Why You Should Start Watching: The Leftovers

The Leftovers Season 1, Episode 1

The Leftovers
Created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta
Returns October 4th at 9 PM ET

The Premise: Based on the Tom Perrotta novel of the same name, The Leftovers deals with the aftermath of the mysterious Rapture-like disappearance of 2% of the world’s population, with no apparent connection amongst the Departed.

Where We Are: Season two begins this fall; 10 episodes have already aired.

What You Need To Know: Three years prior to the beginning of the show, an as-yet-unexplained event, called the Departure, took away 2% of the world’s population, leaving chaos in its immediate aftermath that took more lives. Now, everyone is trying to cope in different ways. Among the main characters are Kevin Garvey, Jr., a police chief who, while he didn’t lose anyone close to him that he’s aware of, has seen his family fall apart since the Departure. His father’s in a mental institution, his relationship with is daughter Jill is fractured, and his son Tommy and wife Laurie have left home. Both joined their own kinds of cults, with Tommy becoming a part of Holy Wayne’s community, while Laurie Garvey joined the Guilty Remnant, a group of silent chain smokers who wear all white and constantly remind the rest of the world about the Departure, emphasising that life is meaningless and the Departure proves it.

Meanwhile, Nora Durst, who lives in the same town, is trying to live life after having lost her husband and two kids to the Departure, trying to move on with a job that requires her to ask still-grieving families in-depth questions about the Departed. Her brother, one-time Reverend Matt Jamison, in the meantime, is focused on finding the character flaws of the Departed individuals to prove that this wasn’t an act of God, a task that has garnered him many enemies in the community. Matt’s wife was also injured in a crash immediately following The Departure, and now requires 24/7 monitoring and medical assistance.

Where We Left Off: The first season finale saw Holy Wayne die in Kevin’s arms, bringing his cult to an end. Tommy, now aimless and in the possession of a baby abandoned by its mother, made his way back home, reuniting with his mother. Meanwhile, Kevin reconciled with Jill after saving her from a fire set at the residences of the Guilty Remnants—where Jill went to try to reconnect with her mother—after the group left lifelike mannequins of the Departed in the homes of grieving families. Nora, almost having found some semblance of peace and normalcy for the first time since her family’s Departure with both a hug from Holy Wayne and a relationship with Kevin, nearly left town after the wound was reopened by the actions of the Guilty Remnants. The speedbump of stopping to leave a note for Kevin caused her to find the child that Tommy left on the Garvey doorstep, in what turned out to be the season’s final scene.

Why You Should Start Watching: While the premise may sound like the show would focus on the mystery behind the Departure, The Leftovers is much more of a character-driven drama, using the Departure as a gateway to explore a series of perspectives on how people deal with grief and loss. The ensemble nature of the show and the longer runtime allows the writers to delve into detail and take their time, examining the reactions of characters, where they come from, and how they affect the people and events around them. This allows the emotional beats to land much more effectively, whether it’s a cathartic cry from a character who’s shouldering more than one person should have to handle, or a moment of hopeless defeat.

The writing, of course, wouldn’t land as effectively as it does without great performances, which the show also has. Carrie Coon does a wonderful job portraying the varied emotions of Nora Durst, whether it’s genuine pleasure, annoyance, a numb sadness, or anything else the character goes through. Christopher Eccleston similarly takes Matt Jamison, a character who could’ve come off as leaden weight if not handled with a deft touch, and infuses him with enough honesty and sincerity for the audience to feel genuine empathy for what he goes through. Amy Brenneman, however, may have had the most difficult role of all, as she didn’t speak a word until the season’s penultimate episode, yet communicated so much over the course of the season. With the second season poised to bring on talented performers like Regina King and Steven Williams, the excellent performances are bound to continue and be added to.

With the first season having covered the events of the book, the second season premiere offers the perfect jumping-in point. The locale will change from Mapleton, New York to Jarden, Texas, and some characters will step away while others will step forward, ensuring that there’s no intimidating amount of catch-up new viewers will have to make time for to connect with the events of the season.

What You Should Watch Beforehand: While the show doesn’t require much in the way of plot backstory or mythology to catch up on, three episodes from the first season do an excellent job of highlighting what The Leftovers is capable of.

Season 1, Episode 3, “Two Boats and a Helicopter”: This episode explores the mindset of Matt Jamison as he fights to save his church from being sold, letting the audience understand his viewpoint while giving Eccleston a showcase for his talents.

Season 1, Episode 6, “Guest”: This episode turns the focus to Nora Durst and how she copes every day with her family’s loss, while also exploring the world outside Mapleton in greater detail. Like Eccleston in “Two Boats and a Helicopter”, the episode puts the spotlight squarely on Coon, letting her shine.

Season 1, Episode 9, “The Garveys at Their Best”: The penultimate episode of season one goes back in time to the days leading up to the Departure, showing how the cracks were beginning to show even before the disappearance of the 2%, establishing a stark contrast between the reality of the situation and the perception the characters have since built in their heads.

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