HBO’s The Leftovers is not concerned with answers. Maybe Lost — another Damon Lindelof show  –wasn’t either, instead taken over by fan obsessive speculation that answers became the most important thing, but The Leftovers is not concerned with answers. Three years prior, on October 14, 2% of the world’s population vanished without a trace. This is a story about the people left behind trying to make sense of a world without any answers.

This is not a happy story, either. More often than not, The Leftovers is bleak, philosophical, psychological, and compulsive. Through Lindelof’s writing and Peter Berg’s direction in the pilot, The Leftovers takes you through the stages of grief over and over again, quietly and then violently reminding you the world is not the same. The story — very much like its ensemble of fascinating characters — is repeating the same stages of grief as if it is a cycle. The world may still look like our world, but it doesn’t feel that way.

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For example, there is no visible massive destruction in its setting — the world is physically in tact — but every one of the myriad of compelling characters shows their scars. Centered on the same New York suburb as Tom Perrotta’s novel, Mapleton is coming to terms with the event the world’s named as “The Sudden Departure.” The town’s Chief of Police Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) is trying to keep the peace and keep his mind. On the home front, he wants a semblance of normalcy while his teenage daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) doesn’t see the point. Far west, Garvey’s distant son Tom (Chris Zylka) moved away from a conventional life toward a darker one when he’s hired by Holy Wayne (Paterson Joseph), an enigmatic cult-like leader.

Back at work in Mapleton, Garvey is wary of a mysterious stranger (Michael Gaston) and the growing mute cult, the Guilty Remnant. The show trusts its audience enough to watch even as they become more and more confused with the odd Guilty Remnant, whose members only wear white, chain smoke and refuse to speak. Guilty Remnant followers Laurie (Amy Brenneman) and Patti (Ann Dowd) harass Meg (Liv Tyler), a depressed bride-to-be. Other interesting figures include Reverend Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), a true believer committed to educating the town on what really happened; the town’s Mayor Lucy Warburton (Amanda Warren); a pair of cheerful teen twins (Max and Charlie Carver); and Nora (Carrie Coon), who works to give families departure settlement packages after her entire family disappeared. 

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With its strong characters, HBO’s The Leftover’s brilliantly captures the day-to-day feel of what living in this world would have done to people. Often, the show feels dreamlike, surreal in its imagery, but still authentic. The town teenagers play a sadomasochistic game of spin the bottle; some dogs have gone feral; the Guilty Remnants emerge to remind others of the forgotten, as if vanishing themselves in the process. It proves experimental, offering almost stand-alone pieces for the ensemble characters. This is the remnants of a post-apocalypse, one whose only real scars are psychological. And as soon as we too begin to forget the effects, the show violently takes us to bits and pieces of visceral memories. 

In an age where we are obsessed with “The End”, The Leftovers offers a different, much more compelling show. Quietly and fantastically, it’s about the remaining people trying to move past “The End”, if it’s at all possible. We will never get answers because the answers do not matter, the people do. Even the ones left behind.

The Leftovers premieres Sunday June 29 at 10pm on HBO.

(Image courtesy of HBO) 

Emily E. Steck

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV