texas miracle

Goodbye, ‘The Leftovers’: How HBO’s Show Went From Good to Canon-Worthy Great

Then something wonderful happened. As the first season went on, the show got weirder, wilder, and – no coincidence here – better. And given the way they operate primarily through symbolism, the Guilty Remnant are a great place to begin looking for answers as to how.

For starters, the GR and their leader Patti Levin (the great Ann Dowd) made for antagonists of a sort we’d never seen before. Like an army of proto-Pepes, their modus operandi was trolling: specifically, a deliberate mockery of everything the survivors clung to, right on down to the memories of their missing loved ones themselves. The group’s climactic assault on the town of Mapleton wasn’t a murder spree; it was simply using realistic life-sized dolls to recreate the Departed and spook the squares. The cult pulled a similar trick the following year down in Miracle, Texas, when they threatened to bomb the bridge that led to the miraculously Departure-free town and wound up merely throwing open the gates to the hippie hordes camped outside. They violated the norms of every day life in ways that were simultaneously horrifying and darkly hilarious.

Looking over The Leftovers’ three seasons, it’s hard not to see shades of the Guilty Remnant’s chain-smoking, white-wearing mischief in the show’s writing staff itself. Simply put, there was no convention of storytelling, external or internal, these folks wouldn’t break if it made for more intense viewing. Most famously, Season Two tossed the balance and setting the show had worked so hard to establish aside – relocating from New York to Texas, reloading the cast with a whole new family, pushing many of the original characters aside for episodes at a time. It also replaced the gloomy original opening credits with jaunty country music and brightly lit family photos that showed disappearing people basically merge with the stars, a sign the show was capable of recognizing its excesses and playfully tweaking itself for them.

I wrote about how The Leftovers got great by going crazy for Rolling Stone. Really going to miss this show. I can only hope that others will pick up the torch and carry on its blend of emotional rigor and balls-out risk-taking. (Too many shows emphasize the latter at the expense of the former.)