It might not surprise you to learn that I’m a huge fan of Lost. It’s a series that I’ve watched from start to finish a number of times, taken a class on in college, and written a 17-page paper about concerning its use of time travel (side note: avoid writing in-depth analyses on circular time travel unless you have some decent migraine medication). But despite my love of Damon Lindelof’s masterpiece, I had been hesitant to get into The Leftovers. Part of me felt that nothing he could ever do would live up to Lost, which has to be one of the 10 most important shows in the history of peak TV. I mean, just look at Prometheus and Tomorrowland. But I digress. This isn’t about Lost, it’s about The Leftovers.
The other part of me was scared of the emotional weight of The Leftovers’ subject matter. I wasn’t super excited to spend 10-20 hours dealing with the tremendous existential weight of seeing 2% of the world’s population disappear before my eyes, knowing that there are no answers. I didn’t need that in my life. But I was wrong. I was so wrong (is this the real theme of this newsletter?).
It’s hard not to watch this show and think of it as the spiritual sequel to Lost. Where the critics of Lost clamored about its lack of satisfying answers, The Leftovers tells us up front that some of these questions simply don’t have answers. We’ll never know, and that’s the point. If you can never know, what do you do next? But, honestly, that angle sells the show incredibly short.
Lindelof’s greatest strength as a writer is his ability to make you feel that there is some greater power at work. More than just hint at those unseen forces which move our story along, he gives them a profound presence that feels almost physical. You start to feel as though you’re just a stick in a river, trying to make sense of where you are, while never being able to fully comprehend the vastness of the powers that guide you. It’s the central conflict in a lot of Lindelof’s work, but in The Leftovers, there isn’t much to distract from that idea. The show is a meditation on coming to terms with the unknowable forces that dictate all of our lives.
When I finished the second season, I didn’t talk to anyone for a solid 24 hours because I needed time to process the vast emotional depths the show had introduced me to. The Leftovers walks the divide between abstraction, surrealism, and reality in a way that almost begs to be left unanalysed. I could fawn over every decision the creators made: the interlocking networks of characters’ stories, the depth of each character’s emotional journey and how each actor communicates the complexities of them, the symbolism, the MUSIC. But what I find the most powerful is how the show resonates on a level beneath the surface in a way I have yet to fully understand. If the show is a concert, this is the vibration of the bass—far from the spotlight, yet still coloring your experience completely.
There are truly too many aspects of this show that I love to fit into 500 words, so I might revisit this in a future newsletter or make a video on it. But there’s also the distinct possibility that I’ll never be able to fully wrap my head around it. And that’s okay too.