I started watching "The Leftovers" again last week with plans to go through it more slowly than I did the first time, when I binged almost the entire series over Thanksgiving break last year (there are only 20 episodes, so this is no Olympics-level achievement, but still. It left scars.).
No TV show has disturbed me to the same degree or haunted me on the same level as this one, and the prospect of experiencing it again forces me to pull up all my nerve. It's a dark, dark show. "Bleak" is close to an understatement, and one I would also apply to "Battlestar Galactica," which is what it most reminds me of—both series dealing with the aftermath of apocalyptic events, one on a planet we recognize and one in an outer space filled with manmade killer robots—yet both are redeeming in much the same way. Both ask terrible questions about our past and our future that can only be answered with "humanity." What is the cause of all our suffering? What is the cure?
I don't actually believe the apocalypse is upon us, despite what seems lately like some pretty damning evidence to the contrary, and yet... I'm having trouble finding my footing these days. As someone who tends to overdramatize and internalize things and spends a lot of her time alone, I have a hard time shutting out the noise and the rage (and I'm not 100% sure that I should?), so I end up talking myself off existential ledges on an almost daily basis. Yet it's true, too, that I live inside a self-imposed, tremendously privileged filter bubble that makes it easy to turn away, to soothe myself with pretty platitudes about decent people with different views of the world ultimately finding common ground. That's a story I have to believe in order to get up out of bed every morning and go out into the world. That's a story I have to lean into just to face the day. But at some point I have to acknowledge it could also very well be a lie.
Author Tom Perrotta, who wrote the book that the season one of "The Leftovers" is based on, tags this explicitly in a post on the show's blog:
If you’re a contemporary middle-class American, you’ve lived your life in unparalleled comfort. Maybe without any religious faith at all. There’s a kind of inertia through your life. This story places characters in situations where they’re no longer able to have that comfortable passivity in terms of these questions. So it is a philosophical show in that sense, but these characters are living that philosophical question, not just pondering it.
I like pondering those situations, I guess, while trusting I'll never have to live them (although I might!). I also like the security that comes with watching a show that feels like a plausible dry run and raises questions I hope I never have to answer (pro tip: there is no answer!). But I find hope, too, in the way it bulldozes the life of every character yet leaves them the thinnest of threads to cling to, and the way they find their own faith not in mystics or religion or even nihilistic cults, but just by turning to each other and building a home.