My name is Caleb Luther and I’ve been reviewing film, music, and television on the internet since 2011.
In 2017, I began my journey into The Leftovers. I never watched the show as it was airing, which to this day I still regret. However, I'd like to think I've made up for that by watching the entire series more than a handful of times and literally telling everyone I care about that they should also partake in this magical series. This show makes me feel such a complex range of emotions and sometimes I don't totally understand everything, yet everything completely works.
The show often feels like therapy for grief or depression, but don't let that prevent you from watching. The story is so well written, as well as the characters, that you get sucked into this strange little world filled with people who are convinced that they're making sense. The real question is "do these people actually make sense?" It's a complex question to answer, similar to the themes of the show. I respect this show so much for perfecting the crossover of symbolism and entertainment. Everything isn't quite so artsy to the point of frustration, but the show isn't scared of thinking outside the box. Basically, this show crushed my soul while breathing life into me, which is something I can't say about any other show. I didn't want it to end, but it absolutely had to.
So if you're reading this without watching the show, I urge you to watch it to witness this beautiful nightmare/daydream. If you have seen it, strap in for what I feel like are the 10 greatest episodes of the series.
10. Two Boats & a Helicopter
I often tell people that it takes at least three episodes before you can get into The Leftovers. "Two Boats and a Helicopter" is that third episode and man, it's a doozy. This is the first episode that we actually get to see Matt Jamison as something other than a background character. Within an hour, we fully know who this character is and how his mind works.
While he is indeed a man of faith, that doesn't make him any less flawed than the rest of them. He believes in his mission, which is creating flyers showcasing some of the more despicable people who departed when 2% of the world's population vanished. He does this to show that this random blip in the system could not have been the rapture. From there on, pure chaos ensues. The episode is also not short on visceral moments, especially during a nightmare sequence where we see everything from Matt being diagnosed with cancer at a young age to watching his parents burn alive in their home while his younger sister Nora stands with him.
Matt gets put through the ringer here in an exciting and emotionally exhausting episode that I find to be the first truly great episode of the series.
9. The Garveys at Their Best
I've heard of a lot of people giving up on The Leftovers sometime during season 1. While I understand the frustrations of watching such a bleak and ambiguous show, I found the show to have overall rewarding payoffs.
In "The Garvey's at Their Best", we get a look at all of the characters shortly before the departure happened on October 14, 2011. The placement of this episode can initially feel a bit frustrating, considering that Patti Levin had just killed herself at the end of the previous episode, but to me, this flashback further develops our characters and shows how they all ended up so miserable in the present time. Most importantly, we get to see the Garvey's function as a "happy" family. On the surface, they appear to be the textbook example of a solid family, but at the core, they're slowly falling apart, especially Kevin and Laurie's marriage. On the opposite end of that, we're delighted by yet another seemingly happy family, the Durst's. As we all know, the departure effects these two families in different ways. Nora loses everyone while none of the Garvey's depart, but the family ultimately falls apart.
If anything, it's just an absolutely chilling moment when the departure happens at the end of the episode and we see all of the characters react to this unprecedented event.
8. The Book of Kevin
This season 3 premiere sets up the final season in an unexpected, exciting and thought provoking manner. The episode begins in Puritan times with a family devoted to a church pastor who keeps trying to predict the end of the world. The song "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" covered by Good News Circle is used during this, adding an eeriness to the gorgeous and visually striking cinematography. Shortly after, we're back in the present, but three years after season 2 ended.
News of Kevin coming back to life twice has made its way to Matt Jamison, who begins working on a sort of sequel to the Bible. While it does seem crazy to work on such a book, none of it is necessarily false. Aside from that, Kevin is visited by his old dog shooting friend from season 1 who is now convinced that dogs are evolving into humans. It's initially a pretty silly side story, but ultimately transforms into a terrifying shootout by the end. If anything, "The Book of Kevin" sets up the tone for the remainder of the season, capitalizing on themes we've seen from past seasons while adding some fresh new obstacles into the mix.
7. I Live Here Now
"I Live Here Now" ends a nearly flawless season 2 by paying off several things in the most Leftovers way imaginable. Mary wakes up from her vegetative state, Evie and her friends reveal to everyone in Jarden that they have been a part of the Guilty Remnant all along, and Kevin comes back from the dead...again.
What happens in the final third of the episode is pure chaos, but in the best possible way. The sequences showing this otherwise holy town of Jarden essentially on fire are gripping and cinematic, sort of mirroring the season 1 finale. In the midst of this, one of my favorite things to ever happen on The Leftovers occurs. Kevin is in "purgatory" yet again, but this time in order to leave, he has to sing karaoke. It initially begins as something silly, but shortly turns into an emotional powerhouse of a scene. Having to sing "Homeward Bound" by Simon & Garfunkel, Justin Theroux manages to deliver a magnificent range of emotions. Not to mention the brief moments between Kevin Garvey and John Murphy at the end of the episode are powerful and poignant, showing the character of John Murphy change before our eyes. To add to that, the episode ends on a shot that could have easily passed as a series finale shot. Luckily, we got eight more incredible episodes.
6. The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)
The penultimate episode of The Leftovers features Kevin's final venture in this purgatory world that we've seen him in twice before. In arguably one of the funniest episodes of the show, we're greeted with tons of cameos from characters that have passed away throughout the series. Most notably, Patti Levin and Meg Abbott make their final appearances on the show.
In typical Leftovers fashion, the episode quickly goes from goofy to emotional pretty quick. Also, I don't think this was ever talked about in the series, but a part of me thinks that Kevin went into this world one last time to see if Nora had died and went there. It's just a theory, but I'm sticking to it for now. The final shot between Kevin and Patti holding hands as the city around them is being bombed is simply beautiful, paying homage to the ending of Fight Club. If anything, this is one of my favorite episodes for the simple fact that through almost nonstop turmoil and depression, it feels good to have an exceptionally fun episode such as this.
5. The Prodigal Son Returns
As a season 1 finale, "The Prodigal Son Returns" doesn't answer every question you've been looking for. What it does instead is payoff small things while adding to the chaos of the overall big picture. It's also easily one of the creepiest episodes of The Leftovers, from the opening moments of Jill joining her mom in the Guilty Remnant, to the reveal that lifelike dummies have replaced everyone in Mapleton that had previously departed. The moment in which Nora sees her family as dummies sitting at the kitchen table is particularly bone chilling.
Honestly, this episode is just oozing with powerful moments. After Kevin buries Patti Levin's body with the help of Matt Jamison, he quickly sees that the town of Mapleton is essentially on fire. If we're talking about goose bump inducing scenes, the slow motion and musical score used while Kevin rescues Jill from the house fire she's in has to be one of the top Leftovers moments. In a sometimes frustrating opening season, The Leftovers paid off just enough things in this finale while never letting up on the overall intensity and emotion that made the show memorable to begin with.
4. Axis Mundi
"Axis Mundi" is such a daring way to kick off season 2 of The Leftovers. If starting off the episode in prehistoric times wasn't enough, once we move to modern times, we're following a family that we have never seen before. Here's where patience works beautifully for this show. It's important to allow things to play out the right way.
Somewhere in the second act of the episode, things start to come together. By then, we've got a good feel for this new family while past things are slowly being brought back into the mix. It's an experiment that pays off beautifully, especially when you look at the entirety of season 2.
By the end of the episode, a major mystery comes into the surface that effects every episode that comes after it. Of course, The Leftovers doesn't approach mysteries like every other show, but it undoubtedly pulls the audience in and keeps them hooked through the all the weird and wild things that occur after.
"Certified" is quite possibly the most bittersweet episode of The Leftovers. Laurie finds herself being somewhat of a therapist to Nora as Nora decides if she wants to go through with her plan or not. Her plan of course being the opportunity to join her family that departed several years ago.
The structure of this episode is brilliant, approaching the story telling in a non-linear fashion. This allows the audience to see both ends of what Laurie is doing. We are approaching the end of a lot of these characters stories, so in that sense, it feels particularly heavy.
If you hadn't watched the series finale, you'd almost assume that Laurie kills herself while scuba diving at the end of this episode. All the signs point to it, from the foreshadowing earlier when Nora talks about scuba diving to the cryptic and chilling closing credits where all we can hear is the sound of the ocean. This moment feels particularly powerful because just moments before, Laurie receives a call from her daughter Jill where Jill exclaims that she loves her. It's moments like these that never cease to make me a weeping mess. Luckily, Laurie didn't kill herself as we find out two episodes later. Still, "Certified" is a powerful step into the final chapters of The Leftovers.
2. International Assassin
"International Assassin" is easily the biggest game changing episode in The Leftovers. The show had established itself as a pretty out there series prior to this, dabbling in several unexplainable events, but all those moments pale in comparison to "International Assassin".
The risk of killing your main character and having him go to purgatory to be an international assassin sounds like a completely asinine concept on paper, but The Leftovers pulls this off in an unpredictable and fascinating way. Kevin of course goes to this other world to try and defeat Patti Levin who has essentially been haunting him for an entire season.
Similar to the other purgatory episode in season 3, "International Assassin" is filled with tons of dark humor and outrageous moments. In order to defeat Patti, Kevin will have to push the kid version of her down a well. These moments are both shocking and powerful, providing even more depth to the character of Patti even in the afterlife. Ultimately, this was easily the biggest risk that show managed to pull off, but man, was it ever so rewarding.
1. The Book of Nora
As cliche as it may sound, the series finale of The Leftovers, "The Book of Nora", is as perfect an ending as one could hope for. The episode begins with Nora saying her goodbyes to her terminally ill brother Matt as she's on the brink of going through with crossing over to where the departed people are. The final moments between her and Matt are arguably the saddest moments of the series, really feeling like the end of a character that we've grown to love in Matt.
Yet another huge risk is taken soon after, jumping ahead several years into the future where we follow Nora in Australia who now goes by the name Sarah. Kevin Garvey stumbles into Australia as well, but when he finds Nora, he acts like they never had a romantic relationship. Instead, he states that the only time they ever spoke were the couple of times back in Mapleton. As we all know by now, Kevin was lying. He did this because once he found Nora after all these years, he had no clue what to say to her, so he ultimately comes up with a ridiculous lie that just couldn't last. This parallels perfectly with Nora's story by the end. She tells Kevin that she did indeed crossover to the place where all the departed people went to where she saw her family who almost seemed unrecognizable. Deciding that she'd prefer not to stay, she then tells Kevin that she found a scientist there who created a device that could send her back to our world.
It's been a highly debated talking point if Nora even crossed over or not. I believe that she had the people stop the machine at the very beginning of the episode, then just stayed in Australia under a different name to avoid everyone she knows. In this sense, there are dueling lies taking place here between Kevin's lie and Nora's lie. The difference (for me at least) is that Nora needs this lie. To Kevin, it doesn't matter either way. He's just happy to see the woman that he fell in love with all those years ago. When she asks if he believes her, he replies "Why wouldn't I believe you? You're here." This alone is enough for both of them. This beautiful and powerful moment is the last thing we see in The Leftovers. These two broken people find their way back to each other in arguably one of the most unique and touching love stories ever written.