So, instead of making a blind tantrum as to why The Leftovers is my favorite show (though it is), I want to make the case for why season 3 is its best season in my mind.
To me, season one was all about combating nihilism – hence the smokers’ cult, their seemingly unrealistic recruitment efficiency, and the severity to which they are despised by those around them. In a sense, they can be seen to represent the nihilistic mindset in the wake of great tragedy. Kevin et al react to this mindset in different ways: for Kevin it’s frustration and performative acceptance of their philosophy, for Laurie it’s the only thing that makes sense for her after the departure, and for Nora it’s the complete rejection of their beliefs. All this culminates in the season 1 climax, and the set up going into season 2.
In season 2, the show becomes more focused on what it means to start anew, as well as what it pragmatically means for something to be viewed as a “miracle.” This, in turn, helped give way to the wonderfully absurdist tone the show became known for, even if it also exposed the show’s short comings. (As a sidenote: I found it odd how Danielle writes that she found the episode in season 3 dealing with Aboriginal communities to be racist, while glossing over one of the most blatant “magical black man” tropes that was more or less integral to the second season’s major arc.)
Then there’s season 3: the plot threads from the previous seasons have mostly subsided, although now the questions that remain are “What if there’s another departure?” and “What can be done about the last one?” This, in turn, allows the show to go full-bent on their absurdist aspirations, and lead to some – in my opinion – breathtakingly beautiful instances of character development. For instance, Matt must come to realize that his propensity towards the divine has always been a means for him to repress his deeper feelings of ego-centrism and his insecurity in his own mortality. Laurie must face her grief head-on, and decide whether she’s ok with living in the world as it, forever knowing how it robbed her of her previous marriage’s last hope. Kevin Sr., as misguided as he was in his endeavor to save the world by enlisting the dances of aboriginal populations, eventually is forced to come to terms with the fact his messiah complex was just that, and that he needs to have faith in the efficacy of others. And Nora – god damn, Nora – her entire arc (not just in this season, but in the show as a whole) has her literally confronting the metaphysical, accepting that sometimes all one has is blind faith, and that sometimes it needs to be utilized. But even then, we never know if she fully accepted that, or if she just hung out in the countryside for forty years until Kevin showed up again. The last episode, the one where Nora was placed front and center in the narrative, is one of the best episodes of television I’ve ever seen. But what makes it so special is that it is only able to achieve what it does because of the 27 episodes that precede it.
The show, as a whole, starts out ludicrously slow. Everything feels aimless, and that’s kind of the point. It’s only until later that things really start to pay off, and I would say that Nora’s arc is chief among them. Sure, the show is by no means perfect: the first season – especially at first – is extremely weak relative to the latter two, the first season is also white as hell, the show still relied on lame tropes even after it made a point to have more diverse casting, the Garvey kids are mostly an afterthought by a certain point, and there are times when it seems like the show is actively antagonizing its audience. But in spite of all that, this show also presented some of the most affecting acting I’ve ever seen on television, some brilliant commentaries on existentialism vs. nihilism and how one copes with grief, some ingenious (and risky) decisions regarding the narrative structure of the series, and a series finale that managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible task of wrapping up this show’s story. For me, this show’s positives thoroughly negate its shortcomings.
I get that this show wasn’t for Danielle – it’s the sort of show that I wish I could recommend to everyone, but there are inevitably those it’ll grate on, and those people are likely to be the majority. But for me, and the dozen or so other fans of this show, it’s as resonant a piece of media as any television show has ever been. I’ve never cried so much watching a show, as it makes me reflect on my own losses throughout my life. It reminds me of my sister or my friend, and tells me that it’s ok to still feel emotional over them – to miss them. I get why people don’t like this show, but for me, I will always look back on it with most sincere fondness.