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‘The Leftovers’ Burns it All Down, But Should We Care What Comes Out the Other Side?

The town's on fire, the Guilty Remnant have done their worst, and the resolution of the Holy Wayne plot is incredibly frustrating. What do we have to look forward to next year?

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If you’ve been waiting all season for The Leftovers to deliver some masterful slap in the face, a grand unifying story twist on the scale of Damon Lindelof’s previous work, well, you’ve been watching the wrong show. This has always been about wrestling with the unknown and getting thrown back against the wall; this finale felt very in line with that experience.

Yes, there was some (only some) emotional closure on the story of Kevin’s fractured family. Quite unsurprisingly, there was next to none on any of the show’s enduring mysteries. Most annoyingly, though, the brutal power of the Guilty Remnant now feels well and truly sapped, which leaves the upcoming second season with quite a predicament on its hands.

I think I stopped caring about the Guilty Remnant somewhere in the middle of Patti’s fanatical speech to Kevin about their grand nihilistic purpose; I just had no patience for such fanaticism in a show that’s rooted in ambiguity and our confused raging against a God that might exist. The flashback episode was the final nail in the coffin: so, Patti has always thought the world might crash around our heads. To her, the Departure proved her right; but those final episodes made the mission of the Guilty Remnant feel like an outraged tantrum. How dare humanity go on living after such cataclysm? They’d have to be taught a lesson in meaninglessness as punishment.

So, the season finale sees the GR enact their big scheme, littering the town with dressed-up fake corpses to represent everyone’s departed loved ones. Which is obviously an incredibly cruel thing for them to do; the (beautifully composed) scene of Nora discovering her family seated at the breakfast table is enough to make the audience hate the GR for good. It also brings the whole town down, with violence and arson erupting and the Mayor telling Kevin he had been right all along.

It also kiiinda brings about Kevin’s big wish, which is the central theme of the episode—that his family reunite and love each other again. The crucial scene is his examination of Patti’s final words with Reverend Matt in the diner, where Kevin recalls the departure of the woman he was about to sleep with and decides he stayed behind because he wanted to be with his family, but ended up losing them anyway.

Then, Kevin meets a dying Holy Wayne in a bathroom stall and Wayne says while he may be a fraud, he wants to grant Kevin’s wish, which maybe he does. Since Kevin gets to rescue Jill from a burning building and maybe join a new family with Nora and Wayne and Christine’s abandoned baby. Laurie’s off trying to figure out what to do next and Tommy is hopefully being banished from this show forever, but at the end of the episode Kevin is with a family and that’s something.

Except, look at that last paragraph again. What is with the plotting of this show? Holy Wayne’s end, in particular, felt like a giant missed opportunity. You have Paterson Joseph’s performance, which is something truly special, and we’ve wasted so much time on Tommy and Christine’s odyssey, but it ends with Wayne in a bathroom stall for reasons unknown, dying for reasons unknown (perhaps by his own hand?) and dropped in like a sad deus ex machina to have one meaningful conversation with Kevin.

The arc of Christine’s holy baby feels equally pointless. She abandons the kid at a rest stop, leaving him in Tommy’s hands, and somehow the lil guy makes it over to Nora’s porch to give her … new meaning in this post-Departure world? It feels way too easy, and way too corny, especially for this show, but it’s straight from the book and perhaps included just because we needed some glowing note of hope in a generally bleak finale and generally bleak series.

I also felt uninvolved in Jill’s GR conversion, which ended up being brief and served a plot purpose more than anything else; Meg’s arc was also resolved simply and ineffectively, as she accepted a beating from an angry townsperson like the kind of GR pod-person Patti would have wanted her to be, existing only to draw a stark comparison between her and the Garveys.

Like I said at the top of this review, perhaps it’s ridiculous to complain about a lack of resolution. The Leftovers has always set out in a mission to frustrate and confuse and at first that really worked for me. It fit the central theme and plot event and it didn’t even really seem to matter. So we didn’t know if Kevin and his dad were crazy or not, or what’s in the vintage copy of National Geographic. So what! There are things we just can’t understand.

But I really lost it with this episode, and never got it back, during Kevin’s extended dream sequence where he thought Matt committed him to the loony bin, and then debated between his ranting father and a flirty ghost-Patti, who eventually mounted him and began kissing him. It was an epic fakeout, serving only to give us more circular discussions on Kevin’s state of existence, and underlined so much that has been sophomoric in this first season. The Leftovers is a show about angst and confusion, but that angst so rarely actually hit for me (the exception being Matt and Nora’s episodes). In the end, as the town burned and the Guilty Remnant were assaulted, I could not access the biblical terror that was being unleashed.

So, there’s going to be a second season of this show, I suppose. I know enough about Perrotta’s book to know they’re going to have to make everything up on their own next year. And that’s a little fascinating but mostly, almost entirely, terrifying. The Leftovers was a fascinating, largely well-made show with a lot of good actors in it and a lot of frustrating nonsense that it failed to resolve. And it will never resolve. What hope does a second season bring us? Well, we have enough interesting characters and an interesting enough world that maybe we’ll make progress towards something newer and more streamlined. But the best thing I can say about The Leftovers this season was that it was an intriguing, and at times wonderful, mess of an experience. And for now, I’m pretty glad it’s over.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.