Here is my honest take on The Leftovers.
First of all, let me introduce my background. I am always on the hunt for the most acclaimed TV shows, as quality matters to me, especially in terms of plot and characters.
I hold in high regards Breaking Bad, The Wire or Mad Men and I was really hyped when I started The Leftovers given the praises. I have never watched Lost and one of my friends enthusiastically promised an incredible emotional journey.
I started S1 with high expectations. I found the first episodes really intriguing and I really appreciated the mystery surrounding the departures. What’s the power of Wayne? What happened to the 2%? What is the motive of this weird cult? I like when TV shows cultivate mystery and I was expecting back then some of these questions to have a satisfying/logical answer. The atmosphere was good, although really gloomy and a little bit depressing.
This reminded me a bit of Twin Peaks, in the way the show depicts the life of Mapleton inhabitants. For instance, Jill spying on Nora after spotting the gun or Meg entering The Guilty Remnants were really interesting storylines which highlighted the desperation of the characters in a plausible way (this remark is important to understand my opinion of S3, so please keep it in mind).
Alternatively, I find the idea of Wayne having superpowers or the dog’s killer too weird/wacky and for me, it undermined the realistic tone of the show. Again I am a huge fan of the S1 of Twin Peaks and, to me, the way they handled the supernatural/fantastic elements was more subtle and cohesive to me. I can’t seriously take the idea of Wayne hugging people and taking away their pain and people believing in his superpowers. All the more so as the actor was not great in that role. In comparison, I believe David Lynch during Twin Peaks managed to integrate esoteric elements in a more compelling and organic way without hindering the plausibility of the show at least in S1: the Log Lady, the black lodge, etc.
Generally speaking, I really liked S1, especially the episodes centred around Nora. She is one of my favourite characters with Jill. However, I was not convinced by the turn the last 2 episodes took: it was hard for me to believe that Kevin would abduct Patti, although the idea was surprising. Also I didn’t like the depiction of Kevin’s mental health which serves more as a plot trope to make him do things he wouldn’t normally do and create unexpected situations.
My rating of S1: 7/10
Here comes S2 which was the most acclaimed. I believe it was the most compelling one. What I liked first is how the authors managed to completely change the scenery and introduce new plots and characters. I found this perspective refreshing, as well as how the writers decided to focus on each character after introducing the mystery of Evy’s disappearance. This was a good idea, which helped make the exposition non-linear and more interesting to follow, as we had to fill the gaps of what happened after S1. I also appreciated the ambiguity surrounding Evy’s disappearance: was it related to the departures or not?
In my opinion, the biggest achievement of this season is the characters’ evolution and their psychology. Each of them has some sort of weaknesses: for instance, the Murphys were not actually the perfect couple as suggested and Kevin is still struggling with his personal demons.
I preferred when the show was realistic and there are some uncanny moments which felt to me too mystical and too forced: for instance, Kevin’s invincibility or Matt’s wife who regains consciousness out of the blue. I also think that the fact I am not necessarily a religious person may have played in my appreciation of the religious themes. On the other hand, the penultimate episode with the Guilty Remnant plotting their bombing was one of my favourites and I almost rooted for Meg.
The last episode was really entertaining to watch as all the stakes were culminating, except for the section with Kevin’s dream which again seemed to me a clunky gimmick to tell the story (like Patti’s appearances). The Leftovers is way better when the show embraces the raw tragedy and shows the confrontation of the characters in the real world, rather than the mystical stuff.
My rating of S1: 8/10
This is for me the least compelling season, for the simple reason, that a lot of the plotlines felt pointless and unrealistic. Kevin being referred to as a new Messiah, come on, who would believe that? Why everyone decides to travel to Australia to drown him!? What about the absurd episode in the Australian desert with Kevin’s father? What about the episode with the lion in the cage and the man with the red cape on the boat who claims to be God? What about the episode with Kevin as the president? I could not understand how the authors could devote so much time to some secondary and unrelated plotlines, especially in the final hours of the show.
On the contrary, I was fascinated with the Nora storyline (her wanting to participate in the experiment and travel in the parallel dimension). I was wondering whether the scientists were telling the truth or not and it was heartbreaking to see her ready to do anything to meet again her family. I also liked the evolution of Laurie, Kevin’s ex-wife (who was quite annoying in S1) and I really believed that she ended her life. However, I am less convinced by the treatment of Matt’s character in S3; he became unbearable and a bit crazy, to be honest. Also I would have loved to see Jill a bit more.
The final episode was a good surprise, although I would have preferred to believe that Nora was in the alternate dimension. But this wraps up in a satisfying and emotional way the story, although we would never understand the cause of the departures.
It is a pity though that the story in S3 went all over the place with a lot of mystical and disconnected elements. I am not against surrealism, but David Lynch’s movies such as Mulholland Drive seemed to me more cohesive and organic in their approach; whereas here I felt sometimes that the symbolism was randomly put together.
My rating of S3: 6/10
Conclusion: Overall, a solid and worth-watching show with solid performances and deep introspection in human psychology. However, it slightly misses the mark when dealing with mystical themes (too gimmicky and forced to my taste). 7.5/10