Hannah Dunleavy reviews the final episode of The Leftovers and explains why HBO needs to renew it. Like now.
CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON 2 FINALE (and also some spoilers for The Walking Dead, Doctor Who and Game of Thrones).
Say what you like about Kevin Garvey; he’s a survivor. Unfaithful husband? Yes. Terrible at karaoke? Undoubtedly. But holy moly, can that man just go on living.
In truth, if there was a prize for most used plot device, 2015 would have a clear winner: killing or appearing to kill an integral character but leaving the door open to the possibility that they might not be dead.
When Game of Thrones, which built its fearsome reputation on massacring lead characters, decided to off the previously untouchable Jon Snow, it was the stabbing heard around the world. The internet lost its shit, much like when Sherlock faked his death, as everyone went from venting their spleen to formulating a theory about how Snow was probably still alive in less time than it took for Thronecast to start.
Fast forward to the autumn and The Walking Dead is teasing viewers with the notion that good old reliable Glenn has been torn entrail from entrail. After a few weeks – and a near forensic scrutiny of the final scene by what appeared to be everyone with internet access – Glenn emerged from under a dumpster, smiling and waving, and completely unscathed. OK, he wasn’t smiling and waving, but he might as well have been.
“‘I don’t know what’s happening,’ John Murphy tells Kevin when he finds him in the medical centre. ‘Me neither,’ he replies. That makes three of us, but the salient point is that I don’t care. ”
Then, on Saturday, Clara, presumed dead by raven, comes back to life in Doctor Who. Because – a friend and expert reliably informs me – Doctor Who.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Kevin Garvey died on the floor of trailer and then crawled from his own grave. And it was magnificent.
It’s perhaps the greatest example of how head and shoulders The Leftovers is above ALL other TV drama this year, that it made an increasingly clichéd plot device a strength not a weakness. Twice.
Kevin didn’t die to shock us, to tease us or to scandalise us. He wasn’t killed to cause a social media storm – if indeed there are enough people watching to do that. He died so we could spend an hour staring into his soul and then, when he emerged from his Sopranos-inspired haze, to give us the most definitive sign yet (outside of events of October 14) that there are indeed more things to heaven and earth than we could dream of. In The Leftovers universe at least.
The first season of HBO’s little-watched drama was great; the second has been incredible. If you review television it’s pretty much the Holy Grail; a pleasure to watch, a pleasure to ponder, a pleasure to write about. A post-September 11 musing on the nature of widespread grief and the role faith has to play in it: it’s very weird and very wonderful and every time you think it can’t get any better, it does. Because nothing could top that questionnaire face-off between Carrie Coon and Regina King, right? Until we went to the bottom of the well with Justin Theroux and Anne Dowd or into the camp with Christopher Ecclestone and Liv Tyler. I’m not sure what was more of a revelation in the penultimate episode – the location of the missing girls or that Liv Tyler could do that.
If I was concerned the finale had too much work to do, it was swiftly dispatched with. The structure of the season has been such that, although it seemed impossible that all the storylines would marry together, they fitted perfectly, so that when Kevin returned home, he could not only invite the man who shot him to come inside, but knew his family would be there when he did. Even if an earthquake threatened at the last minute to separate them, as it did to the prehistoric woman in the season’s opening scene.
Mimi Leader’s direction was perfect, pulling real beauty out of horrible moments – both Meg lying down on the bridge (being arrested) and Nora doing the same (to protect Lily) were gorgeous.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” John Murphy tells Kevin when he finds him in the medical centre. “Me neither,” he replies. That makes three of us, but the salient point is that I don’t care. I don’t care what made Mary suddenly wake, or what drives the Guilty Remnant to turn Jarden into a repeat performance of Mapleton or why Kevin was able to survive his third death (or brush with death) this season.
I don’t need for answers. If it’s a miracle, I accept it. It’s certainly a lot easier to believe when it is contained within television I have no problem describing as miraculous. (Seriously, best thing HBO has made in almost a decade.)
Will there be a Season 3? There’s been no announcement from HBO, which suggests that The Leftovers is dead. I remain hopeful that it too might crawl from its grave. If it doesn’t, Lindelof & Co can take comfort in the knowledge that they have left a most beautiful corpse.
Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.