The Leftovers is a show of many mysteries. Two percent of the world’s population vanished in one moment on one day, October 14th in an event dubbed The Departure. The show follows Roland Barthe’s hermeneutic code to tell the story. The story starts with an almost ultimate enigma and leaves the fans of the show with much anticipation for some kind of resolution at the end of each episode. However, the creators of the show are “not interested at all in answering what the Departure was. This is just all about the condition of living in a post-Departure world.” Everybody living in this post-Departure world is living with this over hanging enigma just searching for clues to solve this mystery. Over the course of the semester I have been writing blogs about the mysteries of the show but I struggled with the meaning of the show until I watched the second season finale just one more time. It was then when I really started to understand that true meaning of the show was to exemplify the fact that no matter what happens you must try your very best to keep the faith, whatever it may be in for the benefit of the ones around you. A person may never think they are above another person because no matter what you have, it can be taken away from you in a heartbeat. The creators of The Leftovers, Damon Lindelof and Tom Perotta, make these meanings abundantly clear in the second season finale.
After The Departure, some people wanted to move on, and some people wanted to stop and ponder what happened, and to say that a new world started that day, and here’s what that new world is. And other people wanted to say, “Our lives are this ongoing flow of events, and that was just one event in it, but that story I was in before it is still the story of my life.” A perfect scene that explains both ways of thinking would be early on in the finale when Miracle, TX, Sheriff, John Murphy (played by Kevin Carroll) speaks to his wife after a night of looking for clues for his daughter’s sudden disappearance a few days prior. He is sipping booze from a coffee mug when his wife Erika (played by Regina King) asks him “You going to church?” The day is October 14th, the fourth anniversary of The Departure, a day that is celebrated in Miracle, TX because they were the only community in the world that had no recorded departures. John replies “now why would I do that?” Implying that he has lost his faith. John has to leave the house abruptly after deputies tell him that they have a match for a hand print that was found on the car in which John’s daughter and her friends had disappeared from. The handprint belongs to his neighbor and the newest member of town Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux). John knocks on Kevin’s door in an attempt to find him and confront him about what he knows about his daughter’s disappearance when Laurie (Amy Brenneman), Kevin’s ex-wife and former Guilty Remnant cult member answers the door. She explains that Kevin isn’t home but just as John asks when he’ll be back, Kevin walks through the front gate of the lawn with John’s son Michael Murphy (Jovan Adepo). Kevin had just gone through a sort of spiritually cleansing with Michael’s grandfather on his mother’s side and had left his print on the car while doing so. He had information for John about his daughter’s disappearance so he left with the sheriff and his deputies to deliver a message that I will present a little later on. The scene ends with Michael walking over to his home where he meets his mother at the front door. He asks her “are going to church?” She smiles and tells him to go inside and get changed.
The next scene follows Kevin’s current girlfriend Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) taking care of her brother, Reverend Matt Jamison’s (Christopher Eccleston), wife Mary (Janel Moloney) who is in a vegetative state after a car accident she was involved in due to The Departure. Matt is convinced that there is something special about Miracle and he and his wife were allowed in for religious sanctuary. The first night they arrived in Miracle she awoke from her vegetative state and the couple had sex. Mary returned to her state the next morning but in a later episode we found out that she was impregnated by Matt that night. Nora is currently taking care of Mary because Matt is dwelling just outside of Miracle with a village of freeloaders that are waiting for their chance to break into the special town of Miracle. As Nora is taking care of Mary she turns on a small boom box sitting on a side table, Let Your Love Flow by Bellamy Brothers starts to play. This is funny because as I explained in my explanation of the Narrative Structure of season 2 episode No Room at the Inn, Matt would play this song every morning from that same boom box in an attempt to recreate the night Mary awoke. Nora quickly turns the song off and switches over to the radio where the host of a radio show has a caller on talking about how to deal with the pains of The Departure. The radio show host tells the caller that he must look inside himself and find Jesus to fix the problems he’s having. Nora who lost both of her kids and her husband during The Departure, is sick of hearing about having to find Jesus to solve her problems. She walks over to the boom box, picks it up and slams it on the floor shattering it to pieces. She looks up and says “Fix that Jesus!” And as she steps away an earthquake erupts and she ducks for cover. She stands as the quake fades, as she does Mary looks up at her and asks “Nora, what are you doing here?” Nora is shocked and explains to the non-vegetative Mary that they must go see Matt immediately. The scene cuts to Matt shaving his face outside looking through a dusty mirror, he sees Mary in her new state and the biggest smile comes across his face. This is one of the most touching scenes I have seen on television. He explains to Mary that they are pregnant and she must go back into Miracle as soon as possible.
As I have mentioned multiple times before in other blog posts The Guilty Remnant is a cult made of people who wear only white, chain smoke cigarettes, speak only through the use of marker and paper pad, and who’s one goal is to force people to remember the events of October 14th. Well in the next scene The Guilty Remnant chapter leader Meg Abbot (Liv Tyler), arrives in Miracle. She drives up to the front gate in front of the bridge that is the only way in and out of Miracle. (Reminder: Miracle had a population of 9,261 the day of The Departure, they fenced the town in so the total resident population can remain 9,261.) Usually the guards let people in with correct documentation but on October 14th no one is permitted to enter the town who does not currently reside there. The guard explains to Meg that the day is “time for the town folk to be with each other, you know. Reflect.” Meg replies harshly and says “nothing happened here!” She tells the guard that Miracle being closed on October 14th is “like a temple being closed on Christmas. Not really your holiday.” She then tells the guard that there is 10,000lbs of plastic explosives in the trailer she is loading and abruptly drives through the gate and parks the truck and trailer on the middle of the bridge, gets out throws the keys over the bridge and into the river, then sparks a cigarette. Her encounter with the guard is an example one of the meanings I explained earlier, by the town shutting down on October 14th they think that they somehow mean more than the people who don’t live there and have to deal with the effects The Departure had brought along.
The scene then cuts to Michael sitting with his mother at church. Since Miracle had been saved by God the day of The Departure, they created a song that thanked God for his actions. The last line of the song goes “A Miracle, that God had spared our town.” As the last line of the song was sung by the church choir a close up shot of Michael was shown and he looked as if to be pondering something. As the pastor was about to speak, Michael got up, walked up to the front, and whispered the pastors ear asking him if he could say a few words. The pastor let him and Michael said this “Nobody disappeared from Miracle on October 14th, but they did before, and after.” He went on to say “We are the 9,261, but we are not spared.” What Michael meant by saying this was that the people of Miracle are no better than anyone else, the people there still have to deal with the same heart aches and pains that everyone else in the world had. He was fed up with the way people in his town thought they were safe from things, somehow immune to the problems facing the world and this is one of the biggest messages portrayed in this show. As humans we are all in this together, no one person or group of people can consider themselves better or more worthy than another because at some point we will all face the same ultimate destiny.
The next scenes starts with John Murphy interrogating Kevin Garvey for information on Evangeline Murphy’s (Jasmin Savoy Brown) disappearance. Kevin’s muddy hand print was found on the vehicle in which Evangeline disappeared from. Kevin explains that he saw Evangeline and her friends stage a sudden departure, he explained to John that she was still alive but did not know her reason for leaving. John pushed for an answer to this question but Kevin had nothing for him. John explained to Kevin how Evangeline loved him, his wife Erika, and their son Michael. Kevin questioned this by saying “maybe she didn’t,” John replied “didn’t what?” “Love you.” Kevin responded. John proceeds to shoot Kevin in the chest sending him back to a place he was at in an earlier season 2 episode International Assassin, purgatory.
As soon as John shoots Kevin, sheriff deputies run into the room to tell John about what was happening on the bridge. He runs to the bridge and sees his daughter, Evangeline, dressed in all white standing on the bridge holding up a sign that reads “One Hour.” His wife Erika is there and runs to Evangeline to convince her not to blow herself up. She tells Evangeline that if she blows herself up she is going to have to blow her mom up too. She tells Evangeline that she doesn’t understand why she is doing this to the town and to her family. Evangeline writes on her notepad “You Understand.” As she does the countdown that started an hour before on the giant scoreboard in the land of the freeloaders, ends and a buzzer goes off cueing the events that happen next.
Freeloaders start to undress and put on white clothes, the uniform of the Guilty Remnant. Once dressed masses of these people start to march toward the bridge and with a busted gate they are able to walk right past the guards who are struggling to keep them out. One of the freeloaders that is not part of The Guilty Remnant comments in the background saying “If they’re going in, I am too.” The whole camp of freeloaders makes it into Miracle and they start to create riots in the streets. Miracle that just hours before thought they had it all figured out, had that all taken from them with a single event. This sounds eerily similar to the feelings many felt after The Departure, The Guilty Remnant wanted to show Miracle that they are not safe from this feeling no matter how hard they tried.
While Kevin is trapped in a purgatory hotel where he must complete a task tailored to whatever suit he chooses to wear to live again. Unlike in International Assassin where Kevin chose the suit of an international assassin, this time Kevin chooses the uniform of a Mapleton Police Chief, or his own uniform from his old home. He is called and is asked to report to the lobby where a police officer is being beaten. When he arrives there is nothing but a karaoke competition going on, he is asked to sing by the man who guided him through his last visit to this eerily strange place. Kevin refuses and another lady is picked to sing. Kevin sits down at the bar next to the man and they begin to talk. Kevin asks the man what he has to do to go back to his life, the man responds telling Kevin that he had already been asked what he should do. Kevin doesn’t believe that all he has to do is sing karaoke because he thinks “it’s stupid.” The man replies “the trial, it’s beneath you. Not elegant enough.” This line reflects the message of the show, to not think that you are better than another person. The man then asks Kevin why he should go back, Kevin replies “I deserve to.” He is then picked to sing a song, he spins a giant wheel to see what song he will sing. Kevin sings a rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound, as he sings images of his past and love ones appear and Kevin starts to choke up while singing, you can tell through this scene that Kevin has gone through the ringer and will do anything to be back with his family.
The scene ends with Kevin waking up in his own body, with a gunshot wound in his chest. He picks himself up and walks through an ongoing riot in the heart of Miracle, to find supplies to fix himself up at a local pharmacy that has yet to be looted. While he is attempting to bandage his chest, who but John Murphy walks in. John sees Kevin and says “you should be dead.” Kevin replies “Yeah.” John grabs the bandages and starts to clean Kevin’s wound when he starts to break down crying. He tells Kevin through a face of tears that he “has no idea what is going on.” Kevin smiles slightly and replied “fuck it.” Yet another example of the message of the show, to not give up faith even when times are at their hardest. John cleans Kevin up and the two journey back home. Before splitting ways John looks at his darkly lit home and asks Kevin “What if there’s nobody home?” Kevin tells John “Then you come over my house.” I thought this was very touching, that even though everything that happened Kevin’s heart was big enough to invite John into his house if John’s family had not made it back yet. Kevin was putting John before himself and that is a major theme of this show.
The season ends with Kevin opening the door to his house where in the front room sits his entire extended family waiting for him, safe and sound.
Using mystery as a premise in which to create a show can go one of two ways, either the show will keep fans coming back for answers or it will not get much support and people will not care for the answers. The Leftovers is a show that will keep its audience coming back for more and that’s why I chose this show to write about. Filming of The Leftovers third and final season began a early this month and I can not wait to see what mysteries they uncover. What happens to Kevin’s family? Is John’s family home? Is there a second departure? Is Miracle as special as everyone thinks? Or was the key in magic number population of 9,261? These mysteries among many more are what keep a fan like me coming back for more. The lessons learned along the way are just a juicy bonus.
You can read an insighful in depth interview with the creators here.