Living After the End of the World

Review of "The Leftovers"

If, like me, you grew up in the evangelical culture of the 1990s, you heard about the Rapture an awful lot. Maybe you even read the Left Behind novels. All of it’s enough to make one wish to never hear the phrase “premillennial dispensation” ever again. But don’t let that baggage keep you from checking out The Leftovers, an affecting show about mystery and how one lives with it. In this show, the Rapture-like event is called the Sudden Departure. Two percent of the world’s population – 140 million people – vanish without trace or explanation. A different kind of show would have taken this setup and told a sprawling, globe-trotting story, but The Leftovers keeps a tight focus on a small town in upstate New York. The local sheriff deals with more mundane concerns, while also tracking the doings of the mysterious Guilty Remnant. Half cult, half therapy group, the Remnant believes that the Sudden Departure was the actual, literal end of the world, and everyone who’s left should accept their fate as the unwanted. They do not talk, they dress in white, and they constantly smoke, like a parody of monastic devotion. To make things worse, the sheriff’s estranged wife has joined their ranks.

Over the course of three seasons, a core group of characters try to get on with their lives, making meaning as best as they can out of the unsolvable mystery of the Departure. Cult leaders come into their own, a small town in Texas is the site of a religious awakening, and the sheriff may or may not be the subject of a new gospel. In its relentless drive to make sense out of situations where little is forthcoming, the show is a surprisingly adept depiction of the religious impulse to see one’s life as meaningful on a grand, cosmic scale. There are no easy jokes about the faithful getting duped. When believers meet with disappointment the show meets them with compassion.

  • Adam’s work has appeared in many venues, including the Paris Review Daily, Electric Literature and Real Life. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and two daughters.

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