We all know that it would be difficult if we were Left Behind. The Rapture, when God's chosen are spirited away in the blink of an eye, would be pretty jarring for anyone with feet still planted on terra firma. Jarring, devastating and probably really confusing, too.
"I get the Pope," says a bartender in The Leftovers. "But Gary f‑‑‑ing Busey? How does he make the cut?"
HBO's maybe-maybe-not-supernatural mystery drama gives viewers a world wrapped in grief and uncertainty. It tells us that on Oct. 14, three years ago, 2% of the world simply went poof. No one knows where they went or why or if they're ever coming back. And while losing that small fraction of the global population is statistically small—140 million out of 7 billion wouldn't even make a dent in restroom lines—everyone left is deeply impacted by the sudden disappearances. Some grieve for lost loved ones. But even those who aren't staring at an empty spot at the dinner table are still scarred.
Take Kevin Garvey, chief of police for the small hamlet of Mapleton. He took over the position from his father, who snapped when it happened, running through the streets naked. Kevin's wife, Laurie, dealt with the disappearance in a different way: She joined a cult whose members never speak, dress all in white and smoke constantly. ("We don't smoke for enjoyment," a sign reads in one of the commune's houses. "We smoke to proclaim our faith.") Her departure left Kevin overwhelmed and in charge of their two teenage kids. And there are problems for Kevin there, too. Son Tom has now joined his own mysterious cult, and daughter Jill spends her time lashing out at this unfair world like a confused, wounded animal.
Maybe we can understand that. Scientist are telling these "Leftovers" that the mass exodus is devoid of both explanation and meaning. Traditional religion argues there is meaning here—namely that, as the bartender says, those left behind didn't quite make the cut. That makes these remainders either helpless victims to a cosmic glitch or damned bystanders to a heavenly miracle. But they must all live on, somehow, dealing with the pain and guilt, the perplexity and loneliness. They get up every day and pantomime life ... all the while wondering whether they should.
"Hey, we're still here," Kevin tells a woman, raising a beer bottle in toast.
"We sure are," the woman answers, clearly wishing she wasn't.
The world, burdened by what appears to be the biggest mystery of all time, seems at the brink of ripping apart—and is collectively acting out as a result. The Leftovers, in an effort to avoid the big questions or merely salve the pain, turn to whatever earthly comforts are available to them: sex, drugs and violence, primarily, all of which are on graphic display; obscene language is as bad as I've heard on television. Mapleton, and maybe the rest of the world too, seems like a bomb on a timer—and with each new day we see little explosions that could be leading to a great big boom.
Co-created by Lost maestro Damon Lindelof and novelist/screenwriter Tom Perrotta (who published his novel on which the series is based in 2011), this show explores a deeply intriguing premise that sends it careening from faith to obsession to science. But The Leftovers, like the world it shows us, is strange, mysterious and incredibly problematic. Mapleton is a sick, sad place, with all its messy symptoms recorded and then vomited up.
People speculate whether there's a spiritual component to the big disappearing act. A scientist says no, "God sat this one out." So now, three years later, Kevin and the mayor fight over how to handle the town's affairs. He tries unsuccessfully (and violently) to get his wife to come back home, and his son to call him back. Cultists stage a protest during "Heroes Day," when the missing are honored in Mapleton, their presence touching off a riot where folks are beaten, some severely. (We see lots of blood.) Jill intentionally smacks another girl in the face with her elbow, bloodying her nose. She and a friend pantomime suicide. Several dogs are gunned down; they tear apart a deer.
During a spin-the-smartphone game at a high school party, a guy lives up to a dare by allowing someone to burn his arm with a scorching-hot fork. When the phone flashes the prompt "choke," Jill (after stripping down to her underwear) proceeds to clamp down on a guy's throat to keep him from breathing while he masturbates. Also at the party, we see a guy give oral sex to a girl. Someone snorts coke off a girl's stomach. Elsewhere, Kevin is seen having sex with a woman. We see nudity and graphic sexual movements/sounds at various times throughout the episode.
The cultists smoke constantly. Kevin gets drunk and then drives. Jill and a girlfriend get high with a shared marijuana joint. All unbleeped, the f-word is spit out nearly 30 times, the s-word 15 or so times and the c-word four times. We also hear "h‑‑‑," "d‑‑n," "d‑‑k" and "a‑‑." Jesus' name is repeatedly abused, as is God's (most of the time with "d‑‑n").