This article will contain spoilers for all three seasons of The Leftovers.
The Leftovers is an HBO show that recently finished and got great reviews. Chris and I have liked many HBO series over the years and thought this would likely be another great one as it had such solid reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, it got 90% by critics and 87% by viewers.
It did have some very interesting ideas. It dealt with a mass disappearance of about 2% of the population and people’s reactions. It presented us with many mysteries, virtually none of which were solved. The critics loved it because they said it was ultimately about relationships and coping with loss. That didn’t work for me because I simply didn’t feel very connected to the characters, and therefore, the mystery was the main interesting part and I never got to find out what the writers thought happened.
It moved so slowly and miserably that, by the end of the first season, I barely felt like I knew any of the characters. This meant that their losses and relationships didn’t really mean a lot to me. They also behaved so strangely that what little I did know didn’t make me care about them. It just made them feel like alien entities doing random, often destructive things. This meant that I didn’t care about the vague, relationship focused conclusion.
More than anything, I just felt annoyed that I still have no idea why the characters did the bulk of what they did and absolutely no idea why the disappearance happened or if the people definitely still existed somewhere. If all the writers wanted to tell me is that having 2% of the world suddenly disappear into thin air made everyone else go mad, that is not interesting or worth making television about. Anyone could have easily guessed that such an event would make those left behind behave strangely.
If you are thinking of watching it or are in the middle, these are the things you won’t know by the end:
Why the cult made smoking a tenet of faith.
Why the cult thought talking out loud was bad.
What the cult remembered.
Why the cult were so cruel to everyone else for not remembering.
Why the cult wore white.
How the cult came up with any of its strategies to get people to join considering they have given up talking.
Why just following someone around, dressing in white and smoking convinced a single character to join the cult given Laurie did say that she never actually knew what the cult was about even though she was in it for a long time.
Why the dogs were acting crazy.
Why that deer was acting oddly.
Why Kevin didn’t remember large tracts of time.
Where exactly Kevin went the various times that he died.
Why could Kevin come back from the dead at all.
Whether the afterlife/heaven/wherever it was still exists after Kevin appeared to have blown it up.
How there were two Kevins in the afterlife. Is one of them from an alternative reality or something? Was it a split personality issue?
Whether Nora really went through with the procedure at the end.
Whether what Nora told Kevin at the end was true as she didn’t appear to have told the scientists, the world, etc even though they would have really wanted to know.
Why Nora didn’t think Kevin would believe her even though he had told her he had done equally bizarre things.
As we don’t know if Nora was telling the truth, whether or not the departed died or went somewhere else, like an alternate universe or an afterlife.
Why those particular people departed.
Why there was a departure at all.
Basically, this show was about as satisfying as watching a 30 hour murder mystery story where, in the end, the detective doesn’t know who did it, why they did it or even how they did it, but more than all that, we never find out why the detective went running through the street naked at random intervals screaming about frogs.
It was bizarre, hipster trash that used oddness in place of plot. The pacing was horrible and it was the TV equivalent of abstract art. The trouble is that although it only takes a second to look at a painting or a sculpture, it took 30 hours to find out that had about as much substance as the sort of painting where the artist literally just threw some red at a canvas and called it 343. I don’t need or want to be spoon fed a story, but I do want there to be pay off for watching something of that length.
I realize HBO have done endings people weren’t that keen on before, like the ending to the Sopranos, but the Sopranos gave us 5 years of coherent, quality stories. It’s not like the ride wasn’t a good one. This was a dreary, slow road to nowhere, so neither the journey nor the destination were worth it.
More than that, if I had wanted a story that was mainly about relationships and loss, I would have gone for a different genre. This sold itself looking like a cool, possibly religious mystery. I should have known with the season two change of theme song we would never know. They really must have just wanted us to let the mystery be. I am not that kind of person though and if you know yourself to be the kind of person who also doesn’t want to let the mystery be, avoid this one. It will drive you nuts.
For the record, we are in the market for a new HBO or HBO quality show and ones we actually quite like include Game of Thrones, Sex and the City, Big Love, the Sopranos, Westworld, Silicon Valley, John Adams and Rome. If there is one you’d like to recommend, we’re listening.