Just like its main character Kevin Garvey, The Leftovers miraculously survived. HBO was prepared to close the book on the fiercely loved but little watched drama series just as showrunner Damon Lindelof and his team had found their groove with the moving, odd, and brilliant second season. Rightfully, fans took to the streets outside of the HBO offices in New York dressed as the show’s Guilty Remnant, smoking, silent, and brandishing signs demanding that the series return. HBO obliged and granted Lindelof and co. eight final episodes to end their story on their own terms.
Unafraid to lean into unconventional ideas while also letting the mystery be, I spent more time thinking about The Leftovers since it’s been off the air than any other show. It’s been 16 months and there’s been an abundance of great TV, and yet my mind circles back to this mournful, strange show. The world of The Leftovers, where 2 percent of the world’s population has vanished without a trace leaving the people left behind to cope by whatever means necessary, is so immersive. The performances are devastatingly realistic, the characters unravel in the most interesting ways, and the tone expertly teeters on the edge of hopeless and hopeful. All of The Leftovers peculiar moments, like its trip into purgatory or the man in the tower, fit perfectly in the show’s rich tapestry, like stolen, cathartic laughter in the face of chaos. The show can evoke every emotion on the spectrum just by exploring loss, grief, and faith. I waited a long time for The Leftovers Season 3, and I can tell you that the show does not disappoint; it’s going out at the height of its powers.
Without spoiling important specifics, the new season begins in a similar fashion to the last. After a jarring, beautiful, and ultimately crushing cold open, the show reinvents itself once again by jumping ahead three years. It is so admirable how willing Lindeolf and his writers are to switch up the status quo and it’s damn impressive that they’ve pulled it off yet again.
Our principal characters are the same, but relationships have shifted and evolved. Kevin is back working as a cop in Jarden, Texas, but the town’s strict security measures have eroded, making Miracle an eclectic mixture of the idyllic small-town and the bizarre campgrounds that used to crop up outside the town’s borders. The air is tense in Jarden as the 7th anniversary of the Sudden Departure approaches, as many believe that it will mark the apocalypse.
The show is still richly exploring faith and belief, meditating on the things we choose to believe and why we think these things bring order and meaning to our lives. The events of “International Assassin,” possibly my favorite television episode of all time, weigh heavily on the new season, with Kevin and the rest of our rich cast of characters reconciling with his survival. The season still wisely utilizes its single-character focused episode structure, illuminating each character in new and unexpected ways. Best among these is a standalone about Carrie Coon’s Nora Durst, who continues to be one of the most compelling characters on television. Coon is heartbreakingly human as Durst, tough and broken all at once, realizing that loss can still be insurmountable even when it can be explained. These showcases are one of the things I love most about The Leftovers, each episode telling a complete three-act story.
This season the story will pick up and move to Australia, giving the show a whole new look and feel. Director Mimi Leder, who has helmed the most episodes of the series, capitalizes on the gorgeous scenery, using the wide open spaces as another way to prove that human life is small. The season also works in surprising returns, more enigmatic symbolism, and that pitch black sense of humor hiding just underneath the sorrowful surface. Also, count on that haunting score to punctuate several jaw-dropping moments.
The Leftovers Season 3 is remarkable in its final hours, confident in its vision and uninterested in tidy resolutions, throwing a party at the end of the world and crying if it wants to. You don’t have to be religious to preach its gospel; this equally tragic and absurd season will make you a believer.