Most of our lives are pretty conventional. We drive to work in the mornings, do our jobs, try to watch our weight, and behave in reasonably appropriate ways in social settings. If we are going to venture beyond that conventional world, we’re probably going to have to do it through the TV set.
This is why Kish and I are now watching The Leftovers on HBO: because everyone should watch a TV show that causes them, at regular intervals, to think “What the hell . . . .?” I loved Twin Peaks — which I would nominate as the single most bizarre TV show ever broadcast on a mainstream network — so this kind of stuff is right up my alley.
The context of The Leftovers is simple. Three years ago two percent of the world’s population mysteriously vanished, and now the leftovers are trying to deal with it. I think it’s fair to say that most of them aren’t dealing with it very well, including the chronically unshaven town police chief who is the central character. His wife has joined a cult, his son is protecting a woman apparently impregnated by a messiah-like figure, and his daughter has gone rogue.
Social order seems to be on the verge of totally breaking down. Attendance at conventional churches has plummeted. Lots of cults have since sprung up, including the Guilty Remnant, a white-clothed, chain-smoking, non-talking group that engages in civil disobedience tactics and clashes with townspeople who just want to move on. One of the signs in the GR enclave says rather, than “let us pray,” “let us smoke.” Why do they smoke so much? Is it because they just don’t care if they die horrible, cancer-caused deaths? Is it because they think breathing and talking are interfering with recognition of what is really happening? We don’t know, but we hope to find out. Watching the show is like slowly peeling back the layers of an onion.
Each episode, inevitably, some oddball incident occurs that makes you wonder whether any of what we are seeing is reality, rather than the fevered dream of a person in a coma. A mystical deer trashes a kitchen, then gets chased and devoured by a pack of now-feral dogs on a quiet suburban street. White shirts mysteriously go missing. A car suddenly stops its standard operation. And then there are deeply disturbing scenes, such as a brutal stoning of a member of the GR. Oh, and there is a governmental agency that deals with the cults that seems to exist mostly to dispose of the bodies of cult members who have been killed by the rest of us. All of this is presented through deep symbolism that I can’t begin to appreciate or even describe.
When Sunday night rolls around, Kish and I are primed for our bracing dip into the cold world of existential, left-behind weirdness. After watching The Leftovers, we’re ready for just about anything our conventional, everyday worlds might throw at us.