When 140 million people around the globe – two percent of the world’s population – suddenly disappear off the face of the planet in The Leftovers, not only are the characters left wondering what the heck is going on – we, the viewers, are too.
Questions abound: Was it the Rapture? Maybe aliens? Perhaps some secret, quantum physics, off-book government experiment gone awry?
With the series only four episodes deep, the answer to what happened is still way up in the air. Nonetheless, though, courtesy of the townsfolk of Mapleton, The Leftovers has given viewers some pretty intriguing reveals to help solve the mystery. Here are the seven disclosures I’m finding most intriguing so far. (Fair warning: Spoilers below!)
1. The Government Knows Nothing
When tasked with figuring out what happened, scientific experts told the government: “[We] don’t know.” It’s not surprising, then, that those receiving insurance benefits for departed family members are forced to answer more than 150 questions in what we can only assume is an attempt to find common traits or links between those who disappeared. With mankind’s technological and scientific acumen at its apex, the notion that the best and brightest do not have a single circumstantial piece of evidence to propose some kind of theory on what happened is mystifying.
Resulting Mystery: If what happened was beyond the scope of current scientific understanding, then what could it have been?
2. The Dogs Aren’t Ours Anymore
When Chief Kevin Garvey witnesses a strange man shoot down a dog in the middle of the street for no apparent reason (that we know of) within the first five minutes of The Leftovers pilot, it was clear that we were in for a strange ride. The fact that no one can find this man and he drives the same truck as Garvey himself – or that he manages to convince Garvey that all the dogs need to be shot – because “they are not our dogs…not anymore” – only leaves us questioning Garvey’s sanity.
It’s only when the Carver twins confirm that after the Departure the dogs who witnessed it started behaving abnormally that we finally get insight that something is indeed wrong with the dogs. Whatever happened three years ago did more than simply remove 140 million people – it changed the nature of man’s best friend, reverting them to a primal, pack-hunter state.
Resulting Mystery: If the dogs are not ours anymore, if we’ve lost dominion over them, then whose are they?
3. Sin Is In
A prominent theme in The Leftovers is an overall societal shift away from traditional virtues and toward more sinful behaviors and beliefs. The youth in particular – with their party games of self-harm, casual (and often random) sex partners, and excessive drug use – paint a picture of a generation unrestrained by traditional boundaries of right and wrong. Even the adults seem unrestrained by any strict code of morality. When Kevin Garvey tosses baby Jesus out of his truck window to be left in the ditch – or the fact that his daughter stole the baby Jesus figure to begin with – we bear witness to how little reverence both adults and the youth show to traditional religious figures and beliefs. What’s thought provoking is that while sin is in, no one seems to be very happy. In fact the opposite, everyone seems to be wallowing in varying degrees of despair.
Resulting Mystery: Like all circumstances of narcissistic self-indulgence, how long can it go on before there is a hefty price to be paid?
4. Like Father Like Son
Chief Garvey has a tough job running the police department – a job that use to belong to his father, Garvey Sr., until he started hearing voices and ended up in a facility sometime after the Sudden Departure. We sympathize with Garvey Jr. when he starts to question his own sanity and whether he also may be seeing things. When he visits his father, he encounters what appears to be a mini-psychosis where Garvey Sr. seems to be talking to someone who is not in the room but who has a message for his son: “They are sending someone to help you.”
The tangential connection between father and son – from experiencing similar symptoms to the latter replacing the former as Chief – makes us wonder if what’s happening in The Leftovers is more than just some a random, self-contained event that is now over. Rather, could there be a pattern or purpose to everything that is transpiring, impacting individuals left behind in ways specific to their own life stories?
Resulting mystery: Perhaps the disappearing had, and has, as much to do with those left behind as those who disappeared?
5. Holy Wayne, Feel No Pain
While The Leftovers is perplexing (in a good way), perhaps nothing is more puzzling than Holy Wayne. Wayne is some sort of messianic cult leader who can cast out the emotional pain of anyone he hugs (not to mention he can also prophesize the future through communicating with his Departed son). Yet Wayne is no Care Bear. The FBI wants him for the statutory rape of teenage girls, presumably many of whom are (or were) his cult followers. Wrapped up in Wayne’s cult is Kevin Garvey’s son, Tom, who has been tasked to protect Christine, a girl carrying Wayne’s unborn child. Wayne asserts that Christine is more important to mankind than anyone else.
Let’s get real for a moment: Wayne is 50 different shades of crazy.
While it’s too early to tell, my theory – and I warn you it’s way out there – is that Christine is carrying some permutation of the antichrist. It sounds crazy, I know, but hear me out: His ability to take away people’s pain is not through redemption, repentance or forgiveness of any sort, but rather by simply enabling them to accept their sins. In folklore terms, I might view Wayne as a sin-eater, an apotropaic act of consuming the sins of others and leaving their souls unburdened by guilt. The apocalyptic importance of Christine and the baby in relation to mankind’s destiny is a tad overly dramatic, even for Wayne, unless of course she were carrying the antichrist. We get a hint this might be the case when Christine is physically attacked by a random stranger (wearing no pants, of course) who protests that he sees her in his dreams. “You walk over the dead,” he says. “I know what’s inside you.”
And let’s not forget the title of episode four: “The B.J. and the A.C.”
Resulting Mystery: Could that stand for Baby Jesus and the antichrist? My theory may not be as crazy as it first sounds!
6. Rev. Matt Jamison and the Story of Job
Episode three of The Leftovers ranks as the one of the best single-serving episodes in recent television history. Dedicated solely to the story of Rev. Jamison, we are introduced to a man who has suffered a lot. His parents burned to death when he was a child. His wife is paralyzed and in some vegetative state due to a car accident that happened during the Departure. His church was in financial default (attendance dried up after the disappearing), and the bank had no choice but to sell it. He preaches on the street that those who were taken were not all good people. And for his truth-telling, he often finds himself getting a fist to the face or a boot to the stomach.
Yet, despite all his hardships he remains a man of faith.
What strikes me about Rev. Jamison is that his story is a modern variation of the biblical story of Job. (We even see an Albrecht Dürer painting of Job hanging in Father Matt’s bedroom.) In the Book of Job, the Devil asserts that Job only follows God because he is blessed. To test if this is true, the Devil is given permission to take from Job everything he holds dear – his family, his wealth, even his physical health. Through it all Job never loses faith and, ultimately, God restores all that he lost.
Rev. Jamison is the central character in The Leftovers who, despite soul-crushing personal loss, never loses faith. He is Job. It is his story that makes us wonder if the show is actually a story based in theology and theodicy. In Rev. Jamison’s words, the Departure was and is “a test for what comes now.”
Resulting Mystery: Is everything that is happening a function of some higher power’s will and a reckoning for mankind where each will be tested and judged?
7. The Guilty Remnant Are Guilty
Everyone wants to know who the Guilty Remnant are. They dress in white, they chain smoke, they’ve taken a vow of silence, and they like to hang out and tell folks: “Stop Wasting Your Breath.” A pretty fatalistic bunch, to be sure. However, at the same time, they are non-violent and their members seem to be there out of their own volition. Most of the members look like folks from the local PTA, average upstanding citizen types.
While their purpose is unknown at this time, Kevin Garvey’s (soon-to-be-ex) wife Laurie gives us a hint at who they may be. Like many others, Laurie just picked up and left her family to join the Guilty Remnant. What’s interesting, though, about Laurie is that early in the series, we see a flashback which we assume to be her as a child, wherein she is beating up another girl quite viciously. If we imagine that in the fight, Laurie seriously injured the other girl – whether fatally or in a life-altering manner – we can also envision Laurie living a life of guilt thereafter. Her two failed marriages and her episode-four realization that she is broken may all stem from an inability to forgive herself for some horrible deed she committed in the past.
While theories don’t always fit like a glove, this one fits pretty darn well with the behavior of the Guilty Remnant. Even if they are upstanding, non-violent people today, something in their past makes them guilty. Whether they believe the Rapture is upon mankind is hard to tell (they don’t speak after all). But they seem to believe that judgment day (in one form or another) is indeed coming. If the end times are here, then “Stop Wasting Your Breath” actually seems like good advice. And the act of smoking would be a testament to your faith that you won’t be around long enough to suffer the consequences.
How does Rev. Jamison fit into the mix with the Remnant? I’d love to see Rev. Jamison bring some hope to a group that seems to embody hopelessness. He’ll need to bulk order some nicotine patches, though. (C’mon, guys, it’s time to quit smoking!)
Resulting Mystery: With the Remnant’s recent acquisition of Rev. Jamison’s church, will it lead to him becoming their leader? Or will their plans exclude Rev. Jamison entirely?
You can join Rob Mclean and others on the fan-created The Leftovers Reddit page.