We're halfway through the first season of The Leftovers, and word around town is, some of y'all are pulling for your stop. And that's okay! From the start, The Leftovers has laid it on thick 'n' thorny, and by this point, both its shipjumpers (or, the Departed) and its adherents (or, the Leftovers) have plenty of good, sound, legitimate reasons to stick to their positions.
So, for the undecided (or the decided but curious) I've rounded up a handful of those good, sound, legitimate reasons from both camps. Take a gander, and make up your own mind.
Good, sound, legitimate reasons to stop watching:
It's grueling - Why did Breaking Bad, for all its black bile, never feel like this much of a chore? You could chalk it up to a better sense of humor, but I think it's because Breaking Bad was fundamentally reasonable. Its ongoing disaster made sense, like a sixteen car pileup: one bad thing begot another, and another. The cruelty on display in The Leftovers, both human and cosmic, is unreasonable to excess; it's easy to sympathize with Job, but it's hard to open your heart to a dozen of him.
Most worryingly, in the absence of anything to really center the story around but "people coping," all that thick-laid nastiness is starting to point towards the hella sophomoric creative writing workshop refrain of "the pointlessness is the point!" One anonymous stoning is affectingly sickening, but cram three in two episodes and it begins to just look like ugly wallpaper.
Really? 2%? - That's four people disappeared out of every 200 people during the Departure, and if it's still so straining your credulity that that few people disappearing could make everyone this goddamn miserable and bagel-wild and cult-inclined, buddy, I can't help you there.
Everyone's nasty - Somehow Lindelof found the meanest little hamlet in Small Town USA and he's milking that venom with gusto. It's exhausting. The mayor's mean to Chief Garvey, and he yells at her. He's harsh to his daughter, who dials up her "nothing's wrong but fuck you anyway" schtick because that's all she's got. Tommy's mean to Annie Q, Annie Q's mean to Tommy, and Wayne's clearly an asshole.
Reverend Jamison's kind, except when he's publicly defaming the Departed, and the Guilty Remnant are passively but relentlessly cruel to pretty much everybody. ATFEC is assholes, dog-pluggin' truck guy's an asshole, the rest of the police force are assholes. Does Mapleton just smell like hot piss and licorice all the time, and it's really getting to these people? Or as the wonderful John Mulaney puts it,"Why are you mean? Why is that part of it for you?"
"It's just like the dream!" - Hey, remember earlier in the episode, where a goofed-up guy with his dingus out hollers a prophetic dream with not-especially-vague imagery at the worst character? I sure do, because it was accompanied by a man's penis. You did enough to hammer this home, Lindelof, now please, get your prophecies out of my ruminative coping show.
Tommy Garvey - Stop yelling, you goober.
Who's this for? - So far, this is a white, white show, in a lot of senses. And, in the absence of any other coherent belief systems or attendant imagery, it's a relentlessly Protestant one, too; even the Guilty Remnant have Cold Stone Creamery'd up a sundae of very Christian shame and semi-nihilism. Which is fine, but isn't it disappointing that the enticingly universal scope of The Leftovers's premise actually amounts to a painfully narrow interrogation of the exact themes that a plurality of faiths and beliefs could tackle with fresh aplomb?
(That said, don't give me none of that ALL THE SYMBOLS OF ALL THE RELIGIONS bunko, Lindelof; you built six seasons of LOST around rebirth and redemption, you can't just hail mary at the last second like you've been Patty Pluralism this whole time. THEY'RE STILL IN A GODDAMN CHURCH.)
Teen stuff - There's some serious Go Ask Alice shit on display with these teens, whose inner lives seem to have the collective vibrance of a pair of old Nikes dangling off a powerline. Are they too busy wrestling with somehow being both in high school and their mid-20's (is it something in the milk?) to do anything but hoodrat shit with their friends, or are they just too stoned out of their gourds to articulate anything but teen mischief?
Good, sound, legitimate reasons to keep watching:
The music - Max Richter's score has consistently been one of my favorite aspects of the series, always haunting, often insistent, ethereal and earthly, buoying some of the show's most brutal and affecting moments. The featured music hasn't been slacking, neither, particularly the almost-too-well-deployed James Blake in the pilot (I don't want to call for a moratorium on James Blake in TV and movies, but using his music is almost cheating).
Ann Dowd - Over at Grantland, Andy Greenwald's beautifully elucidated the kind of bottled thunder Ann Dowd's corking as Patti, the Mapleton GR's fearless leader; I won't rehash his eloquence, except to add that she manages to bring out the best, performance-wise, in whoever's currently playing off her. I'd throw in a "wearing white after Labor Day" joke here, too, but the vortex winds of sheer mirth it'd kick up would full on blow up my laptop screen and shred my face with projectile glass, and my birthday's coming up.
Justin Theroux - He of the Liv Tyler-distracting bulge, the back tattoo, the perpetual blinky-eyed "whuzz goin' on?" scruffboy facial expression that he's somehow managing to rock, he who slaps toasters around and hollers and falls apart at the seams while really honestly trying to do his best and falling too short of it for me to say he's falling just short. Kevin Garvey's a thankless role – this is a man who's apparently perched atop on an infinite rug pile next to one of them pulling-out-from-under-you machines – but week after week, JT's been doing real work, playing KG's erosion with both the desperate energy and deep weariness it demands. PLUS, HE LOOK REAL GOOD MMM BABY DADDY'S HAVING BEEF TONIGHT.
This Nardwuar poster - I'm endlessly tickled by Jill Garvey's room, which prominently features a Mitch Clem-illustrated poster for The Evaporators, in turn featuring Nardwuar the Human Serviette, celebrity interviewer and the very goofiest dude in pop music. Just look at him: his goofball affect is diametrically opposed to Jill's infinite mopiness, making for a great addition to the "teen's room said teen clearly didn't decorate" trope. (A friend worries post-Departure this may be a world without Nardwuar; I say a world without Shaq and Nardwuar doesn't deserve to continue.)
The Twins - They're big puppies! Big ol' bouncy adorable puppies in a zippy little Prius! They're also pretty much the only element of the show that approaches any kind of comic relief. Cherish them!
Christopher Eccleston - It's a testament to the show's third episode, "Two Boats and a Helicopter," that it's responsible for one of my worst days in recent memory, and it's entirely the fault of Christopher Eccleston's Matt Jamison and his terrible haircut. We're meant to read this dude as Job – The Leftovers has strengths but subtlety of imagery is not among them – but there's Moses in him, too, acting with strength and conviction until inescapable human weakness has him lashing out at the world.
Eccleston's electric at the margins of the show, but in his feature episode, he's lightning, tempestuous and damaged, clinging to meaning in his suffering because otherwise it's just too great to bear. He also gives me hope for more episodes like his, semi-standalone vignettes giving individual in-depth features to the strong-across-the-board cast. Like how about an Aimee episode where she lolls around in crop tops, eats breakfast, and doodles "Mrs. Kevin Garvey" in her notebook over and over?
Franchise opportunities - Recent episodes have pulled back to reveal that the Guilty Remnant isn't isolated to Mapleton, and that cults in general are fungally blooming over these United States. The worldbuilding of The Leftovers has been spotty, with the big picture stuff slackening considerably after the pilot, but the escalating violence against the GR and ATFEC's potential involvement may open up a link between Mapleton and the rest of this cruddy new America.
Good people at their worst - There isn't an antihero in sight in The Leftovers, thank god. Not that I'm not craving some more of that sickly sweet Pizzolatto second-hand smoke, but, grueling as it is, there's something refreshing about The Leftovers focusing on ordinary people trying their best to keep on living. Leaving aside Annie Q's special destiny, which can fall in a damn ditch and stay there, there's no event horizon in sight for anyone beyond tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that. There's nothing firm for anyone to stand on but the quicksand of everyday life.
Nor is the world of The Leftovers so damaged that it doesn't essentially resemble our own, which is a way more interesting spot to interrogate morality, suffering, and despair from than, say, a lawless criminal underbelly or a postapocalyptic tabula rasa. So many shows focus on navigating systems with internal logic and loopholes (Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Scandal, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones); for the absence of any kind of binding structure, The Leftovers is messier. There's no endgame, not even the zero sum game of survival. There's just living and healing (and some cult stuff), and nobody's really doing a great job of it. That's a different kind of television than television tends to do, and whatever else it's doing wrong, it's at least got the right DNA in there somewhere.
[Images via HBO]