The Leftovers: Season 1 (Review)

2014

60 min

United States

Creator: Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta

Director: Peter Berg

Writer: Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta

Stars: Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston

Release Date: June 29, 2014


Far too much credit is given to plot twists or end-of-season reveals and not enough appreciation is held for closure. The first season of The Leftovers absolutely sunk its fangs into me.

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Last Sunday the final episode of the debut season for HBO's The Leftovers aired and finally put a host of our concerns and questions to rest. In fact, it was surprising just how many lose ends were tied together (almost as nicely as a bow). This is something I was not expecting, especially having heard word that co-creator and co-writer Damon Lindelof was not interested in solving the mysteries the show put forth. Don't get me wrong, there's still plenty left up in the air (namely how and why the Sudden Departure that took 2% of the Earth's population two years ago happened*), but thematically and as far as the characters' relationships and interconnectivity were concerned, the curtains were efficiently drawn and there was nothing resembling a cliff-hanger. For a show called The Leftovers, it didn't leave a lot left over.

Far too much credit is given to plot twists or end-of-season reveals and not enough appreciation is held for closure. The characters in this season went through hell on Earth and not all of them lived to tell about it (or in the Guilty Remnant's case, live to scowl about it). Each of the main characters had a journey with complex desires and each came to a destination by the end. Justin Theroux is the closest one we have to a lead (even though he practically absent in a couple of the episodes) and his arc was arguably the weakest. From the Pilot it was revealed that he's dealing with hallucinations and likely suffering from insanity. All of the viewer's emotions and bewilderment were mirrored onto his countenance, often magnified by our own frustration with Chief Garvey.

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The performances continued to be top-notch throughout the season, especially with what Theroux was called upon to do. Margaret Qualley had nailed down playing his angst-ridden teenage daughter, but it wasn't until episode 9, "The Garveys at their best" that we saw how she was before the incident and the range Qualley is capable of. For someone who went most of the show without saying a word, Amy Brenneman as Laurie Garvey became such a remarkably nuanced character. If we found ourselves back in the age of silent pictures, Brenneman would have no trouble finding work and accolades for it. 

Ann Dowd, who I feel is safe to dub a national treasure by this point (see Compliance if you haven't already), was a complete force to be reckoned with. A motherly hen in some scenes, a ferocious grizzly in others. "Cairo" was her hour to shine and boy did she ever. Christopher Eccleston and Carrie Coon play an estranged brother and sister on the show. Each had an episode of their own to commandeer and each rose to the occasion. Each of these three played a spouse seriously effected by the Sudden Departure. What they would go on to do with their lives broadened the scope of the show's world outside of the Garveys, but still close enough to resonate at home in Mapleton.

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Like Breaking Bad before it, The Leftovers drew me in each episode with a cold opening or otherwise intriguing hook. It relied more on this than on cliff-hangers between episodes. Take  "B.J. and the A.C." wherein I felt for a moment that I had accidentally turned on Steven Soderbergh's Bubble. We watch a factory making baby dolls and follow one doll's particular journey to store shelves and on to the centerpiece at Mapleton City Hall's manger scene. We jump cut past the days until the baby is missing, reminiscent of the incredible sequence that began the Pilot. "Gladys" and "Guest" had armchair gripping openings that challenged audiences and reminded us just how dark this show was capable of getting. (Besides select scenes, it's remarkable tame for an HBO show and I'm glad it didn't have to make a fuss of that either way.) All this is to say nothing of the opening credits, which probably belong in a museum. I thought True Detective's couldn't be beat this year, but assessment probably deserves its own post.

The first season of The Leftovers absolutely sunk its fangs into me. It was not always a quick bite and for the episodes that kind of felt like a chore (mainly the ones stuck in the mire with Chief Garvey) they all came to be completely justified by the end. So much so that it is one of my new favorite shows. Before I conclude, I'd be amiss if I did not give a shout-out to Max Richter whose classical score completely elevated each episode for me. Its theme is heard throughout the season and makes each realization and dramatic turn of events feel like fate, sealed by waiting angels as it were. Share your own thoughts on Season 1 in the comments below.

It was a test. Not for what came before but for what comes after. The test is what happens now.
— Matt

* For the record, I'm not interested in the answer to this question. Heaven forbid a new Dharma Initiative (a series-long Lost scapegoat) or supernatural explanation. By this point I am convinced that nothing they come up with will be a satisfying. Let this remain unknowable. I believe the whole show depends upon this.


Ranking Episodes (Worst to Best):

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10. Penguin One, Us Zero

9. Solace for Tired Feet

8. B.J. and the A.C.

7. Gladys

6. Cairo

5. Pilot

4. The Prodigal Son Returns

3. Guest

2. Two Boats and a Helicopter

1. The Garveys At Their Best


Season 2?

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Those who have read the Tom Perrotta book that the show is based on have said this first season ends where the book ends, more or less. This is as exciting as it is worrisome. Maybe this first season was only this strong because it had the book as a roadmap and thus the foresight to plot out the tension and the information. Then again, who knows what Lindelof and Perrotta will cook up for us next season with boundless creative freedom? Also, those who have read the book will no longer be able to make the calls and will therefore be in for one surprise after another like the rest of us. 

With the first season ending where it did I wonder if we're in for an all-new location and cast. I would love to see what's going on in some Vietnam village or whatever other place you'd like. It was a worldwide event after all and there are countless stories to be spun out of this premise. I doubt they'll shed the show of Theroux, their star, but I really don't know what antics the Garveys are going to get themselves into next. How much more madness can Mapleton endure? Where would you like to see the second season of The Leftovers go? Share your wishes, predictions and thoughts in the comments below.