Even among HBO’s long list of daring, bold dramas, “The Leftovers” stands out for its creative ambition and risk-taking. Based on the bestseller by Tom Perrotta, the premise itself sounds like a huge, somewhat-gimmicky risk: One day, about 2 percent of the world’s population suddenly disappears. Their bodies, their lives, their presence on this earth. But slowly and surely, over the course of two seasons, the show won viewers over with its mix of narrative risks and deep characterization.
While season two started off with a large shift in setting and tone, season three takes it slow, setting up three years after the events of season two. This season focuses on characters’ relationships with each other rather than on any individual character arcs as there were in earlier episodes. As a result, much of the runtime is devoted to dialogue set pieces rather than action sequences. This slow burn pieces out details of the rapture and what happened to the vanished population at a tantalizing and sometimes painful pace, and as a result, viewers may be slightly fatigued in the earlier episodes.
Those same viewers, however, can rest assured, because there is still more than enough in the first couple episodes of season three to hook them. The acting is expectedly incredible, as the focus on slower moments between characters allows for a lot of opportunities for the actors to dive deep. Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon, as Kevin and Nora, hold the show down emotionally as it explores their relationship and attempt to recover from the trauma of the rapture. The true standout of this season, however, has to be Scott Glenn as Kevin Garvey Sr., as the show dedicates much more time, including the third episode in which Glenn is at the center of every scene, to his character’s search for meaning in the Australian outback. He perfectly balances a man struggling with the outward demands of life as well as the inner turmoil of his past and his fractured relationships.
The writing and directing on “The Leftovers” remain outstanding, as the showrunners have incorporated a ton of the series’ trademark anecdotes and monologues. One of the most impressive things about the show is how much time is devoted to one character staring off into the distance, recounting some symbolic, loaded story without coming off as preachy or pretentious. In actuality, the combination of the acting and the screenplay’s powerful conveyance of emotion and meaning renders these scenes absolutely gripping to behold, and the increased focus on supporting characters this season adds even more to the that. The directing fits the tone of these other aspects very well, as skillful, symbolic jump cuts and long, lingering shots of characters’ worn, pained faces combine with stunning music choices to make the show one of the most watchable dramas on television.
Season three, the final season, is much more contained than previous ones, which focused entire episodes on supporting characters and played with daring action sequences to show off their handle on direction and writing. While part of the reason for the shift to a more gradual, streamlined storyline is that the “The Leftovers” simply has fewer episodes and, thus, time to play around with, this benefits the show’s rise to its eventual climax and conclusion as each scene matters and is integral to the revelations it has to offer, making the story tighter and more focused.
The ultimate theme of “The Leftovers,” which has played around with many big ideas and themes over its three seasons, is learning how to live, love and be happy again after a devastating, stunning event. And while it’s tempting to say that message is particularly vital at this current moment, it’s something that people are always doing, and the show handles the idea with care and boldness while not coming off as too on-the-nose. It’s this mix of the nuance and daring that once again makes “The Leftovers” one of the most poignant, gripping dramas on television.
Season three of “The Leftovers” premieres this Sunday on HBO.
Contact Kevin Lu at [email protected].