The Leftovers

2% of the world’s population vanishes. Picture Thanos’ snap, except the event is far less dramatic – no smoky fade outs, just… vanished. Deleted. Or in a more dignified tone that the show puts it in –Departed. But I personally like Patti Levin’s version more, where she calls it “the cluster-fuck of the modern era”. It is more out-there, very much like the overall behaviour of the show.

So, the “Sudden Departure”. Is this event an Act of God? Is there any science to it? Are the living really the lucky ones? Is there any meaning to this happening? Is it our fault? Are they dead or are they gone elsewhere? What is our purpose going forward? This is the kind of show that in spite of asking a series of such questions, doesn’t give you all answers. You might even come up with more questions for all you know. But answers are a far luxury here. It also can’t get any truer to life. We have never had all the answers, have we?

We are introduced to the “Sudden Departure” as a global crisis. But the focus of the show is at a local level – Mapleton, USA is where we are at. We get a mix of characters from a small town, people who stand in as micro examples of both personal and societal forces that are debating their existence in extremes. An erratic cop who hasn’t lost anyone in the SD but sure hasn’t been okay since. A woman who lost her two kids and husband, and a now-government official who is looking into fraud departures. A priest who is enforcing a “this is a test” narrative on the event. Then a cult (Guilty Remnants) that wants to be a living reminder of the event and doesn’t want people to move on.

The marvel of this show is that it prepares you for everything. And everything here can also be read as anything. Both in terms of narrative and the sheer scale of it. Just when you think it has maintained a low production value, it will throw a scene with a naked Russian infiltrating a submarine carrying a nuclear weapon. This Lynch-ian behaviour of the show comes of great help in plot points involving bombs and international assassins. It keeps you guessing if we’re actually going to get to see the event being promised. This meta-mystery, for me, is one of the most memorable aspects of the show, and I am also sort of sorry to have spoiled it for you guys.

The Departed are leftovers in their own way, and an entire species is fighting over them. The 98% of living humans could also be seen as literal leftovers from the perspective of the event that ate up the 2%. In this way, The Leftovers also prepares you for the non-binary. Right from asking if God can “reward” with punishment, to questioning the “limits” of faith, it takes the characters on an enlightening journey beyond good and bad. This might not really be a path-breaking story into looking at the “grey” of things, but it sure is one that takes a long, spiritual route to reach there.

I have been exposed to plenty of “What do I want?” journeys before, but the ones on this show have an edge to them because we literally hear these characters say such lines out loud. Their confoundedness in high points seems palpable because a lot of the dialogue is quite literal, like “I don’t understand what’s happening.” The characters don’t understand their world, and neither do we. But we get their arcs, courtesy the immensely explorative writing, and this is enough to have a deeper connect with the show. Post the surreal inciting incident, the show operates very close to our world and its rationale and reasoning, with the exception of drug-induced hallucinogenic trips.

It’s a marvel how the show finds a way to make a point against suicide, with the Guilty Remnants. It’s a cult that wants to switch off from feeling anything. They smoke to self-destruct. The design of it seems all too believable, it’s hardly a stretch to imagine people from our reality getting to that point of self-sabotage, lead by depression. For this level of versimilitude, I regard The Leftovers among the most realistic fantasy stories I’ve been exposed to, with respect to both tones and themes. I’ll be looking forward to whatever Damon Lindelof puts out, for life.


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