HBO 'Leftovers' ends with many questions unanswered

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Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television

There are numerous things left behind in the first season of the new HBO series “The Leftovers,” most of which remain unclaimed.
Babies, marriages and even pets are abandoned as the characters of this show act erratically in response to a discomforting conundrum that enshrouds their world.

The entire premise of the show revolves around a mysterious event referred to as the “Sudden Departure,” where 2 percent of the world’s population completely vanished in a Rapture-like fashion.

Neither religion nor science can solve the mystery, and so the remaining inhabitants of Earth are left searching for answers to questions they’re too afraid to ask. Some characters turn to drugs, while others form fanatic cults, but there is an underlying observation that not one person has been unscathed by the “Sudden Departure.”

With all the hype surrounding this cataclysmic event, the viewer may be disappointed to see that the show actually begins three years after the “Sudden Departure” has happened. Similar to how the world’s population was abruptly left with a gaping hole, the viewers must fill in the blanks of the post-departure lives of the town of Mapleton.

It is a community anxious to move beyond the ambiguous phenomenon that took so many of its residents. But there are those who do not wish to forget: A tribe of chain-smoking, cult-like followers named the “Guilty Remnant” are on a mission to force Mapleton to remember the departure by haunting residents with their eerie, silent presence on street corners and sidewalks.

The narrative style of the show is non-linear — the writers disperse clues randomly throughout the season so viewers stay engaged with solving the enigma. The irony is that the show is a puzzle without all of its pieces.

At times it may feel like you’ve stumbled into the surrealist mind of David Lynch, but then the show draws you back in with a bucket full of raw, earnest emotion. This unstable pattern of oscillation could easily spell doom, much like how the series “Lost” left fans confused and unsatisfied.

Patience is the virtue viewers must possess if they wish to commit to this unsettling drama. In any given episode, it may feel like little action has occurred, but unspoken conflict bubbles under the surface, waiting to ignite.

The season one finale episode, “The Prodigal Son Returns,” is the fuse that finally unleashes the frustration Mapleton’s residents have been suppressing since the “Sudden Departure.” The entire town descends into chaos as housewives wield guns, neighbors turn on each other with lead pipes and a cul-de-sac of houses goes up in flames.

This is a sharp contrast to the homely, All-American small-town image we first see Mapleton as in the pilot episode. Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, the creators of the show, are clever to juxtapose the beginning and the end of the season dramatically. It lets the viewer go back and trace the slow decay of this seemingly-functional town.

Visual paradoxes are rampant throughout this first season as Lindelof and Perrotta use emotional symbolism to communicate what the characters are too intimidated to say out loud. The first image seen in “The Prodigal Son Returns” is an aerial shot of a woman’s dead body. She is dressed in an all-white jumpsuit, and her outfit is saturated with the bloody crimson that is still spilling from her slit throat. The camera slowly pans, spiralling upwards, so the viewer sees the obvious color contrast between the white and the red. It’s a sign that Mapleton will never recover the innocence it lost after the “Sudden Departure,” no matter how hard it tries to bleach the stain with artificial parades and picnics.

After every storm, there is the dawn of a new day. The last episode offers a glimmer of hope for the town of Mapleton as characters start to find the pieces to reconstruct the normalcy that existed before the departure.

HBO has already renewed “The Leftovers” for a second season, but with the slow pace the series is moving in, viewers shouldn’t expect to find out any time soon where the departed have gone.

—Follow Kevin C. Reagan @KevinReaganUA


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