Damon Lindelof on ‘The Leftovers’ Finale, Feeling Validated and Season Three

7 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Damon Lindelof Talks ‘Leftovers’ Season 2 Finale, Show’s Future: ‘We Want There to Be More’.

The final installment of “The Leftovers” season two was all about awakenings: Mary (Janel Moloney), Matt’s wife, finally woke up from her comatose state. Or at least he’s trying to stop the Mea culpas — a goal made more feasible by the deluge of critics fawning over his HBO series The Leftovers, which concluded its second season Sunday night.

Each week following episodes of season two of The Leftovers, Sophie Gilbert and Spencer Kornhaber will discuss new characters, old visitors, and whether smoking really is the best way to express profound nihilism.In true Damon Lindelof fashion, not every mystery introduced throughout the ten episodes was answered in “I Live Here Now,” but enough were that the finale was more than satisfying. The town of Jarden — and the enclave of seekers just outside its gates — realized that the Guilty Remnant had been hanging around for some time, planning a secretive and scary operation. Sure enough, the new perspective shows that Kevin (Justin Theroux) was dressed in white and single-handedly caused the explosion that everyone assumed was a secondary departure event. Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) takes poison and collapses, convulsing, at the end of episode seven, as part of a desperate attempt to silence a voice in his brain.

I stopped dwelling on the past and allowed myself to be in the present.” Now the ever-candid writer/producer awaits word on a third season, a decision that’s been complicated by the drama’s ratings, which are almost as bleak as the show itself. The extended Garvey family—estranged wife and son, adopted partner and baby, the near sister-in-law no longer braindead, and all others—greet Kevin after his exceedingly traumatic 24 hours. “You’re home!” Nora says.

Tell the rest of that first episode from the perspective of a family viewers have never met, waiting a full 39 minutes before we catch a glimpse of anyone who appeared in the first season and another nine before the show’s lead character comes on screen. The scene then seamlessly, in one of the better transitions of the season, fast forwards from the lake earthquake to Kevin Garvey crawling out of his own grave. Viewership for the second-season drama, adapted from Tom Perrotta’s novel, has plummeted nearly 60 percent from season one, with the series averaging 670k viewers this year. “If the show had been on par with season one, I think we would definitely be proceeding,” says Lindelof, while acknowledging that conversations are taking place with HBO. “There’s a sense of, ‘Where did everybody from season one go?

As neighborly feedback goes, Kevin seems to think it was tough but fair.) As for John (Kevin Carroll), he’s become the new Kevin: John struggles to comprehend what feels like the loss of his entire family. But showing Kevin surviving that night after willingly jumping into a lake with a cinder block tied to his feet is seen in a new light here, post “International Assassin”.

On top of that, the writers had blown through the plot of Perrotta’s book of the same title, leaving them with a blank slate for a second season that was by no means guaranteed due to dismal ratings that declined as time went on. He did not have the guidance of Virgil to come back from the dead at that point, which means it isn’t far-fetched to believe that he might have been in purgatory that night. His teenage daughter, now under the sway of Meg, seems to hate him and their entire town; he and his wife are further apart than ever emotionally; and his son, Michael, is as lost and confused as any of the Garveys.

If you had told me when we were breaking that episode in the writers room that we would one day get a Writers Guild nomination for it, I would have laughed and/or fainted. It was definitely different and there were many times during the process where we almost abandoned the idea [of Justin Theroux’s character dying temporarily and journeying to the other side], but I’m glad we didn’t.

But Erika’s silent screaming at the teary but stoic Evangeline, and the thought that they might both be about to blow up, made for supremely taxing TV. As for Kevin, the reception he got from his family and friends once he returned home indicates that there is hope, even in this challenging version of our world. While each episode of Season 1 opened with a slow, operatic dirge accompanied by grotesque religious imagery, Season 2’s theme was a dramatic shift in tone.

And throughout, the opening bars to the unsettling, show-stopping “Va, pensiero”—composed by Giuseppe Verdi—scores Kevin’s engagement with this fraught dreamscape. If his shaky rendition of “Homeward Bound” or Erika’s frantic pleading on the bridge didn’t make you a little teary, the look on his face when he finally saw everyone waiting for him might have done the trick.

But when considered as a bookend to this season’s gonzo opening scene — the one in which a primitive, pregnant woman survives an earthquake and finds that every person in her small community has vanished — those closing seconds are telling us something important. Written by Iris Dement and first released in 1992, the song “Let the Mystery Be,” heard behind sunny photos in which certain individuals have faded into nothingness, perfectly captures how the show’s creators want us to feel about the questions they refuse to answer. “Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where they all came from,” Dement sings with an upbeat attitude. “Everybody’s worryin’ ‘bout where they’re gonna go when the whole thing’s done.

In Kevin’s wild search for meaning, the music reflects the layers of confusion and clarity that come with any unpleasant awakening—whether that’s a bathtub coming-to or a spiritual epiphany. (In Kevin’s case, it’s probably both.) The music haunts him, and us, throughout the episode, to its incredible, difficult-to-explain conclusion. “International Assassin” is an unbelievably amazing episode of television. “Va, pensiero” appears in act three of the opera “Nabucco,” and “International Assassin,” placed late in the second season, is a similar crescendo to a show-stopping number. HBO has not yet made a decision on whether to bring back the show, but, like critic Alan Sepinwall, I very much hope the drama, like Kevin, finds itself renewed.

And when the guy at the bar pointed out that there’s no particular reason for Kevin to escape death, it suddenly seemed clear that The Leftovers had extravagantly killed and brought back its main character only to gain more shock value from axing him an episode later. It is mentioned between the two only once, and the father tells his son “I need you to take it … you need to accept it” Garvey gets even more emotional while singing the chorus of the song, “Home where my thought’s escaping/Home where my music’s playing, /Home where my love lies waiting silently for me.” Mary Jamison (Janel Moloney), the silent love of his brother-in-law Matt (Christopher Eccleston), is no longer in a vegetative state. While Justin Theroux’s Kevin and his daughter, Margaret Qualley’s Jill, desperately tried to hold on to some semblance of normalcy, Kevin’s wife Laurie, played by Amy Brenneman and their son Tommy (Chris Zylka) both left home, searching for some kind of spiritual salvation. Aside from whether or not HBO’s going to pick up the show for more episodes, [the audience question will be,] “Did you design this episode so that it would be the end? Because that’s what I did upon seeing Kevin’s second resurrection (or perhaps third one, counting when the reservoir drained instead of drowning him).

It’s not an easy watch, but in some ways, the difficulty of the show is what is so rewarding about it—as if, finally, there is a show that understands how awful it can feel to be a human being in the world. But as has been said before in these recaps, examining the ways in which the two talk to each other is a fascinating exercise and, in the case of this finale, illuminating. What’s more, the episode denied a feeling of security for about 10 more minutes as Kevin staggered through riot-wrecked Jarden, apparently lacking an appropriate feeling of urgency about his medical condition. We don’t live in a world with “the Departure,” as the characters on “The Leftovers” call it, but we all have our losses and our burdens and our griefs.

In this episode, when Kevin revives after his second trip to purgatory and finds himself bleeding out on the floor of that animal care facility, he reaches out for his dog, who has been patiently waiting for his master to return. Less than trying to explain the mystery of why both terrible and wonderful things happen the way they do, “The Leftovers” tries to relate how humans deal with unanswered questions and missing pieces. It’s not like we were able to execute the plan we put out there and then there was a tremendous amount of high-fiving, like, “Wait until everybody gets a load of this.” You just never know.

It seems very possible Kevin will die in that moment, with his dog beside him, which is exactly what happens to Jack Shephard in the “Lost” finale. That was, until Ann Dowd’s Patti Levin showed up—after graphically slitting her own throat in season one—to haunt Kevin in his new home of Jarden, Texas. But “The Leftovers” rejects that idea; instead, Kevin gets up and heads to the Miracle Visitors Center and has a conversation that echoes one from the last episode of “Lost.” When Jack is definitely dead and in some sort of purgatory, he asks his father: “How are you here right now?” His dad responds, “How are you here?” Later, he says, “There is no now here.” When Kevin enters that visitors center, he finds Meg, basking in a post-coup-d’etat cigarette after successfully leading the infiltration of Jarden. It might seem too conventional, too uplifting, for The Leftovers to endorse the idea that in order to live you have to want to live and you have to care about other people. But you realize how complicated a moral it is when you step back and see that it’s the same insight that has given Nora, Matt, and the poor cavewoman in the season opener the ability to carry on.

When faced with the same clothing options from “International Assassin,” he chooses the police uniform, an ensemble that matches the person he knew himself to be before October the 14th. Like the Garveys, the Murphys were left untouched by the Sudden Departure, but they too have their own troubles that run deeper than anyone can tell from the outside. She’s completely wrong, as far as I can tell, and before you call that bad writing on the show’s part remember that people make stupid ideological calculations in life all the time.

John (Kevin Carroll in a powerful, breakthrough performance) and Erika (recent Emmy-winner Regina King in yet another moving role) discover what it must feel like outside the Jarden bubble when their daughter Evie disappears along with two of her friends in what some fear is a “secondary departure.” The most compelling episodes of The Leftovers’ first season came when the writers zeroed in on one character and told an entire hour-long story from their perspective. Fans had to wait a month after season one ended to hear that HBO renewed it, so keep your fingers crossed – The most puzzling pieces of information that weren’t explained remain to be Australia’s possible connection to Jarden, Texas and if Kevin Garvey Sr. played a role in anything that conspired in the final few episodes. Three episodes later, we accompanied Nora to New York City, where she encountered a woman who was trying to steal her identity and met up with Holy Wayne, a self-declared prophet who hugged her pain away. Basically, the implications of episode eight, “International Assassin” are still being felt and largely unanswered – The homeless man who took shelter atop the “Miracle” tower in the center of town all season is not there once the town is overrun by the Guilty Remnants

Plus, the teenagers’ rebellion really seems just that—teenage rebellion, the kind of thing it’s unethical to exploit for your pseudoreligious movement’s publicity. I’m just not the person who’s like, “Hey, if I like it then f— all of y’all.” Television in particular is a medium that is designed to go out to the masses, and I would like a lot of people [to watch my show.] That said, I also understand that the subject matter is really asking for a big investment from the audience. Just imagine what will happen to Miracle’s new residents—even some of the white-coated ones—when the news of authentic recent miracles starts to spread.

While the first episode is told entirely from the point of view of the Murphys, the second revisits that same day from Kevin and Nora’s perspective. Let’s go to Australia.” There’s another part of me that’s basically like, “You can’t do the same trick twice.” A magician never does the same trick again, because you’ll be much less amazed, and because when you know the outcome of the trick, you watch to see how they did it. The moment when Matt finally sees a now fully awake Mary is incredibly moving, for example, but we don’t even get a chance to bask in it before the episode plows forward, making us gasp as bombs almost detonate (but don’t) and babies get stolen (but then recovered).

I cried like a baby last night.” The person they’re saying that to might think, “I’m not entirely sure I want to cry like a baby?” The show does ask for an intense emotional investment, and I have to acknowledge that. Bringing the protagonist’s friends and family all together after flinging them apart for two years is a fine-enough series-ending moment, if it needs to be. But there are so many untied threads, and so many possible directions for the plot to take, that I hope Damon Lindelof gets to keep confusing us for a few more seasons, at least.

The show finally introduced a family of color, the Murphys, and moved from the claustrophobic town of Mapleton to Jardin, Texas, where people from all faiths, from all over the country, are looking for answers. I guess one way would be, like, to cast Matthew McConaughey in the show. “McConaughey joins Leftovers season three!” But then there’s the people who love The Leftovers and have been watching it for two seasons who would probably go, “I don’t know, man. A government conspiracy has been hinted at for a while—remember the disposal of cult-member bodies into a furnace in season one?—but not fully explained. The way that we generated this season of television is, all the writers got together for an entire month, and all we did was basically design the season. And most importantly: Should we take the second appearance of the Marriott Residence Inn: Afterlife to be confirmation that such a place really does exist and isn’t a creation of Kevin’s mind?

The title song asks us to let the mystery be, but I’d prefer to do so with the help of these characters that have come to seem real, and with this show’s maddening, often genius storytelling style. Gilbert: It seems kind of ironic that a show so intent on putting its viewers through so much has now rewarded them with not one but two happy endings.

And if you are a viewer who hasn’t, you know, completely and totally come to terms with your own mortality, then Kevin’s struggle is your own, even though he is a distinct and flawed individual. Verdi wrote this opera shortly following personal devastation—the deaths of his two very young children, just a year apart, and then the death of his wife shortly thereafter.

It’s in the title, even. (And I’m not taking credit for this — it’s in the DNA of Tom’s amazing novel.) Most of the people I know all identify with the kid who was picked last for the kickball team. Whether it is an unexplained Sudden Departure of millions, a mass casualty event caused by human beings, or just the inevitable death that awaits us all, no one is immune, not even the 9,261 souls who were supposedly “spared” in Jarden. This is a message put forward most directly by Evie’s twin brother Michael, during an impromptu church sermon on the anniversary of the Departure in the finale. “Nobody disappeared from here on October 14th four years ago,” he says. “But they did before, and after. In fact, I think she’ll just stop sleeping all together so that she can binge watch all the excellent TV shows she missed while she was unconscious.

Fun fact: [In the world of the show,] Matthew Weiner departed on October 14, which resulted in “Mad Men’s” abrupt conclusion after its third season. We have enough feelings of abandonment in our actual lives, so why would we want to watch a television show that’s about that when we could watch shows about people solving crimes and winning and being heroic and having fun and all the stuff that we like in TV. The implication certainly seems to be that their happy family is a lie—that John is clearly unstable, and that when he went away to jail (a different kind of departure), he left his kids bereft, as Michael described in church. In Evie’s first meeting with Meg last week, she seemed to share her father’s cynicism when it comes to Miracle, saying, “I’m sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for here. It’s like, “Wait, that is f—ked up.” And then a show can basically balance itself with other parts that eventually suck you in, especially for the binge experience.

Essentially the girls pretended to disappear, then they reappeared out of a trailer that Meg said was filled with plastic explosive, then a huge timer counted down one hour, and the bomb didn’t go off, and a surprising number of people at the camp put on white Guilty Remnant clothes and stormed the town. But really it just seems like Meg wanted to ruin Jarden—to #disrupt the equilibrium of life in what was essentially an idyllic gated community by setting up camp in the former park headquarters, and then … singing at Kevin, with Evie in glorious alto harmony. I don’t understand Meg’s plan because I don’t understand Meg’s philosophy. “Family is everything,” she told Tommy, after he uttered some Remnant-mandated lines about family not existing and being meaningless.

She might have meant that family is everything she wants to destroy, but her pep talk seemed to have the opposite effect on Tommy than was intended, spurring him to glance around guiltily a lot and then rescue Nora. That scene was extraordinarily effective, I thought, in terms of expressing the unique distilled panic and fear that people must have felt after the Departure. I do like to watch them at my own pace, which tends to be, “I need the next one now.” My wife and I watched Kimmy Schmidt over the course of a week and a half because it was like, “Let’s just watch another one, just one.” I’m watching The Man in the High Castle that way now.

I worried during the Matt-centric episode that things might get too bleak again, but for the most part, the balance between dark humor and horror has (I imagine) made this season much more palatable for many viewers than the first. Kevin coming back to earth via a shaky karaoke performance was totally bizarre, but his song was oddly moving. (I loved how all the songs on the spinwheel had supernatural themes: “Like a Prayer,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Angel of the Morning.”) Is Kevin in some way special, as the season’s suggested?

This is something that Noah Hawley does incredibly well [on “Fargo”], and “Walking Dead” has done it [at times] — the single character’s [point of view episode]. “Game of Thrones” is probably my favorite show on the air right now, but just give me a damn Tyrion episode. The emotional impact that I would get when that episode ended [would be different], as opposed to [cutting to] “Meanwhile, over in Meereen.” I think it’s amazing what they do, but when [George R. When you filmed that initial sequence that started season two — the scenes of the woman from thousands of years ago — did you know that you would have Kevin ending up with Patti at that well, in the spot where the cavewoman died, in episode eight?

Suffice to say that once the scene with the cavewoman [Sara Tomko] was on the table and we were really talking about doing it, that emerged from [ideas explored with consulting producer] Reza Aslan, who wrote this amazing book called “Zealot.” It’s kind of about the historical Jesus Christ. And I was like, “We’re doing that.” He said, “What?” I was like, “We’re going back [to that time].” We had been identifying Kevin as suffering from the prophet’s dilemma, which is [mentioned in “Guest” in season one]. The whole idea that this place where no one departed is just as f—ed up as everywhere else, and that energy is basically that wall of Jericho breaking down. I don’t think it’s fair for me to say, “This was our intention.” I think that by the nature of the fact that nobody departed from Jarden — that is a fact.

Now, if you’re asking me did it become special because that cavewoman died and that’s why you showed it to me, or did it become special because nobody departed? Do you think you’d follow a similar model in season three and develop an entirely new story (albeit with familiar threads running through) or would you stick with the world you’ve created in Jarden? And now the audience is like, “Oh, are they going to start the third season in the prehistoric times again or are we going to start with another family that again?” Whatever we do, I don’t want it to be gimmicky. That said, the thematic takeaway, [the emotional import] that you just basically relayed about the cavewoman is much more relevant to me than than the story takeaway, which is, “Did her death somehow make this place magical?” We’re doing a show about what it is like to lose your family, to lose everything that is special to you. This show feels as though it kind of unites the storytelling moves of “Lost” and yet it is more open-ended and free to go into these very challenging areas.

Other than just trimming some stuff down for time, the only thing that I really regret losing is a scene in episode seven, which was the episode where Kevin drinks the poison. But I also think that you freed yourself, in a way, because it feels like you decided with this show, “I’m going to make a show that’s not about answers, it’s not about building up or taking apart a mythology per se. Since you’re so in tune with what people are writing about the show, have there been any specific criticisms of this season that have really irked you? That’s the reason I got off Twitter; I had a very destructive habit of seeking out what people were saying to balance the amazing life that I’m leading and it was just toxic.

Once you call me a hack and say that I’ve ruined six years of your life and that I should have all writing implements taken away from me and that I’m as dangerous as a hacker and that hackers shouldn’t be allowed to have computers and I shouldn’t be allowed to use them, it’s all been said. With the overwhelmingly positive response from critics and fans this season, I take it you don’t have anything you’d like to apologize for at the moment, right? If I could show you the emails that have gone forth between Ann Dowd and myself — the level at which she approaches and unpacks Patti Levin — it would blow your mind.

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