Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta Talk Prophets and World Building

Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, co-creators of The Leftovers. 

Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, co-creators of The Leftovers

The series creators discuss establishing the post-Departure world, the appeal of new leadership, and Kevin Garvey's multiple missions.

HBO: Is there a way for fans to understand what’s going on with Holy Wayne?

Damon Lindelof: The Holy Wayne that we’re presenting in the show is slightly different than that of the book. I think we should be asking questions like: "What does the world at large know about Holy Wayne?" Or "Is he just another dude with a ranch and a plan?" I will say that the beginning of the second episode does give us some very necessary context about who this guy is and what he thinks that he can do. One of the things that really interests us as storytellers, in the wake of an event like the Departure, is the rise of prophets. You wouldn’t be able to tell the real ones from the fake ones. The Guilty Remnant, in their own way, is similar. They’re not necessarily a prophet-based cult or religion, but they’re following this woman, Patti Levin, who’s telling them what to do. She’s like, “You’re not allowed to talk, but I’m allowed to talk. And we’re gonna smoke cigarettes." But you don’t know if she answers to anyone, if there are other Guilty Remnant chapters out there.

HBO: The premiere is loaded with details like the Chef Anomaly and the Brandenburg Carousel. Do you want fans to try to figure out the meaning of those things?

Damon Lindelof: In order to have those two words, "Brandenburg Carousel," appear in the Denziger Commission Report, we had to have a conversation in the writers’ room about what exactly the Brandenburg Carousel was. It’s not our place outside the show to explain it to you, but it may come up again. It may not come up again. And the audience may theorize – what is the Chef Anomaly? what is the Brandenburg Carousel? – and have those conversations. I believe that the audience is intelligent enough to guess what the Brandenburg Carousel is without us defining it for them. They can guess what the Chef Anomaly is without us having to tell them because a scientist is sitting in front of a senator, saying, “We can’t explain these things.” It’s as simple as...in the context of 2 percent of the world disappearing, what do you think the Brandenburg Carousel is? What do you think the Chef Anomaly is?

Tom Perrotta: It’s part of what we call “world building,” in the course of setting up the show. It felt to us that certain phrases would attach magnetically to the Sudden Departure. It makes those news reports feel realer and fuller. It’s like how, in the show, there’s a little charge anytime anyone says “the 14th.” Everyone just knows what that is.

HBO: Another mysterious character, at this point, is the man with the rifle and truck. What’s going on with him?

Damon Lindelof: He’s purposefully both mysterious and completely and totally unmysterious. The show wants to present him as just a wandering stranger who’s taken it upon himself to rid the town of a very real problem, which on one level, is feral dogs. But there also seems to be some sort of existential purpose behind him.

Tom Perrotta: I’d add to that: What is this man's relationship to Kevin? That’s an important question for us, and we’ll watch Kevin struggle with that. Again, this is the beginning of something that’s going to be explored in depth over the course of the show. Episode 1 will generate these questions, but it’s not like we’re irresponsible writers who aren’t going to deal with them.

Damon Lindelof: Most importantly, every character on the show should be questioned: How is this individual coping with the Departure? What is their coping mechanism? That’s the question that should be asked, versus "Who is he?" and "What’s his agenda?" But if that’s the road viewers want to go down, I don’t want to stop them.

HBO: Speaking of Kevin’s struggle, how would you define it?

Tom Perrotta: To me, Kevin is somebody who’s trying to guard and uphold the social order that exists, which is under threat. So there’s that overt mission. The subterranean mission is whether he’s going to go crazy doing it because the stresses on him are enormous. Can Kevin preserve the order of the town and remain sane while doing it are the through lines of the show.

HBO: Do you want people to try to figure out what caused the Sudden Departure?

Damon Lindelof: I can’t deny that the hook of the book is the idea that this huge event occurred. But the story that we’re telling doesn't seem to feature anyone trying to figure that out. It’s not that they don’t care. It would be the same as you or I saying, “We are going to find out what happens when you die. That’s what we’re going to commit the rest of our lives to." I can tell you right now that if you and I put together a team of the greatest scientists in the world, the greatest religious experts in the world, and the greatest mediums in the world, when you and I reached the moment of our death, we would still not be sure 100 percent that we had come to that conclusion.

Tom Perrotta: If we’re doing it right, fans will be asking the same questions that we should be asking, but they’re asking them with much more urgency than we do. 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.  

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