In the age of peak TV, the way series end is almost more important than the journey themselves. Audiences have turned on both fan favorite shows and critical darlings for weak endings. On the other hand, some shows have stapled their place in TV history because they stuck the landing. Perhaps this is what made “The Leftovers” so compelling since it first came on the air. Some interested in the show, but chose not to watch because of Damon Lindelof’s history. Even for those watching the show, it seemed that the final verdict of the series hinged on the conclusion.
With the weight of the critical world on the ending, it’s exciting to report that Lindelof and company absolutely crushed the end of the critical darling. For the unaware, “The Leftovers” follows a group of people who live in a world where two percent of the world’s population disappeared without a trace. It’s a dark world, full of grief and suffering. For those who lose family members, there is simply no answer for what happened to them. In a world without closure, how does one come to grieve the loss of their family?
It’s in this world that Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) and Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) meet. Garvey divorces his wife, raises his daughter, and is estranged from his son. Durst lost her two children and husband in the Sudden Departure and is now left alone. Over the course of three seasons the two meet, fall in love, move across countries and continents. Kevin can’t die and makes frequent trips to the absurdist Purgatory. Nora takes advice from a former TV star to get into a machine that may vaporize her. The world’s gone a little crazy, but ultimately the two fought through the world together.
However, this changed in season 3. In the 4th episode of the season “G’Day Melbourne,” Nora and Kevin get in a fight that destroys their relationship. After a hotel fight pushes the two to confront the fact they are both broken people, they part ways just days before the 7th anniversary of the Sudden Departure. The world may end, and they knowingly split apart in an emotionally devasting scene.
This sets up the world for the finale, “The Book of Nora,” which follows Nora as she attempts to reunite with her children. We are alerted she may die if she goes through the procedure, or she may get transported to where those who departed have gone. Rather than see whether or not Nora is reunited with her children, we are time jumped 15 years into the future. We see the Nora from the premiere, hiding under a pseudonym and raising pigeons for weddings. Kevin finds her, and it’s clear the hotel is the last time they’ve spoken to each other. Kevin can’t seem to remember the past, and Nora goes to meet him at a wedding in town.
It’s about halfway through the episode that it is clear the show is not attempting anything big or world shaking in the finale. Rather than trying to satisfy the fan’s theories or give a flashy ending, it’s a quiet and emotionally powerful finale. It almost doesn’t matter what happened with those who departed, or even that Kevin and Nora still love each other. Instead, we get a series of small moments that add up to something emotionally powerful. The story was never about Kevin and Nora per se, but about people reaching for a connection. In the aftermath of trauma, we all reach for something or someone to hold on to. Regardless of whether or not you believe Nora’s story at the end is irrelevant. If you find someone to believe in, don’t waste the opportunity.
There’s no doubt that the show felt like it ran into a wall in the first 2 seasons, but that’s not entirely its fault. Frankly, it was not the show that HBO wanted to push as an awards candidate. The first season was a bust by most measures, and even those who defend are likely to admit it was not one of the 7 best Dramas on TV that year. Lindelof has admitted that he may have been too caught up in grief to realize how there is light in these moments. That’s what made season 2 so spectacular, where the show quickly became one of the best shows on TV. It absolutely deserved a seat at the table last year, but an early premiere (Fall) and “Game of Thrones” becoming a juggernaut made it hard for HBO to clear anything else.
This season is different in about a dozen ways that could make the show have a strong Emmy sendoff in its final season. First, the show is far more visible than year’s past. Emmy voters were already tuning into HBO for “Veep” and “Silicon Valley.” “The Leftovers” definitely gained some critical viewers. The late drop of the show also means that it will be the freshest show for Emmy voters other than maybe “House of Cards,” assuming they like that show.
Second, there’s no “Game of Thrones” this year. That in itself opens up a half dozen nominations in the acting categories, as well as ad money to pour into a “Leftovers” campaign. “Westworld” will eat into some of that budget. However, an emotionally rewarding and critically praised character drama is a much easier sell than a sci-fi epic. Yes, there are sci-fi elements in “The Leftovers” but the creativity is undeniable.
Last, but most importantly, its stars have higher visibility this year. Coon is also leading the newest season of “Fargo,” and is one of its breakout stars. With a crowded field for Actress in a limited series, it will actually be easier to nominate Coon’s performance as Nora. Last year’s winner of lead drama actress, Tatiana Maslany is not eligible this year. Depending on how voters enjoy “Homeland” this year, there may be another spot opening up. Coon’s double exposure should help.
Lindelof has also been hyper-visible in the best way. He’s been on podcasts for weeks, talking almost every episode of the show with someone. He’s been extremely humble through the process and pushed for audiences to check in on other shows in the process. Whether he’s complimenting “Master of None” or “Twin Peaks,” it’s a good look for Lindelof, who has come to a long way.
The show should get some love at the Emmys this time around. The key nominations that it should gun for are Actress for Coon, Actor for Theroux, and writing. If it can snag those 3, it would be hard for any voter to not bring it along in Best Drama. Christopher Eccleston should be in the conversation for supporting actor, and with 3 new spots to fill, he could make it. If they can swing it, the series should pick up spots in direction and other creative arts awards.
All in all, the “The Leftovers” is one of the greatest shows ever to run for only 3 seasons. It was a critical triumph, and an emotionally affecting one at that. No matter how you feel about the actual subject matter, the performances and teleplays were transcendent. Whether or not the Emmys embrace the series should not determine how this show feels in the decades to come. The work speaks for itself. Its innovation and creativity will make it essential to TV cannon for decades to come.