On paper, The Leftovers, is the kind of show I would avoid like the plague. The last thing I worry about in life anymore are the biblical implications of everything. I went through that phase, growing up in the bible belt, as a teenager, where fellow students in high school would invite me to their tent miracles. But just today some Watchtower peddlers rang my doorbell, and were interested in intervening in my personal beliefs. I can’t deny that the big questions still exist and worry a lot of people. So how much worse would it be if 2% of the population suddenly vanished, globally, mid-sentence? Wouldn’t those left behind have a lot to worry about?
The way the show has envisioned the Sudden Departure up to now, it’s been an array of very human reactions, over-reactions, violent outbursts, cults, sudden life-changing decisions, and misery. And an actual government cover-up underway, but amid lots of other threads. And yet even in the darkest first season in Mapleton, what the survivors were searching for was absolution, forgiveness, comfort, appeasement. If that required shooting all the suddenly feral dogs in town, so be it.
Season two had a new location, a Jarden of Eden where no one had departed, which became an overwhelmed oasis. Nora decided for herself and Kevin that was where they were going, though he had a few challenges to face before they let him in. That season was about renewed disappearances (all too mundane in origin, usually), skepticism, fractured families attempting to heal, and trials for Kevin. Oh, so many trials. Fewer for Nora, because she felt she’d finally figured it out, but she had challenges as well.
Now it’s three years later once, impending the seven-year anniversary of the Departure. And a new order prevails in Jarden, which is open to all comers now that the special mythology has faded somewhat. Kevin is again the Sheriff, and his long-lost son Tommy is his deputy (repeating the pattern pre-departure of Kevin working with his father). His ex-wife lives in the house with his current wife, and she’s collaborating with the man who tried to kill Kevin in frustration last season. John has lost his old family, but found new love with Laurie. He’s also no longer a fireman, now doing fake psychic readings for Laurie to clandestinely treat needy clients. As Kevin tells her, she was always a good therapist.
And Kevin still needs one, because his trials are not over. While no longer chained to the bed at night (he and Norma have a very American Gothic old-fashioned iron bed frame) to prevent suicidal nocturnal wanderings, his closet is once again full of identical rows of uniforms with starched white shirts. And he apparently needs to asphyxiate onanistically on the regular, which is so like Kevin in its vulnerable tragedy.
Worse, ghosts from the past aren’t done with him. Dog-shooting Dean shows up in Jarden this week, with an expanded conspiracy theory that the relatively stable Kevin finds too ridiculous to entertain. He’s unsubtle enough about his point of view that he triggers a violent response in Dean, one he’d be the victim of if not for his son’s professional intervention.
Worse even than that, his brother-in-law Matt is continuing to preach, and has gone so far to develop acolytes, who seem to share his belief that Kevin is a messianic figure who has been resurrected more than once. In fact, he’s writing a book about it. This is of course terrible news for Kevin, because who actually would want to be Jesus, walking among men again?
Also, the Guilty Remnant members who took over the Jarden welcome center are quite forcefully dispatched by a military drone strike (I can’t find much sympathy), and there’s some Lindelof tomfoolery about time travel and alternate realities that is to be totally expected by Lost fans. So, I guess the question for this 8-episode season is simple: will they stick the landing? Will we get a final answer? Can it please involve something more immediate than ancient mythology?