Oh, master grant that I may never seek,
so much to be consoled as to console.
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul. ~ St. Francis of Assisi, Hymnal
“I’m here.”~ Nora Durst, The Book of Nora
A confirmation of presence, of arrival, and with these words we leave The Leftovers, a triumph of small screen drama. A hymn for the modern age, a song familiar, filled with sorrow and longing, but also hope and praise to those things intangible, just beyond our physical reaches. In our current day and age, there is a shying away from religion in favor of more mathematical, scientific truths, we count ourselves, mostly, among the educated and enlightened, seeking no solace in the mysteries that faith can provide with much more than a few key phrases. I consider myself among those who believe, without much aim honestly, but with the comfort of faith in that which I may never know. If there were to be anything either immediate or ancient that has taught me about myself and others, my last bet would be on a series put forth by HBO, but by god, The Leftovers has graced us with its complex understanding of grief, humor and what it means to consider something other than ourselves.
The Leftovers, masterfully crafted by Damon Lindelof (yes, that Lindelof) and Tom Perrotta, author of the source novel, has posited just how we face ourselves and others in the face of inexplicable tragedy. On October 14th, two percent of earth’s population has vanished without explanation, no rhyme or reason and from there; we are witness to an array of reactions. A silent, cigarette-smoking cult is formed. A woman resorts to a bullet-proof vest and the aim of sex-workers to feel anything at all. A man climbs a tower never to descend, perhaps holding vigil, perhaps mourning. We watch as the world unravels around everyone, marriages disintegrate, children party and the world keeps turning. The through line here is one all too familiar, grief. How do you respond to the deafening silence of a loved one simply vanished, not withered by illness or removed by some terrible feat, just gone?
This is the space The Leftovers has played in over the course of three devastating seasons, and from nearly every angle. Father Matt Jamison, played expertly by Christopher Eccleston, has his faith tested again and again in Jobian fashion, from embracing the “Sudden Departure” via smear campaigns, ritualistic obsession, writing a new Gospel, to a direct conversation with “God” himself, only to come up short. Likewise Kevin Garvey, masterfully played by Justin Theroux, must first wade through the madness of order lost, the possible fracturing of his sanity, only to find himself on a far deeper, personal journey that may very well pinpoint him as a new messianic figure. Nora Durst, played by the electrifying Carrie Coon, works in clarifying false insurance claims due to the Departed, ultimately finds herself on a harrowing journey to replace what she’s lost, perhaps by way of a grand machine, her family, but more importantly: her truth. Laurie Garvey, Kevin’s ex-wife, finds herself at a loss when her profession as a therapist no longer fulfills or defines her in a world turned on its head. Further still, a mysterious man is giving wish granting hugs to those who seek him. These examples are just a smattering of those affected by the grand cosmic gesture dubbed the “Sudden Departure”, and the ways in which they attempt normalcy.
The Leftovers is human drama done right. The over-arching supernatural event is a macro-catalyst for the intense micro-focus on the personal journey we find these characters taking in order to come back to anything resembling familiarity. The Leftovers, now that the journey is complete, will still be hard consumption for most, as it is a heavy-handed eye into the darkness that we often try to escape from when we set ourselves down to be entertained. While wildly engrossing, at least for my particular taste, one could also see The Leftovers as a therapeutic purging of negativity from within. That is a large burden to rest on the shoulders of an hour-long drama, but I cannot put it in any simpler terms. Much akin to a Sunday mass, I have given myself over to this program weekly, and always I come away with a lesson learned, or a piece of myself renewed in a sense.
Throughout the series, we see a familiar debate crop up, which weighs more in the face of cosmic and personal adversity, Science or Faith. Lindelof is no stranger to this debate for the ages, and with The Leftovers, he has taken a far more finely tuned look at what is means to be a man (or woman) of either. The event that inspires such an array of action and inaction, is the very question posited so many years ago when we were first introduced to Dr. Shephard and Mr. Locke, though here, reality of emotion and consciousness has had room to breathe. Skillfully crafted by Lindelof, Perrotta and fearless director Mimi Leder, we have the perfect union of Scientific tangibility entwined with ethereal faith.
While the creators were hard on not allowing for the question of where the two percent end up, there are plenty more conclusions to be wrought from this, a show I am both happy sad to see end so swiftly, and in such a graceful manner.
I will be singing praises for The Leftovers for many years to come. If you can make time to go along for the ride crafted, I can assure you will find a lot more than you had expected or even hoped. Returning to the quote I began with, I can think of no better resolution to the irresolvable mystery presented when we first entered the world of the Sudden Departure. Never have I seen a series finale so perfectly micro and macroscopic in reach that it fulfils and expands upon the premise of its show’s thesis so beautifully. The quiet culmination of the series found in “The Book of Nora” is something that has to be seen to be believed, and then questioned forever after. Amen.