How The Leftovers Became A Masterpiece

The following article contains spoilers for the first two seasons of The Leftovers including the the season 2 finale. Read with caution. Not since Mad Men in 2007 had...

The following article contains spoilers for the first two seasons of The Leftovers including the the season 2 finale. Read with caution.

Not since Mad Men in 2007 had a show walked onto the scene with as much confidence as The Leftovers when it debuted last year. It’s plot and tone is unique amongst the huge expanse of TV drama. The core Twilight Zone-esque idea that 2% of the world’s population suddenly disappears was soon sidelined to debate matters such as religion and mental illness. And it was good; great even. I had some problems with season 1, small ones mind you, and they were soon rectified in the second season that has just finished airing on HBO and is, for lack of a better word, a masterpiece. How did it become one? Let’s take a look.

The Leftovers isn’t just a show you can watch, instead it’s a show that begs you to analyze every single detail. And that’s what keen eyed viewers have been doing since season 2 aired with that bizarre prologue about a cavewoman, her baby and the earthquakes. What’s better is that, to use an X Files analogy, you can analyse everything from either a Scully or a Mulder point of view. You can either analyse that Kevin sees and hears Patty because he is mentally ill from a condition passed down genetically from his father or that the show is dealing with the supernatural and he is haunted by her spirit. Just like you can believe that the hotel in episodes 8 and 10 in which Kevin has to do battle with Patty is indeed some kind of spirit world/afterlife/purgatory or it could just be some kind of hallucinogenic dream. Jarden may have just been lucky that no one departed from there or it could indeed be because it stands upon a conduit with the afterlife. The earthquakes may be physical representations/actions of such a conduit or they could be down to a reason as dull as fracking. Ambiguity is rife within every detail; just one of the reasons why the show is as fantastic as it is.

The pacing is another reason why the show is among the best on TV, rivalled currently only by Fargo. The Leftovers often jumps around and does an episode purely focusing on one or two characters and on any other show that can be annoying, just like it has been so far in the latest season of The Walking Dead. In The Leftovers some of the best episodes are the one that focus on supporting characters like the ones following Christopher Eccelson’s Matt Jamison. The third episode of the season 1, titled Two Boats and a Helicopter, is my favourite of that season and follows solely Matt Jamieson as his life goes from bad to worse with an incredibly tense casino scene thrown in half way for good measure. These episodes remained a highlight of season 2 with more depressing Matt Jamison stuff in episode 5 and a very interesting episode following Liv Tyler’s Meg. It’s not annoying having episodes where the main Kevin plotline disappears because unlike season 1, where I feel Kevin’s narrative was the weakest, the audience has equal investment in all the characters.

The Leftovers uses music masterfully throughout whether it’s Max Richter’s amazing, simplistic yet highly effective piano score to underline the emotional severity of certain scenes like when Kevin tells Nora he’s been seeing Patty or to highlight the humour and outright ridiculousness of others like when the Bellamy Brothers’ Let your love flow plays over the images of Matt and his comatose wife being flooded out of a storm drain. Like many film fans the song “Where is my mind” by The Pixies is synonymous with the ending to David Fincher’s Fight Club but The Leftovers has done the impossible and used that song in a way that now when I watch Fight Club again all I will be thinking about is The Leftovers. The original song is used to represent Kevin’s frame of mind while the Max Richter-esque piano cover is used as Laurie and Tom’s theme up until the final episode where it is used for Kevin and John. I’ve also heard that the cover is used in Mr Robot but I have yet to check out that show. Since season 1 The Leftovers has used music like no other show and its use of it has only improved in season 2.
When TV awards season comes around again The Leftovers deserves to be nominated for pretty much everything. The directing has been fantastic as has the acting from everyone involved. Justin Theroux may have the hardest job as playing someone constantly on the edge, or downright having, a mental breakdown. Carrie Coon as Nora was a standout last season and continues to be this season and the fresh blood to the series have been phenomenal with Kevin Carroll as John Murphy and Regina King as Erica Murphy who deserves to win an award just for that scene with Carrie Coon near the end of episode 6 alone. Even Jasmin Savoy Brown and Jovan Adepo with their limited screen time shine as Evie and Michael and have made me want to get to know the Murphys just as well as we have the Garveys in the last two seasons.

Damon Lindelof has also proved his writing skills to all those people who have questioned them over the years mainly because of the ending of Lost and his involvement in Prometheus and Star trek Into Darkness. I’ve always loved Lindelof’s work but it’s great for other people to see just what a great writer he is.

Season 2 also benefited from a change of location. The show desperately needed to get out of Mapleton and so introducing a new location and a range of new characters was a smart move. I’d happily see season 3 take place in Miracle but Lindelof has stated The Wire is a big influence on the show and so the location may change each season just like it did in The Wire and there may be no coming back for Jarden after it was turned into Hell/a rave in the season finale. However speaking of season 3, HBO has yet to announce either another season or if the show has been cancelled and with a dwindling audience it looks like season 2 may be the final season. Let’s not let that happen. Take to social media and spread the word. Tell HBO we want another season and hopefully it won’t be long before we get an answer.

What do you think of The Leftovers and have you got any cool fan theories? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook/Twitter @kylebrrtt. Like, Subscribe and why not have a look at all the awesome stuff on the site like the podcasts and the other blogs. Come back next week for another dose of First Time Writing.

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