Love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny the influence of Lost on today’s dense, quality rich TV landscape. ABC’s somewhat unquantifiable sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, action, horror ensemble phenomenon definitely broadened the horizons of what episodic TV could be and what audiences would actually watch and want to be a part of in the modern age, and opened the floodgates for prestige serialized entertainment to seriously dominate the pop culture landscape in a way that only feature films had managed to do before.
Of Lost’s main creative forces, creator JJ Abrams has of course moved onto bigger and better things in a galaxy far, far away, and executive producer Carlton Cuse has followed up disappointingly with Bates Motel and The Strain. However, showrunner and co-creator Damon Lindelof, with brief asides into film, joining Abrams on Star Trek Into Darkness and Ridley Scott on the criminally underrated and misunderstood Prometheus, has found his greatest success yet by remaining in Lost’s wheelhouse of expertly crafted televised mindfuck-ery, serving as co-creator, writer and producer on HBO’s The Leftovers.
2014’s inaugural season of The Leftovers introduced us to the fictional town of Mapleton, New York and how their citizenry dealt with a worldwide rapture-like event referred to as the “Sudden Departure”, which caused the inexplicable, simultaneous disappearance of 2% of the world’s population. Centering on Police Chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) and a cult called “The Guilty Remnant”, of which his estranged wife (Amy Brenneman) is a member, the first season was an often times troubling and devastating meditation on loss, depression and loneliness. Ending with the town in flames and at the hands of a largely suicidal Guilty Remnant, the show continuing past the initial set of episodes was a curious proposition, especially given how the first season was loosely adapted from Tom Perotta’s novel of the same name. But the first season’s quality was undeniable enough for HBO to grant Lindelof and Perotta a chance to continue on with these destitute characters and their doomed world.
Though the duo denied it in interviews, the second season is something of a soft reboot, following the Garveys, now joined by Kevin’s new girlfriend, fellow Mapleton resident and Departure victim Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) to their new home in Jarden, Texas, a town nicknamed “Miracle” and declared a National Park due to the fact that no one there had departed. The “Jarden of Eden” is not the paradise it seems though, with bristling tensions in the shanty town of lost souls denied entry within its borders and the verified populace governed by the vigilante justice of a “volunteer fire department” headed up by the Garveys’ new neighbor John Murphy (Kevin Carroll).
The real “Miracle” here is how The Leftovers has managed a tone and voice so consistent, while changing so much on the surface without having to resort to the “hard reboot” laziness of “anthology” series’ like American Horror Story and True Detective. Chief (no pun intended) amongst the reasons for the show’s continued excellence is the incredible central performance of Justin Theroux, here continuing to battle demons both within and without and displaying acting prowess on par with Homeland’s Claire Danes when it comes to a measured, realistic and respectful but utterly terrifying portrayal of mental illness at its socially unacceptable nadir. Though it still makes time for plenty of asides (including a Garvey-less first episode that establishes the setting and John Murphy and his family’s place in it, and another heartbreaking romp focusing of Christopher Eccleston’s perpetual sad sack preacher Matt Jamison), Theroux’s Kevin Garvey is the blackened heart and soul of the series, and he steps up to the challenge beautifully.
And that’s not to take anything away from the other acting performances in the series, which are brilliant across the board and help to flawlessly sell the rage and melancholy of this world left behind. Carrie Coon’s Nora continues to be the series’ grieving conscience, and she’s joined by Regina King as John’s wife Erika, another strong woman who must reluctantly stand beside a disturbed but ultimately noble man. Amy Brenneman gets much more to do here as her estrangement from the Remnant allows her to speak against their injustices, and Liv Tyler does career-best work filling the power vacuum of the murdered Patti Levin. Speaking of Patti, Ann Dowd returns to cloud Kevin’s troubled mind and is as delightfully hateful a villain as we’ve seen all year, on par with David Tenant’s deliciously despicable Kilgrave in Jessica Jones.
A third season has yet to be officially confirmed but I trust HBO to continue to invest in nihilistic, challenging and thought provoking television and not let such an important work fall by the wayside, as NBC did with Hannibal. I have no doubt that it will continue to be devastatingly captivating to see where the show goes from here and what new hurdles Lindelof and Perotta put their characters through, as the pervasive themes of hopelessness, isolation and withdrawal from season one only continue to intensify, even though the characters are arguably less “alone” than they were at the outset. Hell truly is other people.