The Leftovers Ends With A Lot Of Emotion, But Is It Human?
With the season finale, Matt Debenham looks back on Season 2.
I asked at the beginning of the season if The Leftovers could be anyone's favorite show. It's now the end of the season and I'm guessing it's become a number of people's favorite show, not least because of the wild leaps it's taken. As for me, I still have no idea. The Leftovers is a show I admire a lot, but I couldn't ever say I enjoy it. This isn't a good enough answer, though. I mean, Mad Men and Breaking Bad are critically loved shows that also couldn't exactly be described as "fun." What's the difference? Before we go there, let's look at the season finale, "I Live Here Now."
Meg's Plan Is Revealed
And like a fair number of Guilty Remnant plans, it's both underwhelming and quietly impressive. She drives the Airstream up to the Miracle guard station and tells them they're going to let her onto the bridge because she's got her vehicle loaded with plastic explosives. Once she's on, the guards get her into custody -- and then Evie and friends reveal themselves in full GR regalia. I've been trying to decide if this would've been more effective had we not already learned Evie's fate last week, but we'll get to that.
After the girls step out into the light, a countdown clock begins, and everyone in Bartertown watches, assuming the whole bridge is going to go up. Including Erika, who throws herself on an impassive Evie. But the explosives are a ruse: the real plan is revealed when the countdown clock buzzes and, instead of a bang, scores of Bartertown residents pull on white clothes and quietly storm the bridge.
Kevin Dies. Again!
All of which exonerates Kevin, whose handprint most definitely is the one pulled from the girls' car. Too late, though: John shoots Kevin dead and then learns Evie is alive and smoking. Kevin wakes up in that same hotel bathtub. ("Motherfucker!" he screams, for himself and for us.)
There Are Songs
There have been a lot of songs in Season 2, from the various versions of the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" that haunt Kevin to the song Matt Jamison treats like a set of prayer beads (Bellamy Brothers' "Let Your Love Flow") in hopes of re-waking his wife. It's fitting, then, that in order for Kevin to get out of Hotel Hell, he has to sing, in front of a lobby full of strangers, in his old police uniform. The song is Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound," and while the circumstances (and lighting) suggest a David Lynch scene, the show plays it straight, and the viewer is forced to watch Justin Theroux fall apart, head-on.
Later, when Kevin and Meg meet again at the Miracle processing center, Meg and Evie sing the Miracle town song. And now that we know what's happened to Evie and friends, we realize why they took off from a public place with music blaring but drove home in silence in Episode 1: they were practicing.
We Learn The Whereabouts Of Kevin's Dog
He's okay! He sticks by Kevin and does not eat his exposed innards while Kevin's dead. Some pooch!
Just kidding! And seriously: what a relief.
Not kidding! She wakes up after an earthquake, while Nora's taking care of her. (And continuing to play "Let Your Love Flow" for her.) Here's the best part: Mary stays awake! I wouldn't have believed it if the show hadn't let her stay conscious all the way through the final scene. Thank you, show! I don't know if I could have taken any more rug-pulling this season. It's worth noting that Mary wakes up immediately after Nora breaks a radio and dares Jesus to fix it.
This is what Meg says to Tom before the Big Reveal, and it's what the show says to us. Kevin's whole journey these two seasons has been to lose his ego and become comfortable enough in his skin to share the love of his family, and now that he's died twice he seems to have gotten there. In the final scene, Kevin comes home (if still a little gutshot) to the welcoming arms of Nora, Lily, Jill, Tom, Laurie, Matt, and Mary. Meanwhile, John, the face of authority in Miracle, goes home not knowing if he still has a family, due to his inability to deal with his shit. For all the mystical/spiritual/crossing-over mechanics of this season, The Leftovers has essentially been about men getting their stuff together and putting family first. Obviously, then, next season will be about the polyamorous relationship among Kevin, Nora, and Laurie.
So what's good about The Leftovers? Quite a lot. For one thing, this entire season has been pretty remarkable in its self-control. Like it or not, it's told the story it wanted to tell, and it's stuck to it from the jump. If you think about it, the entire S2 story takes place over just a handful of days, yet no matter how many times it circles back on itself -- and this episode starts on the same day the season began -- it almost never feels limited or repetitive, except when it means to.
For another, it's about something. It's not just there to string you along every week, building mystery upon mystery. It's laid out mysteries all along this season, yes, but it's also answered them. It's played fair.
I mentioned the question of whether it would have been better not to know about Evie and Meg's relationship prior to the finale. This is another example of the show playing fair -- this was no YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT finale -- but it might also be where the show loses me. Like all shows, The Leftovers is about watching characters deal with something; unlike most shows, there's a layer of experience to the characters that we simply can't identify with. All their actions (and inactions) are motivated by the fact that they're the Left Behind portion of some kind of Rapture. Try as it might with the October 14/9-11 allegory, it's just not something we can penetrate as viewers, and it's not the same as when we're asked to identify Tony Soprano or Peggy Olson. So you always experience The Leftovers at a remove, not unlike having to view a masterpiece at a museum from behind a barrier.
But goddamn, does it try, and for that I have to give The Leftovers more credit than I've been willing to give it all season. Underneath all the larger-than-life stuff, it really has been about life, and how goddamn hard some of us try to not engage with it, whether that be through personal demons (Kevin, John) or through some notion that work is more important (Patti, Meg). Is The Leftovers my favorite show? No, but I feel a fondness toward it that I didn't before. The Leftovers wants to know what it feels like to be human, not unlike Mr. Spock or Data or E.T. And don't we love those characters despite their occasional awkwardness?