens to the people who are left behind after a tragedy.
Though it has several story lines, especially in season 1, the show primarily centers around protagonists/antagonist, Kevin Garvey, a police chief in the small upstate New York town of Mapleton played by Justin Theroux. We are drawn into his world and those who know him to find out how they’re coping or not coping in the wake of the simultaneous disappearance of 140 million people worldwide. Many citizens of Mapleton try to move on with life, yet cults of those who can’t move on and don’t want others to do so emerge causing confrontation and rampages to break out. In his own life, with his father, the former police chief hospitalized in a mental ward, his former wife becoming the head of the cult, his son running off, and an angst-ridden teenage daughter, Kevin has his hands full. Even still, he and his police force do their best to keep carnage at a minimum in a world that no longer makes sense, if it ever really did, yet they cannot contain the inevitable reckoning that’s been in the works.
Pulling themselves up from the debris, Kevin and advocate/girlfriend Nora Durst, actress Carrie Coon, team up with their families to move on and make a new life elsewhere. Unfortunately, they find that wherever you go there you are in that their new location of Miracle, Texas has its own pitfalls of a different kind, and far worse than Mapleton’s. We left them in season 2 to wonder if they themselves are ushering in fall of mankind.
With similarities to The Walking Dead in the way that the context seems to be the plot, The Leftovers context of the world post rapture is only that – the setting. It is the stage for a much greater drama. The post rapture a device that creates a set for how relationships play out once the world as you know it unravels. It takes the whole dystopian theme also popularized by The Hunger Games and Divergent and comes at it from a totally different angle. Rather than a disease or wars among civilizations being the culprit, the series insinuates that unseen spiritual forces set off a cataclysmic event, the disappearance, that then causes humanity to go about destroying themselves.
The Leftovers is a rarity this day in age. It has a brilliantly handled premise and in a lineup of reality T.V., comedies and crime dramas, it dares to ask the viewer to stop and think. It causes us to ask the same questions of ourselves that each character is forced to confront. When life as you know it changes, who will you become? What will you do for others and to others in order to survive? What do you really believe in, when what you believed in has been torn apart?
It is my fear that once The Leftovers leaves us behind, there will be few things on television that challenge us the way that it does. What will take its place as that soul-refining sand paper that it is and do it in such an un-intrusively entertaining way as Kevin and Nora have ? I am truly sad to see my Leftovers go, but I am so looking so forward to watching as it does.