Damon Lindelof is doing penance for Lost. That seems clear to me when I watch the Leftovers, which is filled with supernatural mysteries, unsolvable riddles, religious cults, and strange symbolism. But whereas Lost dragged on for six network seasons, 20-something episodes each, the Leftovers will end at the end of this one, its third, and just a few more episodes. The mysteries are being contained. Here, there is no island, but a mass disappearance of two percent of the world’s population, the central mystery of the Leftovers.
And there are more mysteries still, like why is Kevin Garvey alive? Justin Theroux, bearded now but still sporting enough fake-tanner to rival Trump, is great as Kevin Garvey, the town’s sheriff. He’s still living in the miraculous town, Jarden, Texas, and he can’t be killed. He’s been shot, poisoned, and drowned, and he rises from the dead, good as new. We see him, alone, after his wife Nora goes for a bike ride, take a plastic bag from the closet, put it over his head and duct tape his neck, and watch as he stops breathing. Nevertheless, he walks out of the house a few minutes later, freshly showered and ready for the day. Nothing like dying in the morning!
There can only be one answer: he must the savior. He’s got that great beard now. The religious zealots—the preacher, Matt, his murderous neighbor, John, and John’s son, all think Kevin is the third coming, and they’ve written a new New Testament to tell Kevin’s story. Good thing the savior has turned up, since another event is coming in 13 days, perhaps this time everyone will disappear. Is it the end of the world as we know it? The Guilty Remnant went up in flames in the standoff in Jarden at the end of season 2 (in the show’s timeline, three years ago), and they aren’t around to smoke and glare. But there are activists to call bullshit on the religious cultists in Jarden, and they tell the real story that the GR were taken out by a missile.
The town has rebuilt, and there are still hucksters in the square, still people who come and buy little bottles of the holy water. Tommy is back and is also a cop; Laurie and John are now a couple—she helps him lie to people getting psychic readings by sitting upstairs on a computer and looking up information on their Facebook page and telling John what to say in a headset. Kevin’s daughter, Jill, has left the GR and has come around, even hanging out with both parents, and Mary has woken from her coma and is being used by Matt as a prop during his sermons. (A barren lady that woke up from a coma and had a baby is a pretty good prop, if you ask me). But like anything that looks hunky dory from afar, nothing in MiracleLand is what it seems. Mary is planning an escape (Matt won’t let her leave town because he thinks she will die if she leaves Jarden) and there’s something off about Nora, who seems preoccupied.
The episode, already filled with foreboding images and eerie plot developments—Kevin’s old nighttime canine hunting partner has returned from New York with an unbelievable, yet somehow totally plausible message—is even more confounding when you take the cold open and the closing sequence together. The former features a religious family during what looks like the 1800s who wait to be saved (i.e. killed), being sent dates via doves or pigeons, and are humiliated by the town when they are still alive and well in the morning; in the end sequence, a dove keeper, is revealed to be Nora in the distant future. (Or, it looks like the future, but since it’s Lindelof, you never know; he’s a fan of time traveling plot devices.)
The end of Lost infuriated the faithful because the central mystery—what is the Island?—was never properly explained, and because it seemed like basically the characters were in purgatory the entire time, a cop-out on the level of Dallas’s “It’’s just a dream.” But in a way, it doesn’t matter if nothing is explained in the Leftovers. The point of it isn’t logic, or reality, but surrealism. The Leftovers is a Dali painting dripping on your television screen—warped and glorious.