"The Leftovers" Pilot Review: Righting The Wrongs Of "Lost"
Damon Lindelof recently said, "If you were frustrated [by Lost], don't watch The Leftovers." As someone who absolutely hated the ending of Lost, I disagree with that statement, because The Leftovers is, at its core, nothing like Lost. However, I will say this: if you want to believe that fairy tales or happy endings (anything positive, really) exist in this world, then you might not want to watch The Leftovers.
But you would be missing out big-time, because the pilot was both bleak and beautiful. The show resists the temptation to brand itself a mystery in favor of being a character study, cultural commentary, and existential treatise. It's almost the anti-Lost; where Lost enticed viewers by promising answers and then failed to provide them, The Leftovers immediately makes it clear that the answer to the mystery is very much beside the point, thereby illustrating that life rarely provides satisfactory answers in the wake of a tragedy.
The pilot also offers an interesting view of human nature; the writers seem to be painting a portrait of humanity as animals who simply won't accept that they're animals, driven primarily by instinct. Similar to Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, the Rapture-like event at the center of the show forces the characters to face the meaninglessness of life head-on, and as a result they begin to degenerate into their most animalistic selves.
My only complaint after watching the pilot is the occasional heavy-handedness. The symbols tend to whack you over the head, and an overt allusion to The Stranger is unnecessary, especially since the show was doing a great job of evoking Camus' themes on its own. Both works take the stance that humans spend their lives vainly attempting to impose rationality, meaning, and order on an inherently absurd and pointless existence.
This theme is reinforced by their decision to call the day of remembrance "Heroes Day," even though, by all accounts, some of the Departed were truly terrible. But as the mayor says, "No one is going to come to 'We don't know what the fuck happened' Day." The mayor chooses a heroic departure, while the Remnant chooses a punishment for humanity's ills, but we get the feeling that neither one is completely true. There may not even be a truth to be found.
There is some particularly savvy writing in a scene in which two newscasters are arguing about the nature of the Departure. One argues that it was "God's will," while the other insists that science is king, and that anyone claiming the Departure was caused by anything metaphysical is trying to start their own cult. The religious newscaster points out that science can be its own cult, in which the followers worship at the altar of logic. Then the protagonist, an emotionally beaten-down sheriff, tells the bartender to turn the TV down. This scene illustrates that The Leftovers is more than a simple condemnation of the groupthink that comes along with cults like the Guilty Remnant. It's an examination of the futile attempts by the human psyche to explain the unexplainable.
Speaking of which, director Peter Berg recently revealed that he took inspiration from the national reaction to Newtown. In that context, the Guilty Remnant, particularly during their protest at Heroes Day, is clearly meant to be analogous to the Westboro Baptist Church. This timely and painful parallel only makes the show more resonant (not to mention harder to watch).
Don't let the Lost comparisons fool you: this is a great show that is worth your time and investment. Just have the tissues (and possibly sedatives) at the ready. We're in for a bumpy ride.