In just two seasons, The Leftovers took dramatic storytelling in television to its furthermost boundaries before pushing it clean off the edge. The question now with the show’s third and final season is where will its characters–and the audience–land?
Based on Tom Perrotta’s novel, The Leftovers explores the vastness of faith and loss following the sudden disappearance of 2% of the world’s population. Season three picks up two weeks before the seventh anniversary of The Departure, a date many believe will bring about the end of days.
Mapping out the last season of any show is a daunting process, but given the emotional density and existential scope of The Leftovers, it stands as a particularly steep undertaking.
“I think seasons one and two were very much world building,” says Mimi Leder, executive producer and one of the show’s directors. “This one was far more challenging in that [co-creators Perrotta and Damon Lindelof] had to start at the end to know where to begin.”
Over the course of the series, Leder has not only directed the majority of the episodes, she’s also had a significant hand in shaping its voice and visual palette. Leder’s approach to a show like The Leftovers exists in somewhat of a paradox: being intimate on an epic scale, meaning keeping in focus the enormity of a supernatural phenomenon yet zooming in tight enough to see the finest cracks in a family’s foundation.
In directing season three’s premiere, Leder had to contend with seamlessly navigating through the past, present, and a future that could foreshadow an utterly mind-blowing finale.
Much like the first episode of season two, also directed by Leder, season three starts with an event tucked well back in history that has tangential meaning in the present. Season two saw a prehistoric woman die protecting her child in the same spot where that seasons’s principle action took place. Season three’s first episode opens with a crash course into the Millerism, a religious following founded by William Miller who predicted the Second Coming of Jesus would take place in the 1840s.
“I think it was a test to give up everything you had–the material things that meant so much and ultimately meant nothing. So they gave up everything and waited for the rapture–but then, of course, it doesn’t happen,” Leder says. “The Millerites are real precursor to our Guilty Remnant.”
The opening sequence was shot in Australia, where a sect of the Millerites existed and where all the main characters eventually wind up. In season two, Leder utilized the openness of a physical location–Texas–to let the action breathe, and the same goes for Australia in season three. For example, episode three, directed by Leder, is pretty much a love letter Australia’s outback with sweeping drone shots and a cinematographer’s eye for stunning landscapes.
“Coming to Australia brought an even greater cinematic scope to getting the right visual tone. You think you’re looking at nothing but in that nothingness there is everything,” Leder says. “The details of Australia’s landscape really spoke to us–the colors, the light. It was the perfect place to explore our belief systems.”
The Leftovers is the embodiment of the idea that the journey is more valuable than the destination. Lindelof has gone on record to say that the show’s biggest mystery (where did the departed go?) will most likely never be answered outright–but that was never the point. The Leftovers has always been a meditation on grief and the emotions and spirituality it leaves in its wake.
“This show has been felt deeply by the characters and by us as the makers in terms of opening our minds. The show has left me with great introspection into my own personal life, and I think that is a gift in itself,” Leder says. “Not everything will be answered but I think the search for the meaning of life and why we exist are all questions that if you knew the answers to, what would be the point? There will hopefully be some sort of closure in this season that we can all live with.”